Emissions Equal WarmingThe basis of global climate reality is that the science of climate change has revealed one simple fact, a fact that continues to be ignored by Irish and most international policy:
The cumulative total of humanity's greenhouse emissions – those already released, those we emit right now, and those emitted in the very near future – will determine the very survival of global human civilisation and of much of the Earth's ecosystem.
The final extent of global warming and the resultant climate change damage will depend on the total future carbon emissions 'budget' emitted globally, a budget that has to be divided on some equitable basis, between all the countries of the world and with twenty or more future generations of the entire world population, including our own children.
We in Ireland have to take responsibility for our part in staying within our carbon budget by not displaying in our policies, as now, a complete ignorance of this fundamental finding of climate science. This is the critical basis of any climate policy. Even NGOs and opposition proposals display their lack of basic understanding by concentrating on misleading and effectively meaningless 'date-rate' targets such as '90% decrease in emissions by 2050. Only the total accumulated carbon budget stock of emissions is important, the rate at any particular time is not unless the date-rates are explicitly linked to a carbon budget and corresponding emissions path.
Currently, for a (still very dangerous) 'safe' warming of 2ºC in average global surface temperature, we will easily exhaust our 500 year global budget within the next fifteen years. An average warming of 4º to 6ºC with catastrophic effects, within the lifetime of children being born now, is entirely plausible. Only by adopting a 'safe' emissions path within the carbon budget is it likely that the world can avoid economic, environmental and societal collapse. If not avoided, the global as well as the local results will deeply affect Ireland and its people – how could they not?
A far safer course is still possible but time is running out very fast. And even if we cannot now avoid more than 2ºC of warming it then becomes even more important to avoid 3ºC by acting even more strongly now to peak emissions.
Ireland Must Face the Future Honestly
Every country must therefore follow an emissions path to safety and Ireland can be no exception. To argue that Ireland is 'too small to make a difference' or that 'other countries are more responsible' is simply immoral, these are justifications for insular and short-term greed to allow us to take more of the available carbon budget for ourselves now at the expense of others elsewhere or in the future.
Ireland's government and administration continue to be in a state of denial regarding the 'one simple fact'. The Heads of Bill for our proposed climate legislation and the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) Secretariat's recent Report both entirely ignore the requirement for a global carbon budget, and the consequent moral necessity of following the safest possible emissions path, one that sums to Ireland's share of that global carbon budget.
Economists repeatedly practice the same denial, even though you might imagine they would be able to grasp the simple concept of a budget. What happens as world economic growth becomes impossible over the next decades due to food shortages, population migration and extreme weather events due to climate change? What price human civilisation?
Most economists do not seem to understand that 'time discounting' does not apply to a sustainable global civilisation. The price worth paying to preserve it has to be worth paying and it is the wealthiest countries, corporations and individuals that are going to have to pay most of it as they bear the most 'emissions responsibility'. This of course is the real problem: they don't want to.
Economists and our own Department of Finance need to wake up and smell the coffee. If they do not help us to develop an economy that can work within our carbon budget they are ignoring the 'one simple fact' and imperilling our futures.
Instead of seeing the global external risks from climate change, which threaten our food, property and security, our leaders and 'experts', and often we ourselves, try to concentrate on the short-term Irish and the local to Ireland (relatively benign) effects of global warming. This is promoting collective denial of the growing extreme danger that lies ahead and is becoming evident now. It is our own high emissions now that are further compromising the futures of our children and, especially, the near future of those countries most vulnerable to climate change damage.
Unless our politicians and advisors, and most of all ourselves, finally come to terms with the 'one simple fact' of global warming and its implications, we will continue on a highway of intensifying risk. We would all prefer to delay difficult actions into the future but sadly the best advice available and the, already apparent, damage effects of global warming show that we cannot. Every year of high emissions that goes by increases the amount of regulatory or other action that will be needed – ironically the very opposite outcome wished for by those who are acting to delay action. They are increasing the potential for greater difficulties.
We have now have no option but to act urgently by massive and rapid decarbonisation of our energy supply and by cuts in our own consumption and in types of agriculture that cause emissions. To do this equitably so that the poorest do not suffer is the real challenge for governments and economists. They and we will have to decide whether ideologies and rhetoric are effective in addressing climate reality. So far they are ignoring reality – at great cost to our future.
Heeding the Science Gives Us Hope
The science says we have to peak emissions by 2015 and decarbonise very rapidly thereafter. Every year of delay in peaking and acting greatly compounds the danger. Our proposed policy is to grow emissions. This is Ireland's vote for humanity's self-generated collapse.
It is now our collective responsibility to choose the safest carbon emissions path. To be informed we as citizens need to know we are choosing between: the safest, most conservative course; and the our present dangerous course that risks immense damage to Ireland's security and our children's future. It is our choice. And now is when we must act.
Those who are not alarmed by the 'One Simple Fact' are not paying attention. If you are alarmed, or even just concerned, let your Dáil TDs know it. Our voices really can make a difference especially if we phone our TD or state our concerns in person to them. Ultimately, it is politicians who have to make these difficult choices and they need your strong support to make them.
This would be a good time to encourage TDs to ensure that our legislation at least acknowledges the need for a carbon budget approach. If we cannot even begin to be honest about even the most basic fact of global warming – our own responsibility in choosing or at least acknowledging our future carbon budget – we have a big problem. Right now the real threat to our long term future security lies in choosing to follow the stated policy that ignores the most basic fact shown by climate science. Ignorance may be bliss but it cannot be a excuse.
Without such urgently needed honesty, regarding the scale and immediacy of the challenge we face, the proposed legislation is literally hopeless. It would make a change to see some signs of hope in a more honest acceptance of our choices.