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What is Important and Why? A Zero-Warming Healthy Climate


The Thermometer Series: The second of six articles on the next steps in climate reform and why we need to advance current climate change strategy.

For 24 years we have been attempting to implement climate reform, but because strategies are complex, controversial and inequitable, we have nothing to show for this effort save a near-failing carbon credit program in the EU.

By giving ourselves permission to seek zero warming, we go beyond the failed strategies of the past into a new realm. In this new realm, past strategies play only a very small role in the task of removing already emitted pollutants in the sky. Annual emissions today are only one percent of the load of CO2 that remains in the sky, so the lion’s share of focus on climate reform in this new realm needs to be towards the main task at hand of removing already emitted climate pollutants from the sky. Everything else is still important, but priorities need to be assigned.

These priorities need to be assigned based on the knowledge we have today. Halocarbons are a great example. The Montreal Protocol worked great for long-lived halocarbons before, hopefully it will work great for short-lived halocarbons in the future. If this is threatened, we need to know because it deserves to be on the list. What I see from HFC’s in Zaelke’s work is 12 percent of warming by 2100 with no regulation and 0.5 degrees C avoidance with regulation. If there is a threat that the new phase will not be implemented, this is important.

Everything is important and everything needs to go on the list and be prioritized. But most importantly, as we gain knowledge we prioritize that knowledge and we act upon it.

The best example of all is the basis of our current strategies to minimize warming; the extinction of the fossil fuel industry—killing coal. We have been attempting to implement this strategy for 24 years. Are we certain that it is a correct strategy, or the best strategy?

Beginning in the mid and late 2000s, work began to be published about new knowledge of sulfates and “optical aerosols” and their global cooling properties. Work by Unger from Nasa shows that killing coal,  because of the global cooling of coal’s sulfate emissions and their indirect effects, in the short-term climate time frame of 20 years, creates more net warming than doing nothing. Air travel, because of those global cooling sulfates and where they are emitted at high altitude in this case, actual cools Earth in the short-term climate time frame.

We didn’t know about these sulfates and their indirect effect when we first suggested climate reform strategies. We were acting on the best knowledge we had at the time, and I think we will all agree, we were behaving honorably. Should we not have attempted to implement these strategies that we now know would have resulted in more warming than doing nothing?

The point is, we know better what to do now. Shouldn’t we be acting on this new knowledge instead of attempting to implement knowledge that we know is not as good as what we currently know? HFCs (halocarbons) are a threat, but we have a mechanism for that already in place Montreal Protocol talks, what likely saved the world from uncontrolled degradation because of ozone depleting CFCs. What about this new knowledge about West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) collapse that comes from never before modeled physics that is nine times more extreme than the IPCC consensus? Or the next generation WAIS collapse modeling that says that we must return our oceans to preindustrial temperatures by 2050 or suffer uncontrollable collapse? Or, the statement by NOAA’s sea level rise program director that says to expect modeling in the near term that shows 10 feet of sea level rise from the WAIS by 2050 (here and here)? What about the increase forest mortality across the world, where in the North American Rockies 89 million acres have seen mortality from 60 to 95 percent (20 times greater than ever before here, here and here)? Or, off gassing of methane from undersea clathrates north of Siberia that in 2010 was more than all of the rest of Earth’s oceans combined and has the capacity to warm much more than 0.5 degrees C (here and here)? Or the sea level rise rate that in the last three to five years has doubled?

We have been trying to implement what science understands now as strategies that would warm more than doing nothing in the most important time frames. We have considerable knowledge that says it is time to change direction with climate reform strategy. Shouldn’t