With the climate talks in Paris now over, the world has set itself a serious goal: limit temperature rise to 1.5C. Or failing that, 2C. Hitting those targets is absolutely necessary: even the one-degree rise that we’ve already seen is wreaking havoc on everything from ice caps to ocean chemistry. But meeting it won’t be easy, given that we’re currently on track for between 4C and 5C. Our only hope is to decisively pick up the pace.
In fact, pace is now the key word for climate. Not where we’re going, but how fast we’re going there. Pace – velocity, speed, rate, momentum, tempo. That’s what matters from here on in. We know where we’re going now; no one can doubt that the fossil fuel age has finally begun to wane, and that the sun is now shining on, well, solar. But the question, the only important question, is: how fast.
To put it in slightly more familiar terms, think about deciding that you’re going to run a marathon. Any healthy person can learn to do it as long as they set a very relaxed pace – in fact, there’s a whole club of people who just happily run slowly. Their leader, John Bingham, may be the most popular running writer of our time, with books like No Need for Speed and Marathoning for Mortals. The average finishing time for the Los Angeles marathon: five hours and 15 minutes.
But in the case of the climate talks, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about going fast. Limiting the temperature increase to 1.5C would be like setting a new world record (which is two hours and two minutes); even managing to hold it to 2C would be like running a marathon way under three hours, something only 2% of marathoners ever accomplish. “Running a marathon is hard,” running writer Mark Remy has written. “Doing it in less than three hours is really hard. No, I mean hard. Like really freaking hard.”
Translated into carbon terms: you don’t get to go drilling or mining in new areas, even if you think it might make you lots of money. The Arctic will have to be completely off limits, as will the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. The pre-salt formations off Brazil, and the oil off the coasts of north America too.
You’ve got to stop fracking right away (in fact, that may be the greatest imperative of all, since methane gas does its climate damage so fast). You have to start installing solar panels and windmills at a breakneck pace – and all over the world. The huge subsidies doled out to fossil fuel have to end yesterday, and the huge subsidies to renewable energy had better begin tomorrow. You have to raise the price of carbon steeply and quickly, so everyone gets a clear signal to get off of it.