By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
At the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties, also known as COP27, there was a lot of hand-wringing over global warming passing the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit.
“We are already at 1.1C of global warming, and I know I don’t have to remind all of you the impact of that around the world. Even at 1.5C we are still going to have devastating outcomes for many millions,” Alok Sharma, a former U.K. cabinet minister, said at the conference.
Polls show that around 40% of Americans believe climate change could drive the human race to extinction. A poll this year found that 84% of teens believe climate change will leave the planet uninhabitable.
With global emissions on the rise, few doubt warming will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next few years. Is the result Wyoming becoming a wasteland?
The best research from the International Panel on Climate Change, a consortium of the world’s leading climate scientists, does not support these fears of human extinction.
Prominent voices regularly present the 1.5-degree target as a point by which the globe would face climate Armageddon and label anyone who disputes it a “science denier.”
In 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, said the world would end in 12 years if climate change isn’t addressed. Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also has promoted the 2030 deadline to prevent the extinction of the human race.
In 2018, the IPCC published a summary for policymakers that laid out how much reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be required to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. That 2030 deadline has morphed into a doomsday clock for some.
Plant Growth ‘Exploding’
Gregory Wrightstone, executive director of the CO2 Coalition, said that passing the 1.5-degrees mark will not have any serious outcomes, and he argues that the benefits of CO2 are being ignored.
“Plant growth is exploding across the planet,” Wrightstone said.
The CO2 Coalition’s board of directors include Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, and William Happer, professor emeritus in the Department of Physics at Princeton University. Happer also is a co-founder of the coalition.
Since its members dispute catastrophic climate change, the organization is regularly labeled as promoters of climate change denial and stating that plant growth is accelerated as a result of CO2 emissions is controversial.
It’s also scientific.
Carbon dioxide is plant food, and there is a fertilizing effect that is producing a greener world.
A 2020 study published in the journal Science Advances and promoted on the NASA website concludes that increased plant growth is reducing surface temperatures. Since the fertilizer effect has limits, NASA scientists warn it shouldn’t undermine fears of climate change.
“This is a warning sign about climate change. We should be cautious that the rainforests, which are at the forefront of the fight against global warming, are reaching the limits of their capacity to absorb carbon and cool the surface.” Dr. Rama Nemani, from NASA’s Ames Research Center, said of the study.
Destroyer Of Worlds
Wrightstone said warming also will be limited by decreasing climate sensitivity to further CO2 emissions. This means that for every molecule of CO2 put into the atmosphere, there is less impact than previous CO2 molecules.
Besides, he argues, warming does not destroy civilizations.
The first civilizations — the Assyrians, the Hittites, the Babylonians and the first Chinese Empire — existed in a time when temperatures were higher than they are today, albeit naturally. Wrightstone said mankind has thrived in a few periods of warmer temperatures and with far less technology than today.
“In each case, humanity flourished and blossomed, and the food was plentiful,” he said.
Climate Change Lockdown
There are other level-headed perspectives that don’t view climate change as the end of the world, but these researchers also argue that climate change is a serious problem.
In a recent analysis published on Carbon Brief, University of Leeds climate scientist Piers Forster and his colleagues calculated that limiting the planet to 1.5 degrees warming would require CO2 emissions to fall by 1.4 gigatons every year. This year, CO2 emissions will hit a record 37.5 gigatons, and the Carbon Brief researchers point out that an annual cut of 1.4 gigatons would be comparable to what we saw during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns around the world.
Though there’s no hope that the world would accept a permanent lockdown for climate change, the researchers write that, “It is important to note that it is neither harmless to keep emitting CO2 up until the budget is blown, nor instant Armageddon if it is exceeded.”
While we’ll likely blow through the 1.5 degrees target, recent research suggests we won’t get too far beyond that.
Researchers associated with the professional advisory group Climate Resource estimated that warming by 2100 will be below 2 degrees Celsius, but that’s assuming that all signatories to the Paris Agreement keep their greenhouse gas emission reduction pledges.
University of Colorado climate researcher Roger Pielke Jr. published a study earlier this year in Environmental Research Letters that concludes worst-case climate scenarios are “highly implausible.” Pielke estimated that temperatures will rise to around 2.2 degrees Celsius by 2100.
All these researchers believe climate change is a problem, but they also don’t believe mankind is about to fall off a climate cliff.
The amount of CO2 emissions is growing every year, but when it comes to reductions, the U.S. is a world leader. By replacing coal-fired electrical generation with natural gas, as well as a smaller contribution from wind and solar, the U.S. annual CO2 emissions are down to where they were in the 1990s.
The primary drivers are India and China, which are building coal plants by the dozens.
“China and India — particularly China — are just exploding with more and more coal-fired electricity,” Wrightstone said. “They need it because [Chinese] President Xi [Jiping] understands that, if you want a vibrant growing economy, you need affordable, abundant, reliable electricity.”