Why Climate Protesters Should Be Wary Of 12 Years To Breakdown Rhetoric

Why Climate Protesters Should Be Wary Of 12 Years To Breakdown Rhetoric

I was invited to speak to a group of teenagers on climate strike in Oxford recently. Like many scientists, I support the strikes, but also find them disturbing. Which I’m sure is the idea.

Today’s teenagers are absolutely right to be up in arms about climate change, and right that they need powerful images to grab people’s attention. Yet some of the slogans being bandied around are genuinely frightening: a colleague recently told me of her 11-year-old coming home in tears after being told that, because of climate change, human civilisation might not survive for her to have children.

The problem is, as soon as scientists speak out against environmental slogans, our words are seized upon by a dwindling band of the usual suspects to dismiss the entire issue. So if I were addressing teenagers on strike, or young people involved in Extinction Rebellion and other groups, or indeed anyone who genuinely wants to understand what is going on, here’s what I’d say.

My biggest concern is with the much-touted line that “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we have 12 years” before triggering an irreversible slide into climate chaos. Slogan writers are vague on whether they mean climate chaos will happen after 12 years, or if we have 12 years to avert it. But both are misleading.

As the relevant lead author of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, I spent several days last October, literally under a spotlight, explaining to delegates of the world’s governments what we could, and could not, say about how close we are to that level of warming.

Using the World Meteorological Organisation’s definition of global average surface temperature, and the late 19th century to represent its pre-industrial level (yes, all these definitions matter), we just passed 1°C and are warming at more than 0.2°C per decade, which would take us to 1.5°C around 2040.

That said, these are only best estimates. We might already be at 1.2°C, and warming at 0.25°C per decade – well within the range of uncertainty. That would indeed get us to 1.5°C by 2030: 12 years from 2018. But an additional quarter of a degree of warming, more-or-less what has happened since the 1990s, is not going to feel like Armageddon to the vast majority of today’s striking teenagers (the striving taxpayers of 2030). And what will they think then?

Why Climate Protesters Should Be Wary Of 12 Years To Breakdown Rhetoric Chad is one of the countries most threatened by climate change. mbrand85 / shutterstock

I say the majority, because there will be unfortunate exceptions. One of the most insidious myths about climate change is the pretence that we are all in it together. People ask me whether I’m kept awake at night by the prospect of five degrees of warming. I don’t think we’ll make it to five degrees. I’m far more worried about geopolitical breakdown as the injustices of climate change emerge as we steam from two to three degrees.

So please stop saying something globally bad is going to happen in 2030. Bad stuff is already happening and every half a degree of warming matters, but the IPCC does not draw a “planetary boundary” at 1.5°C beyond which lie climate dragons.

Get angry, but for the right reasons

What about the other interpretation of the IPCC’s 12 years: that we have 12 years to act? What our report said was, in scenarios with a one-in-two to two-in-three chance of keeping global warming below 1.5°C, emissions are reduced to around half their present level by 2030. That doesn’t mean we have 12 years to act: it means we have to act now, and even if we do, success is not guaranteed.

And if we don’t halve emissions by 2030, will we have lost the battle and just have to hunker down and survive? Of course not. The IPCC is clear that, even reducing emissions as fast as possible, we can barely keep temperatures below 1.5°C. So every year that goes by in which we aren’t reducing emissions is another 40 billion tonnes of CO₂ that we are expecting today’s teenagers to clean back out of the atmosphere in order to preserve warm water corals or Arctic ice.

Why Climate Protesters Should Be Wary Of 12 Years To Breakdown Rhetoric This year’s Arctic sea ice is melting faster than ever. Olga Gavrilova / Shutterstock

Assuming people will still want to feed themselves and not turn the world over to biofuels, then scrubbing CO₂ out of the atmosphere currently costs £150-£500 per tonne, plus the cost of permanent disposal. So those 40 billion tonnes of CO₂ represent a clean-up liability accumulating at a cool £8 trillion per year, which is more or less what the world currently spends on energy.

So here is a conversation young activists could have with their parents: first work out what the parents’ CO₂ emissions were last year (there are various carbon calculators online – and the average is about seven tonnes of fossil CO₂ per person in Europe). Then multiply by £200 per tonne of CO₂, and suggest the parents pop that amount into a trust fund in case their kids have to clean up after them in the 2040s.

If the parents reply, “don’t worry, dear, that’s what we pay taxes for”, youngsters should ask them who they voted for in the last election and whether spending their taxes on solving climate change featured prominently in that party’s manifesto.

Get angry by all means, but get angry for the right reasons. Action is long overdue, but to a British public sunbathing in February, weird though that was, it doesn’t feel like an emergency. Middle-aged critics would much rather quibble over the scale of climate impacts (as if they have any right to say what climate young people should have to put up with) than talk about the clean-up bill.

Climate change is not so much an emergency as a festering injustice. Your ancestors did not end slavery by declaring an emergency and dreaming up artificial boundaries on “tolerable” slave numbers. They called it out for what it was: a spectacularly profitable industry, the basis of much prosperity at the time, founded on a fundamental injustice. It’s time to do the same on climate change.

