The world is mov­ing for­ward on cli­mate

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Eu­gene Robin­son Eu­gene Robin­son’s email ad­dress is eu­gen­er­obin­[email protected]­

All of the lead­ers as­sem­bled at the Group of 20 meet­ing in Buenos Aires com­mit­ted their na­tions to the fight against cli­mate change, ex­cept one — Pres­i­dent Trump, of course. But pay him no mind. As the proverb says, “The dogs bark, but the car­a­van moves on.”

We don’t have to wait for his­tory to prove how ut­terly, stupidly wrong Trump is on this ex­is­ten­tial is­sue. Cur­rent events are mak­ing the point. We have baked our­selves into an era of su­perla­tives — the raini­est storms, worst floods, dead­li­est fires, most pun­ish­ing heat waves. The hottest years on record. The high­est lev­els of at­mo­spheric car­bon in thou­sands of cen­turies.

“Lead­ers of the world, you must lead,” the Bri­tish nat­u­ral­ist David Attenborough said Mon­day. “If we don’t take ac­tion, the col­lapse of our civ­i­liza­tions and the ex­tinc­tion of much of the nat­u­ral world is on the hori­zon.”

Attenborough was speak­ing at a key United Na­tions con­fer­ence in Ka­tow­ice, Poland, where diplo­mats and sci­en­tists from around the world will spend the next two weeks work­ing on a con­crete plan for meet­ing the goals of the land­mark 2015 Paris agree­ment. The aim is to sharply re­duce car­bon emis­sions, lim­it­ing hu­man-in­duced global warm­ing to non-cat­a­strophic lev­els.

No one has time for Trump’s fool­ish­ness. The United Na­tions’ an­nual Emis­sions Gap Re­port, re­leased last week, showed that world­wide green­house-gas emis­sions grew by 1.2 per­cent last year af­ter re­main­ing roughly sta­ble for the pre­ced­ing three years. Emis­sions need to be­gin fall­ing, and rapidly, if we are to meet the orig­i­nal Paris tar­get of keep­ing the in­crease in av­er­age tem­per­a­ture to 2 de­grees Cel­sius (3.6 de­grees Fahren­heit).

And the tar­get is mov­ing. A re­port this year from the U.N.-spon­sored In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, re­flect­ing the lat­est sci­en­tific anal­y­sis and con­sen­sus, warned that the cur­rent goal is not am­bi­tious enough. To avoid do­ing se­ri­ous harm to the planet and our­selves, we re­ally should limit warm­ing to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius (2.7 de­grees Fahren­heit), which would re­quire rapid and dras­tic ac­tion.

As we go about our daily lives — leav­ing our toasty homes ev­ery morn­ing and driving our cars to cli­mate-con­trolled of­fice build­ings where we work in front of com­put­ers all day be­fore driving home at night, on brightly il­lu­mi­nated streets, to fire up our mi­crowave ovens and watch our big-screen tele­vi­sion sets — the idea of rad­i­cal change in our en­ergy use seems daunt­ing.

But we don’t have much of a choice. The con­se­quences of a warm­ing world are no longer the­o­ret­i­cal. They are here, they are do­ing great harm to hu­mans and the en­vi­ron­ment, and they are get­ting worse.

It would be much bet­ter if the gov­ern­ment of the world’s greatest eco­nomic and sci­en­tific power were lead­ing the fight against this col­lec­tive threat. One of Trump’s first con­se­quen­tial acts as pres­i­dent, how­ever, was an­nounc­ing his in­ten­tion to with­draw from the Paris ac­cord. He is our cen­tury’s King Canute, ar­ro­gantly try­ing to hold back the sea — which nonethe­less has risen­n­early 3 inches in the past 25 years.

But while the United States may not be par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Paris process now, it can­not for­mally leave the pact un­til Novem­ber 2020 — when, one hopes, vot­ers will be elect­ing a saner, more re­spon­si­ble pres­i­dent.

Mean­while, state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, uni­ver­si­ties and the pri­vate sec­tor are ac­tively work­ing to­ward the clean-en­ergy fu­ture that is manda­tory if we are to avert dis­as­ter. Ac­cord­ing to Amer­ica’s Pledge, an ini­tia­tive founded by for­mer New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jerry Brown (D), cur­rent com­mit­ments and mar­ket forces are ex­pected to re­duce U.S. emis­sions to 17 per­cent be­low 2005lev­els by 2025.

For­mer Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger (R) spoke Mon­day at the U.N. cli­mate con­fer­ence in Poland. “Ev­ery time you talk about Amer­ica, you’re right when you say that our lead­er­ship in Wash­ing­ton is a lit­tle bit back­wards,” he said. “But you’re wrong when you say that Amer­ica dropped out of the Paris agree­ment. Be­cause if you look a lit­tle bit beyond Wash­ing­ton . . . you will see all the ex­tra­or­di­nary work that is go­ing on [at the] state and city level in Amer­ica.”

It is far from as­sured that the world will suc­ceed in reach­ing the emis­sions tar­gets that sci­en­tists say are ad­vis­able. But it is clear that Trump’s know-noth­ing stance has not wrecked the Paris agree­ment process — and per­haps has even strength­ened com­mit­ment to it.

Ac­cord­ing to a Mon­mouth Uni­ver­sity poll re­leased last week, about 8 in 10 Amer­i­cans now be­lieve in cli­mate change and a ma­jor­ity rec­og­nize it as a “very se­ri­ous” prob­lem. One ig­no­ra­mus can­not stem this tide.

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