One of the primary drivers of climate change is population change. The world’s population is increasing–this causes us to grow more crops, cut down more forests, build more dams and burn more fossil fuels, emitting more black carbon to sit on the snows up North and down South. Whether you think any of these factors is more important than the others, humans impact the climate and more humans will impact it more.
Over at Judith Curry’s blog, Planning Engineer has a useful post that segments potential attitudes towards climate or energy policies. I recommend it highly. This post is an attempt to reconcile the different perspectives.
Thankfully population is expected to peak this century and then decline slightly. The UN revised both the time of this peak and the total peak population, but even so, at some point between 2075 and 2100 the human population will most likely reach its top number, between 9.5 and 10.5 billion souls.
The IPCC has written in the past that they expect emissions to peak around 2100, although I’ll have to look for a reference and supply the link after I finish this. (Well, you can start here: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg3/en/ch3s3-3-5-1.html)
Our challenge here in 2015 is to chart a course that gets us to the peak of population and consumption/emission in good shape. What does that entail?
- Working with the developing world to lift the standard of living of all the people. This is our primary responsibility, both ethically in recognition of the worth of human life in 2015 and as preparation for the challenges through 2100.
- Identifying a path to success–for energy, CO2 emissions, food and water sources, pollution reduction, biodiversity and more. This has to be an integrated approach, as each element impacts all the rest.
- Creating consensus. There is no point being alarmed about future temperature rises if you have already vetoed the energy sources that can address CO2 emissions. There is no point in defending the sanctity of either the forests or the oceans if you do not work hand in glove with those utilizing technology to improve agriculture (yes, I’m talking about GMOs, among other factors). There will not only be politics–we will have to resurrect respect for and pride in politics and politicians. (Which may involve getting new politicians…)
- Setting benchmarks. As opposed to creating targets from central planning politicians, we will need to spend money identifying best practices and holding them up as examples to the world. (I submit to you that those best practices already exist today.)
- Allocating resources. There is no sense in telling Nigeria to simultaneously end their resource addiction to oil–oil that causes corruption, stagnation in the rest of the economy, civil strife and ground pollution–unless we are willing to commit time, energy and money to helping them do this. (As noted in point 4, other countries have successfully done this.) There is no sense in telling Delaware that they should have some level of renewable energy generation unless we assist in creating the infrastructure (including funding) to help them get on the same road as Rhode Island.
- Rewarding winners, helping stragglers. We now pay African leaders $5 million USD if they leave office peacefully at the end of their term. It works. A sustainability fund that rewards progress would also work (Yes, there would be gaming of the system, corruption, false claims, etc. But it would still work.) A second fund set up to help straggling nations or regions achieve benchmarks would also work.
- Continuing research. It is time to shift from spending so much time measuring one particular aspect of the problem (effects of CO2) and to start funding research into solutions. Reduction of black carbon particles. Provision of denser fuels to rural households in India. Understanding which of the many reforestation programs is most effective. A deeper understanding of human impacts on biodiversity (yes, including coral reefs)
I’ve no doubt I have left many things out–and hopefully you will bring them to my attention.
It is my sincere hope that I will have time to actually propose concrete methods to address each of these 7 points.
My starting thesis is that (I hope) most people want future generations to look back at our lives and think of us as well, heroes who rose to a challenge and sacrificed to meet it, overcoming real doubts, disagreements and past fights and preconceptions to do so.