Cutting emissions slows climate change faster than we thought

Wind power UK
CC BY 2.0 Flickr

Global carbon emissions stalled last year. China's coal use is falling. Solar power is becoming increasingly competitive. Heck, even some forward thinking utilities are rethinking their reliance on fossil fuels.

For the first Earth Day in a very long time, I am hopeful we might see some very real progress on cutting carbon emissions, much quicker than we ever thought possible. And yet, every time I voice this optimism, the pessimists pipe up:

"We'll never cut emissions fast enough... Runaway climate change is already upon us... Carbon emissions hang around in the atmosphere for decades... etc etc "

I too had been under the impression that emissions cuts can take many, many decades to have an impact on the climate. So while tooling around on the internet last night, and trying to avoid annoying EArth Day press releases, I was excited to read oabout new research that came out in December last year, which suggests that CO2 emissions warm the climate quicker than we thought.

True, on the face of it, "CO2 warms the planet faster" is not a headline anyone wants to read. (Indeed, a Google search suggests many news outlets carried this story with a negative spin.) But when you stop to think about it, it has very positive connotations for our fight to slow climate change. Here's how one of the study's authors, Katharine Ricke, explained the significance to Climate Central:

“The way we talk about climate change is often, ‘oh, we’re really making emissions cuts for the sake of our children or grandchildren because the effects won’t be felt for decades. But the implications are that there’s certainly benefits that can be reaped by people making decisions today,” Katharine Ricke, a research fellow from Stanford who led the study, said. “The difference for an economist or a policymaker between something that happens 10 years from now or 40 years from now is a big deal.”

So, as all the high-minded "do it for our grandchildren" Earth Day rhetoric reverberates around the internet, let's not get too altruistic about all this—we have a direct and personal self-interest in cutting emissions too.

Maybe that means we'll finally get something done. But we have an awful long way to go.

Tags: Environmental Policy | Global Climate Change | Global Warming Science

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