An article by Jeffrey Sachs, Project Syndicate.
Humanity has just about run out of time to address climate change. Scientists have pointed out that a rise in temperature of 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels will put the Earth in dangerous, uncharted territory. Yet we currently are on a path toward an increase of 4°C or more this century. The last chance for action has arrived.
That chance lies in Paris in December 2015, when the world’s governments meet for the 21st annual United Nations climate-change meeting. But this time will be different. Either governments will agree to decisive action, as they have promised, or we will look back at 2015 as the year when climate sanity slipped through our fingers.
In 1992, the world’s governments adopted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, promising to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference in the climate system” by reducing the rate of emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. But, though the treaty entered into force in 1994, the rate of emissions of greenhouse gases, including CO2, has actually increased.
In 1992, global combustion of coal, oil, and gas, plus cement production, released 22.6 billion tons of CO2 into the air. In 2012, the most recent year for which comparable data are available, emissions were 34.5 billion tons. Humanity has accelerated, rather than controlled, human-induced climate change.
This is now the greatest moral issue of our time. Global fossil-fuel use gravely threatens the poor, who are the most vulnerable to climate change (though the rich are the main cause), and future generations, who will inherit a planet that has become unlivable in many places, with food supply subject to massive shocks.
We are causing this harm in an age when technological breakthroughs enable the world to shift from dangerous fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources, such as wind, solar, nuclear, and hydro, and reduce the impact of fossil fuels by using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Pope Francis recently put it just right: “Safeguard Creation,” he said. “Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”
Yet, for the many powerful interests, climate change remains a game, with the goal being to delay action for as long as possible. The giant fossil-fuel companies have continued to lobby behind the scenes against the shift to low-carbon energy, and have used their vast wealth to buy media coverage designed to sow confusion. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere stands out as playing a particularly cynical and harmful role in spreading anti-scientific propaganda.
Even so, the politics of climate change may be changing for the better — a change reflected in the Pope’s forceful message. Here are six reasons why the stalemate might soon end.
First, the world is waking up to the calamity that we are causing. Though the Murdoch propaganda machine churns out a daily stream of anti-scientific falsehoods, the public also sees prolonged droughts (now in parts of Brazil, California, and Southeast Asia, to name a few places), massive floods (recently in Bosnia and Serbia), and lethal heat waves (in many parts of the world).
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