Op Ed: Can we Avoid the Climate Cliff?

New global warming data shows we’re headed for Frankenplanet, in your lifetime…

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by Sarah Zemanick

Cornell has committed to climate neutrality by 2050, and has a plan to achieve it. To date, the Ithaca campus has decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. While this is excellent progress, I think that we, as a campus and as individuals, need to do more, and we can’t do it soon enough.

In his 7/19/12 Rolling Stone article Bill McKibben presents three numbers that are, as he puts it, terrifying: two degrees Celsius, 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide, and 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Here’s how to add them up:

  1. There is global consensus that we can't raise the temperature of the planet more than two degrees Celsius without making the planet inhospitable to human life. The earth has already warmed 0.8 degrees, and we are currently on a trajectory for a 4 degree increase by 2100.
  2. Scientists estimate that we can emit about 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some hope of staying below two degrees. We’ll emit 565 gigatons in about 16 years at current rates.
  3. There are 2,795 gigatons of carbon contained in the world’s proven coal and oil and gas reserves (five times higher than 565). That extra 2,230 gigatons is worth about $20 trillion. It is free to emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Read the whole article: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719#ixzz2D2s29hFZ

The ramifications of global warming in excess of two degrees Celsius are devastating (think Frankenplanet - Wikipedia has a good overview if you don’t find the term “ocean acidification” frightening), and likely to happen within our own lifetimes. Yet it does not seem to be on our collective radar.

I don’t remember hearing anything about global warming during the recent presidential election!!!

As the potential victims of our collective ignorance and indolence, what role should each of us, and Cornell as an institution play? In addition to personal behavior changes, I think we all have a duty to educate our friends and acquaintances and make the urgency of this issue mainstream. Our institutions need to continue to set the bar and to show the world what can be done (make it a true Living Laboratory). We need to model and advocate for and demand cultural and economic change!

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