But why are these two simple numbers so important and how do they fit into the compromise that consensus, by definition, is? As Chris Field, former co-chair of the IPCC's Working Group II (on climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability), told our class, the science clearly conveys that there is no safe amount of global warming. Not the 0.9 C we're at now, not 1.5 C, and certainly not 2 C. The world has already begun to feel catastrophic climate change impacts and anywhere near 1.5 C means impacts that will threaten the existence of whole nations, yet official statements from wealthy developed countries like the US refuse to ratchet up their ambition to strive for an official goal that is better than the 2 C limit. Now, you might be wondering, why?
Again, however, this is because of the political landscape of climate change mitigation, particularly in the US. Congress continues to brush off climate change as if it is an issue of belief and not scientific fact, the latter of which is emphatically demonstrated by the consensus of every country in the world coming together to address this issue. This landscape, though, is disconnected from the reality of the incredible work already being done to justly address climate change and how much more society can do now, not least of which is due to the incredible progression of renewable energy technology over the last decade.
This landscape erases the reality of the needs of millions—if not billions—of people to justly mitigate climate change as much as possible. This landscape erases the reality of the millions who will be displaced or killed by climate change in the very near future, let alone the reality of the hundreds of thousands of people who are already dying each year due to climate-related impacts.
Perhaps then instead of framing climate change success in terms of 1.5 C or 2 C, we—everyone in society from each of us as individuals to NGOs to the mainstream media—need to begin conveying the reality of this problem in terms of the impacts felt by the people most at-risk and who have the least say in dictating how society addresses climate change, framing this not as an issue that is about tenths of a degree but rather one that is about the millions of people who will be displaced if not killed by climate change over the course of a relatively short amount of time in the all-to-soon future.