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Analysis: How much ‘carbon budget’ is left to limit global warming to 1.5C?

Posted on 10 May 2018 by Zeke Hausfather

This is a re-post from Carbon Brief

In 2015, by signing up to the Paris Agreement on climate change, nearly every country pledged to keep global temperatures “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”.

Limiting warming to 1.5C requires strictly limiting the total amount of carbon emissions between now and the end of the century. However, there is more than one way to calculate this allowable amount of additional emissions, known as the “carbon budget”.

While calculations based on Earth System Models (ESMs, see below) used in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggest that we have only a few years left at our current rate of emissions before we blow the 1.5C carbon budget, some recent studies have suggested that the remaining carbon budget is much larger.

In this article, Carbon Brief assesses nine new carbon budget estimates released by different groups over the past two years. Most show larger allowable emissions than were featured in the last IPCC report. A number of studies suggest that carbon budgets estimates based on ESMs may be on the low side as a result of limitations with how some models represent the carbon cycle.

However, there is still a wide range of variation in these new carbon budgets, arising from differences in approaches, timeframes, estimates of warming to-date and other factors. Recent studies suggest the remaining carbon budget to limit warming to “well below” 1.5C might have already been exceeded by emissions to-date, or might be as large as 15 more years of emissions at our current rate.

Many new estimates

The idea of a “carbon budget” that ties an amount of future warming to a total amount of CO2 emissions is based on a strong relationship between cumulative emissions and temperatures in climate models. What had started out as a simple communication tool has become quite complicated, with different studies getting very different results as to the allowable carbon budget for very low emission pathways like 1.5C.

This relationship between cumulative emissions and warming is not perfect, as it will change based on what happens to non-CO2 greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, as well as how quickly climate-cooling aerosols are reduced. It also does not perform quite as well when there are “net-negative” emissions – when more emissions are being removed from the atmosphere rather than being added.

The figure below shows various estimates of the allowable carbon budget to keep temperatures well below 1.5C, where “well below” implies a 66% chance of keep temperatures below 1.5C warming (and a corresponding 33% chance of exceeding the target). These probabilities reflect the sizable uncertainty in the sensitivity of the climate to CO2 emissions. Coloured bars correspond to the carbon budget from different studies listed on the left, while values below zero mean that current cumulative emissions already exceeded the “well below” 1.5C carbon budget.

Remaining carbon budgets in gigatonnes CO2 (GtCO2) from various studies that limit warming to a 66% chance of staying below 1.5C (see links at end of article), as well as equivalent years of current emissions using data from the Global Carbon Project. Ranges reflect reported budget uncertainties, while points show best-estimates. All studies have been normalised based on observed emissions to show the remaining budget as of January 2018. Integrated assessment models limit warming to well below 1.5C warming in the year 2100, while other approaches avoid any exceedance within the next century. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Carbon budgets have been estimated by a number of different methods, including complex ESMs (shown in yellow), simple climate models employed by Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs, shown in red), and by using observational data on emissions and warming through present to “constrain” the ESM results (shown in blue).

The budgets shown differ in their approach to the 1.5C target. ESMs and combined observation/ESMs use what are called “threshold exceedance budgets”. These keep increasing emissions until temperatures reach 1.5C and assume that emissions stop immediately once the threshold temperature is reached, which is essentially impossible in the real world. The budget for a 66% chance of avoiding 1.5C is simply based on the 66th percentile across all of the different ESMs. IAMs, on the other hand, use “threshold avoidance budgets” that create emission scenarios tailored to keep warming in 2100 well-below 1.5C.

Earth system models

ESMs are a type of complex climate models that simulate the carbon cycle, nitrogen cycle, atmospheric chemistry, ocean ecology and changes in vegetation and land use, which all affect how the climate responds to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. They have vegetation that responds to temperature and rainfall, and, in turn, changes both the uptake and release of carbon to the atmosphere.

