After Bonn, a safe future for youth still in doubt

Today’s guest blogger is Kyle Gracey, Chair for SustainUS and a graduate student in public policy and geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago.

In 2050, I’ll be 77, and given the pace of the climate talks in Bonn these two weeks, I’ll likely spend most of my retirement either under water or on fire.

If finalized in the next climate agreement, the weak targets offered so far by developed countries virtually ensures that greenhouse gas concentrations (and sea levels) will rise to levels well beyond what science says are safe limits to ensure the survival of peoples and nations. Over 100 youth from 6 continents (the Antarctic youth called in sick) participated in the Bonn negotiations, watching our leaders draft an increasingly costly and damaging climate for us to live through.

Daily at the negotiations, youth have shown our governments how vulnerable our generation will be to the warming and climate change they are creating with their short-sighted proposals. We literally brought two camels and tons of sand to the negotiation entrance to highlight the drought and desertification many of our countries increasingly experience. We rapped and rhymed about the threatened survival of nations and developed countries’ weak financing proposals. Youth tracked key negotiators to remind them the next generation is watching, and blogged to their peers in multiple languages.

We supported indigenous rights and opposed deforestation and forest degradation. Global North and Global South youth played an UNfair (sic) game of football (the Americans insisted on playing soccer) to highlight the unequal negotiating position of developing countries. They also worked to raise money for their developing country members to participate with them in the Copenhagen talks. Fifty Chinese, Indian, and United States youth wrote the 1st collaborative statement (in two languages so far) by youth from these three countries on a shared vision for our nations’ roles and opportunities in cooperating on an agreement.

In the end, it is clear that negotiators have largely ignored the perilous position they have put their children in, and ignored the science as well. Japan’s 8% reduction from 1990 levels in 2020, and Russia’s, Switzerland’s, and New Zealand’s lack of any specific targets raises the chance youth will grow up suffering through climate tipping points and accelerated warming. These “commitments” put an incredible burden on our countries’ future leaders to create post-2020 cuts necessary to reach 2050 reductions.

Despite continued leadership by President Obama, and skilled diplomacy by lead Bonn negotiator Dr. Jonathan Pershing, industry lobbyists have ensured that weak domestic legislation will prevent the U.S. from honestly offering strong international commitments in Copenhagen. At best, the American Clean Energy and Security Act as written would let the U.S. achieve a 3% reduction in 2020 and create only a fraction of the clean energy jobs Americans desperately need. At worst, 1% is likely given offsets and other loopholes.

[JR:  The 3% reduction is compared to 1990 levels, as the link makes clear.  I assumed, given how this paragraph is written, that Kyle also meant 1% reductions compared to 1990 levels.  If not, I’ll let him clarify.   I can’t see a plausible scenario where ACES as currently written, coupled with Obama’s other clean energy and GHG-reduction investments and mandates, doesn’t take us to 1990 levels or below by 2020 (see here).]

While Bonn failed to deliver the protections to peoples, species, and generations youth know are needed, they renewed our commitment to redefining what is pragmatic and possible. Delegates should expect to hear from us again soon.

47 Responses to After Bonn, a safe future for youth still in doubt

  1. MikeN says:

    For criticizing everyone else, Kyle Gracey has no knowledge of the science.
    Do the others reading this site agree that by 2050, te world wil be under water or on fire?

  2. Gail says:

    te (sic) world wil (sic) be under water or on fire?

    MikeN, this is so ludicrous I have to wonder, are you smoking crack?

    Just to answer your idiotic question, read Hell and High Water!

    You’re here reading JR’s blog, BUY his book and READ it!

    Short answer, yes, both, depending on whatever place in which you are unlucky enough to reside when climate chaos goes berserk.

    Kyle Gracey, more power to you!

  3. Peter Croft says:

    You would expect young people to be more concerned about climate change than their parents but the ones I meet seem the opposite way round. Young people tend to live for the moment and give little thought to boring long term things like pensions, growing old, environmental unsustainability and the like.

    Old people worry about climate change. Except for politicians. Their horizon is never more than 4 years.

  4. Gail says:

    Peter Croft, I have 3 daughters who are well cognizant of the threats of climate change because they hear my wails of outrage rather frequently.

    It’s not that they give little thought to it, I think. It is that they have concluded that they are so screwed, that they want to enjoy what opportunities are left open to them before the s**t really hits the fan.

    For instance, one daughter is going this summer to tour the Grand Canyon and from there to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. When I pointed out to her that flying is deleterious to the environment, she insisted that she wants to see the snows before they disappear.

