This week, I read a fascinating article in The Guardian, and it made a big impact on me. It showed a version of the graph below, which is a fairly standard picture of the temperatures observed between 1884-2015 and the projected future temperatures under different emissions scenarios. The horizontal dotted red line is at 2oC, the temperature rise that scientists think the Earth can stand before critical ecosystems begin to collapse. Somewhere between 4-5oC of temperature increase, we cross into a realm never before experienced by humans in which it may even be impossible for plants to grow.
The colored bands around the lines marked “RCP8.5” and “RCP2.6” represent the ranges within which we are 95% certain the future temperature will fall under the two extremes of climate action:
-RCP8.5 (red) is business as usual, continuing on as we have been with no action. I really don’t want to live in that world.
-RCP2.6 (yellow) is the projected temperature if we take prompt and aggressive action to curb climate change — this means that CO2 levels need to peak by about 2030 and decline to near zero by 2100. In this scenario, global temperature will level out at about 2oC over historical values. Not very nice by today’s standards, but probably livable.
By overlaying the lifespans of myself and my kids, I could see exactly what these different futures mean for my family and all of a sudden things became personal. I was born in 1951, and I’m hoping to live to 2050—my lifeline is shown in black. My sons were born in 1990 and 1994, with presumptive lifelines in blue, and my grandkids (who haven’t yet appeared) will live during the period spanned by the purple line.
So when I say that I want to solve the climate crisis for my kids and grandkids, do you see what I mean? If we do nothing, my kids could live to see a time when ecosystems are failing and most plants might not even grow (blue star). At that point, what could the future possibly hold for my grandkids?
This looks really scary– should we just give up??
Your choice. We know how to achieve the conditions for RCP2.6—we have all the technology, and we now know that it is cheaper to fix the climate problem than to do nothing. We even have enough time if we work fast. We just need to make it happen.
99% of scientists now agree that climate change is occurring and that the worst case scenario shown in the red band below will come our way if we do nothing. People can choose to believe that the science isn’t true, but that’s a very, very risky bet.
Are you willing to consign your kids and your grandkids to that future, or to let others make that choice for you? I’m not.
So let’s get with it.