Future Scenarios to Truly Damage Planet Earth

by S. Tom Bond on December 29, 2016

Climate Interactive Scenarios

This is what it would take to truly damage the planet’s climate

From an Article by Chris Mooney, Washington Post, November 29, 2016

There are limits to how much  U.S.  climate practices matters on global climate policy. We aren’t the world’s largest emitter any more. And technological and market trends operating globally right now are pushing the United States and the world towards burning less coal (and burning more natural gas) and investing more in renewables and electric vehicles. Some U.S. state-level policies are doing the same. In a recent commentary piece here, MIT’s Jessika Trancik makes the case that so much change is already in motion in the energy and transportation sectors that misguided US practices really can’t do all that much harm, even if current climate policies are reversed.

Recently, analysts with Climate Interactive, a think tank that conducts analysis of our possible future climate pathways, shared an analysis with the Washington Post that at least provides a good starting point for thinking about this problem.

“The way that we broke this down was that there are two impacts,” explained Andrew Jones of Climate Interactive. “One of them is, what is the impact of U.S. emissions on the climate? That is, the biogeochemical question. What is the direct impact?”

“The second is, what is the impact via global engagement, global leadership,” he continued.  “We ran scenarios in which U.S. action was delayed four or eight [years] and then resumed reductions,” said Jones. But then the U.S. went on to meet a hugely ambitious goal of reducing emissions 80 percent by the year 2054 or 2058 (rather than 2050, as the Obama administration currently envisions). In this situation, with such strong cuts coming just a bit later, “the effect of the delay was negligible,” Jones said.

How a rogue U.S. could doom global climate policy

Recall that in activating the Paris climate agreement, the globe has committed to keeping the planet’s warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial levels, of which about 1 degree of warming has already happened. So, let’s say that we have about 0.9 degrees to go, and the question is whether we will break through that boundary by the year 2100. Doing so would put the planet within a range of warming widely considered “dangerous” (although when you see the Great Barrier Reef with a 400 mile stretch of mostly dead coral at only 1 degree, it’s fair to wonder whether “dangerous” isn’t already here).

All analyses show that unless emissions patterns change, we’ll blow way past 2 degrees. They also show that if the U.S., China, and every other country honors its current Paris pledges out to the year 2025 or 2030, we still won’t be on the right course. Much tougher cuts would have to happen and they would have to begin relatively quickly. And emissions would have to keep going down, and down, and down all through the century, eventually nearing or even reaching zero.

This will be exceedingly hard to pull off. Global emissions would have to stop growing and start declining by the year 2035. By 2050, major countries like the U.S. would have to have brought their emissions down radically — in the U.S.’s case, by 80 percent or more below its 2005 levels. That’s a goal the Obama administration recently laid out, despite little hope that a Trump administration would stick with the plan.

In this context, the Climate Interactive team explored a series of thought experiments. For instance, they said, imagine that every other country in the world does its part to get the world to 1.9 degrees Celsius in 2100, but the U.S. totally fails to meet the targets expressed by the Obama administration, and instead follows a kind of worst-case scenario of ever-rising emissions through the entire century.

In this case, the analysis shows, the U.S. would indeed tip the planet over the edge into the range of “dangerous” climate change.

“If all countries but the U.S. reduce emissions to stay within Paris limits, but the U.S. follows its reference scenario, that’s one of the worst-case scenarios for the U.S., [then] temperature in 2100 would go from 1.9 to 2.3,” Jones said. Here’s the result, according to Climate Interactive:

But it gets far worse if the United States were not only to completely cancel its climate engagement and just keep on burning fossil fuels, but also cause the world to lessen its commitment, too. Suppose the United States follows this worst-case path and instead of doing everything that they can, other countries correspondingly lower their own ambitions and only do about 50 percent of what they need to do. This would lead to a planetary warming of 2.7 degrees C, the analysis found, by century’s end.

Neither of these scenarios seems very likely, however. With the U.S.’s emissions already trending downward, due to market forces and technological change, it seems reasonable to expect that even under Trump, the country may manage to lower its emissions somewhat, even if it probably won’t meet its Paris goal without stronger effort. Beyond that, emissions could continue to tick downward, even if not as fast as the Obama 2050 goal would envision.

