On the other hand... NOAA has released the monthly update for June 2012 in their excellent State of the Climate series, showing immediate trends that are pretty devastating — even if just a tiny taste of things to come. In short, we are cooking.
The last twelve months are the hottest on record for the contiguous 48 U.S. states. In this chart from NOAA, recent 12-month periods are highlighted in red.
Shown as the black line in this graph from NOAA, high temperatures in the U.S. this year are marking new thermal territory.
This NOAA map illustrates the intensity and spread of higher-than-normal temperatures in June, 2012 across North America (compared to 1981-2010 average temps).
Precipitation "much below normal" in the central part of North America, shown in this NOAA map, is coupled with record high temperatures in creating declared drought disaster conditions across about a third of U.S. counties, with drought currently covering 56% of U.S. land area.
Long Term Trend
An important synthesis of trends on a much longer scale is "Approaching a State Shift in Earth's Biosphere," a major review article in Nature, the leading scientific journal.
This hugely-important article tallies and assesses a wide sweep of evidence to conclude that while human impact on the planet has been effectively buffered by ecological resiliency so far, we are right about at the point where the resiliency is exhausted, and relatively sudden collapse of vital natural systems becomes likely on a global scale.
Being just about cooked, reading the news and the science with eyes wide open can be pretty disheartening these days.
This is especially true in the context of three tough threads:
• Increasingly more accurate climate-related numbers, which are showing that to avoid devastating multiplier effects, emissions have to be reduced before 2020
• The pathetic failure of governments overall to seize the moment at the recent Rio Summit, illustrating again how functionally impotent and disconnected is the formal world leadership
• The continued, even growing, intensity of a corporate and right-wing alliance for increasing fossil fuel consumption, in the U.S. and worldwide, in both gas and coal — at a time when fossil fuel use must decrease for survival
I could just about stop right there, give up, and focus on making beautiful things, walking in the woods, and our family organic garden.
But there's got to be a better option than just trying to hide gracefully while things come to end around us. Like millions of people who can see what's happening, I'm deeply worried, and I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what we can really do.
Even though in the medium term of 20 to 40 years, the technical challenges of continued GHG reductions will be huge — and we'll have to work enormously hard to meet them — I'm not so worried about that. I'm confident that once we rise to the challenge, we can do great things.
What really worries me is that we might not rise to the challenge until it is too late to make enough difference. Looking at the three bullet points above — for instance — that does seem to be where we're headed.
All of which amounts to a lot of build-up to try to explain why I'm so excited about something that might sound almost unremarkable.
I think this proposal provides a realistic, even quantified roadmap for how those of us, who understand the need, can band together and make enough change now, so that when the rest of humanity wakes up over the next several years, it's not already too late.
A Practical Roadmap to Turn the Tide on Climate Change by 2020
An excellent new commentary in the July issue of Nature Climate Change outlines this amazing thing, that we rather desperately need.
It describes a concrete way to get the world unstuck on climate change.
Before it's too late.
The approach is elegantly designed to step around the roadblocks of special interest resistance and manufactured controversy, so that those who want to make change, can start making change — both individually and systematically — to get the world moving quickly on the quantitative scale of GHG emissions reductions that we need, now, on a global scale.
The emissions reductions tactics, or wedges, envisioned here are calibrated technically to actually achieve the degree of GHG reductions we need, if we hope to stay back from devastating climate tipping points.
Quantitatively valid, and sociologically effective. Wow.
"Twenty-one coherent major initiatives could together stimulate sufficient reductions by 2020 to bridge the global greenhouse-gas emissions gap."
"The proposed initiatives build on actions that promise numerous benefits to the organizations and individuals undertaking them, and front-runners are already demonstrating that such benefits are real.
"These initiatives aim to take these benefits to the mainstream, drastically amplifying their impacts and showing all organizations involved that together they can play a leading role in solving the climate challenge...
"We expect that working together on a grand coalition would serve as a catalyst for action, greatly enhancing the willingness of a range of sub-sovereign and non-state actors to contribute to greenhouse-gas emission reductions.
"This in turn would support the implementation and strengthening of the pledges for which national governments remain responsible, and eventually stimulate sufficient reductions to bridge the greenhouse-gas emissions gap."
The approach in this outline is aimed at the essential need to get a large chunk of real progress accomplished by 2020.
Some of the tactics may need further refinement, given that 2020 is just the beginning in terms of long-term reductions needed. Long-term considerations are significant, for instance, in tactics with long impact times, like new building energy efficiency.
Beyond a good set of wedges, this outline includes a substantive roadmap to achieve a set of social/political dynamics that can actually drive the tactics to be accomplished.
It's a set of technical wedges to meet the need, meshed with an organizing strategy to actually get them implemented!
It looks quantitatively appropriate — and it looks like it just might be doable!
I'll quote this graphic from Bridging the Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Gap as a concise way to suggest the kinds of tactics proposed, and how carefully the authors have calculated them.
And I'll quote this conclusion, that imagines how we can actually create the grand coalition to inspire and coordinate for mutual benefit the several levels of incremental, voluntary emissions reductions:
"...The fundamental key for the success of 'wedging the gap' is to build a coalition of globally leading organizations in the world of business, governments, NGOs and the international community.
"In a first phase, the support of leading organizations for each initiative has to be sought.
"The focus of a second phase will be on discussing the proposal with major stakeholders within the initiatives.
"In a final phase, the focus will be to turn the individual proposals into a joint arrangement. This could for instance have the form of an umbrella covenant that is signed by ten leading organizations, to which individual entities (companies, municipalities, and so on) can accede.
"Such an official arrangement could be launched in conjunction with the UN climate negotiations in Qatar in late 2012 and finally provide the combined leadership necessary to solve the global problem of climate change."
More precisely, perhaps, this approach has the potential to coalesce the "combined leadership necessary to [start solving] the global problem of climate change."
I think this is absolutely critical, and extremely exciting!
The vision is big, but because it will work with the motivations of the anticipated participants, it can happen.
And because this approach only requires the consent of the willing, it can move ahead independent of special interest resistance and manufactured controversy.
This approach will let us build on the fact that most people around the planet know that climate change is real, and on the fact that a good fraction of people understand the need to act now.
This approach will let a coalition of the willing work together on change, in and out of government and business, instead of being blocked at every turn. There will still have to be fighting, over things like leaving fossil fuels in the ground.
This approach lets us start real change while those fights go on, instead of having to win those fights to get to change.
There's obviously a key role for design and building professions in this plan, with organizations like AIA, RIBA, and UIA springing to mind — with the encouragement of their hundreds of thousands of members.
To get our climate change response unstuck — to have our emissions reductions declining at the needed slope, in 2020, is an incredible opportunity. Especially given the failure of the top-down governmental approach, in the U.S. and elsewhere, to get us on track.
It's nothing less than a chance to save the Earth, as we know it.
Green and Sustainable Design and Building News This Week
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