These models were most recently run in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), an international effort of modelling groups around the world to create climate model “runs” of a set of common future climate scenarios leading up to the 2013 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

The models, labelled “IPCC AR5 ESMs” in the figure above, collectively estimate a remaining carbon budget of 118GtCO2 between 2018 and 2100, if temperatures are to be kept well below 1.5C. This amounts to approximately three years of current emissions until the budget is exhausted.

new study by Prof Jason Lowe and Dr Dan Bernie at the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre takes these CMIP5 models and tries to account for additional uncertainties in the carbon budget associated with feedbacks, such as carbon released by thawing of permafrost or methane production from wetlands, as a result of climate change. They incorporate a wide range of additional feedbacks, some of which enhance and some of which reduce future emissions and resulting warming. They find that including these additional feedbacks results in a “well below” 1.5C carbon budget of between -192GtCO2 and 243GtCO2, with a best estimate of 67GtCO2.

A carbon budget of below zero indicates that existing emissions already commit us to a greater than 33% chance of 1.5C warming or more by the end of the century and that more emissions would have to be removed from the atmosphere than emitted to meet the target.

CMIP5 models used the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios that specified future concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases between 2005 and 2100, but did not specify the actual emissions of CO2 in any given year. This approach was chosen because not all climate models participating in CMIP5 were ESMs; some were more simple General Circulation Models (GCMs) that lack a carbon cycle to convert emissions into atmospheric concentrations.

In order to estimate the cumulative CO2 emissions for use in calculating the carbon budget, ESMs within CMIP5 had to back-calculate emissions based on the atmospheric concentrations using the carbon cycle within each model. These carbon cycle models are not perfect and tend, on average, to have lower emissions associated with current CO2 concentrations than our best estimate of emissions that have actually occurred. This appears to be due to an underestimate of land or ocean carbon sinks in some ESMs.

While the models get the warming just about right for the current concentrations of CO2, the fact that they tend to have lower estimates of historical emissions means that the carbon budgets based on the relationship between cumulative CO2 emissions and warming tend to be on the low side.

This was first pointed out in a 2014 study by Prof Pierre Friedlingstein of the University of Exeter and colleagues. Its potential implications for 1.5C carbon budgets was prominently highlighted by Dr Richard Millar and colleagues in a paper last year.

While this mismatch in modelled and observed emissions is relatively small, it can make a considerable difference for very stringent carbon budgets like that associated with 1.5C.

Estimates combining ESMs and observations

A number of different studies have tried to improve carbon budget estimates from ESMs by matching them more closely to observations of emissions and warming that have actually occurred up to the present day.

This has taken a number of different forms. The paper in 2017 by Millar and his colleagues calibrated the total past emissions and warming in ESMs to match present observations. They then looked at how much more emissions would be allowable to increase temperatures by the difference between today’s temperature and 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. This has the benefit of removing any mismatch between past emissions or temperatures in observations and ESMs.

Millar’s estimate of the carbon budget to stay “well below” 1.5C warming was 625GtCO2, or roughly 15 more years of emissions at our current rate. This was more than five times higher than the prior estimate from the IPCC. The finding generated a considerable amount of controversy in the community when it was first published.

The Millar et al paper has been criticised by Dr Andrew Schurer of the University of Edinburgh and other researchers for using a temperature record that was not representative of what ESMs are actually simulating. Specifically, Millar and colleagues used the HadCRUT4 temperature series to estimate remaining warming till the 1.5C target is reached. While consistent with the IPCC assessments of historical warming, it lacks coverage of much of the fast-warming Arctic region and blends surface air temperatures over land with slower-warming sea surface temperatures over the ocean.

Schurer and colleagues point out that using an observational record with global coverage and emulating the same global surface air temperatures as the models use would increase estimated warming to date and reduce the carbon budget noticeably.

Janschwalde Power Station, Brandenburg, Germany. Credit: VPC Travel Photo / Alamy Stock Photo EM9C6N

Janschwalde Power Station, Brandenburg, Germany. Credit: VPC Travel Photo / Alamy Stock Photo

Applying their approach to Millar et al’s “well below” 1.5C carbon budget, Carbon Brief estimates that this would reduce the carbon budget to between 325GtCO2 and 506GtCO2, with a best estimate of 416GtCO2 – or 10 more years of emissions at our current rate. This is based on Schurer’s 5th-95th percentile range of current warming relative to the late-1800s, using the Cowtan and Way temperature record corrected for the difference between sea surface temperature and surface air temperature warming rates. This carbon budget is still considerably higher than the IPCC’s estimate, suggesting that approaches informed by observations are important to correct for too-low estimates in the models.

