Stuart Pettygrove
Retired Soil Scientist
Davis, California, United States

There is hope beyond Paris, beyond 2 degrees C

“The progress made at the Paris climate conference in 2015 was too little and too late to keep the planet from warming by 2 deg C.”

I was born in California 70 years ago and am a retired agricultural scientist and educator. The progress made at the Paris climate conference in 2015 was too little and too late to keep the planet from warming by 2 deg C. We weren’t able to prevent sea level rise, extreme climate change, or ocean acidification. Even with progress in Paris, sea level rise will lead to mass migration of human populations and in turn increased violent conflict.

But the good news is that in Paris, the delegates agreed on a detailed, achievable strategy for decarbonizing human societies – and one that will enable poor countries to improve their economic situation. In Paris, all the big emitters for the first time took responsibility for specific actions; and there was a greater recognition that to move forward, some wealth must be transferred from the rich countries to the poor ones.

My fear is that the fossil carbon industry and its political allies will continue to delay decarbonizing, to the point that true catastrophe (e.g., >3 deg C global temperature increase) cannot be avoided; and it is obvious now that some of the fossil carbon companies are planning to profit from catastrophic climate change, which they will help bring about.

My hope for you, my great grandchildren, is not for limiting sea-level rise or saving a few remnant glaciers in my beloved Sierra Nevada in California. Rather it is that as we humans come to grips with this crisis over the next few years, we will start the journey to a new way of co-existence that is more connected to the natural world and less dependent on humans exploiting each other and other species. Global warming presents an opportunity to get it right!

That doesn’t mean we should return to a pre-industrial way of life or be deluded into thinking that life for anyone was better before we had water purification, antibiotics, and air conditioning. But can you imagine that in the early 21st century, humans were allowed to enrich themselves by dumping pollutants into public spaces? At the local scale, that had been illegal -- though not everywhere -- for decades. But at the global scale in 2015, not only was that permitted by governments, it was subsidized! As I write this, there is a lot of work to be done, but I really believe we shall prevail.