En Route to Tragedy

As of the end of March, 2015, the good news is that the U.S. government submitted a plan to cut the country's CO2 emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025. There is also a lot of bad news. There is strong Republican opposition to any attempt to seriously reduce emissions. Of the countries that agreed in Lima to submit reduction plans by the end of March, as of the March 31st only the U.S., the E.U., Mexico, Norway, and Switzerland had done so. Major polluters including China, India, Russia, and Brazil had not, and according to New York Times reporter Coral Davenport, were not expected to submit their plans until June at the earliest.

Although there is talk of reaching a significant emission reduction agreement in December 2015, the pattern so far is of talk but little if any serious action. As Secretary of State John Kerry warned in Lima in December 2014, we are "still on a course leading to tragedy".

The June 2015 report of the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change notes that

GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are continuing to rise at a rate that is incompatible with limiting warming to 2°C in the coming 35 years (by 2050), and which exceeds the IPCC's “worst case scenario”.

The worst case scenario referred to is RCP 8.5, the most extreme scenario of those chosen in 2009 for use in the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). (For more on RCP 8.5 see Riahi et al., RCP 8.5 - A scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions, G. P. Wayne's The Beginner's Guide to Representative Concentration Pathways, and A guide to Representative Concentration Pathways.)

In late 2015, on the eve of a climate summit in Paris, Justin Gillis sums up the prospects as follows:

"After two decades of talks that failed to slow the relentless pace of global warming, negotiators from almost 200 countries are widely expected to sign a deal in the next two weeks to take concrete steps to cut emissions. The prospect of progress, any progress, has elicited cheers in many quarters. ... Yet the negotiators gathering in Paris will not be discussing any plan that comes close to meeting their own stated goal of limiting the increase of global temperatures to a reasonably safe level. ... After years of studying the issue, the experts recommended to climate diplomats in 2013 that they consider the concept of a “carbon budget” to help frame the talks. Yet the idea was quickly dismissed as politically impractical, and more recent pleas from countries like Bolivia to consider it have been ignored. ... The idea of a carbon budget is based on a goal that the nations of the world set for themselves. In hopes of heading off the worst effects of climate change, they agreed in Cancún in 2010 to try to keep the warming of the planet to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the level that prevailed before the Industrial Revolution. Many scientists do not believe that such a limit would be particularly safe — it may still cause the sea to rise 20 feet or more, for instance, over a long period — but they agree that going beyond it would certainly be disastrous...."
- Justin Gillis, Paris Climate Talks Avoid Scientists’ Idea of ‘Carbon Budget’, New York Times, Nov. 28, 2015

It takes willful blindness not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare. ...
But the ’30s isn’t the only era with lessons to teach us. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the ancient world. ...I couldn’t help noticing the contemporary resonances of some Roman history — specifically, the tale of how the Roman Republic fell.
Here’s what I learned: Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade....
Combine this sort of thing with continuing efforts to disenfranchise or at least discourage voting by minority groups, and you have the potential making of a de facto one-party state: one that maintains the fiction of democracy, but has rigged the game so that the other side can never win. ...
So what’s driving this story? I don’t think it’s truly ideological. Supposedly free-market politicians are already discovering that crony capitalism is fine as long as it involves the right cronies. It does have to do with class warfare — redistribution from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy is a consistent theme of all modern Republican policies. But what directly drives the attack on democracy, I’d argue, is simple careerism on the part of people who are apparatchiks within a system insulated from outside pressures by gerrymandered districts, unshakable partisan loyalty, and lots and lots of plutocratic financial support.
One thing all of this makes clear is that the sickness of American politics didn’t begin with Donald Trump, any more than the sickness of the Roman Republic began with Caesar. The erosion of democratic foundations has been underway for decades, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover.

But if there is any hope of redemption, it will have to begin with a clear recognition of how bad things are. American democracy is very much on the edge.
- Paul Krugman, How Republics End, NYT, Dec. 19, 2016

Mark Moyar thinks it’s good for the world to be scared of Donald Trump. ...
In support of his thesis Mr. Moyar cites tough stands taken by Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan at critical junctures. But no earlier president was as erratic and blustery as Mr. Trump.

A more apt historical parallel is to be found in Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany before World War I. In his quest for respect for himself and for Germany, Wilhelm bumbled and blustered and frightened his neighbors to the point that all it took was a spark to plunge Europe and the world into a disastrous war. Foolish beyond words at the time. Madness in the nuclear era.

