We may have just about 30 years left until the world’s carbon budget for 2 degrees C warming is exceeded unless emissions drop by 80% from current levels. In fact 4 C might be reached by 2070.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) has delivered an overwhelming consensus that climate change impacts are accelerating, fueled by human-caused emissions. Continuous emission of CO2 at current rates would put the world at increased risk of forest fires, coral bleaching, higher sea level rise, and other dangerous impacts (http://www.wri.org/blog/2013/09/world%E2%80%99s-carbon-budget-be-spent-three-decades ).
The need to constraint and manage economic activity and energy usage is seen by some as an indictment of capitalist neoliberal values. According to this so called conservative world view, because the efficiency of the Free Market is held as fundamental economic dogma, the assertions of climate science must be mistaken. Conservatives see the facts of climate change as aTrojan horse used by morally questionable progressive types to undermine the freedom and prosperity of western democracies (for an example of this thinking see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/416990/sustainability-craze-nothing-empty-pose-george-will ). Concerns for the environment are dismissed and trivialized as just end of the world fads (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/us/the-unrealized-horrors-of-population-explosion.html ). Past pronouncements on the limits of growth are taken out of context to argue that there are no limits to growth. That technology has and will support an ever bigger world economy.
The theory of the efficiency of the free market to distribute and generate wealth might have some validity within the context of economic models that disregard externalities and physical and Earth’s ecosystem bounds to growth and development. The Neoliberal economic model might be appropriate in a World with infinite resources and an infinite capacity to absorb disturbances. Unfortunately, developed economies are running out of places to plunder, and worldwide human society is reaching the Earth’s planetary boundaries for development (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/21/research/research-programmes/planetary-boundaries.html ).
To dismiss calls for the abatement of climate risks as a conspiracy of liberals disregards the empirical evidence from today’s weather that the climate is becoming chaotic and extreme.
The fact that the global economy is still growing do not imply that growth can continue forever. That is jumping to conclusions.
Past models on the limits of growth ( http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Malthus) made some inferences about the future based on assumptions and conditions that changed over time. The Limits to Growth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth ) is a 1972 report on exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies. Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and commissioned by the Club of Rome, the study used a World model to simulate the consequence of interactions between the Earth’s and human systems. Five variables were examined in the original model. These variables are: world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion. The authors intended to explore the possibility of a sustainable feedback pattern that would be achieved by altering growth trends among the five variables under three scenarios. The report noted that their projections for the values of the variables in each scenario were predictions “only in the most limited sense of the word,” and were only indications of the system’s behavioral tendencies. It is cherry picking and impossible expectations to take this scenarios as failed forecasts that show that there are no limits to growth and no risk of a climate catastrophe.
There is no time left for fuzzing and fighting. We need to do not what we can, but what is required. A quarter century ago, scientists warned that if we kept burning fossil fuel at current rates we’d melt the Arctic. The fossil fuel industry (and most everyone else in power) ignored those warnings (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/opinion/obamas-catastrophic-climate-change-denial.html ). Mr. Obama — acting on his own, since these are all executive actions requiring nothing from Congress — has opened huge swaths of the Powder River basin to new coal mining. This is not climate denial of the Republican sort, where people simply pretend the science isn’t real. This is climate denial of the status quo sort, where people accept the science, and indeed make long speeches about the immorality of passing on a ruined world to our children.
Talk is cheap but we must walk the walk. It is not easy and nobody knows how to mobilize the World in the direction of a sustainable egalitarian society but the risk is high that the other option is doom.