Acceleration of bad news about climate change

Counter-intuitively, this is an optimistic post.

A month ago, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new report. Amongst a long list of bad news, the report states that our CO2 emissions "would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures." This is more pessimistic news that many had expected.

Unfortunately, it's not entirely surprising. Three years ago, in Opti-pessi-mistic tweetstorm on climate change, I wrote "It’s a public secret that things are way worse than we think. But scientists can’t say so else they would lose all credibility. Catch 22."

To expand on this point — for a long time, if you were a climate scientist, you needed to walk a fine line. On the one hand, sound alarmist enough to make people care and take this seriously. On the other hand, you couldn't say things that were too pessimistic — for the fear of creating a helpless reaction of "Well, if it's so bad, we can't do anything anyway, so why bother." 

I fear that this dynamic caused a significant under-statement of how bad the situation is. I suspect that we're finally getting to the stage when the science cannot be played down any further, and we may see all the bad news start coming out at once. The IPCC report was probably just the first drop.

I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing though. Over the last twenty years, we've proven that if predictions are just moderately bad or we have "a lot of time", we won't do enough to reduce emissions. Most countries, organizations, and individuals need to face the true magnitude of the crisis to change their behavior. So it's good to see reality come out into the open.

This will be an incredibly difficult fight, but there are signs that make me optimistic — both geo-engineering in general, and CO2 capture in particular.