The IPCC has been busy lately. Yesterday, it published the third of a four-part series meant to brief policymakers on climate change. The first part of this report was released last fall, and it bumped up the probability that humans have been the “main cause of warming since the 1950s” to 95 percent, up from the 90 percent certainty the international coalition of experts reported in 2007. The second part of that series was released just two weeks ago, and it outlined the effects that might be expected from a warming climate: heat waves, droughts, floods, cold snaps, rising sea levels, and lower crop yields, to name just a few rather terrifying changes. In short, bad things are looming, and humans are culpable.The third part of the report, released today, attempts to answer the question that naturally follows: what can we do to stop—or at the very least slow—climate change? This is a question of mitigation, and the IPCC lays out a variety of scenarios and the kinds of warming these responses might entail. The WSJ reports:
If emissions are cut at a high rate, models indicate that warming will reach between 1 and 2.2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by the middle of this century. But if the current rate of emissions continues, temperatures will increase by between 2 and 3.2 degrees above preindustrial levels by midcentury.“Policy makers are being given a range of options and they can make whatever decisions they want,” said Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, England, and an author of a previous IPCC report.The key message in the IPCC report is that the worrisome scenarios can still be avoided. “Only major institutional and technological change will give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold,” the U.N. panel concludes.
You don’t have to squint to read between the lines. The IPCC report essentially says that drastic policy and behavioral changes are necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The share of zero-carbon energy sources like wind, solar, and nuclear energy needs to increase three-fold, and governments need to funnel more money into the research and development of systems that capture atmospheric carbon dioxide and sequester it underground.That all sounds well and good, but crafting energy policies is a mite more difficult than many greens might like to believe. Renewables are more expensive than their browner counterparts, and most of these decisions—especially in the developing world, which doesn’t have the luxury of pursuing such options—boil down to issues of cost. Yes, there is a cost for polluting our skies by burning coal, or changing our climate by relying on fossil fuels, but these are a lot less tangible than the metered electricity price households and businesses pay. When these nebulous exhortations run up against higher monthly bills, green goals lose out.Climate change’s dangers—as hard as they are to define—are real, and they need to be addressed. But supposedly green-minded policymakers, like those behind Germany’s disastrous energiewende, do more harm to Gaia than good. Rather than trying to prop up existing green technologies that are incapable of competing without some kind of market intervention, we’d be much better off funding R&D for the next generations of these solutions.Green goals are best framed in terms of real, observable savings, and not just the potential aversion of disaster decades down the road.