Schurer and other researchers also point out that the carbon budget would be even smaller if the “pre-industrial” period were defined relative to the 1700s or earlier rather than the late-1800s. Some human emissions and associated warming are likely to have occurred by the late-1800s. However, ESMs and IAMs all use a late-1800s baseline, so how pre-industrial is defined does not explain the differences between carbon budget estimates.

A new paper by Dr Katarzyna Tokarska and Dr Nathan Gillett uses a similar approach to Millar and colleagues, matching ESMs to current emissions and temperatures. They avoid some of the issues in Millar by using more globally-representative surface temperature records, though they still use series that blend surface air temperatures over land with slower-warming sea surface temperatures over the ocean.

Tokarska and Gillett also screen for ESMs that agree well with observed emissions, removing a number of models whose historical emissions differed too much. They find a “well below” 1.5C carbon budget of 395GtCO2, considerably lower than that of Millar but reasonably well in line with Schurer and colleagues.

Finally, a paper by Dr Philip Goodwin of the University of Southampton and colleagues also rebaseline ESMs to match present emissions and temperatures, but instead of using the set of CMIP5 models to devise their budget, they employ a simplified ESMthat is designed to be consistent with observed warming and emissions to date. They find a remaining “well below” 1.5C carbon budget of 693GtCO2, quite similar to the Millar paper. However, their overall range of carbon budgets for 1.5C is much narrower than is found in Millar et al; their budget for a 66% and 44% chance of staying below 1.5C is 693 to 821GtCO2, respectively, compared to 625 to up to 1870GtCO2 in Millar et al.

Integrated assessment models

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) take underlying socioeconomic factors, such as population and economic growth, as well as a climate target – such as limiting warming to 1.5C – and estimate what changes could happen to energy production, use, and emissions in different regions of the world to reach the targets in the most cost-effective way.

They rely on the simple climate model known as “MAGICC” (Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Induced Climate Change) to convert emissions of different greenhouse gases into atmospheric concentrations and warming. MAGICC’s carbon cycle model is designed to match historical concentrations to observed emissions and should be largely free of the underestimate of historical emissions present in more complex ESMs.

The IAMs featured in the last IPCC report estimated the remaining “well below” 1.5C carbon budget from January 2018 at between -192GtCO2 and 26GtCO2. This would mean that there are effectively zero years of remaining emissions until the carbon budget is exhausted and temperatures at the end of the century could only be kept below 1.5C by removing more CO2 from the atmosphere than emitted over the remainder of the century.

These IAMs were recently updated by Dr Joeri Rogelj of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and colleagues as part of the modelling exercises in the lead up to the next IPCC report. They now show a somewhat wider range of -182 to 393 GtCO2, with the difference from the prior set of IAMs due in part to differing assumptions about future emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases.

IAM-based carbon budgets differ from those that come from ESMs in a number of ways. First, instead of using an ensemble of models to calculate the 66th percentile of runs that result in 1.5C warming, they use a range of possible climate sensitivity values that ends up providing a more conservative estimate of what it would take to exceed 1.5C.

Specifically, while ESMs that have a 66% chance of avoiding 1.5C still show warming of around 1.45C, IAMs with a similar target have much lower 2100 warming, reaching only 1.3C to 1.4C above pre-industrial levels. Not all IAMs shoot for exactly a 66% chance of avoiding 1.5C warming as well, with some adopting somewhat more conservative targets.

Second, IAMs specifically aim to have global average surface temperatures below 1.5C in 2100, rather than limiting warming to no more than 1.5C at any point between present and 2100. Nearly all IAMs that meet a 1.5C target overshoot 1.5C around mid-century before reducing temperatures through massive amounts of negative emissionsin the second half of the 21st century.

This makes the calculation for the budget somewhat different, especially as net-negative emissions can cloud the assumptions behind the relationship between cumulative emissions and warming.

Third, because the maximum warming lags emissions of carbons by about a decade, budgets based on ESMs (or combined observations/ESMs) do not fully account for emissions over the final decade before the 1.5C threshold is exceeded. IAMs, on the other hand, are somewhat penalised because the cooling from negative emissions in the last decade before 2100 is not fully accounted for.

These combine to make IAM carbon budgets relatively low compared to combined observation/ESM budgets. To try and reconcile the two, Rogelj and colleagues recalculated the Millar budget, taking into account more globally representative temperature observations, differences between the level of warming reached, as well as other factors, to make it more comparable to the IAM budgets. They found that Millar’s budget would be between 25GtCO2 and 375GtCO2, nicely overlapping much of the range of IAM budgets.