    So it’s obviously not that she is under any delusion that flying isn’t bad, or that the climate is going to stabilize.

    It seems she wants to live while she can because she recognizes that there is already a predetermined limit programmed from past emissions locked into the pipeline, never mind business as usual, so, why not?

  5. gt says:

    I would argue that young people (I am 30, can I be considered young?) cares more about issues that are real, immediate, and tangible. It’s in fact hard for them to worry about climate change that is predicted based on computer model, while real issues like $11 trillion of debt is dumped onto them, and their hard-earned money (if they can find a job) is depreciating by the minute.

    As for you “old” people out there, you may want to do something more realistic than predicting what may happen in 50 years to help the “young”. That is, if you really care.

  6. Matt Dernoga says:

    young people care less about climate? Excuse me but if you look at any poll young people are more concerned about global warming than any other age category, and favor government action to reduce greenhouse gases more than any other age category. We’re also the reason your president is Barack Obama.

    clearly you’ve never heard of powershift

    or seen videos like this…

  7. John Hollenberg says:

    Unfortunately, the fact that the issue is not immediate (although it is already getting a good start) and tangible doesn’t make it any less real. Sticking your head in the sand won’t make it go away.

  8. gt says:

    John Hollenberg Says:
    June 12th, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Haha, another proof that ACW proponents are better in rhetoric than in science. I’ve seen quite a bit of that lately.

  9. gt says:

    And to follow your rhetoric, do you admit that you’re sticking your head in the sand on real, immediate and tangible problems?

  10. Brewster says:


    Next time you lift your head out of the sand – look around at the wildfires, deserts, melting poles, floods, etc.. The climate problems are becoming far too tangible. It takes a concerted dose of clinging to ideology to miss them.

    But, handled correctly, the solutions for the “real, immediate and tangible” problems you think need addressing first are the same ones needed for Climate Change.

  11. John Hollenberg says:

    > ACW proponents are better in rhetoric than in science.

    Definitely true. I am strongly against AGW, while those of you who are proponents of AGW (allowing it to get worse by sticking your head in the sand) focus on rhetoric rather than science. Most of us here follow the climate scientists.

  12. gt says:

    Brewster Says:
    June 12th, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Of course throughout history, there has been no wildfires, deserts, melting poles, and floods; they all started in the 20th century. We are indeed responsible for exacerbating quite a few natural disasters (leaky dams, arsonist setting wildfires, over-forestation), but it is ludicrous to blame every disaster to anthropogenic climate change, if it’s happening at all. That’s more like fear mongering.

    I don’t know if you have kids and if you do, how old they are. But if they’re still young, you should make some good bedtime stories and tell them why burdening them with $11 trillions of debt is good for them.

    And why don’t you enlighten me, how are the solutions for fighting climate change can also solve the more immediate problems? Let’s use the national debt as the problem in question. The stage is yours.

  13. Karl says:

    Fundamentally, the problem is that the planet has too many people trying to live at too high a standard of living. We need to lower the standard of living (i.e., energy consumption) or reduce the number of people. If we do neither, then ‘nature’ will take care of the problem for us, probably with a major extinction event…..

    The irony of this story is that young people in the developed world are the ticking time bomb that will destroy the planet. Is should also be obvious that the worst environmental crime anyone can commit in the industrialized world is to have children, for those kids will almost certainly consume disproportionate amounts of available resources, and do disproportionate damage to the environment. Stop having kids, and you won’t have young people who have to go through this terrible anxiety about the future.

    I propose that all people in the US with more than two children be prosecuted for committing crimes against humanity……

  14. MikeB says:

    Dear Kyle,

    You give me hope. We (broadly defined as anyone 50 +/- 25 years of age) have parked this giant problem dead center on your future (by however you choose to imagine it).

    “Delegates should expect to hear from us again soon”


  15. Brewster says:


    As soon as we get rid of / start ignoring people like you, and set up up-to-date clean technology we can sell around the world, we’ll make a fortune.

    The part of my plan that doesn’t work is the difficulty in getting deniers’ heads out of the sand and their butts out of our way.

  16. PaulK says:

    Finally, a poster from Chicago. Kyle, I would like to invite you to the 21st Century Energy Solutions Event at the Beverly Arts Center at 111th & Western on June 23rd.

    The purposes of the event are community education and discussion about efficiencies, technologies and incentives, solutions specific to the Arts Center, and a celebration of the people’s power to act.

