Answering the hardest question on campus

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Answering the hardest question on campus

The toughest puzzle for climate negotiators is social behavior change: why would anyone else do what we won’t do ourselves? Maybe universities, and their students, will have the answer.

Originally published January 2015 by City Atlas: New York by Abigail Carney. 

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We are Terrified:

What keeps Yale students from acting on climate change

“…when you tell peo­ple what it would actu­ally take to rad­i­cally reduce car­bon emis­sions, they turn away. They don’t want to give up air travel or air con­di­tion­ing or HDTV or trips to the mall or the fam­ily car or the myr­iad other things that go along with con­sum­ing 5,000 or 8,000 or 12,000 watts. All the major envi­ron­men­tal groups know this, which is why they main­tain, con­trary to the require­ments of a 2,000-watt soci­ety, that cli­mate change can be tack­led with min­i­mal dis­rup­tion to ‘the Amer­i­can way of life.’”

– Eliz­a­beth Kol­bert, New York Review of Books (12/4/14)


At the close of her crit­i­cal review of Naomi Klein’s book “This Changes Every­thing,” Eliz­a­beth Kol­bert pro­vides a point-blank descrip­tion, excerpted above, of the seem­ingly impos­si­ble chal­lenge of chang­ing behavior.

But if we want cli­mate nego­ti­a­tions to suc­ceed, Amer­i­can soci­ety has to change. We have to change sim­ply to con­vince coun­tries like China and India that we are seri­ous about coop­er­at­ing. Because if those coun­tries do not com­mit with us to curb­ing emis­sions, we will all fail together – even as fos­sil fuels remain the most tempt­ing, the cheap­est and most acces­si­ble source of energy for them in their own race to match the Amer­i­can lifestyle. In that per­spec­tive, pur­su­ing our own emis­sion cuts is not ide­al­is­tic, but real­is­tic. Why would any­one else do what we are not will­ing to do ourselves?

What’s it like to go to col­lege with this knowl­edge? Fresh­men on a cam­pus now will be grad­u­at­ing in 2018, into a world newly shaped by strict national or global cli­mate agree­ments that leave two thirds of fos­sil fuels in the ground. Young peo­ple will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in a vast indus­trial shift from con­sump­tion to infra­struc­ture and an explo­sion of inven­tion and cre­ativ­ity as the world races to rebuild the global energy sys­tem with non-fossil power.

Or maybe fresh­men will grad­u­ate into a world that failed to agree, with an emis­sions path­way uncon­trol­lably veer­ing upwards to extremes of tem­per­a­ture and impacts beyond adap­ta­tion, includ­ing dimin­ished crop yields, larger dis­placed pop­u­la­tions, and the inex­orable loss of coastal cities, includ­ing, as the great ice sheets melt over cen­turies, New York City.

How should uni­ver­si­ties teach these stu­dents, who enter a dif­fer­ent world either way? What exactly is ‘the Amer­i­can way of life?’ Since the old one is gone, and the new one is up in the air, might stu­dents become lead­ers in choos­ing the next Amer­i­can way of life? Will it be fail­ure, or suc­cess? Remove every idea that is not fast enough to be rel­e­vant in this time frame, and that’s where you will find the answer.

From Yale, Eliz­a­beth Kolbert’s alma mater, the fol­low­ing essay pro­vides a por­trait of stu­dent life as our cul­ture addresses, or avoids, the cen­tral chal­lenge of our time.

This post is adapted from the orig­i­nal in the Yale Daily News Mag­a­zine, and was writ­ten by Abi­gail Car­ney, a for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of City Atlas.


In August 2007, it rained in Min­nesota. Money Creek, in the same val­ley as their farm, had flooded before, but this time, Emmet says, “The water kept com­ing and com­ing and coming.”

Emmet was in Ken­tucky vis­it­ing fam­ily, and his dad went into Winona for the night to get away from the flood. On the news the next morn­ing, there were reports of washed-away houses and washed-out roads that had crum­bled and col­lapsed. Twenty-three inches of rain had fallen in 36 hours.

