When you're roaring toward the cliff edge does it really matter if it's a jackboot or a Gucci loafer smashing the gas pedal into the floorboards? That's kind of how I feel about the body politic in my country these days.
Maybe the Gucci loafer isn't the problem. Maybe the gas pedal is simply jammed. Perhaps it was hammered too many times by the jackboot and now it's stuck. Does it really matter? Do we have time to waste figuring out who is to blame and for how much of what ails us?
I read a truly dreadful interview with a couple of climate scientists in The Guardian recently. There really wasn't much new in it but it presented a stark reminder of how detached from reality our leaders have become on the greatest existential threat ever faced by mankind.
You might recall how, at the Paris climate summit in December, the nations of the world tabled their emissions reductions promises which, if all those promises are honoured (yeah, cross your fingers), they'll result in warming/heating of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100. The target has, for years, been 2C. We're promising, maybe, 3C - maybe more.
One highlight of the Paris summit was a tacit recognition that the old 2C target was simply wrong. If we're to have a reasonable (not great, reasonable) chance of avoiding the worst impacts, i.e. runaway global warming, by 2100, we must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yippee, we agree! We've seen the light. 1.5C it is, maybe.
Except for one little snag.
As of now we're already at 1.5C (deferred). Without another tonne of atmospheric CO2, we've already 'baked in' warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. We don't have to lift another finger to get there. It's in the bag. And so, as we haggle over how many more gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions this country or that country should have, we're negotiating to blow straight through 1.5C, way past it. All this talk, it's gibberish. Utterly disconnected from reality. Hogwash of the particularly lethal sort.
Professor Andy Ridgwell of Bristol University puts it this way:
We have 1.5°C already programmed in, so even if we bring emissions right, right down, immediately, now, we already have 1.5 degrees! So how we’re keeping to a 1.5-degree threshold isn’t clear.
So a fun thing we’re doing now with our very fast warming is the ocean surface warms up and the deep ocean is still cold, which is partly why we have this programmed-in warming that we haven’t seen yet. The deep ocean hasn’t yet noticed that the planet at the surface is rather warmer. If we just sit here at current CO2 levels and let the system equilibrate, it’s 1.5°C anyway. Which comes back to COP21 - what is this 1.5°C target? We’ve emitted the CO2 to reach 1.5°C already, so I don’t know what they’re thinking of!
I wonder if this awkward fact was on the table when our newly-minted federal environment minister met with her provincial counterparts last week. Did they have a "Holy Shit, we've really got to rein in these emissions if our grandkids are to have a snowball's chance" moment? Somehow I doubt it.
As we race toward the cliff edge we've got our eyes glued on the rearview mirror. No one wants to see what lies ahead. No point glancing at the speedometer either.
Maybe the gas pedal isn't stuck. Maybe we're just on cruise control. I expect it really doesn't matter unless we intend to do something about it.