It’s funny how climate certainties move about without losing any of their certainty. For instance the figure of 1.5°C as the maximum warming we could tolerate since the Russo-Turkish War came out of thin air then instantly hardened into dogma useful for panicking the masses. Yet now it seems to have melted. At any rate The Atlantic’s “Weekly Planet,” temporarily under new management, suddenly pats us on the head with “1.5 Degrees Was Never the End of the World/ The most famous climate goal is woefully misunderstood.” Silly us. Wherever did we get that idea?
Oh right. From you:
“For years, there’s been a consensus in the climate movement: no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The figure comes from the Paris Agreement, a climate treaty ratified in 2016, and world leaders such as President Joe Biden bring it up all the time: ‘If we’re going to win this fight, every major emitter nation needs [to] align with the 1.5 degrees,’ he said in November. Youth activists at the Sunrise Movement call 1.5 degrees a ‘critical threshold.’ Even the corporate world is stuck on 1.5 degrees. Companies including Apple, Google, and Saudi Aramco – the world’s largest oil company – claim to be transitioning their operations in alignment with the 1.5 goal.”
And when the science is settled, you get settled science, right? Wrong!!!! So listen up all you chumps: “But here’s the thing: 1.5 degrees, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, isn’t based on any scientific calculation.”
You only just realized this arguably significant thing? Or have you always known and only now felt like mentioning it? Probably the latter, and the impetus was a new study that states the obvious:
“It doesn’t represent a specific planetary threshold or ecological tipping point. It was first proposed during international climate negotiations as a moral statement, a rebuke of the idea that the world could accept some disruption and suffering in order to burn fossil fuels just a bit longer. That’s the takeaway of a new study on the history of the target from two French academics, Béatrice Cointe from the Centre for the Sociology of Innovation and Hélène Guillemot from the Centre Alexandre Koyré, both funded by the French National Centre for Scientific Research. From the perspective of the present, it’s a relief that 1.5 degrees doesn’t represent a scientific threshold, because we are almost certainly going to blow past it. As a rebuke, however, it may live on.”
Yeah. A rebuke to you. To all you people who either knew it was a phony number but found it too convenient to stop using it, or who never bothered to check the science before barging into discussions yelling about deniers dooming humanity for venal or twisted motives.
Roger Pielke Jr., in a piece on his “The Honest Broker” substack entitled “The 1.5 Degree Temperature Target is a Dead Man Walking”, notes that this particular pseudoscientific number is by no means the first of its kind. In fact the 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2 that has been relentlessly hyped had its origin in Bill McKibben asking James Hansen to make up something cool-sounding, which he did, leading to McKibben founding 350.org (although the earlier and equally arbitrary number he’d been thinking of had been 450).
Then, with the help of a Swedish foundation, McKibben took out an ad to pressure the upcoming COP Whateveritwas in Copenhagen in 2009 and voila, a factoid:
“On June 23, 2008 the Tällberg Forum published the full page advertisement above in the Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times with more than 150 signatories. In the days that followed the Tällberg Forum hosted an international conference to promote the proposed target, which was attended by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Their campaign was a resounding success. The nerdy concept of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had gone global, despite the fact that there was essentially no science behind it, just Hansen’s non-peer-reviewed draft paper and a bunch of sign-ons to a newspaper ad. Well done!”
However delegates at Copenhagen, knowing 350 had been passed and thus lacked a certain decade-to-save-Earth urgency, opted for 1.5°C instead. Though as Pielke also says:
“The 1.5 C target was adopted as an aspirational target under the Paris Agreement… However, at the time it was enshrined in the Paris Agreement, many experts viewed the target as an impossibility. However, the scientific community —rather than loudly proclaim that the aspirational targets were exactly that and practically unreachable — followed the political demand for scientific justification after the fact to legitimize the impossible goal as an actual target to guide policy.”
He then writes that:
“It remains to be seen whether climate advocates will decide that the attention paid to the 1.5C target over the past 14 years represented an inefficient detour from more productive paths to decarbonization, or if the shared willing suspension of disbelief in hopes of gaining political currency moved things along. Longtime readers here will know my views on this question – expert advisory bodies like the IPCC should always play things straight, and resist the temptation to provide or promote policy-based evidence, even if the alternative is uncomfortable knowledge.”
Sound advice. But is it too late? Because despite what people who know as much about “the science” as they do about Etruscan poetry are always shouting, it wasn’t science at all, let alone settled science, but it was force-fed to us as science and “the scientists” did not object.
Which brings us to an obvious question: If you didn’t know or didn’t come clean on this one, why should we trust you on the others? Whether you are a scientist, a politician or an activist (or some unsavory mix of the three like Michael Mann), we have every right to ask what else you’re not being upfront about. Like that there is no 97% consensus, say, or that sea levels are not rising uniformly, relentlessly and ever-faster. Or that much of the warming since Bismarck’s day has been natural.
Actually it turns out that the next to go is the 12 years to prevent disaster. According to the “Weekly Planet” piece cited above:
“Staying below 1.5 degrees, the IPCC scientists concluded [in a 2018 report], would be an extremely heavy lift that would require, among other things, slashing emissions about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030. This is the origin of the common idea that we have ‘12 years left’ to stop climate change.”
Which deceived even St. Greta. As “Weekly Planet” author Emma Marris concedes:
“You can feel its influence in this speech that Greta Thunberg gave to the U.K.’s houses of Parliament in 2019: ‘Around the year 2030,’ she said, ‘10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilization as we know it.’”
While language that hyperbolic makes us suspect that even she doesn’t believe it, imagine being one of the UK MPs who did and truly had no idea it was just made up.
You might even find yourself asking, if all this “settled science” was just PR noise, what else is disposable fakery? Is the 2.0°C also bon pour le cirque?
Ah but nay. Instead 1.5°C rises from the grave and shakes its gory locks at us:
“But even then, the 1.5-degree target won’t be entirely obsolete. It has another function—governments that promised in the Paris Agreement to ‘pursu[e] efforts’ to limit warming to 1.5 degrees can now be held accountable for breaking their promise. Enshrined in a legally binding treaty, 1.5 now represents what humanity should have accomplished... as a reference against which humanity’s failures can be judged, it will remain powerful.”
Yeah. Because of course if you want to create the illusion of a permanent crisis so you can hijack the world’s economy forever then setting up a meaningless and unattainable standard makes perfect sense. It also makes sense as a symbol of belligerent ignorance and humanity’s failure to check its math. Bummer. Let’s not do it again.