His dad, Jack, got into his 4×4 truck to drive to see the crop dam­age. He passed a road on a hill. Some­one had dri­ven across it, but all the gravel beneath the pave­ment had washed out. The car fell 30 feet down a ravine, killing the driver.

When Jack got to the farm, every­thing was gone. “There were but­ter­nut squash 12 feet up in trees along Rush Creek,” Emmet says. His dad real­ized that morn­ing he would have to move the entire farm.

That flood was one of two 500-year rain events (mean­ing an event that is expected to occur only once every 500 years) in the past 10 years in Min­nesota. To Emmet, the storms are a sign of what’s to come, and he explains that it isn’t as bad in Amer­ica as it will be else­where. “In 50 years,” he says, “no Bangladeshi farmer is going to have a livelihood.”

Emmet has found it dif­fi­cult to work towards cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion while he’s been at Yale. “I think that here,” he says, “we have a ten­dency to think about a prob­lem, and sim­ply by think­ing about it, rea­son to our­selves that we don’t need to act upon it.”

When Emmet first came to Yale, he took the train to New Haven from Min­nesota. He was deter­mined not to fly. As worked out by British physi­cist and for­mer gov­ern­ment advi­sor David MacKay in his book on energy, “Fly­ing once per year has an energy cost slightly big­ger than leav­ing a 1 kW elec­tric fire [space heater] on 24 hours a day, all year.” Take one inter­con­ti­nen­tal flight and you’re using about 11,000 kWh of energy, which comes from oil. In one day. This is an immense amount of car­bon. Accord­ing to the World Energy Coun­cil in 2010, the aver­age house­hold in India — one of the coun­tries that will be hit hard­est by cli­mate change — used only 900 kWh in the entire year. (The aver­age Amer­i­can house­hold used 11,698 kWh, two to three times more than a typ­i­cal Euro­pean home. And that 11,698 kWh didn’t include air travel.)

I was not going to sub­scribe to a sys­tem that was based on air travel and fos­sil fuel con­sump­tion,” Emmet says. “That ended quickly when I real­ized that I was going to be home for like two days Thanks­giv­ing break fresh­man year if I didn’t take the plane, and I’ve been tak­ing the plane since.”

He con­sid­ers him­self hyp­o­crit­i­cal because of his air travel, and some­times feels that he can’t begin a dis­cus­sion about cli­mate change because his actions don’t match his beliefs. “It’s the prob­lem that faces our future,” he says, “but if I’m aware of the prob­lem and choose not to act on that aware­ness, how can I pos­si­bly seek to influ­ence oth­ers and lead by example?”

Rush­ford, Min­nesota, near Hedin fam­ily farm, shown flooded in August 2007

If you ask a room of Yale stu­dents if they care about cli­mate change, most of them will say they want to care more than they do.

Adam Goff ’15 asks me, “Let’s say I care about cli­mate change, what does one do about it?” I met Adam three Sep­tem­bers ago, dur­ing our fresh­man year. We cir­cled Old Cam­pus then, talk­ing about whether we would really be doing any­thing for the world while we were at Yale.

I don’t have any good ideas,” Adam says. “Since fresh­man year I haven’t had any good ideas, or seen any ideas that con­vinced me.”

Adam has not directly worked on cli­mate change since his fresh­man year either. “I haven’t found a com­mu­nity I’ve been sat­is­fied with,” he says.

If our world needed cli­mate change action when we first came to Yale, it needs it even more now. The 2014 Price­wa­ter­house Low Car­bon Econ­omy Index found that: “For the sixth year run­ning, the global econ­omy has missed the decar­boniza­tion tar­get needed to limit global warm­ing to 2˚C. Con­fronted with the chal­lenge in 2013 of decar­boniz­ing at 6 per­cent a year, we man­aged only 1.2 per­cent. To avoid two degrees of warm­ing, the global econ­omy now needs to decar­bonize at 6.2 per­cent a year, more than five times faster than the cur­rent rate, every year from now till 2100.”

Our cur­rent soci­ety is headed toward a world that is 4˚C warmer. Even 2˚C won’t be pretty — James Hansen, who tes­ti­fied about cli­mate change to con­gres­sional com­mit­tees in 1988, calls for a lower, 1.5°C limit if we want to avoid sea level rise, loss of Pacific islands, a dis­rupted food sup­ply, and more mas­sive storms — but 2˚C will be far less dev­as­tat­ing than the larger tem­per­a­ture rise that threat­ens the world’s farms and coastal cities.

