What’s the use? Why I marched, and what’s next in the fight against climate changers

Lately I’ve been asked a lot about why I decided to march with over 300,000 people in New York City as part of the People’s Climate March that coincided with the UN’s Climate Change Summit.

“Do you really think it’s going to change anything?”

“China’s not going. India’s not going. So what’s the point of a climate change summit if two of the world’s largest carbon emitters are sitting it out?”

“We’re all screwed anyway, aren’t we?”

So why did I march?

Was it because global emissions of greenhouse gases hit record levels in 2013?

Was it because we’re already witnessing the early effects of climate change in the form of super wicked storms and epic floods, forest fires and droughts, glacial melting, ocean acidification and the appearance of the world’s first climate change migrants?

Or maybe it was because I recently re-read the most important scientific paper ever published on climate change: “Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius” (that is, limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels).

It’s a fascinating if sobering paper. Published in 2009, the paper’s authors — established and unimpeachable scientists all — showed that having a reasonable chance of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 means leaving over half of the world’s proven oil, coal and natural gas reserves in the ground.

Which isn’t exactly business as usual, is it? I’m looking at you, Mr. Harper.

Or maybe I’m just one of those annoying alarmists intent on ruining everyone’s weekend. Surely things can’t be this bad, can they? After all, we’re an adaptable bunch. We’ll manage, won’t we?

Do me this much: read the paper and judge for yourself. It’s all of six pages long and freely available online http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v458/n7242/pdf/nature08017.pdf

But don’t stop there. It just so happens that a doozy of a sequel to that paper was published on the very day of the People’s Climate March titled “Persistent growth of carbon emissions and implications for reaching climate targets.” This paper’s results are equally sobering. Based on data from 1870 to 2014, the paper concludes that the remaining carbon budget associated with but a 66-per-cent chance of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius is at most 1,600 gigatons.

Now that may sound like a lot, but the paper concludes that we’ll blow through 1,600 gigatons in just 30 years if emissions remain at 2014 levels. Check the paper out: it’s a seven-page mind-blowing experience at absolutely no charge http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/pdf/ngeo2248.pdf

Jason MacLean

Published in the bi-weekly column, Sustainability Matters, The Chronicle-Journal, Thunder Bay, Monday, September 29, 2014