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Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!

Photo Source David Burke | CC BY 2.0

World greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020, or it’s lights out!

That’s the message from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which has come out from under the shadows of Paris 2015 swinging like a heavyweight champion boxer, and in fact they’ve taken the gloves off in preparation for bare-knuckled fisticuffs.

The world’s leading scientists met at the Forty-Eighth Session of the IPCC and First Joint Session of Working Groups I, II, and III, 1-5 October 2018 in Incheon, Republic of Korea and openly declared that civilization is on track for collapse because of reckless use of fossil fuels, unless the beast is corralled, meaning start reacting now, no more waiting around!

Peak emissions must be achieved by 2020, a slap in the face wakeup call issued by the gathering of scientists in South Korea, They intend to change the course of history, or so they claim. Along those lines, 1.5C is an absolute guardrail not to be crossed (not their words but it’s what their analysis implies). Not a bad idea and worthy of deeper analysis, and it is much stronger than previous pronouncements.

At first blush, peak GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions by 2020 seems nearly impossible to achieve, but it’s a decent idea and jam-packed full of strong motivation, like all hell breaks lose without immediacy of action. In a BBC interview, Heleen de Coninck, a Dutch climate scientist said: “The decisions we make now about whether we let 1.5 or 2 degrees or more happen will change the world enormously.”

In years past, the IPCC viewed the next century as the timeline for deep reckoning when the climate monster would be most threatening. That’s been amended in a big way. Now, trouble is only decades away, and maybe only a few, not several.

According to Bloomberg News, the dictum issued by IPCC to avoid outright catastrophe the world community must invest $2.4 T
(trillion) in clean energy every year through 2035 and cut coal-fired power down to as close to zero as possible by 2050.

Also, its’ absolutely necessary to quickly develop functioning technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, an enormous undertaking that might or might not work. Nobody knows because its never been done to scale. It may require almost as much infrastructure as needed by the fossil fuel industry to emit the CO2 in the first instance. In a word, overwhelming!

Or, looked at another way, according to the renowned physicist Klaus Lackner’s analysis of what’s required for direct carbon removal: “If you built a hundred million trailer-size units you could actually keep up with current emissions.” (Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, Can Carbon-Dioxide Removal Save the World? The New Yorker, Nov. 20, 2017)

Ergo, one hundred million trailer-sized units, assuming 55-foot trailers (the size of each carbon removal apparatus), end-to-end would extend 42xs around the planet. Oops… on to another subject!

According to Bloomberg/NEF (New Energy Finance- BNEF), world investment in clean energy during the first six months of 2018 was $138.2B, and last year the number was $333.5B of which China accounted for $132.6B. It’s taken more than a decade to get up to $300B/yr. and now they insist it goes to $2.4Trillion/yr. And, it sounds as if it must happen almost immediately. Good luck with that!

However, BNEF has qualms about the reality of enough political mojo for that to happen. For example, as things stand today, world energy research orgs forecast future energy mix as: “Coal is expected to remain the largest source of power globally” into the near future. Cough, cough!

In order to curb fossil fuel use, the IPCC generals (climate scientists) leading the charge to world salvation insist that the world community invest $2.4T per year for the next 17 years. That means renewable investments need to increase 7-fold/yr., and that brings to mind a slew of numbing questions, including:
(1) Is it possible to achieve $2.4T/yr. without a worldwide “Marshall Plan” type of collaboration among all nations, especially the big boys/gals?
(2) Do renewable manufacturers have enough capacity?
(3) Where will the funds come from to finance $2.4T/yr.?
(4) Who’ll take charge and organize the worldwide effort?
(5) Will the United States participate? It is the second largest emitter of carbon in the world, keeping in mind the Trump administration is all-in 100% behind fossil fuels and a very strong advocate of “clean coal,” one of the biggest all-time hyperboles. Which is so utterly stupid that it is nearly impossible to quantify its ranking amongst leading lame brain statements of all time.

Meanwhile, the U.S. pokes a very big fat stick into the spokes of the IPCC’s wheelhouse. As long as Trump & Co. remains in charge, climate change is off the table, no discussion, no collaboration with the world, leading to another question: (6) Who will replace the enormous shortfall of funding of the United States?

Furthermore, the authors of the report assume world governments will embrace their sense of urgency; however, that’s likely an uphill battle in spite of their extreme dire warnings, e.g., (1) count Trump out of the mix; (2) Jair Bolsonaro, who leads the polls for the first round in Brazil’s presidency, threatens to withdraw the country from the Paris climate agreement, and he intends to open up the rainforest wide-open to agribusiness; (3) the UK is pushing ahead with gas fracking; (4) Norway is exploring for oil in the Arctic; (5) Germany (renewables galore Germany? hmm) wants to tear down Hambach forest to extract coal; (6) Russia’s Putin makes Trump look like a lightweight. Where does the rubber meet the road?

The IPCC report says global emissions must be cut 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 (whew!), requiring rapid, far-reaching transitions in “all aspects of society.” Every country in the world will require an entire suite of new regulations and behavioral changes. Which is one more reason why the U.S. will not participate, as Trump & Co. are regulatory assassins, not conformists. And, as for Putin, well, forget it.

Bottom line: The IPCC group better kick butt and get moving asap because irreversible tipping points that fuel runaway global warming, or cause similar levels of crises, are already popping up all over the place: (1) Alaska permafrost erupting, (2) Siberian permafrost erupting, (3) Arctic ice loss threatens massive GHG breakout, (4) West Antarctica ice sheets dropping like flies, (5) Totten Glacier/East Antarctica moving way too fast for comfort, (6) melting headwater glaciers endanger major rivers of the world like Lancang in China, (7) the Amazon Rainforest mind-blowing triple-100-yr. droughts all w/i 10 yrs., (8) the Colorado River Basin down 40%, (9) ocean plankton down 45%, (10) Great Barrier Reef major die-offs, (11) loss of glacial water towers in Andes, (12) ocean acidification threatens sea life, (13) depletion of Great Kelp ocean forests, and more and more. The number of vulnerable ecosystems overwhelms the imagination. It is staggering!

In fact, ecosystems are under stress like never before throughout human history, ever since fire was first discovered. It’s little wonder that the world’s scientists are putting out a clarion call to save civilization. Here’s guessing they experience sleepless nights, night after night after night for too long now. It gets tiring. They’re likely fed up, fired up, and mad!

Of note: It’s important to realize that only scientists see the advent of ecosystem deterioration/collapse. Because it happens where nobody lives and nobody travels, with the exception of an occasional scientist on expedition, assuming they can be pulled away from “modeling” on PCs.

As for one helpful solution, maybe invite America’s Congress to ride along on a field trip to sensitive ecosystems that are starting to collapse or in fact, already collapsing. Simply have a congress person throw a dart at the globe and then go to wherever the dart sticks… odds are very good that they’ll hit a collapsing ecosystem, or at the least, an ecosystem that is getting ready to collapse, assuming the dart misses the big population regions where no major ecosystem collapses occur in plain site because people don’t huddle together to live in Antarctica, the Arctic, the Amazon rainforest, the ocean (2/3rds of the planet), or Siberian permafrost.

Postscript: According to EarthJustice, Brett Kavanaugh sided with corporations/industry to remove EPA protections for clean air and water in 89% of his cases, and 96% of his cases ruled against wildlife protections, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. Now he’s a member of the Supremes! Ipso facto, bad beginnings make for bad endings!

More articles by:

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

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