Fresh Hope for Combating Climate Change (Introductory article)
If a climate disaster is to be averted, we’ll have to move forward without relying as much on fossil fuels. It can be done.
THIS YEAR COULD BE THE TURNING POINT. Laurence Tubiana thinks so. She’s a small, elegant, white-haired woman of 63. At a press briefing in a noisy restaurant near Washington’s Capitol Hill, she apologized for being incapable of raising her voice—which in a diplomat is no doubt an excellent quality. Tubiana is no ordinary diplomat: She’s France’s “climate ambassador,” charged with the greatest cat-herding project in history. For the past year and a half she has been traveling the world, meeting with negotiators from 195 countries, trying to ensure that the global climate confab in Paris this December will be a success—a watershed in the struggle against climate change. “This notion of a turning point—that’s super important,” Tubiana says.
There are at least 20 reasons to fear she will fail. Since 1992, when the world’s nations agreed at Rio de Janeiro to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system,” they’ve met 20 times without moving the needle on carbon emissions. In that interval we’ve added almost as much carbon to the atmosphere as we did in the previous century. Last year and the past decade were the warmest since temperature records began. Record-breaking heat waves are now five times as likely as they once were. A large part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, scientists reported last year, is doomed to collapse—meaning that in the coming centuries sea level will rise at least four feet and probably much more. We’re already redrawing the map of the planet, especially of the zones where animals, plants, and people can live.
And yet there’s also an unmistakable trace of hope in the air. A lot of it is still just talk. China and the United States, the two largest carbon emitters, have announced a deal to reduce emissions. Six European oil companies say they’d welcome a carbon tax. A giant Norwegian pension fund has pledged to stop investing in coal. And the pope has brought his immense spiritual authority to bear on the problem. Read more…