World faces threat­en­ing ‘Ti­tanic’ mo­ment ahead

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

The In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change just re­leased its lat­est pro­nounce­ment on cli­mate change, and it’s stark. They think it is still pos­si­ble (barely) to keep the planet at no more than 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius above pre-in­dus­trial times, which is thought to be “man­age­able” but will still cause suf­fer­ing and death from cli­mate dis­rup­tion and weather ex­tremes. Our guide­lines: The world needs to hit peak green­house gas emis­sions by 2020, then de­cline, then cut emis­sions in half by 2030, then achieve net zero emis­sions by 2050.

That’s an ex­tremely tight sched­ule and a big ask. Un­prece­dented in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and in­fras­truc­ture trans­for­ma­tion are re­quired. Phys­i­cally pos­si­ble, but not prob­a­ble po­lit­i­cally, says the IPCC. This is a “Dan­ger! Ice­berg dead ahead” mes­sage, yet the Demo­crat-Gazette placed a short synop­sis in “The World in Brief” on Page 7A in Mon­day’s edi­tion. This is typical me­dia treat­ment, un­for­tu­nately. There should be head­lines scream­ing across the front page, with in-depth ar­ti­cles and daily fol­low-ups. A very pos­si­ble ship­wreck of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion de­serves max­i­mum at­ten­tion and scru­tiny.

We must ac­cept that past cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts have failed mis­er­ably. Eighty-five per­cent of the world’s en­ergy still comes from burn­ing fos­sil fu­els and their con­sump­tion is in­creas­ing. No longer may we be con­tent know­ing that we have done a lit­tle bit that helps, whether it is sav­ing some en­ergy at home or a city or util­ity com­pany in­stalling a so­lar panel ar­ray. Ran­dom “lit­tle bits” are not enough. In­deed, na­tions may not go it alone; we all have to be on board. It is dif­fer­ent now be­cause we have been given an ev­i­dence-based tar­get and a time­line for achiev­ing it. We can set ver­i­fi­able mile­stones of ac­com­plish­ment, and if our progress is lack­ing, we will need to step up the pace.

Cre­ative and fo­cused en­ergy pol­icy, in­no­va­tion, and re­search and devel­op­ment of new tech­nolo­gies will be re­quired, but mainly we must de­ploy, de­ploy, de­ploy tried and true ap­proaches, since time is short. Nu­clear power is cur­rently our largest, most re­li­able source of car­bon-free en­ergy. Nu­clear has the po­ten­tial to ser­vice en­ergy sec­tors such as in­dus­trial process, syn­the­sis of car­bon-neu­tral liq­uid fu­els for avi­a­tion, marine and heavy ground trans­port, dis­trict heat­ing and de­sali­na­tion. These are sec­tors not eas­ily ser­viced by so­lar and wind. We must use ev­ery tool and tech­nique at our dis­posal in the most ef­fec­tive man­ner. To pre­ma­turely elim­i­nate an op­tion (such as nu­clear) would be ty­ing one hand be­hind our backs. We don’t have the lux­ury of build­ing any­one’s fa­vorite utopia. This is triage.

To sum up the IPCC re­port: If the en­tire world gets its act to­gether and pushes — hard — start­ing to­day, we might just miss hit­ting the metaphor­i­cal ice­berg, and sus­tain only “tol­er­a­ble” dam­age to our ves­sel. Or, we can head down to the lounge for an­other cock­tail and strike up the band, se­cure in our be­lief that no ac­tion is re­quired, that all will be as it has ever been.

The choice is ours. This is our “Ti­tanic” mo­ment. GARY KAHANAK Fayetteville

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