Professor Kevin Anderson is what they call a mensch. For years he has been fearlessly reporting on what we are actually tipping into the open sewer we call our atmosphere. Not what we are promising to emit, or what we would like to believe we are emitting, but what is actually going up. He ties that to both what we are probably going to emit (once you’ve built a coal-fired power station, you’ve got an incentive to use it, after all) and – given various climate sensitivities- what this means for our chances of not broiling ourselves. They weren’t good when he started doing this. You need an electron microscope to see them nowadays.
It’s a simple presentation, and one that he repeats with the new numbers plugged in. It’s horrifying.
For the last year, as part of a broader project, I’ve also been looking at what we knew and when. Some perceptive scientists saw a problem in the 60s (Bolin, Keeling, Revelle, Bateson etc). By the mid-70s (ignore the ‘they were warning about ice ages’ nonsense) the evidence was hardening. By 1983 the US National Academy of Science and Environmental Protection Agency released reports that should have scared the crap out of the people who are supposed to be running the show. This was all before the 1985 Villach meeting, where carbon dioxide was joined by other greenhouse gases, and climate scientists realised they’d have to start slapping policy-makers around and saying ‘capisce?’ to them. Well, that went well…
We didn’t act then. We won’t now. The second half of this century will make the first half of the last one look like a golden age of peace and enlightenment.
FWIW, my answers to his (non-rhetorical) question is-
I think it’s a mix of
a) innumeracy about what the budgets and trajectories actually are
b) fear of offending funders/being ridiculed (see also the social psychology experiment of the smoke-filled room)
c) the desperate need to believe that it is not too late (more prevalent perhaps among parents of young children, but we are all capable of believing comforting tosh).