A recent report by Stephen Davis (UC Irvine) and Robert Socolow (Prince­ton) found that if we want to stay at 2˚C and con­tinue with our cur­rent con­sump­tion and devel­op­ment pat­terns, by 2018 we should stop build­ing cars, homes, schools, fac­to­ries, and power plants unless they are replace­ments for exist­ing ones or them­selves carbon-neutral. (Coal-burning power plants and cars lock you into future emis­sions after they are built.) 2018 is the year that Yale’s cur­rent fresh­men will graduate.

Yale’s new build­ing plans take into account salt water incur­sion from New Haven Harbor.

We are already deal­ing with the effects of cli­mate change (see Hur­ri­cane Sandy, melt­ing ice caps, and droughts and floods in India). Accord­ing to Michael Oristaglio, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Yale Cli­mate and Energy Insti­tute, cli­mate change affected the con­struc­tion of Yale’s two new res­i­den­tial col­leges: as sea level rises, ground­wa­ter rises and pushes out the fresh­wa­ter. Mod­el­ing shows that soon the salty ground­wa­ter is going to be 3 feet higher than it is today. Salt destroys mate­ri­als, and so Yale had to mod­ify the res­i­den­tial col­lege build­ing plans.

But the effects to come will be worse than any­thing we’ve dealt with yet (see more malaria; a flooded Florida; and days when the “wet-bulb” tem­per­a­ture, which quan­ti­fies heat stress, would put peo­ple work­ing out­side at risk of heat stroke).

Max Wein­re­ich ’16 believes that the fact that over half of the Yale stu­dent body voted in last year’s divest­ment ref­er­en­dum, with 83 per­cent of those votes for divest­ment, was proof that a lot of stu­dents care about our reliance on fos­sil fuels. But he also thinks this car­ing is lim­ited. He has never met another under­grad­u­ate who is fac­tor­ing cli­mate change into his or her life plans and believes that the aver­age Yale stu­dent fails to view cli­mate change as an issue that will pri­mar­ily threaten human rights. “If you don’t want to see it, you’re never gonna see it,” he says. “You could be under­wa­ter and in denial about it.”

Accord­ing to a Novem­ber 2013 report from the Yale Project on Cli­mate Change Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, 23 per­cent of Amer­i­cans still don’t believe that cli­mate change is hap­pen­ing, and just over half of all Amer­i­cans say they are “some­what” (38 per­cent) or “very” (15 per­cent) wor­ried about cli­mate change.

A report from the RSA Action and Research Cen­tre in the UK con­cluded that “about two-thirds of the pop­u­la­tion intel­lec­tu­ally accept the real­ity of anthro­pogenic cli­mate change, but ‘deny’ some or all of the com­men­su­rate feel­ings, respon­si­bil­ity and agency that are nec­es­sary to deal with it.” This report names this phe­nom­e­non “stealth denial”: peo­ple accept the facts of cli­mate change, but con­tinue to live as if those facts were not true.

I think most Yale stu­dents would say that they care, because that’s the right thing to say,” Car­o­line Warner ’15 says, “but in real­ity they’re not tak­ing any action. I’m not going to say I care if I’m not going to do any­thing about it.”


We live in a cas­tle,” Ari­ana Shapiro ’16 says. “That can delude peo­ple into not act­ing.” Many stu­dents I spoke to described how dif­fi­cult it is to be invested in any­thing not directly related to their lives here. Yet, that’s the excuse of most non-Yale stu­dents too, and it comes with two prob­lems. One: cli­mate change is related to our lives. Two: there are other big, scary issues that we have an eas­ier time act­ing on or, at the least, acknowl­edg­ing that we care about. Cli­mate change is always last in a sur­vey the Pew Research Cen­ter does on the con­cerns of Amer­i­cans, yet we have even less power over some of the other items on the Pew list (ex: ter­ror­ism, the decline of morality).

“The fact that there are not riots in the streets means that we’ve done some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong.”

