2020年1月22日 星期三

Climate Fwd: Big-picture things we can do

Also, strange scenes at the Davos economic forum

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Tyler Varsell

We get a lot of mail from readers who want to know how they can shrink their environmental footprints. That’s why we started the One Thing You Can Do column.

Sometimes, though, other readers (we have a lot of them) write to say they’re worried that individual actions like the ones we talk about in the One Thing section aren’t enough to lower emissions to the level that scientists say is necessary to avoid the harshest effects of climate change.

Fair point. It’s a fact that we, as individuals, are embedded in systems that affect how much greenhouse gas we emit. And, changing those systems is tougher than changing our own behavior. It’s hard to ride a bike to work, for example, if your community doesn’t have bike lanes.

That raises a question: In addition to our individual actions, what levers can we use to shift these systems so they’re less carbon intensive?

Over the past few years, Ilona M. Otto, a resource economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and her colleagues have worked to understand those mechanisms. This week, they published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that identifies some possible levers, or social tipping interventions, that could put the planet on track to halve global emissions by 2030 and tip the scales to net zero emissions by 2050.

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You can think of some of the interventions as variations on the theme “when you know better, you do better.” These include: Highlighting the moral implications of fossil fuels, strengthening climate education and engagement, and disclosing information on greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Otto points to movements like Fridays for Future as having put a spotlight on the morality of fossil fuels. “You have a new generation of young people and the majority of them have a completely different understanding of politics and of what has to be done,” she said.

An example of information disclosure could be product labels that show the greenhouse gasses associated with an item’s production and use.

The other interventions have to do with exposing the broader costs of fossil fuels and reducing their markets. For example, removing fossil fuel subsidies and encouraging decentralized energy (like microgrids, for instance); building carbon-neutral cities; and divesting from assets linked to fossil fuels.

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One intervention missing from the list is a carbon tax. The researchers found that it would most likely lead to reductions that were too gradual. In the countries that have introduced a tax it has made an impact in some sectors, but, “in some, like in transportation, it just didn’t make any difference,” Dr. Otto said.

“If you commute by car, as many people do in the suburbs, you can increase the price by 5 percent, by 10 percent, if you have no choice you will pay more or save on other things.”

President Trump and Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday. Evan Vucci/Associated Press

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Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the annual World Economic Forum, opened this year’s conference Tuesday morning in Davos, Switzerland, with a warning to members of the global establishment.

“We do not want to reach the tipping point of irreversibility of climate change.”

But then, minutes later, he offered a hearty welcome to the world’s only head of state who has pulled his country out of the Paris climate accord and reversed a raft of climate policies in his own country: President Trump.

“We have arranged for you the best sunshine,” Mr. Schwab went on to say.

It captured the strange, whiplash-inducing mood of this year’s meeting.

Sustainability was the buzzword on everyone’s lips. Snacks at the conference venue were all vegetarian for one of the five days, and images of threatened turtles were projected on the walls. Along the main promenade in Davos, pop-up pavilions focused on reducing waste, even as luxury gas-guzzling black cars ferrying conference delegates clogged the narrow roads that wind through the Alpine village.

Greta Thunberg on Wednesday afternoon rebuked the titans of business and politics for doing too little to address a problem she said they had helped create.

Mr. Trump, who spoke an hour earlier to a separate audience, told reporters that he wished that she would focus on countries other than his.

“We have to do something about other continents, other countries,” he said at a news conference. “I think Greta ought to focus on those places. We have a beautiful ocean called the Pacific Ocean. So I think Greta has to start working on those other countries.”

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