However, Millar suggests that additional research may be required to fully resolve the differences in budgets. He tells Carbon Brief:

“I would say that in my opinion this is an important area for further work by the community. It seems likely to be a combination of factors/definitional differences – as Dr Rogelj says – account for the difference between the IAM and non-IAM budgets, as both physical climate uncertainties and technical/societal uncertainties regarding how much we are able to reduce contributions to warming from non-CO2 matter to estimates of remaining budgets.”

Challenge of defining 1.5C

Despite setting a goal to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5C”, the Paris Agreement never defined what, exactly, this meant. It could be interpreted either as aiming for 1.5C warming with a 50% chance of staying below it, or as aiming for “well below” 1.5C similar to the 2C goal with a 66% chance of avoiding more than 1.5C warming. It is also ambiguous whether this refers to changes in global air temperature as simulated in models, or blended mixtures between air temperature and ocean surface temperature more similar to observational temperature records.

Some reports have focused on a 50% chance, while others have focused on 66%. It seems likely at this point that the “well below” 66% interpretation of 1.5C will win out in the end, because the IAMs being run in preparation for the next IPCC report have embraced that approach.

The figure below shows the carbon budgets for all of the recent studies that have looked at limiting warming to no more than 1.5C with a 50% chance. It includes many of the studies that also looked at a “well below” 66% chance, in addition to two new studies that only look at the 50% chance outcome.

Remaining carbon budgets in gigatonnes CO2 (GtCO2) from various studies that limit warming to a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C (see links at end of article), as well as equivalent years of current emissions using data from the Global Carbon Project. Ranges reflect reported budget uncertainties, while points show best-estimates. All studies have been normalised based on observed emissions to show the remaining budget as of January 2018. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Unsurprisingly, carbon budgets for a 50% chance of avoiding 1.5C are universally higher than in the “well below” 66% case. A new paper by the Potsdam Institute’s Dr Elmar Kriegler and colleagues summarises the remaining carbon budget from January 2018 in existing studies across the various methods used as spanning a wide range from -182 to 818 gigatonnes CO2 (GtCO2, shown in grey).

The two new studies (shown in purple), by Prof Damon Matthews and colleagues, and by Millar and Friedlingstein, use an approach to carbon budget calculations that avoid relying on models all together. They estimate the relationship between observed warming and observed cumulative CO2 emissions, calculating the “transient climate response to cumulative emissions” – the amount of warming per teratonne carbon (TtC, or 1000 gigatonnes carbon).

They both end up getting estimates of transient climate response to cumulative emissions smaller than what is found in climate models – and a carbon budget that is correspondingly larger. Even here, however, the results are somewhat sensitive to the temperature series used. Millar and Friedlingstein find a transient climate response of 1.84C/TtC using the Cowtan and Way temperature record, 2.05C/TtC using the Berkeley Earth temperature record, and a median estimate of 2.11C/TtC using CMIP5 ESMs (though with a wide range from 0.8–2.5C/TtC). Conversely, they find that the transient climate response would be reduced new 2017 estimates from the Global Carbon Project are used, which have higher historical land-use CO2 emissions.

Matthews and colleagues estimate the remaining 50% 1.5C carbon budget from January 2018 at 977GtCO2 (or 24 years of current emissions), while Millar and Friedlingstein estimate it at 835GtCO2 (20 years of current emissions). This is considerably higher than the IPCC earth system model value of 268GtCO2 (seven years of current emissions).

Large uncertainties remain

There have been a wealth of new studies on the remaining carbon budget to limit warming to below 1.5C published over the last two years. While they have generally reinforced the conclusion of Millar and colleagues that the IPCC’s models have underestimated the remaining carbon budget, sizable differences between the studies still remain and it is hard to pin down a precise number to use as the remaining allowable emissions.

In general, because the difference between today’s cumulative emissions and those in a 1.5C world are so small, they are quite sensitive to many different factors, including how much observed warming has occurred to date, how much non-CO2 emissions are expected in the future, what range of climate sensitivity is used in calculating the 66% chance of avoiding, and many other issues.