So why aren’t we more involved in cli­mate change action? Paul Lussier, who is teach­ing the sem­i­nar “Cli­mate Change in the Media” and has worked in the media for 30 years, explains that cli­mate change com­mu­ni­ca­tion has pre­vi­ously oper­ated under the “information-deficit model”: peo­ple don’t know enough about cli­mate change, and once they know more, they will act. But Lussier believes that peo­ple already have a gen­eral aware­ness. What’s lack­ing is action based on that awareness.

The fact that there are not riots in the streets means that we’ve done some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong,” he says. The aim of his course is to help stu­dents craft nar­ra­tives and re-craft exist­ing nar­ra­tives that will lead to cli­mate change action. Lussier calls cli­mate change “the mother of all chal­lenges” because all media nar­ra­tives are based on either Good vs. Evil, Man vs. Nature, or Man vs. Woman, and cli­mate change chal­lenges all three of these.

In most nar­ra­tives our lifestyle is good,” Lussier says. “Here we are forc­ing a model that’s ques­tion­ing our most basic assump­tions … to call fos­sil fuels into ques­tion is to call our iden­tity into ques­tion.” Emmet, a stu­dent in Lussier’s class, explains that the con­cep­tion of wilder­ness as dan­ger­ous and exist­ing for our use is fun­da­men­tal to our his­tory. Act­ing on cli­mate change, he says, “means shift­ing that par­a­digm, and con­ceiv­ing of our­selves as the prob­lem, not nature.”

Lussier says that if a ter­ror­ist were doing to the planet what cli­mate change is, we would already be at war. The prob­lem here is iden­ti­fy­ing the enemy, because we are the enemy. In a sim­i­lar way, oth­ers have described the loom­ing threat from cli­mate change like the approach of Godzilla, but our abil­ity to see the threat is blocked by our lack of social cohe­sion. To move beyond this, Lussier believes we need to cre­ate nar­ra­tives that encour­age a wide vari­ety of groups and peo­ple to act.

This has already begun. Many faith groups are encour­ag­ing their mem­bers to reduce their car­bon use and to advo­cate for polit­i­cal action on cli­mate. Pope Fran­cis is expected to release a his­toric papal encycli­cal on cli­mate change, fol­low­ing a visit to the Philip­pines and send­ing an early mes­sage for the Paris cli­mate nego­ti­a­tions later in the year. Amer­i­can sports are turn­ing to address the issue; the NHL released a report this year about how cli­mate change threat­ens the future of hockey. The report included plans for the NHL to make their prac­tices more sustainable.

And this semes­ter at Yale, mem­bers of a project course at the Forestry School are work­ing to see if Yale’s sus­tain­abil­ity ini­tia­tives are aggres­sive enough, and what more can be done. Fos­sil Free Yale orga­niz­ers told me that this year they are focus­ing more on divest­ment as cru­cial to social jus­tice. And hope­fully the stu­dents that grad­u­ate this May will take their con­cern about cli­mate change with them. Patrick Reed ’15, the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Yale Stu­dent Envi­ron­men­tal Coali­tion (YSEC) and one of the founders of Fos­sil Free Yale, says, “I think it’s even bet­ter if instead of drop­ping every­thing to work at a non­profit, [Yale grad­u­ates] do what they’re pas­sion­ate about and mit­i­gate within that.”


Once stu­dents are involved in cli­mate change action, whether this is through a group like Fos­sil Free Yale or an effort to get their sports team to use less energy, the chal­lenges do not disappear.

Deal­ing with the real­ity of cli­mate change comes with the same stages as deal­ing with a trauma,” says Chelsea Wat­son ’17 a Fos­sil Free Yale orga­nizer. “I am ter­ri­fied by cli­mate change,” Ari­ana, who has also been involved with Fos­sil Free Yale, tells me. “That’s my pre­dom­i­nant feel­ing, I think.”

Chelsea believes that the more you do about cli­mate change, the more hope­ful you feel. She is opti­mistic because in just two years more than 400 divest­ment cam­paigns have started, allow­ing thou­sands of stu­dents to take action. For Ari­ana, who has been involved with the cli­mate move­ment since she came home to a pam­phlet in 2010 that showed all the land in her county that had been leased for frack­ing, think­ing in the short term and tak­ing action are the only ways to avoid being par­a­lyzed by fear.

