This is going to be my last post about the whole 2oC pathways issue, I promise 🙂 I was wanting, however, to discuss this Washington Post article called The magic number. It quotes Kevin Anderson, whose work I’ve discussed before. I’ve been generally impressed by what Kevin Andreson presents. It’s passionate, but also seems quantitatively robust.
However, I’m slightly confused as to why, in his Nature Geoscience Commentary, he chose to say that many of his scientific colleagues,
are ultimately choosing to censor their own research.
particularly objects that many models now rely on “negative emissions” through technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the air or after combustion processes.
The reason for this is apparently because these pathways conform with today’s political and economic hegemony and, consequently, do society a great disservice. My understanding (and I’m happy to be corrected) is that he is suggesting that these supposedly unrealistic pathways give policy makers an excuse for not cutting emissions as much as maybe they should.
Why do I find this confusing, though? Consider the figure on the right. Emission pathways that give us at least a 66% chance of keeping warming below 2oC are shown in green. You can see the negative emissions beyond about 2060. However, even these pathways would require halving our emissions by about 2040, and getting emissions to zero by about 2060. They’re not exactly pathways that we can follow with ease.
Consider now, the figure on the left which shows the emission pathway (in red) that we might follow as a result of the agreements reached in Paris. It’s not even close to a 2oC pathway that requires negative emissions. It’s a pathway that will likely lead to us missing a 2oC target by more than 1oC. How can people presenting 2oC pathways that may require as yet untested negative emission technologies, be somehow responsible for policy makers essentially opting to follow a pathway that won’t even come close to achieving the specified target? If anything, coming close to following one of the 2oC pathways – even if it does ultimately require negative emissions – would seem like a remarkable achievement, given what we currently appear to be doing.
So, what research are scientists censoring and what else should they be doing? Should they be presenting emission pathways that have even more drastic emission cuts; keeping warming below 2oC without requiring negative emissions? I can certainly see that if negative emissions are untested and possibly unlikely to be viable, that such pathways may be necessary if we want to achieve this target. However, if we’re not even close to a pathway that requires negative emissions, why would presenting one that would seem even more extreme be more effective?
Should they be speaking out more about the fact that our planned emission cuts are unlikely to achieve the supposed target? Some, of course do, and I have no problem with more doing so, but I’m still unsure as to whether or not it should be expected. Climate scientists seem to get flack from all corners these days. Speak out and they’re advocating and losing objectivity, keep quiet and they’re doing society a disservice. At the end of the day, those who are doing society a disservice are those who have the opportunity to make decisions, and have plenty of information to use for their decision making, but choose to be influenced by delayers and mis-informers, rather than by the actual experts.
As many have said before, we known more than enough to make suitable decisions. If we’re not doing so, it seems unreasonable to suggest that scientists are somehow responsible for this lack of action, but maybe I’m missing something about this. If so, I’m happy for it to be clarified.