A middling scenario of trying, but just not hard enough

So now, imagine that the United States only achieves 50 percent of what’s needed and the rest of the world only hits 50 percent. That’s a bad news scenario as well.

“If the entire world (including the U.S.) decarbonizes only halfway of what’s required to keep warming within the Paris limit of ‘below two degrees C,’ then expected global temperature would miss the Paris limit of 2.0°C and warm to 2.5°C,” said Jones. Here’s how it looks:

There are a few things to note here:

First, in none of these scenarios is the world anywhere close to holding warming to 1.5 degrees C, an even safer limit that many scientists believe will soon be out of reach — if it isn’t already.

Second, it’s clear that what the United States does matters, but it matters most in the context of what other countries do — and that in judging U.S. action, we have to look at that action across the entire century.

Oh, and one more thing: Let’s remember most of all that staying below 2 degrees is extraordinarily difficult even without Trump. That’s why middling pathways like the one above representing some U.S. and global action, but not enough, sound pretty realistic right now. In these possible worlds, the planet may not totally cook, but its change would still be sweeping.

The gist is that keeping climate warming under control was exceedingly hard before the 2016 U.S. election and will probably be still harder after it — but we still need to focus on the long term, and consider the entire the globe.

Note: To express temperature changes in Fahrenheit degrees, just multiply the Centigrade degrees by 1.8. So, on the Fahrenheit scale, the values will be almost twice as large! This conversion is easier than converting a temperature in degrees Centigrade to degrees Fahrenheit, in which one multiplies by 1.8 and adds 32.

See also: www.FrackCheckWV.net

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Wildfire December 30, 2016 at 1:13 pm

I’m not sure if this is all quotes from Mooney of WaPo or if some is Bond, but it seems to be it’s misleading in a couple of places…in the usual places, except that the chart depicts levels of warming under various scenarios that are milder than I’ve seen elsewhere. But also the piece goes along with the usual pretense that “US emissions are dropping” and that this is because “we are switching from coal to gas.

Apparently the actual fact that we have switched to a much higher percentage of gas as opposed to coal, is the reason for claims that emissions are dropping — it’s not based on any actual measurement, but on estimates based on multiplying things like number of gas power plants at how many megawatts times an estimate of GHG pollution per megawatt, which is based on discredited, industry-funded studies.

More objective, government-funded, direct measurements show GHG pollution at least double the claimed levels, which means the switch to gas from coal may have other merits but does nothing in terms of GHG reduction.

There is also no acknowledgment of the degree to which “our” reductions result from outsourcing, from Chinese sweatshops producing crap that Americans (and Europeans) use. Which is why “we are no longer the biggest emitter” — we’ve gone all the way down to number two.

Finally ALL of the scores of IPCC scenarios for staying below 2 degrees count on INCREASING emissions now, because anything else would be TOO HARD and NOT REALISTIC–and then, some time later this century, employing unproven magical “negative emissions” technologies, formerly known as geoengineering. As long as what is purported to be science is done so dishonestly, how can we have any hope of crafting adequate policy even if we didn’t have horrible governments?

Mary Wildfire, Roane County, WV


S. Thomas Bond December 31, 2016 at 5:12 pm

TO: Mary Wildfire, et al.

It is Chris Mooney of WaPo.

Climate Interactive is a very respectable organization, working hard to raise the consciousness of the public. They have made enough of an impression the WaPo saw fit to recognize them, but it is a bastion of “establishment truth” like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, which recently called for control of the internet with an editorial called “The Digital Virus Called Fake News.” In short, called for internet censorship.

WaPo’s editorial position is imposed on Climate Interactive’s view. Our objective in printing the article was to get out the scientific basis of global warming to people who are subject to the endless climate change denial of certain wealthy corporations. About everyone who looks at the graph will get the point that U. S. leadership of the world will determine the earth’s future. It is clear and simple to understand.

Your points are valid, but you are certainly in the “choir,” as in the old phrase “preaching to the choir.” The future must be lived by our children and grandchildren, and projections are not capable of foreseeing random events and require careful work. But they do show the direction of change and major influences.

The need is for action, to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Tom Bond, Lewis County, WV


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