More than 150 Yale students were at the People's Climate March in October, 2014. (Photo: Philip Arndt)

Emmet Hedin can­celled his flight home to Min­nesota for Octo­ber break and he will take the train home this Christ­mas. He acknowl­edges that the flight from JFK to Min­nesota will take off regard­less of whether he’s on it, but he decided that he needed to do some­thing. “We have a lot of con­ver­sa­tions about the prob­lem itself,” he says. “This is one thing we can do about it.” He believes that any dis­cus­sion of what kind of future you want should lead to a dis­cus­sion about what kind of solu­tions you want, and not fly­ing should be one of them.

We need a car­bon tax, but we need a car­bon tax because it will change behavior.

Giv­ing up fly­ing entirely might seem dif­fi­cult. “Am I not going to fly?” Jus­tine asks. “My best friend goes to school in Eng­land.” Max and many oth­ers I inter­viewed don’t believe that per­sonal behav­ioral change is enough. “I actu­ally think it’s a prob­lem when peo­ple put the blame for cli­mate change squarely on their per­sonal habits,” Max says, “because whether or not you take out the com­post instead of throw­ing it in the trash, that’s not sav­ing lives.” He was frus­trated when Pres­i­dent Salovey sent out an email about the new dig­i­tal sub­scrip­tion to The New York Times two days after releas­ing Yale’s deci­sion not to divest. The use of fos­sil fuels is entrenched in our eco­nomic sys­tem, and Max, and thou­sands of other stu­dents, think we need actions like divest­ment that will move toward sys­temic change.

But going home for one less break, or choos­ing not to go abroad over the sum­mer is not only pos­si­ble but also cru­cial to acknowl­edg­ing the mag­ni­tude of the threat that cli­mate change poses. Shane Fey­ers FES ’15 says, “The peo­ple with the biggest foot­print are those with the eas­i­est lives.” He explains the para­dox of the lead­ers of the cli­mate move­ment who fly to give lec­tures about how dire the sit­u­a­tion is. We’ve grown up with the social norms of fly­ing and dri­ving often, but they are not necessities.

We need a car­bon tax (or a ‘fee and div­i­dend’) but we need it because it will change behav­ior. Saul Grif­fith, inven­tor and MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant win­ner, rec­og­nized the impor­tance of behav­ioral change after he esti­mated that our global soci­ety requires 15 ter­awatts of energy. To avoid more than 2˚C of global tem­per­a­ture increase, we would need to replace all but three of those 15 ter­awatts with renew­able and non-carbon based sources of energy by 2033. To do this, Grif­fith cal­cu­lated, would require build­ing one three-gigawatt nuclear power plant every week; 100-megawatt geothermal-powered steam tur­bine every eight hours; one 300-foot-diameter wind tur­bine every five min­utes; and one Olympic swim­ming pool’s worth of genet­i­cally engi­neered algae, 50 square meters of solar-themed reflec­tors, and a 100 square meters of new solar cells every sec­ond for the next 25 years. Grif­fith did this analy­sis in 2009, given that we haven’t yet begun an indus­trial buildup that would rival that of World War II, it’s worse by now.

When Grif­fith cal­cu­lated the effort required to rebuild our energy sys­tem, he real­ized that even more cru­cial, and more fea­si­ble, than new infra­struc­ture is help­ing mem­bers of afflu­ent soci­eties reduce their energy use with­out reduc­ing their per­ceived qual­ity of life.

Experts believe behav­ior change is the fastest, clean­est tool that we have left, and aren’t wait­ing for a tax to change their own behavior.

Other cli­mate lead­ers such as Kevin Ander­son, deputy direc­tor of the Tyn­dall Cen­tre for Cli­mate Change Research, and Eric Holthaus, mete­o­rol­o­gist and jour­nal­ist, agree. Each has given up fly­ing to reduce his car­bon emis­sions. They believe that the sys­tem­atic change we des­per­ately need isn’t tech­no­log­i­cal, but social. Social change requires peo­ple real­iz­ing that even if grap­pling psy­cho­log­i­cally with the threat of a warm­ing world can be trau­matic, the changes needed to avoid it aren’t. Emmet doesn’t think that fly­ing less is that big of a step when the alter­na­tive is con­sid­ered. “Peo­ple think about the solu­tion as some­thing that will change their life,” he says, but, in real­ity, tak­ing action can be simple.