- David Korn, Washington, Letter to the Editor, NYT, 12/19/2016

The world is not cutting emissions fast enough to prevent global temperatures from spiking into dangerous territory, slashing crop yields and decimating food production in many parts of the world, as well as flooding coastal cities while parching large swaths of the globe, killing perhaps millions of mostly poor people from heat stress alone.
- Eduardo Porter, To Curb Global Warming, Science Fiction May Become Fact, NYT, APRIL 4, 2017

Extraordinarily hot summers — the kind that were virtually unheard-of in the 1950s — have become commonplace.
- NADJA POPOVICH and ADAM PEARCE, It’s Not Your Imagination. Summers Are Getting Hotter., NYT, JULY 28, 2017

There’s also a legitimate debate about the best policy responses to climate change — but our national response so far has been little more than a shrug, and that’s difficult to reconcile with the scientific consensus about the risks ahead.
- Nicholas Kristof, Watching the Eclipse in Oregon, NYT, AUG. 21, 2017

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said this on CNBC in March:

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” ...
So despite arguments like Mr. Pruitt’s, a century of climate science has brought us to the point where we can say this definitively: We are running enormous risks. We are putting nothing less than the stability of human civilization on the line.

And yet most of us have still not bestirred ourselves to care, much less to march in the streets demanding change.
- Justin Gillis, The Real Unknown of Climate Change: Our Behavior, NYT, SEPT. 18, 2017

Two years after countries signed a landmark climate agreement in Paris, the world remains far off course from preventing drastic global warming in the decades ahead. ...
Under the Paris deal, each country put forward a proposal to curtail its greenhouse-gas emissions between now and 2030. But no major industrialized country is currently on track to fulfill its pledge, according to new data from the Climate Action Tracker. ...
Worse, even if governments do take further steps to meet their individual pledges, the world will still be on pace to warm well in excess of 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the threshold that world leaders vowed to avoid in Paris because they deemed it unacceptably risky.
“One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” said Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program.
Even before the election of Mr. Trump, the goal set by former President Barack Obama of slashing United States emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 would have been difficult to hit. ...
Mr. Trump, for his part, has disavowed his predecessor’s pledge and is dismantling Obama-era regulations designed to push down emissions further....
- BRAD PLUMER and NADJA POPOVICH, Here’s How Far the World Is From Meeting Its Climate Goals, NYT, NOV. 6, 2017 [This was considered sufficiently important to put on page A9 of the printed National Edition.]

At the moment, global CO₂ emissions are about 37 billion metric tons per year, and we’re on track to raise temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. To have a shot at maintaining a climate suitable for humans, the world’s nations most likely have to reduce CO₂ emissions drastically from the current level — to perhaps 15 billion or 20 billion metric tons per year by 2030; then, through some kind of unprecedented political and industrial effort, we need to bring carbon emissions to zero by around 2050.
- Jon Gertner, The Tiny Swiss Company That Thinks It Can Help Stop Climate Change, NYT, Feb. 12, 2019

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Andrew R. Wheeler to be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, giving oversight of the nation’s air and water to a former coal lobbyist and seasoned Washington insider. ...
Republicans said they have been delighted to discover Mr. Wheeler is as enthusiastic about repealing environmental regulations and promoting coal as Mr. Pruitt was, and are looking to him to cement Mr. Trump’s legacy as a warrior against what they see as regulatory overreach. ...
Mr. Wheeler has moved to dramatically weaken two of former President Obama’s signature climate change initiatives, cutting emissions from power plants and from automobiles, while also proposing to make new coal-fired power plants easier to approve. ...
The White House announced last week that the E.P.A. and the Department of Transportation had ended talks with California over its clean-air waiver. The move signaled that the administration is closer to finalizing its rule to roll back tailpipe emissions standards that were put in place under President Barack Obama and will quite likely try to revoke California’s ability to set its own pollution rules. ...
Unlike Mr. Pruitt who went on television to say carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming and rising global temperatures might be good for humanity, Mr. Wheeler told a Senate confirmation panel in January that “climate change is real.” He rated his level of concern about climate change, on a scale of 1 to 10, at an eight or nine.

But, two weeks later, he appointed John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, who has testified that the earth will benefit from more planet-warming emissions, to an influential E.P.A. scientific advisory board.

And asked whether he intended to work with Congress to finalize a ban on chlorpyrifos — an insecticide associated with developmental delays and cognitive impairments in children that Mr. Pruitt, acting against the advice of the E.P.A.’s own chemical safety experts, chose not to remove from use — Mr. Wheeler assured lawmakers in a written statement that the agency was “committed to fully evaluating this pesticide using the best available science.”

Yet the agency under Mr. Wheeler’s leadership had already challenged a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordering the E.P.A. to ban the pesticide. This month, the court ruled in favor of the challenge and ordered a new hearing in the case.
- Lisa Friedman, Andrew Wheeler, Who Continued Environmental Rollbacks, Is Confirmed to Lead E.P.A., NYT, Feb. 28, 2019

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