Some super important things to understand 🌎

by | July 23, 2021

Today I’m sharing some key, high-level ideas and research that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in understanding where we stand and where we may be going. I hope it helps you to wrap your head around everything a bit more too!

Big Picture: Where society stands

The world is about 1.2°C (2.16°F) hotter today than it was before the industrial revolution.

Every country in the world has agreed to limit warming to 2°C at most, with a goal of 1.5°C thanks to the heroic efforts of the island nations who know their countries need “1.5 to stay alive”.

After that, in 2018, the IPCC (who aggregate the best and latest climate science) released a report comparing 1.5°C and 2°C. It became blatantly obvious that there’s nothing safe about 2°C and the world really needed to aim for 1.5°C.

To put it simply, the less the planet heats up, and the faster we eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, the less suffering, death, and destruction there will be.

Not to mention, minimizing heating also minimizes the chances of runaway warming…which would be unimaginably devastating for civilization.

Society continues to march recklessly in the wrong direction and has already left the safety of 4 out of 9 planetary boundaries that keep everything stable.

Green = safe. Yellow = danger zone. Red = Extremely high risk of irreversible tipping points. Image from Johan Rockström’s Ted Talk.

(I highly recommend watching Johan Rockström and David Attenboro’s “Breaking Boundaries” on Netflix for an eye-opening deep-dive on this chart.)

We must work to move society to the safe zones as quickly as possible.

Thankfully, more and more people around the world are beginning to grasp the true urgency of the planetary emergency. And more are speaking up and taking action every day.

Every voice and every action makes a difference.

“All that you touch you change. All that you change changes you.” – Octavia E. Butler
“What you do makes a difference. You have to decide what kind of a difference you want to make” – Jane Goodall

A few more things you *really* need to understand (and share with others)

First, understand the current range of global heating and current probabilities for different temperatures by 2100.

How hot will it get by 2100?​

As you can see, the most likely temperature rise by 2100 right now is 3.2°C (no thank you). And there’s only a 5% chance of greater than 5°C temperature rise. As well as a 5% chance of keeping warming under 2°C, and a 1% chance of keeping warming to 1.5°C.

The UN emissions gap report says we need to triple our current efforts to have a chance at keeping warming under 2°C. And increase efforts by 5x for 1.5°C.

Now, it’s all well and good to say we’re at 1.2°C now and need to limit warming to 1.5°C. But this also needs to be translated into something we can actually wrap our heads around.

So, it’s important to understand what our carbon budget for 1.5°C looks like.

The Carbon Budget for 1.5°C

A carbon budget basically answers questions like:

  • What amount of CO2 emissions would it take to heat the world by __ degrees?
  • How much of that budget have we already used?
  • How much time is left, at current trends, until we max out the budget?

This 20-second video is super useful, showing that we’ve already used up 92% of the 1.5°C budget and, at our current pace, we’d exceed the budget in less than 10 years.


Finally, and perhaps most importantly, everyone should understand what “committed emissions” are. This is what really helped put everything into perspective for me.

Society’s “Committed Emissions” Take Us to 1.8°C

The existing fossil fuel-powered cars, power plants, furnaces, boilers, stoves, etc. around the world today will continue to pollute our bodies and the atmosphere until they break or are retired.

The amount of greenhouse gases they’ll emit over their expected operating lifetimes are known as “committed emissions”.

These “committed emissions” alone are expected to heat the planet to about 1.8°C.

That means governments, corporations, and citizens need to stop building and buying new fossil fuel infrastructure today just to limit warming to 1.8°C.

“If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.” – Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency
“At this point, basically, to hit any reasonable climate target, you need 100% adoption [of zero-emission infrastructure] at everyone’s next purchase.” – Saul Griffith

To keep warming below 1.8°C, we’ll need to retire fossil fuel infrastructure early and/or remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere – mostly by supporting nature (hopefully technological solutions can meaningfully contribute eventually too).

More practically, it means every next big purchasing decision and investment that is made by individuals, corporations, and governments needs to be as clean as possible (rule of thumb: electrify everything and power it with clean energy).

And it means we need to do everything we can to change our systems so that the zero-emission option is always the easiest and cheapest option.

(For more: Here’s a study on committed emissions. And here’s a fantastic podcast with Saul Griffith on the topic along with electrifying your home.)

Let’s all do what we can to influence the policy and investment decisions where we live and work (in your home, your company, your town, your state, your country).

Whether we realize it or not, we all have power. It’s time to use it.

Because every little bit of warming that is prevented will save or improve our lives – both today and tomorrow.

This post originally featured in the Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter below!

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