Business as UN-usual

climate change SS

By Elizabeth Plascencia

IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).
IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).

What is the fundamental difference between the words ‘dangerous’ and ‘risky’? Uncertainty. It has come to my attention that the largest culprit for climate doubt is the market of uncertainties. The phrase ‘dangerous climate change’ is rarely seen within climate policy because it alludes to this notion of likely harm or damage, thus ‘risky climate change’ is often its placeholder. The phrase ‘risky climate change’ suddenly drops the gravity of the situation at hand to possible or uncertain effects and therefore loses its momentum as an immediate force to be reckoned with. However, we can no longer think on such a short human timescales, it is evidently a question of rapid anthropogenic effects on the global climate systems over geologic time. In order to avoid dangerous climate change transformative changes are essential within global economic, energy, and transportation systems.

It is inevitable that most human activities produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Rates are a key factor in the climate change equation as we begin to measure greenhouse gases with long-lived residence times. It is key to understand that gases do not just decay, dissipate, and absorb into the atmosphere, rather their respective consequences carry on for decades, centuries, and even thousands of years. Yet with this in mind, the very root of our economic, energy, and transportation infrastructure relies heavily on harmful and polluting fossil fuels. As per the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2013 Emissions Gap Report, “Business-as-usual scenarios of future developments are generally based on an extrapolation of current economic, social, and technological trends. They usually reflect policies that have taken effect as of recent cut-off date, for example, 2010. However, in some cases they may include policies that, while approved will only enter to force at a future date” (UNEP, 4). Therefore, transformative change begins with breaking the “business-as-usual” mentality and habit.

Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben



Bill McKibben boldly remarks the truth of the matter if we continue of the trajectory of mere incremental policy reforms and change within his book Eaarth, “Even if you took all the possible “conditional proposals, legislation under debate and unofficial government statements” – in other words, even if you erred on the side of insane optimism – the world in 2100 would have about 600 parts per million carbon dioxide. That is, we’d live if not in hell, then some place with a very similar temperature.” (McKibben, 20).



Whilst observing the historically less-stringent climate policy within the body of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and then equating the projected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports it is clear that the longer we wait to cut emissions the harder it is going to get. Therefore in order to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change transformative action is required within global economic, energy, and transportation systems because our actions yesterday, today, and tomorrow directly affect the future of our blue planet.

For more information:

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Work Cited

McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition Edition, 2011.

UNEP. 2013. The Emissions Gap Report 2013. United Nations Environment Programme.

How to End an Awkward Dinner Conversation? – Talk about Climate Change

hot topic cartoon

Everyone has experienced the endless question fandango. What school do you go to? Do you like it? What are you studying? What are you going to do with that? What’s next? Well, one day I hit a breaking point, so when one of my mother’s friend finished asking me those five questions. I went on an extended rant about the projected gloomy future of our planet. I discussed: the Arctic ice sheets completely melting by 2080, the rising sea levels that will engulf the Pacific Islands, the decreasing Amazon rainforest, the increase in frequency/intensity of hurricane and etc. Afterwards, I glanced over at my mother’s friend and she had a horrified look on her face. She made an excuse about “dying to see the renovation on the garage”.  Mission Accomplished.

However, after reading Bill McKibben’s book, eaarth , I realize now what I did was wrong.  Climate Change is apocalyptic enough, and the last thing I should be doing is crushing people’s moral regarding climate change. Climate change needs people’s interest, not dread.  McKibben informs the reader about the anthropogenic alteration to Earth’s atmosphere, biodiversity, oceans and landscape. These changes will result in a new planet and there have been consequences that have already negatively impacted thousands of people.

Rather than my end of the world scenario with no hope, McKibben paints positivity on to his pages.  He offers encouragement, hope and solutions.  For example, he acknowledges the switch to local farming and the individual level changes. Like other climatologists, McKibben calls for political and global level changes to green house gas emissions.  His website demonstrates the power of protesting and encourages people around the world to get involved. I gained a vast amount of positivity from reading earth and I hope to take McKibben’s approach towards climate change.


Do you want to live on a new planet?

kepler planet


Living on a different planet sounds exciting, right? I think of a space ship finally landing on its far traveled destination and discovering completely a new environment. This picture above is an artist’s depictions of Kepler-186f, a newly found Earth-size planet orbiting inside a red dwarf star’s habitable zone.  It’s rocky, it might have water, it might even have life, but could we, evolved through Earth’s distinct conditions, ever thrive there? It’s likely not.


We may not have to travel light-years away to find a new planet- ours is transforming right before our eyes. Bill McKibben describes this new planet we are creating, Eaarth, in his book of the same name. This new world is plagued by drought, fires, and storms. The planet, as before, is primarily covered in water, but this time, the pH is slipping down, the temperature is creeping up, and the coastline is rising to cover the many cities of humans. Everything’s changing. The rise in global temperature means that the mountain pine beetle can survive through the winter and kill trees in the western United States. These huge tree kills increase mudslides and erosion and decrease forest carbon uptake.  The snow and ice in Greenland and the Arctic are melting, swallowing up small island nations like the Maldives in the process. Other places become deserts. Depending on the nation’s affluence, people must either spend more money on desalination plants or spend more time traveling to gather water. Crops are frozen, parched, and diseased, increasing food costs and human starvation.