While IAMs tend to find carbon budgets much lower than combined observations/ESMs, the two are not necessarily directly comparable. IAMs are targeting warming in 2100 (and often overshooting 1.5C in the interim), while ESMs are simply looking at how much CO2 can be emitted before temperatures exceed 1.5C. At this point, it is likely premature to suggest that IAM carbon budgets may be too low.

Ultimately, as Dr Glen Peters at the CICERO Center for International Climate Researchin Norway has argued, the idea of a remaining carbon budget simply may not be very useful concept for strict emission targets, such as 1.5C. The rise in global temperatures is already close enough to 1.5C that small differences in calculations have a big impact.

Similarly, because nearly any plausible scenario would require a large amount of negative emissions later in the century, the carbon budget itself is not a hard cap on emissions. No matter what carbon budget is used, there is still less than 0.5C additional warming to go before 1.5C is passed and only a few decades before the world has to reach net-zero – and then net-negative – emissions.

Update 10/4/2018: The uncertainty range shown for the Goodwin et al study in the remaining carbon budget for a 50% chance of less than 1.5C warming figure has been updated to show the correct values. The text has also been updated indicate that the Goodwin et al study showed a much more narrow range of overall budgets for different percent chances of staying below 1.5C than were found in Millar et al.

Update 11/4/2018: The article has been updated to reflect that the carbon budget in the Kriegler et al study refers to a 50% rather than 66% chance of remaining below 1.5C.


Studies surveyed

Millar, R. et al. (2017) Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C, Nature Geophysicsdoi:10.1038/ngeo3031

Matthews, H.D., et al. (2017) Estimating Carbon Budgets for Ambitious Climate Targets, Current Climate Change Reportsdoi:10.1007/s40641-017-0055-0

Goodwin, P., et al. (2018) Pathways to 1.5C and 2C warming based on observational and geological constraints, Nature Geophysicsdoi:10.1038/s41561-017-0054-8

Schurer, A.P., et al. (2018) Interpretations of the Paris climate target, Nature Geophysicsdoi:10.1038/s41561-018-0086-8

Tokarska, K., and Gillett, N. (2018) Cumulative carbon emissions budgets consistent with 1.5C global warming, Nature Climate Changedoi:10.1038/s41558-018-0118-9

Millar, R., and Friedlingstein, P. (2018) The utility of the historical record for assessing the transient climate response to cumulative emissions, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Adoi:10.1098/rsta.2016.0449

Lowe, J.A., and Bernie, D. (2018) The impact of Earth system feedbacks on carbon budgets and climate response, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Adoi:10.1098/rsta.2017.0263

Rogelj, J., et al. (2018) Scenarios towards limiting global mean temperature increase below 1.5C, Nature Climate Changedoi:10.1038/s41558-018-0091-3

Kriegler, E., et al. (2018) Pathways limiting warming to 1.5°C: A tale of turning around in no time, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Adoi:10.1098/rsta.2016.0457

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. Thanks for the informative article Zeke.

    There is something I don't understand. A climate sensitivity of 3C/doubling CO2 implies that warming of about 1.5C corresponds to CO2 concentration of about 400 ppm. We have already passed 400 ppm. I understand that there are other GHGs than CO2, and there is cooling caused by air pollution, but on balance, 3C/doubling CO2 pretty well explains the observed warming seen since 1970. How can we talk about remaining carbon budgets when we have already passed 400 ppm, the CO2 concentration corresponding to 1.5C warming? Doesn't this imply that carbon removal has to work? But we've passed 400 ppm, and carbon removal only exists at scale in the models.

    Am I missing something? I am not trying to be argumentative, but I really don't understand how 1.5C can be a viable target when we are already above 400 ppm. CO2 is not only increasing, but the Keeling curve shows that CO2 is still accelerating upwards.

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  2. 1.5C Projections: From my simple "CO > Temp" best-fit regression model (based on NASA temp set), I believe the equilibrium temperature will hit 1.5 C in 2025 (based on a baseline of 1955, and 2.5ppm annual rise of CO2), and has already hit 1.5C in 2017 if based on a baseline of 1880-1900 (adding 0.24 C to the 1955 baseline). This would put set the CO2 budget at ~250 GtCO2 (7 years x 36Gt) for a baseline of 1955; and -36 GtCO2 for a baseline of pre-industrial (1880-1900). Considering that it will take 30-50 years to get CO2 emissions down to 10% of today's emissions, I would say that any talk of holding below 1.5 C is out-of-touch with reality.

