The need to mitigate the effects of climate change has been a global focus for about 40 years and has seen ever-changing views on what actions are needed. The historical record has been defined by over-reliance on promises of new technology to solve climate change. Looking to future technology to save the environment has been an excuse to postpone necessary action and avoid inconvenient changes in how we do things.
A study at Lancaster University in the UK published in Nature Climate Change exposes how such promises have raised expectations of more effective policy options becoming available in the future and have enabled the continued politics of inadequate action and skirting around the truth.
Even after four decades, rather than acting forcefully to reduce emissions, we are hoping that nuclear fusion power, giant carbon sucking machines, ice-restoration using vast numbers of wind-powered pumps, and spraying particulates into the atmosphere can address the climate crisis rather than dramatic changes in fossil fuel use.
The researchers mapped the history of climate targets in five phases. Early on, the focus was on improved energy efficiency, large-scale enhancement of carbon sinks, and nuclear power. Next, the focus was on cutting emissions with efficiency, fuel switching, and carbon capture and storage. After that, bioenergy was the major focus. Then, global carbon budgeting and potential negative emission technologies. Currently, the focus is on temperature outcomes rather than emission targets.
Each novel promise competes with existing ideas and downplays any sense of urgency. The researchers conclude that putting our hopes on yet more new technologies is unwise. The time to act is now.
Photo, posted February 13, 2019, courtesy of Jonathan Cutrer via Flickr.