2.8 tons sounds like a lot. That's 15.3 pounds or roughly 7 kilograms per day. The problem is we North Americans exhaust that quota very quickly. In fact, we generate about 200-tons of carbon dioxide emissions per capita annually. So we're producing about seven times more emissions than we ought to but what's the rush? I know, ask the Germans!
German climate scientists have been crunching the numbers just like you would expect from a bunch of Germans, very bluntly. None of that IPCC consensus fudging, just the plain, brutal truth. Their conclusion is that the carbon emission cuts recommended by the IPCC (which our politicians don't have the will to meet in any case) fall far short of what is needed, within the next ten years, to have a decent chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Did you get that? Within the next ten years. You are living in the make it or break it moment that will decide the fate of your children and grandchildren.
The German Advisory Council on Global Warming has released their report available here in PDF format. Entitled Solving the Climate Dilemma: the Budget Approach, the council argues that budgeting (i.e. rationing) carbon emissions is our species' only hope. They've taken a global, per capita approach - count all the legs and divide by two. That means you're entitled to the same emissions quota as somebody from India or the Sahel of Africa.
The German government's top climate scientist, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, discussed his council's findings at a recent conference at New Mexico's Santa Fe Institute. AlterNet has an interesting report on the presentation by Mark Hertsgaard of The Nation:
Schellnhuber and his WBGU colleagues go a giant step beyond the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN body whose scientific reports are constrained because the world's governments must approve their contents. The IPCC says that by 2020 rich industrial countries must cut emissions 25 to 40 percent (compared with 1990) if the world is to have a fair chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. By contrast, the WBGU study says the United States must cut emissions 100 percent by 2020 -- in other words, quit carbon entirely within ten years. Germany and other industrial nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035, and the world as a whole must be carbon free by 2050. The study adds that big polluters can delay their day of reckoning by "buying" emissions rights from developing countries, a step the study estimates would extend some countries' deadlines by a decade or so.
Say what? The United States must be at zero emissions by 2020? As the late Billy May would say, "But wait, there's more!":
Schellnhuber, addressing the Santa Fe conference, joked that the G-8 leaders agreed to the 2C limit "probably because they don't know what it means." In fact, even the "brutal" timeline of the WBGU study, Schellnhuber cautioned, would not guarantee staying within the 2 C target. It would merely give humanity a two out of three chance of doing so -- "worse odds than Russian roulette," he wryly noted. "But it is the best we can do." To have a three out of four chance, countries would have to quit carbon even sooner. Likewise, we could wait another decade or so to halt all greenhouse emissions, but this lowers the odds of hitting the 2 C target to fifty-fifty. "What kind of precautionary principle is that?" Schellnhuber asked.
"I myself was terrified when I saw these numbers," Schellnhuber told me. He urges governments to agree in Copenhagen to launch "a Green Apollo Project." Like John Kennedy's pledge to land a man on the moon in ten years, a global Green Apollo Project would aim to put leading economies on a trajectory of zero carbon emissions within ten years. Combined with carbon trading with low-emissions countries, Schellnhuber says, such a "wartime mobilization" might still save us from the worst impacts of climate change. The alternative is more and more "Oh, shit" moments for all of us.
What I find most troubling about Schellnhuber's report is the reality that this is a threat that isn't going to be met without political will. You and I can't do this on our own. The American people, even if they were so inclined, can't do this on their own either. Only our politicians can mobilize the resources needed for something of this magnitude. In Canada that means Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton - three total duds. If there are many more world leaders of the miserable calibre we've accepted in Canada, well we're all hooped.