    2.0C Projections: This simple model puts hitting equilibrium temp of 2.0 C at 2043 (2.5ppm annual rise) with a baseline of 1955; 25 years from now. If we delay 'all hands on deck' global mitigation efforts any more than 10 years, that goal too will be out-of-touch with reality. ... Based on the current void of any serious political-will (most egregious now in the US), the ability to avoid cresting 2.0 C is not looking good.

    This simple best-fit regression model puts the temperature sensitivity factor at 3.42 C, and the 1st-order time constant at 16.2 years. Here is a link to this simple model's derivation worksheet (fyi: the 'saved version' has annual rate-of-rise at 3.0 ppm):


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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Shortened link

  3. Climate science has developed the emergent truth that the unsustainable pursuit of temporary benefit through the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels creates negative future consequences for humanity. It is highly unlikely that further development of climate science will significantly alter that understanding. And further development of climate science, and the corrections of developed human activity that are required for humanity to have a better future, is essential to the future of humanity.

    I am still working on a comment to the final OP of the 3 Part - "Climate Science Denial Explained". This comment includes my thoughts regarding the motivations for the development of climate science denial.

    Sean Carroll's "The Big Picture" presents a comprehensive understanding of how the environment people grow up in can develop the type of people they become, develop their character and ways of thinking. It also makes it clear that the starting point for everything is the current moment that has developed as a result of everything that happened prior to the current moment. And it makes it clear that the future has a diversity of possibilities that will be the result of the chosen actions of every living thing that makes choices, constrained only by what has developed up to the current moment and the fundamental physical realities of the universe we developed in and inhabit.

    People can change their minds, but the environment people experience can lead them to develop strong interests/desires causing them to prefer to not change their minds; preferring to maintain what has developed that they personally perceive a personal comfort/benefit from; and attempting to change the system further in their favour.

    It is obvious that the lack of responsible correction of harmful unsustainable human development in the past, especially deliberate resistance to increasing the proper understanding of the issue in the general public, has created undeniable harmful consequences for future generations (today's bigger climate change challenge), consequences that are continuing to become bigger/worse.

    Some still try to claim that the perceptions/evaluations of wealth today will naturally continue to grow into the future if more people are freer to believe what they want and do as they please (the fantasy that good results will be produced by a less regulated free-for-all society/marketplace).

    The reality is that only truly sustainable socioeconomic development has any chance of continuing to have value into the future. And it cannot grow endlessly. It can only be improved by the development of even better truly sustainable activity, the quicker the better for the future in spite of perceived losses by some people today.

    The undeniable truth is that the moral/ethical obligation is for all of the most fortunate to lead the rapid increase of awareness and understanding of the corrections required for the future of humanity and lead by example (discrediting and correcting 'legal developments' when developed Laws and their enforcement are unethical/harmful, including exposing the awareness of unethical legal developments by disobeying through 'civil disobedience').

    Any of the richest or winners of positions of power who fail to act that way clearly need to be corrected rather than being excused, just like any other trouble-maker in society or business needs external help/motivation to become better educated, changing their mind to behave better, and having reduced influence in the socioeconomic system until they prove they deserve to be winner/leaders.

    This is a common sense ethical matter. But developing common sense ethics can be hard for people who have a powerful personal interest/desire that would have to be given up if they were more ethically sensible/responsible. And the developed socioeconomic systems that such people develop in are the real problem needing correction.

    It is moral/ethical common sense that the current generation owes the future generations a maximum impact of 1.5C increase. That means the richest today paying for CO2 reduction (none of them should make a penny from the ventures), with the distribution of cost among the richest being determined by peer review of who should be obliged to pay more, who was a bigger trouble-maker. That is what is required.

    The developed socioeconomic political systems that resulted in the development of that problem cannot be expected to produce the correction, especially not by allowing more freedom for people to do whatever they want. And the correction requires the richest to have the least freedom, the most responsibility, be investigated/evaluated most intensely to a higher standard of behaviour.

    That developed problem can be expected to get harder to correct the longer the developed socioeconomic-political system is allowed to defend, perpetuate and expand the unacceptable things it has developed.

    Developing a sustainable solution to that problem is essential to the future of humanity, and the more rapidly it is developed the better the future will be.

