Do We Have More Time To Stop Climate Change Than We Thought?


While some may continue to deny as much, it’s well past time to talk about climate change. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated major parts of the U.S., and it’s only going to get worse. We may have more wiggle room to stop climate change than we thought, but despite how climate change deniers are acting, we haven’t been issued a blank check.

Scientific American has a look at a study that states current climate change models weren’t entirely accurate as to how much carbon we can burn before climate change, or rather limiting warming to 1.5° C. This isn’t surprising; it’s difficult to guess just how much gas we’re dumping into the air. Essentially, the team went back and checked the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which is used in discussions of climate change, and found that it tended to overestimate the effects. That doesn’t mean the effects aren’t happening — it’s more of a difference between being completely up the creek and perhaps finding a stick to paddle with:

After adjusting for that discrepancy and running further models, the authors of the latest study found that the amount of carbon that humanity can emit from 2015 onward while holding temperatures below 1.5 °C is nearly three times greater than estimated by the IPCC — or even larger if there is aggressive action on greenhouse gases beyond carbon dioxide.

To be clear, we’re not out of the woods, according to this model. We’ll still need, between now and 2030, to basically eliminate meaningful production of greenhouse gases, or else we’ll be facing the consequences of a warming Earth. All this study really says is that we’ve got a bit more wiggle room; instead of the task of weaning humanity off carbon being impossible, it’s just insanely difficult.

And not everyone agrees with the team’s findings. Some argue that the so-called “climate hiatus,” where temperatures rose more slowly between 1998 and 2012 than climate scientists expected, is throwing off estimates. Recent years have, unfortunately, been more in line with the model.

One thing that is agreed on, however, is that humanity is on a clock. But we’ve made enormous strides against that clock. We’ve separated climate change from economic growth. Solar power has already beaten thegovernment’s cost targets for 2020, and it’s widely believed that within a decade, the technology will be so cheap and commonplace it will price fossil fuels out of the entire global economy. Advanced technologies like metal-organic frameworks can sift CO2 molecules and water vapor out of the air. Even relatively prosaic stuff like fuel efficiency standards are improving thanks to a mix of green awareness and market pressures; the minute UPS can just plug its trucks in, it’ll dump diesel fuel for good.

That doesn’t mean we can slack off. If anything, it means we need to work even harder to gain more ground. And no one in the scientific community thinks we don’t have a lot of work ahead of us. But anything that gives us a chance to repair at least some of the damage we’ve done to the planet is good news, and being that close to the brink should remind us of what we’re fighting for.