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Brookings joins the realists: 7 Years to Climate Midnight

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"Brookings joins the realists: 7 Years to Climate Midnight"

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The uber-centrist Brookings Institution joins the climate alarmist realist crowd. President Strobe Talbott and VP for foreign policy studies Carlos Pascual explain in an Op-Ed:

The world may have only seven years to start reducing the annual buildup in greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise threatens global catastrophe within several decades.

The politics is a little bland for my taste, but that’s to be expected from Brookings, which has moved closer and closer to the center in recent years. But the whole piece is worth reading, if only to see just how far the informed center has moved:

Reflecting a consensus of hundreds of scientists around the world, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has affirmed that greenhouse gas emissions are raising the Earth’s temperature. The Earth is on a trajectory to warm more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit by around mid-century. Exceeding that threshold could trigger a series of phenomena: Arable land will turn into desert, higher sea levels will flood coastal areas, and changes in the convection of the oceans will alter currents, such as the Gulf Stream, that determine regional weather patterns.

[Note to Brookings: Altering the ocean currents is no longer one of the top five climate concerns, I think (see also here).]

Manhattan and Florida would be under water, while Nevada would have no water at all. Some Russians quip that they would welcome a more temperate climate, but they would probably be sorry to lose St. Petersburg. Countries such as Bangladesh and Mali do not have the resources to mitigate or even to adapt to the impact of climate change; millions would flee coastal flooding and the desertification of farmlands, creating instant “climate refugees.”

The head of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC, R.K. Pachauri, recently told us: “The cities, power plants and factories we build in the next seven years will shape our climate in mid-century. We have to act now to price carbon and create incentives to change the way we use energy and spread technology — and thereby avert nothing less than an existential threat to civilization.”

Urgent and drastic action by the international community is required, and the United States must take the lead.

Americans produce more than four times as much carbon per capita as the Chinese; 12 times as much as Indians; and more than twice as much as citizens of Germany, France, Britain and Japan. Unless the United States acts first, it will have no credibility in persuading other countries to do their share.

To their credit, McCain and Obama support the creation of a cap-and-trade system that would limit national emissions. Trading among firms would put a price on carbon. That is an essential step toward changing industry behavior, encouraging energy conservation and providing an incentive for new technologies. As the most powerful national economy, the United States can set an example for the world in harnessing wind and solar power; “sequestering” (or capturing) carbon from coal plants; and developing cellulosic ethanol and safe civilian nuclear power as alternatives to fossil fuels.

But the domestic obstacles to these and other measures are daunting. While some industries will prosper, other sectors of the economy, especially those that produce or rely on coal, steel and cement, will contract. Electricity prices will increase in the near and middle terms. Many workers and households will need help with the costs of transition.

Coping with the resulting economic and political hardships would be onerous even if the next president inherited forward-looking climate-change policies. But George W. Bush has pursued an “anti-policy,” based on a combination of denial, procrastination and backsliding. His successor will have to make up for lost time while also dealing with a half-trillion-dollar federal deficit, a recession and a national housing crunch, a looming health-care crisis, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and diplomatic showdowns with North Korea and Iran.

The winner in November will need all the help he can get — including from his opponent, who will go back to the Senate as a major voice on this and other issues. The next president will also need support from the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, academia and — crucially — citizens who recognize the consequences if they do not consent to sacrifices and changes in lifestyle.

Many Americans will accept that logic, and make real changes, only if they believe greenhouse gas emissions will affect them personally. Today’s adults, even if they will not be around at mid-century, must think about the fate of their children and grandchildren. Obama can look to his two daughters, and McCain to his four grandchildren. They are among nearly 75 million Americans — and 2.2 billion people worldwide — younger than 18. That generation will be in its 40s or 50s when one of two things happens: Either the temperature of the planet warms more than 4.5 degrees and vast regions slide toward being uninhabitable, or the wisdom of the next president and his fellow leaders around the world pays off in the ultimate reward — survival.

Kudos to Brookings.

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11 Responses to Brookings joins the realists: 7 Years to Climate Midnight

  1. john says:

    It is good to see Brookings come around, although I wouldn’t describe them as centrist — to me they’ve been chasing the center as conservatives dragged it ever further to the right, so that now, the center they occupy is actually pretty far to the right.

  2. Brendan says:

    I don’t know if you saw, but Bob Barr has also joined the realists (saw it on the Daily Show). Granted, he wouldn’t do anything about it if elected, but it’s better than denial.

  3. Robert says:

    Joe,

    “— crucially — citizens who recognize the consequences if they do not consent to sacrifices and changes in lifestyle.”

    Just curious, but to what extent do you personally “walk the walk”? Taking a few example big ticket items, how do you fare on:

    - flying (business)
    - flying (leisure and vacations)
    - land transport
    - heating house
    - cooling house
    - drying clothes
    - food miles
    - water usage

    Whether you like it or not, cutting emissions in any sort of significant way is bound to involve sacrifice at the personal level. The public is not ready to vote for austerity.

