Yes, 1.5 Degrees Celsius Is Long Gone as a Climate Change Target

Here’s a depressing story. It’s from David Roberts, who writes about energy and climate change for Vox, and he’s telling us that we have already missed our goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C. But this is not the depressing part since it’s been obvious for a while. This is:

To hit 1.5˚C, emissions would need to fall off a cliff, falling by 15 percent a year every year, starting in 2020, until they hit net zero. That’s probably not going to happen. Temperature is almost certainly going to rise more than 1.5˚C.

A lot of climate activists are extremely averse to saying so. In fact, many of them will be angry with me for saying so, because they believe that admitting to this looming probability carries with it all sorts of dire consequences and implications. Lots of people in the climate world — not just activists and politicians, but scientists, journalists, and everyday concerned citizens — have talked themselves into a kind of forced public-facing optimism, despite the fears that dog their private thoughts. They believe that without that public optimism, the fragile effort to battle climate change will collapse completely.

….From where I’m sitting, it looks like the 1.5˚C goal is utterly forlorn. It looks like we have already locked in levels of climate change that scientists predict will be devastating. I don’t like it, I don’t “accept” it, but I see it, and I reject the notion that I should be silent about it for PR purposes.

It’s pretty obvious that Roberts had to pump himself up to say even this much. He’s nervous about it because going public means he’s going to be hit hard by activists and possibly drummed out of the corps of “serious” climate change journalists. He tries to forestall this a bit by saying we “probably” won’t hit 1.5°C and then going on for more than 3,000 words to explain why he’s taking such a pessimistic attitude.

This is crazy. Of course we’re not going to hit 1.5°C. We left that in the rear-view mirror years ago. It would take a miracle for us just to hit 2°C. Realistically, we might manage to top out below 2.5°C, but only if we (a) get lucky and invent something spectacular or (b) give up and start spraying sulfates in the atmosphere. Is this really so hard to admit? All it takes is a quick look at the most basic CO2 emissions chart to see that there’s no reason at all to believe that emissions are suddenly going to start plummeting anytime in next few years:

For what it’s worth, I’d add one more truth bomb to this: It’s time to stop blaming Republicans for this state of affairs. Don’t get me wrong: Republicans are obviously lying about climate change for partisan purposes, and they are just as obviously a big obstacle in the way of serious climate action by the United States. They don’t care that they are helping destroy the planet and they deserve every bit of scorn they get.

But. Even if Republicans were fully on board with a serious climate plan, it would have only the smallest effect. The USA line in the chart above might be slightly lower than it is. But not a lot. After all, even the biggest plans from Democrats wouldn’t make more than a small dent in that line. And it wouldn’t make any dent at all in the lines that really matter: the ones for China, India, and the rest of the developing world. Those are going up like a rocket, and until that turns around we’ll never make any serious progress on climate change.

If you want to be serious about global warming, this is what you have to confront: it’s a global problem. It’s a human nature problem. Your solution, whatever it is, has to be global too. Mine is here. What’s yours?

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.