Many activists and politicians warn us we have until 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to near zero before global warming hits a point of no return — a point where irreparable damage is …
Many activists and politicians warn us we have until 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to near zero before global warming hits a point of no return — a point where irreparable damage is done to our planet.
President Joe Biden cited the deadline in February when he reversed former President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Accord, which Trump did partly over concerns about its costs and impacts to the economy.
Biden said the country’s participation in the agreement was necessary to confront the “existential threat of climate change,” and he cited a 2030 deadline.
“We’re told by all the leading scientists in the world we don’t have much time,” Biden said.
By now many people have heard of this 2030 deadline, which relies on a 2018 special report by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a consortium of the world’s leading climate scientists.
One of the first to popularize the deadline based on the report was Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Since then, this point of no return has been trumpeted by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and many others.
The problem with this claim is that it’s a misinterpretation of what the report actually says.
As soon as the report was released, many scientists, including those who worked on the report, expressed doubts about the 2030 deadline.
James Skea, co-chairman of the report, told The Associated Press that the panel never claimed we have 12 years to save the world.
“The hotter it gets, the worse it gets, but there is no cliff edge,” Skea told The AP.
Writing in The Conversation, lead author of the IPCC report, Myles Allen, asked activists to stop saying that “something globally bad is going to happen in 2030.” He said the IPCC does not draw a boundary “beyond which lie climate dragons.” His advice was ignored.
The report estimates a range of 2030 to 2051 by which time we will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius of anthropogenic global warming. There was already a natural warming trend, and so that range is the worst-case scenario in which human-caused warming rises 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial level. There is no scientific consensus that reaching 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels will result in global catastrophe, and at the lower range of estimates in the report, we never reach that level.
This is not to say the report argues that, under any possible scenario, climate change isn’t a significant problem requiring serious attention. It says very much the opposite.
However, claiming that we have until 2030 to make drastic changes not only misrepresents what the IPCC report is saying, it urges us to take risky, untested actions in a short period of time. Acting on panic is not likely to lead to sane, effective solutions. We could very well cause far more harm than climate change ever could.
These kinds of exaggerations, pushed by activists and people with political agendas, are only further undermining public trust of science and reason. Many people conclude that global warming is one big hoax, and they’re not going to be persuaded otherwise by self-interested fear mongering.
Global warming is a real problem, but we have time to find real solutions. Wind and solar energy could be beneficial in reducing CO2 emissions. However, we have time to further develop storage solutions to the intermittency problem of renewable energy before foisting the technologies across the entire grid and praying we don’t end up in the dark during cold snaps and heat waves. We can invest in the research and development of carbon capture technologies that allow us to use fossil fuels — which remain a critical part of our economy and energy system — more cleanly. We can develop nuclear technologies that produce enormous amounts of energy without CO2 emissions. We can create more energy efficiencies that allow us to power our society with less energy. We have time to pursue good environmental stewardship. We can have a prosperous economy and a health environment.
Contrary to the claims of doomsdayers, there is not some body of experts who unanimously conclude we need to act with panic and hysteria lest the human race meet its end. We need to act rationally, with honest communication of what the science is telling us. We need to accurately and scientifically assess the actual magnitude of the problem, which will allow us to do reasonable cost-benefit analyses of proposed solutions. In that way, science could be a valuable tool for helping us solve the world’s problems.