    The Beverly Arts Center is a regional educational and performance facility located in Chicago, Illinois. It is housed in a modern building and every effort has been made to increase its efficiency. It is an all electric building. Replacing Fossil Fuel was formed, in part, to assist the Arts Center reduce its onerous energy costs.

    Three technology solutions are available: solar thermal including assisted forced air and radiant heating, geothermal heating and air conditioning and photo voltaic cells which generate electricity.

    Solar panel hot water heating is the least expensive alternative application. Recommendations and estimates for the Arts Center will be made by Solar Service Inc.

    Ground temperature assisted electric heat pump systems can save 50% and more of energy costs. Dirk Dypold from Advanced Geothermal will be a featured speaker at the June 23rd event.

    Brian Brown from EcoSun Inc is currently completing an assessment of possible photo voltaic cell installation at the Center.

  17. MikeN says:

    >set up up-to-date clean technology we can sell around the world

    Unfortunately nuclear technology has been ruled out by the host of this blog.

    [JR: Uhh, no. I am projecting the possibility of about half a wedge of nuclear globally. It is the nuclear industry that has ruled out much nuclear in this country anytime soon. Even Areva can’t build a nuke for less than $8 billion!]

  18. MikeN says:

    The IPCC AR4 reports for the max warming A2 scenario, warming by 2050 of about 1.5C, though there is an error range there. Plus we are told by various scientists that high warming models, show acceleration towards warming, so I would say the science does not show substantial warming by 2050.

  19. Doug P says:

    Kyle, thanks for the blog. It is great to see a fresh perspective on ClimateProgress, one willing to take issue with the Climate-Energy Bill for doing to little to address the science of global warming. I really do think young people are engaged in the issue of climate change. Power Shift witnessed some 10,000 young people over a single weekend. Climate Change is the single most challenging issue facing our generation and future generations. It is really dissapointing to see our leaders (old people) having the audacity, ignorance, and short sightedness to sell our future to the corporations that pollute, and when they are given the opportunity to make a change they do little more than bicker like the old people they are; its either too hard, too expensive, or doesn’t exist. Honestly, who are the one’s too busy living in the moment, unable to look forward, and overly concerned with the immediate and tangible? Get real people, didn’t your parents teach you to take responsibility for your actions?

  20. paulm says:

    Who will shutdown the coal plants? Will someone step up to the plate, NOW!

    Kyle, I am afraid that this generation will probably be the last to have the luxury of retirement (if were lucky).

    Flooding and fire are just the beginning. It will be the mad max scenes on folding with the chaos that follows that will be a big part of the nightmare.

    Sorry to be on a downer.

  21. Everyone can agree with adaptation.

    Few agree on steps for mitigation.

    Obviously we should do both. The Preamble says “for ourselves and our posterity” – too bad it has such weak force of law.

  22. jcwinnie says:

    Look on the bright side, Kyle. Now is a good time to get a good deal on a Mercedes.

  23. jcwinnie says:

    I’m thinking of getting one in Collapsing Caribbean Coral. Either that, or the less ostentatious, Ecocide But in the Black. Nice to have such choices, isn’t it?

  24. Gail says:

    Thank you Matt Dernoga, I am forwarding your links to my daughters!

  25. Bob Wright says:


    Is Kyle’s criticism that Waxman-Markey is only good for a 1-3% reduction of CO2 emissions by2020 fair? Forgive me for being lazy, but what is the 2020 goal? In the light that “Cash for Clunkers” almost got lobbied into “Handouts for Hummers”, Lets hope W-M ends up with some teeth.

    Thank you for your efforts at Bonn and elsewhere. Please continue to be part of our collective conscience.

  26. Rick Covert says:

    Ir Waxman Markey results in only 1 to 3% reduction in CO2 emissions then we play out the scenario depicted for us in earh 2100.

  27. Dorothy says:

    Gail, YES, to everything you wrote!

  28. paulm says:

    “History is repeating itself. Thousands of miners have come back,” he told the Guardian in London this week. “They are repairing and expanding the old airstrips. The cattle ranchers are coming in, cutting down the forest. They are coming with planes and helicopters, guns and machines and rafts. They bring malaria and destroy the rivers. We are warning the world that without your help the Yanomami people will die.
    Shaman returns to London with warning about future of his people in the Amazon and people all over the planet…

    “The error of the whites is to take the riches of the land. You only want to take the riches. But the land is sacred. If the Yanomamai die the shamans will disappear and the governments will continue to take the land. You are worried about climate change. It is arriving. The rains come late, the sun behaves in a strange way. The world is ill. The lungs of the sky are polluted. We know it is happening.

