Deep cuts now. Get it done.

Must see statement at COP 17 from student at College of the Atlantic.  Her science is just a bit off (I would say closer to 10 years rather than 5), but she has it basically right.

I predict that these words will go viral:  Deep Cuts Now.  Get It Done.

A clarification:  Ms Appadurai is correct when she says that the IEA has estimated that we must begin steep reductions by 2017, 5 years from now.  Here is an article in the Guardian that references the source, which is the latest world energy outlook published by the IEA.  While compelling and very possibly correct, there are several other estimates of the date at which we will be committed to irreversible, dangerous climate change.  The key concept here is the “lock-in” effect, which is the time lag built into the production of emissions.  The IEA estimate references the date at which we will have built infrastructure in the form of power plants, inefficient building and fuel guzzling automobiles that will commit us to a trajectory of increasing emissions that will move the atmosphere into this danger zone.  My own reading of the literature suggests to me that 2020 is closer to that date, but this too is really “tomorrow” and not some distant point in the future.  The concept of commitment reinforces the concept that everything that we build today has profound sustainability consequences further down the road, and this is especially true for the climate.  We can no longer capriciously build or design unsustainable infrastructure, especially fossil fuel burning power plants.

It is very important to distinguish the IEA calculation, which is based on the emissions that are built into poorly designed infrastructure, from the discussions about climate sensitivity to greenhouse gas concentrations.  The greenhouse gases emitted from unsustainable infrastructure are not included in the modeling by climate scientists.  They consider only short term feedbacks and relatively quick atmospheric forcing from the greenhouse gases that occur in the atmosphere at a given point in time.  Clearly, the lag time that we build into the climate system through unsustainable practice will progressively hijack the planet if we fail to respond now.  We should have responded 20 years ago when the science was clear.

Thus, Ms Appadurai is right.  Five years is a very reasonable estimate, and I would add, quite conservative when you consider all the factors at play.  Here is Joe Romm’s analysis of the IEA results.

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About Stephen Mulkey

Stephen Mulkey has recently served as Director of Research and Outreach/Extension for the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Florida, and as science advisor to the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida. During this period, he was tenured faculty in the Department of Botany, and a research associate with the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida. He received a PhD in ecology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986. Prior to coming to the University of Florida in 1996, Mulkey co-founded and later directed the International Center for Tropical Ecology, a nationally ranked graduate training and conservation program at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. Mulkey also worked for many years as a research associate for the Smithsonian Institution, Tropical Research Institute. He is a scholar of the interdisciplinary literature in climate change and sustainability. Mulkey is active as a public interpreter of climate change science. His recent research focuses on the role of landscape carbon stocks in climate mitigation. Beginning in August 2008, he joined the faculty at the University of Idaho as director of the program in Environmental Science. He has been the lead in obtaining National Science Foundation funding for the creation of the new Professional Science Master’s degree at the University of Idaho. Supported by major funding from NASA, he is presently directing a project focused on climate change education. Stephen Mulkey is the current president of Unity College in Unity, Maine.