We must phase out fossil fuels as quickly as humanly possible for a livable climate.
ExxonMobile Refinery, Torrance, CA. Photo: Michael Light.
WE MUST PHASE OUT FOSSIL FUELS NOW!
Few people, even in the global warming movement, understand the scope, scale, and urgency with which we must now operate to protect our livable planet. A pervasive pluralistic ignorance keeps people from admitting we are in a crisis. We now need a compelling multi-faceted Climate & Ecological Emergency Campaign to inform and activate a critical mass of Americans, so we can: (1) achieve US leadership in an Emergency Climate Mobilization, (2) set standards to reduce carbon-based fuels and eliminate their subsidies, (3) keep fossil fuels in the ground, and (4) correctly assess the viability of renewable energy.
The gravity of our situation is clear and convincing. Our task ahead is clear: we either phase-out fossil fuels now or we end civilization and humanity. Here is the tough reality: we have an emergency and we must mobilize now. All hands on deck!
We must build a large Climate Emergency Coalition to demand an immediate emergency mobilization as an over-riding US priority. The aim is Zero Net Carbon within a decade in the United States, feasible with an all-out mobilization.
The Paris Agreement won't save us
Importantly, the Paris Climate Agreement itself makes the case for emergency response. With its 1.5-2.0°C target, the Agreement merely gives the impression that the crisis is being addressed. But the deal allows nations to pollute for decades, leaving us on a course of over 3.5°C warming, threatening humanity and most life. There is no requirement to upgrade commitments before 2030.
So what gives? The Agreement is counting on miracles and magic to save us. Really. Rather than requiring dramatic reductions starting now, the Agreement assumes that unproven technologies (Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage) will down the road “suck carbon” from the atmosphere. Pollute now, clean up decades later. The idea: grow lots of trees and biomass to absorb carbon (an area 1-3 times the size of India annually), burn it in special power plants that capture the carbon emissions, compress the CO2, and pipe it long distances to then bury it. Read more about the absurdity of these proposals.
Bottom line: Paris’s target can only be possibly met with an immediate carbon phase-out, and with reality-based carbon reduction methods of regenerative land practices, while understanding current drawdown limitations.
THE EMERGENCY CASE:
- We are exploding past Earth’s Planetary Boundaries (the nine boundaries within which humanity has a viable future). Crossing boundaries risks abrupt and irreversible system change for the whole of Earth-Life.
- Warming is already dangerous at 1.2°C increase above preindustrial levels, as seen with escalating fires, droughts, floods, and hurricanes.
- CO2 is a more powerful greenhouse gas than previously understood. Better climate models have revealed that we are in for a greater heat increase than we realized (in looking at “climate sensitivity”, the heat produced by a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere).
- Clouds provide far less cooling than assumed. New research shows that clouds contain more water and less ice than previously thought. This discovery suggests that temperatures will rise faster from greenhouse gas pollution than previously forecast.
Carbon dioxide stays in our atmosphere for centuries, so it is a cumulative problem.
Chart: Scripps Institution of Oceanography
- CO2 emissions are irreversible on any human timescale—it takes centuries for CO2 to be re-absorbed back into the earth. So CO2 is a cumulative problem. At current emissions rates, each decade adds another 0.25°C / 0.5°F, increasing our risk of runaway heating.
- We are already committed to further inevitable warming even if we quit all fossil fuels today. Two reasons: (1) Particulate pollution (another pollutant from fossil fuels) actually masks some warming—so when we DO eventually quit fossil fuels, an estimated 0.5°C more warming is coming. (2) Further warming will come from the oceans, called “thermal inertia,” when they finally give their absorbed heat to the atmosphere, adding an estimated 0.6°C. Added to the 1°C existing warming, we may already be past Paris’s target.
The 2016 off-the-charts temperature spike even alarmed climate scientists. Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research responded: "We are in a kind of climate emergency now."
Chart: Stephan Rahmstorf
- Warming is in overdrive. Like a broken record, global heat records are being repeatedly shattered, year after year. 2016 was the hottest year, and 2019 comes in second.
- Sea level rise will swamp coastal cities. New research on sea level rise portends complete catastrophe if we do not slash fossil fuels now. James Hansen has warned that without “emergency cooperation among nations,” Greenland and Antarctica could melt ten times faster than formerly known, “resulting in sea level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years.” Irreversible ice-melt thresholds are being crossed now.
- Methane “natural gas” use is a catastrophic bridge to climate tipping points. Its greenhouse gas impact is far stronger than previously realized: over 100-times more potent than CO2 when first released. Massive methane leakage across the US in recent years coincides with the fracking boom. So this methane increase matters a lot. All fossil fuels must be kept in the ground, methane included.
- Oceanic threats await marine life. If we continue to dump CO2 into the atmosphere, the oceans will collapse. Even if we could magically pull CO2 out of thin air in the future, it would still acidify our oceans, poisoning marine life (explained here and here). Ocean warming causes two major threats to marine ecosystems: (1) coral bleaching and (2) deoxygenation. Only dramatic emission reductions starting now will save the oceans. No ocean life, no us—it’s that simple.
- The fossil fuel industry is on life support, and there is no viable energy replacement. The COVID economic crisis has burst the debt-driven fracking bubble, and net energy from fossil fuels is in serious decline.
- Renewable energy cannot power our growth-based Industrial Civilization. We face a reckoning, in terms of what renewable energy can and cannot do. A massive buildout of renewables will trigger a CO2 burp, which our climate cannot afford.
- Plastic pandemonium is filling our oceans and soil with waste.
- Accumulating toxins are interfering with life. Insects and amphibians are disappearing. Diminished sperm counts are slashing birth rates.
- We have eliminated nearly all mammals (except for humans, our pets, and livestock).
- Infringement on the natural world has unleashed the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of these systemic crises are interrelated; and all are symptoms of human overshoot. In essence, overshoot means too many of us taking too much. These crises will interact and multiply their overall effects.
The over-determined conclusion one would have to draw from these best-expert sources would be that YES!, we must dedicate ourselves to completely phase out fossil fuels in the US within ten years, and realize that the route toward such a radical transformation of our culture is an Emergency Climate Mobilization.
For a more in-depth examination of the climate emergency case, see David Spratt’s “Climate Reality Check” report.
No Carbon Budget Left
The stated function of carbon budgets are to provide an amount of "burnable" carbon, while maintaining a likelihood of staying under the 2°C heat ceiling.
Yet the carbon budget concept is a dangerous illusion:
- Major impacts are becoming apparent at just 1°C warming.
- There is an unacceptable risk that feedbacks will be triggered before 2°C.
- Budgets assume unacceptably high risks of failure.
For more details: No Remaining Carbon Budget: Zero Carbon In a Decade Is a Must!
Image: Jos Hagelaars, adapted by Breakthrough - David Spratt / further adapted by Climate Emergency Coalition