    “We are shamans. We care for the planet, the sun, the moon the darkness and the light. Everything that exists we look after. You cannnot go on destroying nature. We will all die, burned and drowned, and that is the Yanomamai word.”

  29. paulm says:

    This is bad news. Very worrying.
    How fast can an extinction event happen?

    What Is Killing Chile’s Coastal Wildlife?

    First, in late March the bodies of about 1,200 penguins were found on a remote beach in southern Chile. Next came the sardines – millions of them – washed up dead on a nearby stretch of coastline in April, causing a stench so noxious that nearby schools were closed and the army was called in to shovel piles of rotting fish off the sand. Then it was the turn of the rare Andean flamingos. Over the course of approximately three months, thousands of them abandoned their nests on a salt lake in the Atacama Desert in the far north of Chile. Their eggs failed to hatch, and all 2,000 chicks died in their shells. Finally, in late May came the pelicans – nearly 60 of them, found dead on the

  30. paulm says:

    Scotland’s seabird numbers plunged by 19% between 2000 and 2008, a new report has said.

    Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said the major cause was almost certainly a shortage of food due to a drop in the number of small fish, such as sandeels.

    SNH said the fish were probably being affected by rising sea temperatures.

  31. Gail says:


    I think an extinction event can – is – happening very fast.

    Things around here are just terrifying, not least because hardly anyone seems to notice that the trees are dying. The leaves are wilted, hanging straight down, turning brown, falling off branches and they are almost uniformly abnormally thin and small.

    I just came across this yesterday:

    I do not know exactly what is affecting the trees, or what combination of things. There really seems to be so little comprehensive scientific inquiry on this subject.

    All I can say is, if people in other locales are anywhere near as oblivious to the very real empirical changes in their ecosystem as are the folks around here, then the world is going to hell in a handbasket!

    With the number of stories about ocean dead zones and proliferating jellyfish, vanishing caribou, starving Argentinean cattle, not to mention the agricultural disasters brewing in China, Australia and California, you have to wonder how anybody can continue to be oblivious to the effects of climate change.

    But they are! I spend a lot of time with young children and their (well-educated, affluent) parents and I never hear anyone even bring it up as a topic of conversation. Germs and pedophiles and pesticide use on lawns, those are perceived as huge threats. But not CO2!

  32. hunter says:

    AGW is the greatest secular hype created, maybe ever.
    My bet is that by 2050, when I will be 93, I hope to be enjoying people concerned about the latest apocalyptic hype of that day.
    Not one apocalyptic belief system has ever been true.
    There is no reason why AGW will prove to be any different.
    Will the climate of 2050 be different than today?
    Will it be climate catastrophe with unprecedented fire or flood?
    Will we muddle through?
    Yes, unless ‘we’ decide to sit down and quit.
    The ‘climate bill’ is a great way to make politicians and their pals rich, impoverish people, and do nothing about anything it claims to be designed to accomplish.
    CO2 is not the problem. Believing fear mongered hype is the problem.

    [JR: Quite a long rant for the word “science” to never appear. In fact, within 2 decades, even folks who apparently aren’t interested in the actual science of climate change, will be as desperate as those of us who are science focused to avert catastrophe. Of course, by then it will be too late, but at least you’ll have the in satisfaction of knowing that you helped, in a small way, undermine the political will needed to prevent the worst.]

  33. Gail says:

    hunter, your post is RIDDLED with a fundamental error – unless it is a lie!

    “Not one apocalyptic belief system has ever been true.”

    Um, some history? Cassandra was right! Try reading Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse” that documents only SOME of the many times in the past that civilizations that thought they were empires, forever, fell apart, and quickly.

    The difference now is that the entire globe is one big civilization so when that collapses, there’s no where to go.

  34. Matt says:


    No need to think or guess about it – some of the most prominent biologists on the planet (like EO Wilson) have stated we are witnessing the 6th major mass extinction event

  35. MikeN says:

    >within 2 decades, even folks who apparently aren’t interested in the actual science of climate change, will be as desperate as those of us who are science focused to avert catastrophe. Of course, by then it will be too late,

    Really, it will be too late? Then why are you OK with reductions by 2050?
    Are you claiming that a business-as-usual approach till 2030 followed by large reductions in emissions will cause catastrophic warming, while immediate reductions will not? Is there any science to back that up?

  36. Gail says:

    Thank you Matt. I have read of the 6th mass extinction but at least in the link you gave me, it isn’t tied to climate change specifically, these are the listed causes:

    transformation of the landscape
    overexploitation of species
    the introduction of alien species

    Not that I dispute that they are causing a mass extinction, but they won’t necessarily cause humans to go extinct, at least not so quickly.

