Contraction and convergence
Perhaps the boldest scheme for reducing global carbon emissions—and one on the kind of scale that’s needed—comes in the shape of so-called contraction and convergence. Under this proposal, there would be a period of convergence, with the world’s nations working towards a predetermined per capita carbon budget. At this point, it would be possible to begin a period of contraction, with carbon consumption being scaled back en masse. “Contraction and convergence is not only the right way to solve the problem. It is the only way,” says Aubrey Meyer, director of the Global Commons Institute and the architect of this scheme. In 2003, the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change acknowledged that its objective to stabilise the rising greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere “inevitably requires ‘contraction and convergence’.” Yet there is still no agreement on the details of how to take this plan forward. With the UNFCCC up for discussion at next month’s Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa, Meyer is clear about what’s needed. “There absolutely has to be a negotiation about the rate at which we converge on equal entitlements,” he says. The consequences of putting this off hardly bear thinking about. During past mass extinctions—notably in the Permian era—increasing temperature triggered the massive release of carbon stored in the soil, permafrost, and forests. If we reach this tipping point and we experience so-called “runaway climate change,” it’s game over. “Attempting to model that is like attempting to model your funeral after the event,”
says Meyer. “It’s ludicrous.” In this brutal light, Homo sapiens starts to look like just another run-of-the-mill species, for which survival and reproduction are merely sorry steps towards ultimate extinction. “I fear that the human species itself is not as highly evolved as we might wish it to be,” says Adrian Lister, professor of paleontology at the Natural History Museum in London. Faced with this unsettling thought, it would be tempting to throw up our hands and retrench into our current, unsustainable ways. But this is hard to do with a conscience. As befits a product of natural selection, we humans are understandably fond of reproduction and there are few things that motivate us as much as our children do. But uniquely among evolved organisms, we are also able to predict what kind of a world we will leave them, and it doesn’t look good. “We are on a track at the moment that could give us a temperature rise of 4 or 5°C by 2060,” says Hugh Montgomery. “My younger son will be in his early 50s at that point, and that’s not a world he will survive in.” Doing nothing is not an option.
Unhealthier by degrees
More than 300 delegates from healthcare, the military, climate science, industry, business, and politics met at a BMJ conference last week to consider the risk climate change poses to human health.
Henry Nicholls reports for the British Medical Journal October 2011

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