And once you act, it becomes more likely that your fam­ily mem­bers and friends will act, too. Chang­ing your lifestyle doesn’t mean giv­ing up on polit­i­cal action, it strength­ens it.

Theda Skocpol, a soci­ol­o­gist at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity, stud­ied the 2010 fail­ure of cap-and-trade leg­is­la­tion in Con­gress. Under cap-and-trade, com­pa­nies pur­chase per­mits from the gov­ern­ment that allow them to emit set lev­els of green­house gases, incen­tiviz­ing reduced emis­sions. Skocpol is now an advo­cate of a sim­pler pol­icy alter­na­tive called “fee and div­i­dend,” which for­goes car­bon cred­its in favor of a fee on car­bon taken at its point of entry into the econ­omy, and the fee is then paid to the cit­i­zens as a div­i­dend. For such a pol­icy to pass, Skocpol writes that “a broad alliance of orga­ni­za­tions must be con­structed — unit­ing com­mu­nity groups, churches and syn­a­gogues, service-worker unions, doc­tors’ and nurses’ asso­ci­a­tions, and green busi­nesses. Net­works need to reach beyond self-described envi­ron­men­tal­ists and include many groups out­side of Wash­ing­ton, D.C.” These polit­i­cal net­works can be built upon a shared com­mit­ment to using less energy.

Cli­mate change is an exis­ten­tial prob­lem, but the solu­tions are tan­gi­ble. We need to fly and drive less. We need to eat less meat. We need to research bet­ter bat­ter­ies. We need to demand a car­bon tax from our leg­is­la­tors. We need to work within the groups we’re already a part of to use less energy.

If Godzilla were com­ing over the hori­zon, we wouldn’t act alone.


Demog­ra­pher and sta­tis­ti­cian Hans Rosling demon­strates how the com­bined effects of pop­u­la­tion growth, grow­ing economies, and cli­mate change require rapid adjust­ment in this short video:


