books climate change

Seven years to save the planet – did we do it?

While I was going through some books recently, trying to clear some space on the shelves. Among those on the clear-out list is Bill McGuire’s climate change Q+A book Seven Years to Save the Planet. A lot has changed since it was published in 2008, so it can’t serve as a reference. And it’s not very good either. But before it goes to the charity shop, it’s worth considering that title.

The book is called Seven years to save the planet because when it was written, that was the time we had to get global CO2 levels to peak and begin their decline. Global emissions needed to peak in 2015 if we were to stay within 2 degrees of global warming.

There’s some good logic to the 2015 date. The longer we leave it to begin reducing emissions, the more dramatic the cuts need to be. If emissions peak by 2015, then we’re looking at reducing CO2 levels by a relatively manageable 2.2 degrees a year towards a sustainable level. It’s a fairly gentle slope towards a low or zero carbon world. Here’s a graph from ECIU:

As the graph also shows, leaving an emissions peak until later has two main consequences. First, you need a much steeper decline. Waiting until 2030 would then require cuts of over 9% a year, a level generally considered impossible outside of recession. The second problem is that every delay puts more carbon into the air, which then needs to be removed with negative emissions technologies.

In other words, if CO2 emissions didn’t peak in 2015, then stopping climate change is much harder and much more expensive. Maybe even impossible. Here’s the IEA’s chart showing what’s happened to global emissions:

It’s possible that carbon emissions have peaked. Or perhaps we’ve reached a plateau, or it could just be a hiatus before they start growing again. A peak is only ever visible in hindsight, but this is provisionally good news.

Of course, we need to see those emissions falling, preferably in line with the model. So far the pledges from the Paris Agreement are nowhere near that. Much depends on China, India, and Trump’s America. And in the time since the initial modeling was done, we’ve realised that 1.5 degrees is a better target than 2 degrees. That’s a much bigger challenge.

Still, I’ll be passing along Bill McGuire’s book with just a little satisfaction that we didn’t completely blow his seven year deadline.


    Despite the high quality of life that some of the so-called developed nations have achieved, the truth is that the world, considered as a group of countries located in a fragile and geographically limited biosphere, is threatened with extinction due to human conflicts and the depredation of the environment.
    Notwithstanding the good and very important actions taken by groups and individuals in favor of a better world, deterioration at all levels continues to increase dangerously.
    After more than thirty years dedicated to these matters, and since “an image is worth a thousand words” we have come up with a novel idea of designing a model city that has all the characteristics of infrastructure and organization inherent to the peaceful and sustainable society that we want for ourselves and our descendants, whose representation in the form of scale models, animated series, feature films, video games and theme parks, would constitute a model to follow to generate the necessary changes.
    The prototype that we present has some characteristics that are opposed, sometimes in a radical way, to the religious, economic, political and educational traditions and customs that have been transmitted from generation to generation, yet are the causes of the aforementioned problems, and therefore must be transformed.
    If you are interested in knowing about this project, or even participating in it, we invite you to visit our website (written in Spanish and English), where we are working in that sense.

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