My response to the online poll question “Do you think climate change can be reversed in your lifetime?”
The original poll is on LinkedIn at:
The short answer is no, because I’m already nearly 60 and my remaining life expectancy is probably less than thirty years (to about, say, 2050).
However, in order to provide an optimistic view (and, I hope, a realistic one), I’d like to provide a longer answer and share my views about what I think can be achieved by 2050 and what happens beyond that.
The climate science community (whose work is reported on in extensive breadth and depth in IPCC reports) is telling us that, because of the immense inertia in earth systems, and the enormous quantities of greenhouse gasses (“GHGs”) that we have already emitted, since the Industrial Revolution began, and continue to emit, there will be a huge problem for a long time to come. It is almost inevitable that there will be some “overshoot” beyond optimal climate for humanity and other life. Some would argue that we have already left the zone of optimal climate, with current global warming of more than 1 degree Centigrade above pre-industrial.
For several decades, we have failed to even “bend the curve” of GHG emissions, let alone had a clear picture of when the following will occur:
However, we have a better picture of supportive concepts and milestones along the pathway to such inflection points, eg:
Carbon Brief have calculated that, based on BP’s data, global peak oil (demand and production) occurred in 2020. See:
That is cause for optimism that the same can be done for coal, gas and, in fact, all fossil fuels that lack CCUS (Carbon Capture Use or Storage).
We know, for example from dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic, that when we are serious enough about “bending the curve”, we can do it.
And with almost every country in the world setting Net Zero Carbon targets and commitments, I think the poll question is exactly right to ask, essentially, not “if” but “when” we will reverse climate change.
I’m confident that, because we now know what caused it (us) and we know how to stop it getting worse (by changing what we do), that we will do that by 2050 (so, within my lifetime) and that it means we also know how to reverse it.
The remaining supplementary questions are about how long it will take to reach "optimal climate" and how to establish what the new optimal temperature and climate will be. For clarification, by “optimal climate” I really mean a range of limits within which climate will vary naturally. Think of it like the buffers in a ten pin bowling alley. In the same way these buffers prevent the ball going to one side or the other and force it to stick within the lane, the human hand on the GHG emissions 'tiller' will prevent the earth getting either too warm (leading to runaway “hothouse earth”) or too cold (leading to runaway “next ice age”).
My only significant doubts in this respect are about the ever-present risk of reaching irreversible “climate tipping points” before we hit “peak warming”.
If we hit one of those (or a cascade of them) then all bets are off …
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