I worried a bit about the last column. It was pretty harsh. It reflected my belief that the climate crisis is existential and requires an effort on the scale of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II for us to avoid very bad consequences. Not everyone agrees, but two recent reports not only echo the sentiment, but they also speak to the issue in even more dramatic terms. Let’s take the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A New York Times article summarized the report as “a landmark report from the United Nation’s scientific panel on climate change (that) paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage (from climate change) requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that ‘has no documented historic precedent.’”

So, my suggestion for an effort commensurate with the Marshall Plan is of insufficient scale.

The Paris Agreement set a target of not exceeding a global average temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit but included a wise-course alternative of only 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit as a more prudent target.

Again quoting from the NY Times summary, “Absent aggressive action, many effects once expected only several decades in the future will arrive by 2040 and at the lower temperature (2.7 degrees F).”

So what would be required to meet the 2.7-degree target by 2040? “To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, the (IPCC) report said, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050. It also found that, by 2050, use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40 percent today to between 1 and 7 percent. Renewable energy such as wind and solar, which make up about 20 percent of the electricity use today, would have to increase to as much as 67 percent.”

According to one of the authors of the IPCC report, “This report makes it clear: There’s no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal.” Not a popular message as received by the coal industry or the White House.

For the first time, the IPCC put a price tag on the cost to not take the actions listed above: $54 trillion if we get to the 2.7 degrees target or $69 trillion if the temperature increases 3.6 degrees. That’s $54,000,000.000.

There’s a lot more to say about the IPPC Report, and I probably will as we go through 2019, but there was a second report, this one from the United States, the National Climate Assessment. “A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies … presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock off as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by the century’s end.” The report was required by Congress.

The report is thorough. It addresses the adverse effects of the climate crisis on all areas of the United States, from the Southwest (droughts and water stress), to Alaska (coastal flooding erosion and displacement), to Puerto Rico (saltwater intrusion into drinking water), to name a few. More people will die as a result of extreme heat waves and there will be a greater number of instances of outbreaks of disease.

Trade and manufacturing will be disrupted by extreme weather events, and it’s probable that “the nation’s farm belt is likely to be among the hardest-hit regions and farmers in particular will see their bottom lines threatened.”

This report itemizes in dollar terms the impact of adverse effects of the climate crisis on all of us in the United States, predicting hundreds of billions of dollars in losses to the economy.

Some people say that the solutions to the climate crisis are too expensive, that they will harm the economy. This report, and others like it, argues the opposite: Not acting will be much more expensive and acting now will actually boost the economy.

Some friends of mine have recently gone through a very tough time. In dealing with a serious threat, they organized their response to the trouble around a phrase: “Truth and Hope.” Truth meant looking the issue square in the eye, not shirking from potential bad news, but also remaining open to positive developments, some from new or untried sources. Hope meant keeping a positive attitude while working through the trouble. They, and their phrase, are inspirational to me, and I have adopted it as a foundation of my thoughts about the climate crisis.

So, I’m taking these two reports and others like them very seriously. They come from hundreds of scientists from around the globe. The IPPC report itself was written and edited by 19 scientists from 40 countries who analyzed more than 6,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies and reports. The IPPC Report reflects a global consensus.

However, the consensus is not without its critics. And, in accordance with “Truth” I feel an obligation to keep an open mind to information that does not agree with the overwhelming opinion of the scientific community. More on that in the next column.


— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to johnmottsmith@comcast.net.

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online November 7, 2018
Printed November 7, 2018 edition page A6