The world does need a red line – on climate change

From The Guardian UK:

Activists agree we must fight the Keystone XL pipeline in the US, but also chip away at the political power of the fossil fuel industry, Monday 9 September 2013

In a few weeks, a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, prepared by 2,000 climate scientists from around the world, will be released. Leaked early drafts reveal some frightening predictions for the next century, including a high likelihood that the globe’s average temperature will rocket past the 2C target, the reddest of red lines for human existence on the planet.

Two degrees doesn’t seem like much, but it takes only a few Google searches to connect the dots between the one degree of warming that has already set in, and catastrophic events like Hurricane Sandy, unprecedented wildfires in the American west and record flooding in places like the Philippines and Pakistan. Some have even pointed to extended climate-induced drought in Syria as a key driver of the conflict there. It doesn’t take much sleuthing, either, to find out that humans have loaded so much carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests and engaging in poor agricultural practices, that the IPCC says it’s now 95% certain that we’re responsible for most of the warming that has happened since the industrial revolution.

Despite decades of science showing human impact on the atmosphere, and the availability of renewable energy options, from cheap solar to wind to geothermal, political will to deal with climate change in the world’s richest countries has flatlined. Last year, members of US Congress received more than $34m from oil, gas and coal companies – money to ensure they do nothing on climate change – and President Obama has so far taken baby steps compared to the enormity of the climate challenge. Despite historic investments in in clean energy, moves to raise auto fuel efficiency and regulate dirty coal plants, and hopeful signs that he’s ready to engage obstructionists, President Obama has not taken the United States far enough, fast enough.

In a recent address on climate change – his first since he came into office five years ago – President Obama set a high bar for the construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, an export pipeline that would run from Canada to the Gulf Coast. He said he would approve construction only if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”. A recent independent analysis of Keystone XL (pdf) calculates that the pipeline would dump the equivalent of 51 coal power plants, or 37m cars worth of CO2 into the atmosphere per year. That’s a lot of carbon. If President Obama spoke in good faith, then there is only one decision he can make: reject the pipeline.

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