What should our national carbon emissions reduction goal be?

Our goal should be to create an economy substantially independent of the burning of fossil fuels.

Notable organizations and leaders have endorsed a goal for developed nations of reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050, based on climate science considerations.

Massachusetts and other states have adopted this goal in legislation.

Ultimately, however, this goal is probably not aggressive enough.

(Currently, our per capita carbon production is roughly 5 times the global average. If, holding population constant, the global average must drop by 1/3, then, even if we feel entitled to pollute at three times the world average per capita, our average over the century would need to drop to 6/15 (3 x 1/5 x 2/3) or a cut of 60% from our current level. One cannot draw a straight line graph of emissions levels that averages 60% below current levels over the course of the century, but remains above zero at the end of the century — big cuts have to come in the first half of the century. If we assume a linear drop over the first half of the century from 100% of current levels in the first decade, to 80% in the second, and so on, stabilizing at 20% of current levels in the fifth decade and remaining there over the balance of the century, we achieve a 60% reduction on average over the century.)

  • it assumes that, despite that dramatic continued disparity and despite the possibility of continued population growth and economic development, other nations will, on average reduce their carbon consumption by approximately one third by 2050 and continue further reductions in the second half of the century.

Moreover, aside from climate predictions, there are many other equally urgent reasons to reduce fossil fuel consumption:  Ongoing and recurring wars over fossil resources, economic dependence on unfriendly powers, and environmental destruction — deforestation, particulate pollution, toxics — from extraction and burning of fuels.  In addition, the supply of petroleum may soon be inadequate to meet world demand.

I support aggressive short and medium term plans to reduce fossil fuel use through efficiency and renewables.

The following sources address the broad question of goal setting in some depth:

For a November 26, 2008 discussion of developments that have occurred since the most recent IPCC report (2007 Fourth Assessment), see this link for testimony of Jim Hansen before a British Parliamentary committee and this page for notes.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

One reply on “What should our national carbon emissions reduction goal be?”

Comments are closed.