    This is my question on an earlier post here and to RealClimate:

    If you accept Darwinian evolution, AND you accept climate change, wouldn’t you expect ecosystems to collapse, since they evolved in a different climate? Isn’t it inevitable that species that are selected to survive in a particular environment aren’t going to survive when that environment is altered faster than they can genetically adapt?

    I got two responses so far: A “Nope” and a “Yes”.

    I really am very interested to find the answer.

  37. dhogaza says:


    it is ludicrous to blame every disaster to anthropogenic climate change.

    Then it’s a damned good thing no one does, isn’t it?

    I hope you used premium organic straw to build your strawman …

  38. dhogaza says:


    Really, it will be too late? Then why are you OK with reductions by 2050?

    Why do you assume the first step will be the last step?

    OK, it’s one of the denialist talking points going ’round and ’round, and repeating denialist talking points is all you’ve got … guess I answered my own question.

  39. hunter says:

    Thanks for the feedback.
    Anytime I can help point out the track record of apocalyptic predictions, I am more than happy to oblige.
    Odd how the “two decades ’til doom” is always two decades away.

  40. paulm says:

    We are in the midst of an extinction event for sure. Pretty much seems to happen when the relative level of CO2 spikes…
    CO2 Vs Mass extinctions

    Most people I speak with now are acutely aware of the strange weather patterns we are now seeing more clearly and the resulting extreme events. And they are feeling very uncomfortable about it all. (2008/09 was the year of enlightenment)

    This has accelerated, what I call the tipping action. And now with the collapsing of the food stocks mention in my post above it looks like the Apocalypse is on us.

    We should still try to get off coal though.

  41. Matt says:


    Well, I think it’s impossible that the extinction event and climate change are not linked to one another (aside from being manmade); we have pretty solid evidence of numerous changes in habitats and migration patterns which are so far attributed to climate change. These should be expected to continue and get worse in the future, as the landscape continues to transform. The IPCC also describes landscape transformations as a source of climate change, so perhaps there could be a positive feedback there.

    My background in environmental biology tells me the answer to your question is “not necessarily”, as it would depend on how rapidly species could either adapt or move to follow habitats they were adapted for. There are certain species which clearly will not be able to survive local climate changes, like the pika. Then others will simply change their routes or their timing, like the migration of birds in spring. As far as ecosystems collapsing, that would depend on your definition of such. If you think of an ecosystem as non-mobile, then under that definition, some will certainly collapse. But if it is just a collection of organisms interacting with abiotic factors in the environment, then the makeup of the ecosystem will change, but it would not collapse. This is probably why you get “yes” and “no” responses.

    Regardless of that distinction, the ecosystems will become more fragile and more likely to collapse with climate change, as ecosystems lose biodiversity, and thus “rivets on the plane”. While this may not cause them to collapse, it would certainly make them less stable. With our currently limited knowledge of ecology, particularly keystone species, I would expect climate change to lead to some if not many ecosystem collapses.

    My two cents, anyway.

  42. hunter says:

    Just wondering.
    When Gore blames AGW for tsunamis, is that a good thing?

    [JR: Hunter, Gore never did that. Your just pushing out a denier talking point.]

  43. Kyle says:

    Joe’s comment is correct – from 1990 levels for both 3% and 1%.

  44. 12 volt says:

    Another story on the Sixth Mass Extinction

  45. Gail says:

    “Climate change is always followed by mass extinction.”

    This was the pithy response to my question from DonExodus2 who posts excellent videos here: and actually has a degree in evolutionary biology so I gather he knows whereof he speaks.

    Highly recommend his videos about evolution and also those of potholer54, a geologist turned science reporter – you can search him on youtube and see his fascinating series, including History of the Universe Made Easy, The Story of the Earth Made Easy, plus others related to climate change.

  46. Gail says:

    At the risk of being perceived as RUDE,

    James Allison, can I save some time and just send you the comments here?

    Do you have any notion of what is happening to the coral reefs thanks to warming and more acidified oceans? Do you know that the oceans provide us with oxygen, to breathe?

  47. Wanda says:

    I don’t think that not having children is the answer to our problems. When people talk about saving our planet, they aren’t really concerned about the planet itself. They are concerned about the human race being destroyed. We care about the PEOPLE on this planet. Not having children would eventually destroy the human race just like our climate problems. All we can really do is do the best we can to better our environment.