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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Context of COP24

António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations. Photo: Kuhlmann / MSC. Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

George Harvey

Climate change denial is well-funded and pervasive. The Wikipedia article “Climate change denial” says, “Climate change denial has been associated with the fossil fuels lobby, the Koch brothers, industry advocates and conservative think tanks, often in the United States. More than 90% of papers skeptical on climate change originate from right-wing think tanks. The total annual income of these climate change counter-movement-organizations is roughly $900 million” (bit.ly/cc-denial). The article has a large number of references, and I will point out that conservatives are as free to edit its contents as liberals are, though changes by either without adequate source citations may be removed.

What some people do not realize is that despite the denialist rhetoric, there really is no question among scientists that we are experiencing unprecedented and dangerous changes in our weather patterns. Furthermore, there is no realistic doubt that human beings are causing the problem. In 2015, MSNBC ran an article, “How Climate Change Deniers Got It Right – but Very Wrong,” which reported that James L. Powell, a member of the National Science Board under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, did a survey of scientists who published in scientific journals on weather or climate science. Of the nearly 70,000 scientists he surveyed, only four were ready to challenge the idea of climate change (http://bit.ly/deniers-got-it-wrong).

Demonstration at a coal mining tower in Chorzów, Poland. Photo: Akcja Demokracja.

The data is not yet official, but 2018 was almost certainly one of the five hottest years in history. The other four were 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. Of the ten hottest years, one was 1998, three were in the 2000s, and six were in the 2010s. The data came from NOAA, but the page conveying it has been removed from the internet (see http://bit.ly/warmest-years).

The fossil fuels industry is willing to finance denial, and some people are willing to earn money in that service, but the simple truth is that denialist funding activity does not change our climate. And even if the weather and climate data from NOAA is blocked by the Trump administration, the damage can be readily observable in our environment.

Things are getting worse. Weather related insurance claims increased from 1978 through 2016 by a factor of 47. The wildfires in California, costing billions in damage, were worsened by climate change, according to scientific analysis. In 2017, some areas of Texas that were flooded by Hurricane Harvey were not even in 500-year flood zones. 2017 was the first year in history that more than one hurricane of category 4 or higher hit the United States – there were three of them. The hurricane season in 2018 was a little better, but Michael was the third most powerful storm ever to make landfall.

Some events of 2018 were frightening in their implications. One of these came before the public in August, when ice north of Greenland broke up for the first time in history (http://bit.ly/arctic-ice-breaks-up).

The damage that has been done so far, including many billions of dollars in economic loss, have come about because of the chaos created by climatic change of only 1°C. Denial, however, continues, and the Trump administration, which announced gloatingly last year that it would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, now brags on about rolling back climate protections.

On October 8, 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC. It was frightening. Written by ninety-one scientists from forty countries, with over 6,000 scientific citations, it warned that we had only twelve years to stop global warming at 1.5° C, and that we could only achieve that goal through strenuous exertion (bit.ly/global-warming-report).

While a 1.0°C increase has already brought damage in the billions of dollars, we can be assured that 1.5°C will be far worse. The Paris Climate Agreement tried to keep warming to no more than 2.0°C. But according to the special report, the trajectory we are on will take us to 3.0°C, a super-destructive number.

The special report says that a reduction in carbon emissions needed to limit warming to 1.5°C are 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050. Avoiding doing that will keep money flowing into the fossil fuels industry, but we must do it to avoid heavy losses for most people alive today. It is probable that we will only achieve that goal by implementing technology to draw down carbon from the atmosphere that is as yet undeveloped.

In November 2018, the World Meteorological Organization reported that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had reached 405 parts per million. This is a level not seen in the last three million years, and there is no question that it has happened because of human activity.

Going into COP24, things looked grim.

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