Can We Take the Heat?


By Amanda Morgan Riley ‘19 Guest contributor

You’ve probably heard of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Since 2015, 181 Parties have ratified the Agreement to limit global warming to under 2°C. Concerned parties include nations and the E.U., and initially the U.S. before Trump ducked out. But was 2°C a good target to set?

Since 2015, the U.N. asked 91 scientists to double-check the plan and evaluate what 1.5°C of warming, a half-degree less than the agreed-upon 2°C, would look like. Earlier this month, these scientists reported back to the IPCC, the International Panel on Climate Change. The news wasn’t terminal, but it wasn’t great either.

Although an average global increase of 1.5°C will be less detrimental than 2°C, it will still bring many of the consequences the 2°C target sought to avoid, such as rising sea levels, stronger storms, more severe droughts, and greater food insecurity. The scientists were also highly confident we will reach this 1.5°C increase between 2030 and 2052. We have emitted enough greenhouse gases and given the climate sufficient momentum to continue warming into the foreseeable future. To avoid warming beyond 1.5°C, the international community needs to halt, and frankly, reverse emissions (by pulling the extra carbon out of the atmosphere) with an urgency unprecedented in climate action.

So…how? The report concluded that the most effective global strategy for reducing emissions is carbon taxing. “Taxing” carbon emissions motivates parties to make decisions based on carbon’s cost to society. Monetizing carbon makes the costs of climate change more tangible to countries and institutions, and creates real economic incentive to cut emissions. Though there are some cons to the pros of carbon taxing, the scientists agreed it is our best hope if we want a shot at the 2°C limbo bar.

One variety of carbon taxing is a cap and trade policy. Along with 31 countries, the state of California has already “capped” carbon emissions in certain sectors of its economy, leaving companies to “trade” their emission allowances. Players can sell off allowances they do not need so other players may buy the right to emit more, all while the collective emissions from the state remain capped. The government lowers the cap over time, reducing overall emissions and promoting renewable energy development.

Last month, Governor Jerry Brown committed California to sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. California started its cap and trade program in 2013 and continues to expand the players involved. It currently caps electric companies, large industrial facilities, and distributors of gas and fuel.

For California to reach the 2045 goal, continue leading in climate action, and play the 2°C limbo, however, all sectors of the economy will need to reduce their emissions, including education. College campuses help lead society on many fronts…why not in climate action?

Though many campuses, including the other 4C’s, have plans to achieve zero net emissions, or “carbon neutrality,” Scripps does not. With multiple renewable energy sources available in California (wind, solar, and geothermal, to name a few), planning for carbon neutrality is not only feasible, but necessary given our local and global context. The 1.5°C report is the latest, gravest, and greatest prompt to climate action.

Image Credit: Media Matters

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