Archive for December, 2009


What “17%” Means

With climate proposals finally landing on the table from the U.S., China, Russia and elsewhere it’s time to figure out how it all adds up. And the answer is that it doesn’t come to much.

The unambitious U.S. proposal (a cut of 4% from 1990 levels or 17% from 2005) seems to have helped to set the bar pretty low for effort all around.  As a result, we are faced with a very hot future.

To understands what this sort of half-hearted ambition means, take a look at Chicago which by mid-century will suffer through a killer heat wave every year, heat waves like the ’95 heatwave that killed hundreds. By the end of the century, Obama’s hometown will go through THREE such heat waves every year. This is all according to the consensus science report issued by the Obama administration back in June (a report, interestingly enough, that was commissioned by the Bush administration and conducted by scientists picked by the Bush crew).

To connect the dots yourself and figure out what the impacts will be in your home town (if you happen to live in the U.S), first go to the website put together by the scientists at ClimateInteractive, which offers a tracking tool that calculates the global CO2e emissions implied by the “confirmed proposals,” and from there calculates how much CO2e pollution will have accumulated in the atmosphere by 2100 [yes, this stuff accumulates, that’s why we can’t wait and fix the problem later – by then it’s too late].

Once you have those numbers in hand, skip over to the impact predictions website put together by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.  There are several tabs to check out.  Most of the local impacts are detailed in a regional breakdown.  Use the accumulated emissions number to figure out which scenario we’re putting ourselves in, and then look at the corresponding impacts that scenario will deliver. Additional impacts are detailed in sectoral summaries (like agriculture and transportation) and are also offered as highlights in the national overview section.  It’s a grim picture, but if you’re interested in knowing how the decisions made in Copenhagen this month will impact your kids’ future, it’s worth the visit.  And, to be sure, the report details what the impacts of lower pollution look like, too.


December 2009
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