    Climate science has unintentionally become one of the most significant fronts in the socioeconomic-political struggle to develop a sustainable better future for humanity, a struggle to correct incorrect developments that have developed powerful defences, particularly through regionally temporarily successful misleading marketing appeals to developed temptations for more potential personal benefit rather than desiring to be more helpful to others and the future of humanity.

    A note about religious and conservative people that will be part of my comment on "Climate Science Denial Explained: The Denial Personality". Being fundamentally religious or conservative is not what make a person less likely to accept climate science. Religious and conservative people can appreciate the importance of protecting the development of a better future for all of humanity. The problem is people who choose to claim to be religious or conservative (or liberal or atheist) to defend or excuse a developed personal interest in maintaining an otherwise understandably unsustainable and harmful developed way of living and treating others. That harmful desire is a choice. Not every religious or conservative person will choose to think that way. And it is unhelpful to refer to being Conservative or Religious as a problem. Conservatives and religious people can be helpful. The problem is the way that unhelpful people can claim to be Conservative or Religious as an excuse for being harmful. And some people will claim to be Liberal or Atheist to excuse being unhelpful (that is less likely to be the case, but it can still happen).

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  4. OPOF, this article discusses new and significant published research related to reasons for climate denial, and how vested interests and particularly conservative politics fit into the picture. It certainly supports some of what you say.

    According to the article, denial of the science is more related to vested interests, with conservative politics being a secondary factor. However  the notable point is climate science denial by conservatives seems unique to America and Australia, and is much less evident elsewhere, and they explain why.

    However the research does not explore mitigation. Personally I think you would find more conservative resistance to things like carbon taxes. The whole thing is rather complex I'm afraid.

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  5. nigelj,

    Thanks for the link. It is likely that the USA and Australia have seen what is "called or claimed to be Conservative" most radically distorted in their nations. A similar thing has happened in Canada, particularly in Alberta.

    However, the study seemed to fail to correct for the fact that 2 the 4 conspiracy events are clearly USA centered, the New World Order bit is highly USA centered because the New World Order would knock the USA from global dominance, leaving the adoration of a non-USA celebrity to be less USA centered, but the USA is likely the most Celebrity focused nation.

    I think that resistance to climate science is not a 'fear of increased government intervention'. It is more likely because accepting climate science exposes that unacceptable unsustainable activity has developed and needs to be rapidly corrected. And relying on people freely doing what they want in competition for popularity and profitability won't solve the problem. And the deniers sense their loss if they admit to the unacceptability of trying to benefit from the burning of fossil fuels. The bigger threat is to their cherished vested/private interest in being able to personally benefit as much as they can in their lifetime.

    A key aspect is the way people can believe they personally will not experience a net-negative result in their lifetime. The lack of concern beyond their local interest during their near future is a serious problem, bringing up one of my favourite warnings from John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty": “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”, where distant motives are considerations beyond personal local short-term interests.

    It is indeed complex. A simple slogan for the answer could be something like: "Act Local Now to Help Develop a Sustainable Global Future". But the key is developing a consistent detailed understanding of the objective, and brevity fails to do that. "Be Best" is a great example of that.

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  6. OPOF@5

    By the 1940's we already knew that smoking caused cancer, but it took until the 1990's to enact meaningful legislation in the US. And 15% of Americans still smoke. This is a problem that does not have distant impacts, but impacts within ones lifetime, and for which each person probably has known somebody who has suffered ill effects of tobacco use. Yet the problem goes on.

    Breaking habits is indeed difficult, even if we know the ill effects to our health. Breaking the fossil-fuel habit, where the impacts are distant (or at least perceived to be distant), will be really, really tough.

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  7. Evan@6,

    I am well aware and agree.

    A major difference between tobacco and fossil fuels is that the burning of fossil fuels creates accumulating future harm to Others.

    Negative impacts of smoking have mainly been limited to the people lured into doing it. Burning fossil fuels harms Others.

    Doing harm to Others makes an action even less acceptable than doing harm to one's self. So, hopefully that understanding can speed up the correction of what has developed, leading others, particularly the genuinely caring and deserving among the wealthy, to act more aggressively to protect humanity from the damaging sub-set of the population, particularly against the interests of the damaging undeserving wealthy ones.

