Humanity’s 24-Month Hourglass


Why We Must Reduce U.S. and Global CO2 Emissions 80% by 2025
by David Merrill

The period from December, 2007-December, 2009 is perhaps the most important 24 months humanity has ever faced.
The Kyoto Protocol is the current operating plan for addressing global warming.  It expires in 2012 and has long been considered only a first small step in tackling this enormous environmental challenge.  Dramatically deeper cuts in emissions are urgently needed.  And in order for a successor treaty to come into force on time, a global emissions reduction deal will need to be agreed upon no later than Dec. 31, 2009.  The 193 countries attending the U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations held in Bali, Indonesia in December, 2007 have committed to this timetable.
With a deadline set for a global emissions deal to be finalized, we now face a much more daunting challenge:  agreeing upon a plan that reduces greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to truly address the global warming crisis.
An Hourglass of Ice
Before we consider what the emissions reduction target should be, let’s consider just how serious the global warming threat has become.   We need not look any further than the largest hunks of ice on earth:  the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets. 
"Å not much additional global warming is needed to cause loss of Arctic sea ice, the West Antarctic ice sheet, and part of the Greenland ice sheet." 
–Dr. James Hansen, NASA, March, 2007
Catastrophic melting of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets would flood every coastal city in the world, ravaging civilization.  The policy implication is clear:  we must phase out fossil fuels as fast as possible, the position of since its founding in 2003. 
What is a Climate-Safe Atmospheric CO2 Level?
Atmospheric CO2 concentration is currently at 385 parts per million (ppm).
In December, 2007 leading U.S. climate scientist Dr. James Hansen made a startling statement.  In contrast to earlier assessments that 450 ppm CO2 was a safe level, he now believed that it was no more than 350 ppm, a level passed in the 1980’s.
In comments published in the British newspaper the Guardian earlier this week, Hansen said that a target of 450 ppm was a "guaranteed disaster."   (The 450 ppm target, long dismissed by as reckless, is the target of every major national environmental group).
So is humanity in a hopeless situation?
Not yet, according to Dr. Hansen.
Climate Science and Humanity’s Deliverance
In the fall of 2007 Dr. Hansen confirmed to me that currently 43% of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by natural systems (mostly oceans and forests).  The other 57% remains in the atmosphere, increasing its heat-trapping capacities.  But our climate salvation lies in this dynamic as well.
Dr. Hansen also confirmed that once emissions are reduced more than 57%,  CO2 concentrations would actually start to fall,  diminishing the atmosphere’s heat-trapping capacities.
Consistent with this urgency, advocates that global carbon dioxide emissions be reduced 80% below 1990 levels by 2025.  Our report, Rosie Revisited:  A U.S.-Led Solution to Global Warming, released in July, 2007, demonstrates how this could be done.
It is the most aggressive emissions reduction proposal of any national environmental group and is our way of defining "phasing out fossil fuels as fast as possible."   
By employing energy conservation and efficiency measures and aggressively deploying existing renewable energy technologies, humanity would dramatically transform the global energy system in the period 2010-2025.  By implementing our emissions reduction proposal, we would pass the 57% threshold in 2021, turning the corner towards cooling the earth.
Decision Time:  for the World’s GovernmentsÅ and for You
Now let’s go back to Bali and the U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations.
The strongest proposals on the table call for:

  • reducing emissions of wealthy countries 25-40% by 2020.
  • reducing global emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.

If this becomes the plan for addressing global warming, when will atmospheric CO2 concentrations start to go down?
The answer:  Never.  (they would never reach the required 57%+ reduction threshold)
Ponder for a moment the children of the world, perhaps even your own.  The only home they will ever have is planet Earth.  In December, 2007, on the brink of environmental catastrophe, the world’s governments gathered for an urgent international climate meeting, and decided to work towards an agreement that guarantees that global warming will continue to spin out of control, that our children will be left on a ruined planet.
As with surgeons and airline pilots, when it comes to the question of preserving a livable planet, what is most crucial is performance, not intention,.  And as the responsible citizens of the decisive country in the international climate negotiations, we must now look beyond official words of concern and consider the actual agreement they are reaching.  In the time remaining from now until Dec. 31, 2009 we need to change the goal from cutting global emissions 50% by 2050, to cutting them 80% by 2025.
But of course no such dramatic political shift will occur without an enormous upwelling in grassroots citizen pressure on the federal government.  That is to say, the success of this emergency plan rests on you, the American citizen.  Be confident that any significant change in the global warming conversation in the United States would immediately transform the international negotiations.
The two strongest bills in both houses of the U.S. Congress call for reducing U.S. emissions 80% by 2050.  No chance that will do the job.  Therefore we need bills in both houses of Congress that would commit the U.S. to reducing emissions 80% by 2025, and that include a provision calling for the President to make that the U.S. negotiating position for global emissions reductions as well.
The start date should be 2010.  Even if all the details of treaty implementation can’t be worked out by then, the emissions reductions could, and should begin then.  Conservation and efficiency measures could certainly make up the needed 5.5% per year reductions for 2010 and 2011.  The reductions would then continue until emissions are reduced 80% by 2025.
How You Can Apply Pressure
Join us in emailing your member of Congress and tell them you want them to pass legislation that commits the U.S. to reducing CO2 emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2025, and that the legislation must include a provision stipulating that the President make that the negotiating position of the United States in the current U.N.- sponsored climate talks.
Email your U.S. Representative:
Email your U.S. Senator:
Make sure you get a prompt response from them (no more than two weeks).  Then please forward it to us at .  This will enable us to use this valuable information in our Congressional lobbying campaign.
Certain urgent facts are clear at this point:

  • Human civilization is in grave danger.
  • Our governments are refusing to mount an adequate response.
  • The habitability of our children’s only home now rests in our tender hands.

If we want to retain any prospect of passing on a livable planet to them, it is imperative that the global warming conversation in the United States shifts from contemplating a gradual transformation of our energy system, to phasing out fossil fuels, here and globally, as fast as possible.
The 24-month hourglass is now down to less than 21 months.
David Merrill

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