Monday, May 2, 2016

A Post-Sustainability World

In the wake of COP21 the world may finally wake up to the necessity of sustainability, however, this is only the beginning of a long journey and we should start thinking about what comes next. Despite the advances we have made an impartial analysis reveals that we must do more. We must do more than sustain the status quo. On climate change this means moving beyond carbon neutrality.

If all the nations of the world sign and implement the Paris Climate Agreement, it will still not be enough. If we add together all the world's INDC pledges, we will still exceed our carbon budget and consequently push past the 2C safe upper threshold limit. Although it should be pointed out that we are likely to see improvements on these carbon reduction pledges, more will need to be done.

We currently spew over one million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every hour, and these totals are growing. The CO2 we are emitting at ever increasing rates can stay in the atmosphere for a century. The world has already warmed by one degree, and there may already be another degree of warming baked into the system.

There are complex feedback loops that may intensify climate change. This includes wildfires, El Niño, algae and permafrost. There is also the terrifying possibility that we will trigger tipping points from which we will not be able to recover.

Even if we were able to freeze current levels of atmospheric carbon we would still have to contend with climate change. If we were to start seriously reducing the levels of CO2 we produce, we still would be in trouble. Oceans are reaching their saturation point and they are less effective as carbon sinks.

To contend with these and other threats we must not only stop producing CO2 we must find viable ways of removing existing carbon from the atmosphere.

Of course sustainability is about far more than just reducing atmospheric CO2. We must find ways to mine resources and manufacture goods that contribute to the environment in which they operate. We must find ways to harvest the ocean's fisheries while increasing fish stocks, we must find ways to grow crops that actually enrich the soil.

Sustainability will continue to evolve and we should strive to envision a future beyond our current conceptions.

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