About The Author

Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Leader of ECI Climate Research Programme, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

POLITICS

Seeing The Planet Break Down In Climate Crisis Is Depressing – How To Turn Your Pain Into Action
Seeing The Planet In Climate Crisis Is Depressing – Turn Your Pain Into Action
by Cameron Brick
Environmentalism can feel like a drag. People trying to reduce their environmental impact often feel stressed and…
Jason Kenney's Victory Means We'll All Pay The Price For Fossil Fuel Emissions
Jason Kenney's Victory In Alberta Means We'll All Pay The Price For Fossil Fuel Emissions
by D.T. Cochrane
Jason Kenney has led the United Conservative Party to victory in Alberta. There were manyobjectionablecomponents to the…
Beto O’Rourke Releases $5 Trillion Climate Change Proposal
Beto O’Rourke Releases $5 Trillion Climate Change Proposal
by Global Warming & Climate Change
But Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led activist group that has advocated for the…
Climate denial isn’t stopping climate action.
by David Wallace-Wells
Climate change denial draws headlines. But is it actually an obstacle to climate action? A great majority of Americans…
Why Climate Protesters Should Be Wary Of 12 Years To Breakdown Rhetoric
Why Climate Protesters Should Be Wary Of 12 Years To Breakdown Rhetoric
by Myles Allen
I was invited to speak to a group of teenagers on climate strike in Oxford recently. Like many scientists, I support…
Climate science supports youth protests
Climate science supports youth protests
by Alex Kirby
The youth protests urging political action on climate change have won strong global backing from climatologists, as…
We Asked the 2020 Democrats About Climate Change Here Are Their Ideas
We Asked the 2020 Democrats About Climate Change Here Are Their Ideas
by Global Warming & Climate Change
Ms. Warren this week laid out a regulatory plan to end fossil fuel production on public lands.
How State Power Regulators Are Making Utilities Account For The Costs Of Climate Change
How State Power Regulators Are Making Utilities Account For The Costs Of Climate Change
by Iliana Paul and Denise Grab
The electricity powering your computer or smartphone that makes it possible for you to read this article could come…

LATEST VIDEOS

Blue Ocean Event : Game Over?
by Just Have a Think
A Blue Ocean Event, or Ice-Free Arctic, is the source of almost fever pitch speculation in the climate science world.…
Climate Change - The Facts by Sir David Attenborough
by David Attenborough, BBC
After one of the hottest years on record, Sir David Attenborough looks at the science of climate change and potential…
Why it’s time to think about human extinction
by Kerwin Rae
After listening to this ep with Dr David Suzuki, you’ll never be the same again. The environmentalist, activist,…
Record Temperatures 20-25C Above Norm in far North
by Paul Beckwith
The Northwest Territories of Canada had March temperatures above 20C for the first time (hit 21.6C or 71F); breaking…
Why New CO₂ Capture Technology Is Not The Magic Bullet Against Climate Change
Why New CO₂ Capture Technology Is Not The Magic Bullet Against Climate Change
by Chris Hawes
According to a recent major UN report, if we are to limit temperature rise to 1.5 °C and prevent the most catastrophic…
Why Climate Change Will Dull Autumn Leaf Displays
Why Climate Change Will Dull Autumn Leaf Displays
by Matthew Brookhouse
Every autumn we are treated to one of nature’s finest seasonal annual transitions: leaf colour change and fall.
Climate denial isn’t stopping climate action.
by David Wallace-Wells
Climate change denial draws headlines. But is it actually an obstacle to climate action? A great majority of Americans…
Energy Storage: How to store renewable energy?
by Total
Under your bed, in the attic even on your mobile phone, it seems there's never enough storage. It turns out it's also…

LATEST ARTICLES

Crops at risk from changing climate
Crops at risk from changing climate
by Tim Radford
Global warming could bring yet more challenges to a hungry world. New studies have identified precise ways in which a…
Seeing The Planet Break Down In Climate Crisis Is Depressing – How To Turn Your Pain Into Action
Seeing The Planet In Climate Crisis Is Depressing – Turn Your Pain Into Action
by Cameron Brick
Environmentalism can feel like a drag. People trying to reduce their environmental impact often feel stressed and…
Global Inequality Is 25% Higher Than It Would Have Been In A Climate-stable World
by Nicholas Beuret
Those least responsible for global warming will suffer the most. Poorer countries – those that have contributed far…
Jason Kenney's Victory Means We'll All Pay The Price For Fossil Fuel Emissions
Jason Kenney's Victory In Alberta Means We'll All Pay The Price For Fossil Fuel Emissions
by D.T. Cochrane
Jason Kenney has led the United Conservative Party to victory in Alberta. There were manyobjectionablecomponents to the…
How Can Trees Really Cool Our Cities Down?
How Can Trees Really Cool Our Cities Down?
by Roland Ennos, University of Hull
In cities around the world, trees are often planted to help control temperatures and mitigate the effects of the “urban…
Beto O’Rourke Releases $5 Trillion Climate Change Proposal
Beto O’Rourke Releases $5 Trillion Climate Change Proposal
by Global Warming & Climate Change
But Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led activist group that has advocated for the…
Should The Sahara Desert Be Turned Into A Huge Solar Farm?
Should The Sahara Desert Be Turned Into A Huge Solar Farm?
by Amin Al-Habaibeh
Whenever I visit the Sahara I am struck by how sunny and hot it is and how clear the sky can be.
How Retreating From The Sea Level Rise Will Affect Our Health?
How Retreating From The Sea Level Rise Will Affect Our Health?
by Jackson Holtz
Managed retreat in the face of sea level rise will be a mixed bag, researchers predict.