You’d think that after decades of climate hyperbole that keeps getting debunked the alarmists would learn to tone it down. Instead, Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics, just wrote that “The climate emergency is our third world war.” Arguably an unfortunate metaphor given that World War III is the one where everyone famously dies except a few scorched survivors who wind up back in the Stone Age. But it does underline that with just 12 years until we supposedly all die anyway, existing measures aren’t close to satisfying the alarmists. With the low-hanging fruit already picked and tinned, European GHG emissions are rising again, not falling dramatically. And not one of the top 10 GHG emitters, including Canada, are on track to meet their Paris Accord targets. If you thought this would end with modest carbon taxes and rebate cheques, guess again.
Most European nations aren’t even committed to phasing out coal, to the horror of climate activists who say it’s essential to meet the Paris Accord targets. But again, meeting the Paris Accord targets would not, according to those same activists, make any meaningful difference in the projected warming trajectory. And if you get rid of coal but burn some other fossil fuel, the gains are minimal especially with modern coal technology. (The obvious alternative, nuclear, remains strangely unpopular with climate alarmists though to their credit Ohio state Democratic legislators just voted to subsidize nuclear as well as coal power, the former being a small step toward reducing GHG emissions without giving up energy. Though not subsidizing anything would be better because in the name of fairness as well as efficiency consumers should pay the full cost for whatever they consume.)
Some alarmists see the need for more drastic action clearly including, of course, Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish student rebellion leader who also claims she can see CO2. She just said “Im Jahr 2020 müssen wir die Emissionskurve steil nach unten gewendet haben, wenn wir eine Chance haben wollen, unter 1,5 oder 2 Grad Erwärmung zu bleiben.” ("In 2020 we’ll have to turn the emission curve steeply down, if we want to have any chance of staying below 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming.”) So Stiglitz is right that we need an effort far more massive than anything that’s going on now… assuming the goal really is necessary.
The question for those who say it is becomes how. And it seems straightforward: Joe Biden wants the U.S. to move by 2050 to net zero emissions of what the New York Times describes in a news story as “planet-warming pollution”. But Biden, never much of one for fact-checking including whether the words he’s using are his own or cut and pasted without attribution, said “While we’re standing around not doing much, the rest of the world is moving ahead”. But they’re not, unless you mean moving ahead with building coal plants or some such.
Across the pond the BBC is on board, telling us “Leading climate scientists” want Theresa May, now safely beyond the reach of voters because she failed so badly to implement the big job they gave her, as a Parthian shot to commit Britain to eliminate GHG emissions by 2050. Since Britain is already committed to an 80% reduction it’s less drastic, and dramatic, than it sounds. The trouble of course is that Britain is going to miss the existing target badly and moving it further away is unlikely to improve the aim.
It’s also strange how much activists continue to emphasize words not deeds. A Toronto Liberal MP has also introduced a “net zero” bill, saying “The first step has to be greater ambition” whereas in fact the crying need now is for telling us what would be required to meet yesterday’s ambition. And Climate Home News is all excited that Chile and Finland “announced carbon targets that throw shade on a lot of the self-appointed climate leaders around the world” and “highlight what is possible with political will.” Yet Chile is ranked a dismal “Highly Insufficient” on what it has already done by Climate Action Tracker, like Canada (Finland isn’t ranked).
At the moment we seem to be stuck in Word War III. Which beats the alternative because the gains from fossil fuel use are very clear, the costs of using them highly speculative and the cost of an actual war on the energy sources that keep us warm and fed so huge that Stiglitz’ metaphor was ill-chosen primarily because it was so apt.