Robert Corell, chairman of the Washington-based Climate Action Initiative, recently illustrated the appeal of a remarkably simple modelling tool by giving reporters a direct answer to a difficult question: What is the impact of the international climate commitments announced thus far? Citing results from C-ROADS (for Climate Rapid Overview and Decision-support Simulator), Corell suggested that we are headed toward warming of 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Corell was speaking at a news conference held by the United Nations Environment Programme to release a compendium of the research that has come out since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its fourth assessment in 2007. It’s a useful contribution to the dialogue, but reporters, like politicians, are often looking for simple answers.
The predictable result was media coverage suggesting that the UNEP report found that current commitments are vastly insufficient to solve the problem. Technically true, perhaps, but the results from this particular model are just a tiny part of the larger compendium, which hardly got a mention. In effect, Corell accidentally hijacked the news conference.
We decided to take a look at the model itself, and the result came out in this week’s issue of Nature. It turns out that this tool, which we first encountered at a global warming war game last year, has gone viral in the admittedly small world of international climate negotiators.
One place where the model isn’t being rolled out, at least not publicly, is at the US Capitol. Indeed, the global warming debate there seems oddly disconnected from global warming itself. When US Senator John Kerry stepped up to the podium to discuss the newly released climate bill on Capitol Hill Wednesday, he summed up the situation in one word: security.
“Economic security. Energy security. National security.”
Climate security? Sure, there’s that too, but Democrats are now making their pitch to a different audience that is at least as concerned about the jobs, fuel bills and troops deployed overseas. The first people at this press conference to go into details about what global warming actually means – including rising seas, droughts and volatile weather – were soldiers. Representatives of all of the major environmental organizations were present, but they were not at the podium.
Not new, of course, but it does say something important about the selling power of global warming in the United States. Democrats know they have the votes from environmentalists, but that’s not enough. The question now is whether they can make an alternate case for action. For an update on the current state of play, check Nature’s latest online new briefing.