February 22, 2010

Plan for a 700 ppm CO2 world?

An editorial in the New York Times today crystallized somethink that has been lurking in the back of my mind for a while now (at least since when I described my book to someone last week).  In that editorial the editors were thinking about the implications of the resignation the UN climate chief, Yvo de Boer, and noting that his departure has deepened the sense of pessimism that the world (that is Earth) will get its act together and create a global effort to manage the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The crystal that formed, was the following:  What if the difficulty of reducing CO2 emissions is not a failure of will, but simply a part of the future?  How much of our overwhelming sense of need comes from a harking back to the past and a time when Mother Nature clearly had the upper hand? At what point does a future atmosphere that is connected to pre-industrial Earth fall out of our portfolio of possible Earth futures?

Let me be clear, I think that curbing and managing CO2 emissions should be among the highest priorities of Earth.  And I hold that view because my own working definition of sustainability calls for futures with increasing aggregate human well-being.  I am quite convinced that triple pre-industrial CO2 in the coming century is incompatible with my sustainability goals.

But what if we do hit those high levels?  Will humans go extinct?  I don't think so, but in the context of currently imagined technologies, economies, modes of sovereignty etc, they are quite likely to be much more miserable rather than less so.

So if we think about efforts toward sustainability in the context of managing a portfolio of possible futures and maximizing human well-being over that portfolio, doesn't it make sense to plan for a 700 ppm world so that if it comes to pass we are as well off as possible in it?  

Welcome to monday...