Scientists keep raising ever-louder alarms about the urgency of tackling climate change, but the world’s governments aren’t listening. Yet the latest numbers don’t lie: Nations now plan to keep producing more coal, oil, and gas than the planet can endure.
The numbers, and the attitudes of leaders like Trudeau and Trump, are a kind of cryptic suicide note for the planet.
Climate change is many things — a moral issue, a question of intergenerational justice, an economic threat, and now a daily and terrifying reality.
But it’s also a math problem, a point I’ve been trying to make for awhile now. Let’s run some new numbers.
First: 11,000, as in the number of scientists who just signed a manifesto that declares the world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society. “We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” the manifesto, released earlier this month, states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”
Is that straightforward enough?
Second number: 120 percent, as in the plans by the world’s governments to produce 120 percent more coal and gas and oil by 2030 than the planet can burn and have even half a hope of meeting the Paris climate targets. The new report, which emerged last week from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), is one of the most important pieces of research in years. What it means is, the world is producing endlessly more coal and oil and gas than safety allows.
But that’s why the third number in this lesson — 2 percent — is so hopeful. It’s the percentage of big buildings in New York, the ones over 50,000 square feet in size. And they produce 45 percent of the city’s emissions from buildings. Which means a manageable number of structures — skyscrapers, convention centers, warehouses, huge apartments — produce roughly half the carbon. Which means, you could fix it: Indeed, New York City has embarked on a remarkable program of retrofits for its big buildings, ordering landlords to get to work.