“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”
In Chicken Little’s case, the sky turned out to be an acorn whacking the chick on his head. In Planet Earth’s case, the spaceship we are riding really is in danger, and a new report warns that the window of opportunity for shifting directions is about to slam shut.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have not read World Energy Outlook 2011. At 660 pages and €120 for the PDF version, it requires more time and money resources than I can give it. So I have to rely on the press release and summary from its publisher, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and on other news reports.
IEA, an intergovernmental agency, is not the darling of the environmental movement. They have been accused of underplaying the potential of renewable energies, soft pedaling issues like peak oil, being overly optimistic about fossil fuels and playing politics with our energy future.
So when they say it will be too late if we do not take action by 2017, pundits take notice. After that date, IEA says keeping a safe lid on climate change will no longer be possible. Their press release quotes the agency’s Chief Economist:
“As each year passes without clear signals to drive investment in clean energy, the ‘lock-in’ of high-carbon infrastructure is making it harder and more expensive to meet our energy security and climate goals,” said Fatih Birol, IEA Chief Economist. The WEO presents a 450 Scenario, which traces an energy path consistent with meeting the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C. Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already locked-in by existing capital stock, including power stations, buildings and factories. Without further action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035. Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.
A carbon dioxide level of 450 parts per million is considerably higher than 350.org’s target. The latter points out that climatologists warned of human and natural disasters if the CO2 level remained above 350 parts per million. A sampling of headlines confirms their worries:
- Climate change melting polar regions faster than ever before
- Climate change causing massive movement of tree species across the west
- Climate change threatens China’s crops
As a species, we humans are behaving like a reverse Chicken Little. Some very informed scientists have been telling us for a long time we had better pay attention to what we are doing to the environment. Two kinds of critics have shouted them down. The first kind thinks they have a lot to lose because they make a lot of money destroying the planet. The Koch brothers are a good example. The second kind treats climate change as a religion, and they are not among the faithful. GOP presidential candidates are among them.
The time for public disinterest, corporate food dragging and political timidity is long past. We have a planet to save.
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Photo from Partha Sarathi Sahana via Flickr Creative Commons