    For my part, we have made great energy savings domestically, but last week we stayed in a large old hotel in the UK for a few days (no flying involved!). The hotel is a huge rambling place with massive high ceilings, leaky single glazed sash windows and no insulation. Not an energy saving bulb in sight, lights left on in the hundreds 24/7, heated indoor swimming pool and 2 saunas left on all day with no-one even using them, and, strangely for August, all radiators warm to the touch throughout the hotel. No – I didn’t hear the subject of climate change mentioned once all week by either guests or staff. I just don’t think the subject is even on the radar for large segments of the population.

  4. paulm says:

    There is no way we are going to reduce CO2 at the west’s current level of life style.

    All the talk here of switching to alternatives is necessary, but there is going to be a lot of pain to be had (not mentioned very much). And there are going to be security issues…

    Well, its already started…

  5. Chester says:

    Joe –

    Why don’t you write an op-ed for the NYT or WashPost on why McCain isn’t the candidate to stop global warming?

    – Chester

  6. Dano says:

    Robert wrote:

    The public is not ready to vote for austerity…

    I just don’t think the subject is even on the radar for large segments of the population.

    Which is why I’m for tax shifts, with far less payroll taxation and far, far, far, far more consumption taxes. That’ll change behavior in a hurry – I just got back from picking up our kindergartner (walked), and the sheer number of chimps sitting in SUVs with the engine running is enough to make one scream. $8.00 a gallon gas will stop that right quick.

    Best,

    D

  7. paulm says:

    Joe, the best PPT category will be a great recourse (here is a good link for Global Warming graphs.

    I was just about to request if you could put together a resource page with links to all groups, institutes and reputable bodies where they have made a public statement indicating that AGW is happening and that something needs to be done about it.

    I speak with many friends and family and they a) don’t think there is a major issue b) don’t think the science ‘consensus’ supports GW. c) don’t think that we can do much about it if it is happening (or going to happen!)

    A page with all these links would be an easy pick to point them at to demonstrate the economic and academic consensus that really is there now!

    Paul Magnus

  8. Robert says:

    Dano,

    It has been pointed out many times, but unleaded petrol in the UK is about £1.11 per litre. At £1 = $1.828 this works out to $7.68 per US gallon – i.e. nearly $8, but I haven’t noticed any dramatic reduction in traffic volumes. A bit maybe, but the limiting factor is still congestion not price.

    The global economy is so tightly tied into fossil fuel that, as things stand, any reduction in use would automatically equate to a drop in economic activity and living standards. IMO, restructuring taxes isn’t going to get round this awkward fact. I also don’t think that it would ever be politically possible to make such a policy stick.

    This really only leaves us with one route – to develop renewable technology to the stage where it is the cheapest source of energy. I don’t know if this will ever be possible but it would offer a permanent solution to the whole problem of climate change and energy. On this basis I am warming to the policies put forward at the NDC. It will be very interesting to see how the Republicans respond at their conference.

  9. paulm says:

    Robert, I don’t think the US can survive at $8 a gallon.

    Europe and UK are structured differently – much more fuel efficient!

    The US economy will capitulate very early if prices keep rising at this rate.

  10. Dano says:

    The global economy is so tightly tied into fossil fuel that, as things stand, any reduction in use would automatically equate to a drop in economic activity and living standards.

    and

    The US economy will capitulate very early if prices keep rising at this rate.

    These presume that we are incapable of adaptation.

    The US economy is – literally – charged by people buying trinkets. It is primed by cheap energy.

    I find it hard to believe our society (the important thing, more important than the economy) will collapse if we can’t go out to a restaurant or fast food 5 times a week or buy cr*p from Target or Wal-Mart whenever we get a whim. How the h*ll did we survive for ~170 years as a nation before we bought cr*p at the slightest whim?

    Have we suddenly gotten so stupid* that we can’t figure out what to do with ourselves if we can’t jump in the car at the slightest whim because gas is $8.00/gal? Please. If we can’t survive at $8/gal., then we are indeed a nation of whiners and it will be time for a collapse and a rebuild.

    Best,

    D

    * Moronic dialogue during political season notwithstanding…

  11. paulm says:

    ….resource page with links to all groups, institutes and reputable bodies where they have made a public statement indicating that AGW is happening and that something needs to be done about it…

    Here is such a resource at wiki…
    Scientific opinion on climate change
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change

    Good, but I think it should start to include other groups statements such as
    Brookings pew

    BAS
    http://www.antarctica.ac.uk//bas_research/our_views/climate_change.php

    defra
    http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/ministers/statements/dm061030.htm

    accuweather
    http://www.accuweather.com/global-warming/global-warming-position.asp

    CMOS
    http://www.cmos.ca/climatechangepole.html

    etc.