Why Reducing CO2 In The Atmosphere Seems to Me a Lost Game For the Foreseeable Future (3/4)

The highly lauded goal of reducing the rate of increase in CO2 concentration over the coming decades is indeed ironic on many levels. First, it does not solve any environmental problem really – the bathtub continues to fill up, only slightly more slowly. In other words, it is asking to push the can few years down the road without offering any radical solution. Second, it is not entirely clear how different the environmental impact would be for a difference of say 100-150 ppm between the concentration of CO2 in the good case scenario (where everybody magically agrees, and quickly, to try to limit CO2 emission at the expense of other priorities, such as economic growth and poverty reduction) and in the bad case scenario (where all nations continue to operate as usual).

So in other words, the current approach consists of engaging into very difficult and contentious political debates, for simply slowing down a reality that is made inevitable, for ‘gains’ in terms of alleviating the environmental impact that are largely unclear. And we are hoping to achieve some positive results in the global political sphere knowing that:

(1) There exists a huge political opposition against forcing a control on CO2 emissions by the two largest emitters of CO2 in the world today (China and the United States);

(2) The rise of the world population into the middle class, and what is required in terms of energy consumption to get there, is still at its infancy. For example, according to the latest data on global wealth, ~92% of the world’s adult population, i.e. 3.3 billion people not including children, are still under the $100,000 threshold of wealth; and

(3) Humans have a generally complacent nature. Let us face it, we human beings rarely come together and sacrifice on a large scale unless we are under a clear, visible, and immediate existential threat, not of the diffused or delayed kind the increase of CO2 concentration results in.

We leave the reader to reflect on all of this for a moment.

No one is aiming from all the political debate about CO2 emissions to offer an effective way of reducing the levels of CO2 in the bathtub (which essentially requires this delta not only to be reduced but also to turn negative) in the foreseeable future, and actually very few are hoping that this delta will in reality decrease. This is how far is the reality of the numbers from what is debated politically and in the media, and it is for these reasons that aiming at reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere in the centuries to come seems to us like a lost battle (except for an unexpected technological breakthrough of a particular kind coupled with the right international political will for it, a scenario we shall talk about at the end). Again, these are the views not of someone who has a political or economic agenda that benefits from perpetuating the current way of emitting CO2, but of someone who is environmentally concerned but a realist nonetheless, with some exposure to the business and political decision-making process.

It is important to realise the reality of these numbers when it comes to the debate over CO2 control. There is a general wrong perception that with some global concerted effort, we can easily bring down the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere over the coming decades. This is wrong, misleading, and highly unproductive; it conveys false expectations to the general public. We are heading towards a world with higher concentration of CO2 and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – the uncertainty is rather around what levels of concentration we will ultimately reach before a general plateau or a steady level of CO2 concentration takes place. We need to care about the levels of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, not only in the context of global warming, but no matter what our idealistic desires on the subject are, we need to look at facts as they are and contrast them with the reality of our human affairs; we should not be carried away by misplaced romanticism and wishful scenarios.

Unfortunately, politics around CO2 emissions and control are largely divided between two camps: those with no concern whatsoever over CO2 levels and those possessed by a idealistic, wishful scenario that does not take properly into account the true nature of human political and economic dynamics.

[To be continued].

JHTF

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