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  8. OPOF@7

    I agree with what you are saying. Completely agree. But if people don't stop behavior that harms themselves, they are less likely to stop  behavior that harms others. It is the nature of the selfish people we are. We usually will not make a decision that will make us feel less comfortable. This is why Al Gore's film "An Inconvenient Truth" is a brilliant title. If global warming and climate change are natural, then we can continue to pray for the poor, helpless people suffering overseas. But if we accept that it is our emissions causing the problems, then we are faced with the inconvenient truth that we must change our lifestyles.

    National polls often cite that 50% or so of people accept that GW and CC are real and that fossil-fuel emissions are the problem. But what percentage of the people you know are changing their lifestyle to account for that reality? I can count the number of people I know changing their lives on one hand or maybe two. We should care about others, but considering that half of American voted for a nationalistic president, to me it seems the message is clear that in the end we will take care of ourselves and, at best, pray for the others. I don't mean to criticize Christians. I am a Christian. But I don't see a very Christian response to this problem, because sacrificing for the sake of others is a tough thing to do.

    People will barely sacrifice for their own good, much less the good of others.

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  9. A news article a couple of nights ago discussed research finding children of smokers had nicotene levels in their bodies that in many cases were the same as their parents, through passive smoking. So it appears to me these children are probably already partly addicted, and are going to be highly predisposed to want to try smoking cigarettes. So smoking has more significant effects on others than we realised.

    However climate change is expected to keep atmospheric CO2 levels significantly elevated for about 1000 years I recall according to the IPCC, so this is effecting what, about  300 generations or so.

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  10. nigelj@9

    Agree. But knowledge does not equate to action. Yes, with smoking it is more insidious because there is a chemical dependency.

    The insidious problem for us, is that even as I write this, and even as I present myself as a person interested in changing my behavior, I have normalized such excess in my life as an American, that it is difficult for me to even determine what a proper lifestyle is that is consistent with how we need to be responding. I am serious about changing, but wonder if I have the courage to act on my convictions ... assuming I knew in the first place what constituted an appropriate response.

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  11. Evan @10, I feel much the same way, and ask myself similar questions. In fact its very difficult for an individual to find answers to such difficult questions, so dont stress too much.

    I think we have three key problems of climate change, environmental pressures generally, and growing danger of resource scarcity, and they strongly interrelate, but knowing the appropriate individual response is hard, and not even the experts can say with any certainty. However we do definitely know we need to obviously adopt renewable energy and consume a lot less resources per capita. In other words own less stuff. Of course its easy to pontificate on the right thing and harder to do, but that doesn't make it any less the right thing.

    The issue is that humans are by nature status seeking and this is expressed through our materialism, the very thing we are now being expected to consciously scale back on. Its a huge "conflict of interest" so quite challenging, particularly as individuals are reluctant to make sacrifices unless everyone does.

    However I think there's also a growing sense that materialism has a strict law of steeply diminishing returns in terms of happiness. I'm not an advocate for simple hair shirt lifestyles, however there's possibly a sweet spot of consumerism in the middle somewhere that is sustainable long term. 

    And perhaps rather than trying to formulate precise plans in terms of personal consumption or make radical immediate changes, its better to just get things pointing in the right general direction. Taking the first step is the hardest.

    Humans are also selfish in varying degrees, but this is made complicated by the fact that some level of selfishness is not an inherently a bad thing because without it we would not surivive long. However we are clearly not entirely selfish. We are genetically wired with strong altruistic instincts as well. Many of us seem to be conscious that altruism is important, helping others is important, and acceptance of others is important, and its not just instinctive because there are obvious practical benefits from this. I tend to think right now humanity needs to concentrate on altruism, and international cooperation, and any nationalism needs to be restrained and strictly evidence based.

    We are also genetically primed for loyalty to our immediate group and distrustful of other groups according to research. So expecting people to consider future distant generations of people not in our group is hard work. Yet again its clear from history that humans have risen above narrow and self defeating fears of other people.

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  12. nigelj@11

    Good points. We have a lot in common. I think that what sets humans apart from other animals is altuism.

    Clearly we need more of it.

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  13. Nigelj@9:

    I agree with your point.  Unfortunately, the carbon dioxide being released today has a much longer lifetime in the atmosphere than you think.  From the Guardian:

    "The rest is removed by slower processes that take up to several hundreds of thousands of years, including chemical weathering and rock formation. This means that once in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can continue to affect climate for thousands of years." my emphasis.

    The next ice age has been delayed by at least tens of thousands of years by the carbon already in the atmosphere.

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