Climate North Star: What it is, Why we Need it

As the world hurtles towards out of control global warming implementing a maximum speed global climate rescue has never been more urgent. After 2023 no one should be surprised that our current global average temperature, 1.2 Celsius above pre-industrial levels, is clearly too high for a long-term temperature level.  An even higher temperature of 1.5 Celsius would, of course, be even worse. Since global average temperature is the most prominent metric in the public climate conversation it is necessary to define a “safe” long-term temperature.

Fortunately, prominent climate scientist Dr. James Hansen and leading experts from around the world did exactly that in “Young People’s Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions,” published in 2017. They concluded that the safe long-term temperature is 0.5 Celsius, last observed on Earth in 1985. This temperature limit, called the Holocene Maximum, is what allowed humans to build cities on coastlines around the world. The Climate North Star goal, therefore, is to reduce global average temperature to as close as possible to 0.5 C above pre-industrial levels as fast as possible and by no later than 2100. Failing to do so will trigger catastrophic ice sheet melting, the flooding of coastal cities worldwide and the likely collapse of society. Such an outcome has been aptly described by some as the “world killer.”

“As fast as possible” is a scientific, technological and moral standard. Stated differently the Climate North Star is a scientifically and technologically informed moral imperative.

Most people I share this with have never heard of Hansen et al’s paper or their “safe” 0.5 Celsius temperature finding. This a triumph for those who oppose effectively addressing global warming.

What is firmly in the public climate conversation is that a long-term temperature of 1.5 C would be less damaging than 2 C, hardly a momentous revelation. The result is humanity firmly under the illusion that we’ll be OK, even victorious, if we limit long-term temperature to 1.5 C.

In fact, 1.5 C would be catastrophic.

The Climate North Star plan is to reduce global fossil fuel burning to zero by 2035 and transform forestry and and agricultural practices, also at maximum speed. Reduced consumption by wealthy nations and individuals as a carbon reduction accelerator is implored. Central to the goal of this transition is putting in place a global, all-sector 100% renewable energy system by 2035. The feasibility of such an energy system transition has been demonstrated in the work of Dr. Mark Jacobson of Stanford University along with other researchers.

Finally, using IPCC data, we charted the projected impact the Climate North Star rescue plan would have on global carbon emissions, atmospheric CO2 levels, global average temperature and sea-level rise.

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