America’s divisive politics and the sheer math of cutting heat-trapping emissions indicate the world’s prospect of substantively tackling climate change is getting out of reach.
Why it matters: We often talk about this issue as though big solutions are coming sooner or later. But in fact, it’s a big “if,” not “when,” America and the world will do anything close to what scientists say is needed to avoid the worst impacts of a warmer world.
The math is a big problem. It’s like if you had a marathon in one direction, and instead you turn around and start running in the other direction.
- A United Nations scientific panel said in a report released last month the world needs to cut carbon dioxide emissions nearly in half within the next 11 years.
- In about 30 years, the report says emissions should be zero.
- Since the industrial revolution, the world’s emissions have not gone down except briefly during economic crises, which isn't a desirable way to cut emissions.
The politics are another big problem. Among all the topics Americans disagree about, I consider climate change the most divisive. With other policies, like health care and immigration, people generally agree the topic at least exists.
- That’s not the case with climate change. Conservative Americans are increasingly skeptical that human activity is driving Earth’s temperature up, according to one recent poll. To be clear, it is.
- That skepticism is reflected in President Trump and most congressional Republicans, who don’t acknowledge climate change is a problem.
On the world’s ambition, rhetoric far outpaces action. Virtually all countries except the U.S. are committed to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, but...
- Most countries aren’t on track to meet their targets, which are mostly too weak anyway, according to the Climate Action Tracker, a research group.
- The plan was for countries to ratchet up their targets in the coming years, but if you had trouble running a 5K, would you sign up for a marathon? Probably not.
This is where I write a “to be sure” paragraph mentioning examples disputing my argument. Instances do exist that show progress on climate change, but they’re not nearly big enough to counteract everything I’ve mentioned.
What's next: Why we should focus more on adapting to a warmer world
Go deeper with my whole column in the Axios stream.