This new planet no longer seems exciting; it is menacing. The current seven billion humans that depend on a hospitable planet to are actually very temperamental. How do we survive this new planet? McKibben wants us to think small. We must shrink our economy, limit growth, and give our tired planet some space. New planets have new limitations and restrictions, these are some of ours. Now we have to learn how to adapt to living on this mad experiment we have created.



Infrastructure: The Road to Survival


It’s not sexy. It doesn’t work well on a bumper sticker easily. It doesn’t bring in big donations to charities or get people energized. But infrastructure is the key to our future survival and prosperity. A continually changing climate and environment necessitates advancing infrastructure renewal to keep pace. In Bill McKibben’s Eaarth, a new world is described that is radically different than the one we currently enjoy, and one that we may even begin to experience within our lifetimes. The effects of global warming on this new world, Eaarth, will have serious economic repercussions; for example, Hurricane Katrina caused about $108 billion of damage in the United States. The infrastructure that was in place before the storm was severely insufficient to match the storm, even though predictions had been made before the storm hit in 2005 that the infrastructure needed to be beefed up in case of a direct hit by a hurricane. Had the city’s infrastructure been attended to before the storm, the economic and personal costs to the people of New Orleans would have been far less severe.

A well-maintained infrastructure is pivotal to whether or not we can maintain the lifestyles we have grown accustomed to. If any more delay persists, the global economy will be dangerously unprepared for the looming fate that awaits us just over the horizon. Shocks on the scale of Hurricane Katrina are not going away; they’ll be a fact of life, and we need to be proactive with precautionary measures and fundamental changes to our economic and physical landscape in order to weather the impending storm (pun intended).

However, McKibben is not suggesting just throwing money randomly on infrastructure renewal projects; he implores a smarter, long-term planning perspective that takes into consideration the changes that will happen not only in the next decade or two, but over the next century. Rising sea levels will submerge coastal roads and bridges around the world; rather than repairing those that most likely will be inaccessible in a few years, it’s more effective to repair infrastructure that is out of the danger zone and that will be available for use further into the future. If we’re smart about what and how we overhaul our infrastructure systems, we’ll be far better prepared to withstand what lies ahead.

McKibben said “we’ve got to harden our communities so they can withstand the couple of degrees of global warming that are now inescapable.” Investment in infrastructure is not only to ensure our long-term prosperity, although it is that; it is also to guarantee and protect our ability to adapt and function in the ever-changing world and to survive. Everything is at stake, and it won’t be easy to defend it. But, when you weigh the options, the course of action is clear.

Making it in this New World

It is going to be difficult. What is “it” you may be wondering? It is the transition from one way of life to a completely antithetical way of life that is about to occur. It is the future conditions that have been crafted inadvertently throughout the development of the modern world. It is what Bill Mckibben is desperately warning about in eaarth, a planet that has a new set of operating standards. Earthquakes where they used to not be, destructive droughts, unpredictable changes to agriculture, dangerous diseases spreading rapidly into new territory, and dangerous global conflicts. Having been fortunate to sit down and converse with Mckibben, as well as see him speak to several different audiences, I can hear the sense of desperation in his written works, as well as the tremendous hope he has for our species in the “new world” as he puts it. But as I told you before, it is going to be difficult.

The difficulty does not simply rise from the monumental shift away from fossil fuels that is necessary, but it also lies in the mystery of what society will look like when the dust settles, if it ever does settle. There are innumerable proposals in existence, just as many as there are for a definition of sustainability. From the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Futures Study on renewable energy in the United States to’s goal of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to Exxon Mobil’s devotion to burn all of their carbon reserves in order to ensure a secure future. Consensus has not been reached, but we can hope it will be this year and next at the COP. Mckibben offers a strong general solution that I would gladly follow; focus on community.

How do we survive in a new world when we have adapted to a completely different set of rules? Assuming rapid adaptation on a massive scale will keep the crops from drying out and our population centers above the rising tides we would need one of two things; either a strong central government and international organization to make change happen- I am pretty sure that we do not want to go down that road- or see an overwhelmingly amount of the population begin to change. The latter seems to be more within our reach, at least in the US. We are not there yet though. Climate change deniers still exist, people are still belching carbon from their exhausts, and Exxon Mobil still plans on not letting any of their reserves be stranded investments by burning them all.
What is to be done then? We must educate, advocate, and grow a community around curbing carbon emissions. Mckibben wasn’t the first to recognize the importance of community. It is a recurring theme in progressive thought. The word is becoming overused, Mckibben admits it, but that does not mean it is not important. It is also merely a first step, because once this community is strong enough to enact change then we must begin to change.

-Justin McCarty