Acknowl­edg­ments, ref­er­ences and addi­tional notes from City Atlas:
• Abi­gail Car­ney (’15) received a Yale Alumni Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Fel­low­ship from the Yale Club of New York for her work on City Atlas.
• The US has 74 of the top 200 uni­ver­si­ties in the world, and 15 of the top 20, yet accord­ing the New York Times, more Amer­i­cans believe in astrol­ogy than human-caused cli­mate change. Accord­ing to recent Gallup polls, only 1% of Amer­i­cans picked ‘environment/pollution’ as a top pri­or­ity for the country.
Major uni­ver­si­ties have had knowl­edge of accu­rate cli­mate change pre­dic­tions since at least 1979. One pos­si­ble expla­na­tion for the dis­par­ity in under­stand­ing between higher edu­ca­tion and pub­lic opin­ion is that uni­ver­si­ties did not feel it was their place to explain cli­mate change to the pub­lic (or to their stu­dents). It is a dis­rup­tive sub­ject. Dur­ing those years and still today, the dom­i­nant direc­tion of top grad­u­ates has been finance. Because the big uni­ver­si­ties have enor­mous endow­ments, they are inte­gral parts of global finance, first as recruit­ing cen­ters, then as clients, and later as ben­e­fi­cia­ries of cor­po­rate and indi­vid­ual support.
Another twist: because financiers have not seen it in their inter­est to be aggres­sively reg­u­lated, lob­by­ing and polit­i­cal sup­port from finance favors small-government ori­ented politi­cians, who are likely also skep­tics about cli­mate change. In short: much of the intel­lec­tual prod­uct of the world’s top uni­ver­si­ties (ie., the finan­cial sys­tem) has been, in prac­tice if not beliefs, at odds with a pub­lic response to cli­mate change. This dynamic is shift­ing, as finan­cial lead­ers like Hank Paul­son, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg now openly speak out on climate.
Decou­pling finan­cial lob­by­ing from anti-climate change advo­cacy would be a pos­i­tive step in find­ing polit­i­cal solu­tions, and engag­ing the bank­ing sys­tem fully will be the only way to finance the tran­si­tion to a zero car­bon econ­omy. The world needs approx­i­mately $2T/year in energy invest­ment to mod­ern­ize, accord­ing to the Inter­na­tional Energy Agency (IEA). Mod­ern­iza­tion will yield a strong ROI, as shown by mul­ti­ple reviews includ­ing one from the Inter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund. The IEA reports that costs rise the longer invest­ment is delayed. The World Eco­nomic Forum calls 2015 a “make or break year for cli­mate action.”
• None of the major US uni­ver­si­ties have fully divested their endow­ments from fos­sil fuels.
• Stu­dent divest­ment cam­paigns have been joined by fac­ulty sup­port at uni­ver­si­ties includ­ing Har­vard and Stan­ford. Alumni sup­port is devel­op­ing, too: at Dart­mouth, alumna and author Louise Erdrich put it this way: “Why should Dart­mouth divest from fos­sil fuels? Because when you are edu­cat­ing stu­dents to have a bet­ter future, you should do all pos­si­ble to ensure they have a future.”
• Fos­sil fuel mar­kets them­selves may force the issue, as mar­kets absorb the infor­ma­tion that two thirds of reserves can­not be burnt.
What is the rel­e­vant timetable for our choices in hold­ing to the 2°C tar­get? Car­bon Brief puts it at about 21 years at cur­rent rates of emis­sions; in prac­tice that means we have to begin rapid decar­boniza­tion now, to taper off to low lev­els, or zero car­bon, by 2050. We have a vast amount of infra­struc­ture to replace, and that takes time (and we will be emit­ting CO2 dur­ing all that time, while build­ing the new systems).
As a side­note to the mit­i­ga­tion chal­lenge: the 21 year bud­get mea­sures a “66% chance of 2°C” – not a 100% chance of suc­cess. Since FAA reg­u­la­tions would not per­mit you to get on an air­plane that only had a 66% chance of reach­ing its des­ti­na­tion, it’s worth not­ing how far our col­lec­tive assess­ment of risk has drifted. Cli­mate sci­en­tist Kevin Ander­son details that point in a mem­o­rable video lec­ture, “Real Clothes for the Emperor.”
MIT has an online sim­u­la­tor so you can see the pace of emis­sion cuts nec­es­sary against eco­nomic growth. Play ‘exper­i­ment 2,’ with ’20 year delay’ for smoothness.
Below are three sim­ple behav­ioral steps to lead the way to a low car­bon future, from among rec­om­men­da­tions by Saul Grif­fith, David MacKayAngela Druck­man and Tim Jack­son:
1 — fly less (replace busi­ness trips with tele­con­fer­ence, take vaca­tions closer to home)
2 — eat less meat
3 — buy less stuff that you’re going to throw away
• Saul Griffith’s slides. At slide 74, Grif­fith uses a per­sonal energy bud­get of 2400 watts as a base­line, reached by divid­ing total world­wide energy (in this esti­mate, 16TW) by a world pop­u­la­tion of 6.65B, equalling 2400 watts per per­son. Grif­fith audited him­self and found his 2007 lifestyle was 17,027 watts, largely from air travel. He’s now on a doc­u­mented project to lead a reward­ing life and raise his fam­ily in San Fran­cisco on a per­sonal bud­get of 2200 watts, and his choices look like this.
• You can design Britain’s energy plan for 2050 on a sim­ple simulator
• James Hansen, NASA’s for­mer top expert on cli­mate, believes it is nec­es­sary, and pos­si­ble, that the world stay well below 2°C. Fee and div­i­dend, brought into play while energy prices are low, is part of his sug­gested solu­tion. Read his cur­rent let­ter here.
• The farm at the top of this post is Feath­er­stone Farm. Emmet Hedin’s father is Jack Hedin, who him­self wrote an op-ed in the Min­neapo­lis Star Tri­bune, “Cli­mate change and the fam­ily farm”


Original YDN article: