Lower, zero or negative emissions: What we should strive for

Here are the choices: Lower, zero or negative emissions. What bar, what goal, what outcome should we be striving for? Could it even be a case of all or even none of the three?

I suppose it all really comes down to it being more a case of what the overarching sentiment sweeping through the world is at the time than anything else – don’t you think?

So how about we examine this more closely?!

First, from everything that I know, have been hearing and reading, ours is a hotter world we are living in, that is, compared to that just decades ago. Glaciers are retreating, polar ice is disappearing, air temperature at both the surface and in the depths is climbing and global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions keep rising. The human contribution is 50 billion GHG tons annually.

But, here’s where the waters get cloudy: If your position is such that you believe climate change/global warming is a myth (read: “is not real”), such doesn’t automatically, necessarily mean you take the side that GHG emissions shouldn’t be reduced, lowered to nothing or to that in nature which is negative.

On the other hand, if you cling to the belief that climate change and global warming are real, either posing a clear and present danger or even an existential threat, and caused by escalating global GHGs, then at the same time, you are likely, probably or absolutely a huge proponent of our universal scaling back or eliminating emissions or striving for negative GHG.

As I see it the real question is what emissions-mitigation scheme should be embraced. Do we go slow when working to reduce greenhouse gas and other atmospheric-based emissions? Do we ramp up the commitment and wholeheartedly pursue zero GHG pollution? Or, do we go full bore and go after atmosphere-based, heat-trapping gases with a vengeance with the aim to turn the current situation completely around with said emissions dropping to negative levels, that is, compared to that which was present in the air at the time when the Industrial Revolution came into being? And, therein lies the quandary; a decidedly gray area if there ever was one.

Some, perhaps most, would argue for reaching for the choice that achieves the most, goes the farthest and, in their minds’ eyes, does the most amount of good: To seek negative emissions, in other words.

Meanwhile, there are those adherents who are satisfied, convinced that slowly lowering emissions in the air is the right move, taking things one step at a time, achieving interim successes in terms of meeting realistic, reachable, clearly laid-out goals, all through coordinated cooperative and individual measures taken. That, for them, is where it’s at.

And, thirdly and lastly, there are the so-called middle-of-the-roaders. These are the folks who want emissions reduced to the level of zero. For them, GHG-lowering only doesn’t go far enough, fast enough, their feeling that attaining negative emissions, though a laudable endeavor, at the same time maybe believe is too lofty or unrealistic of an objective to meet.

With this in mind, the first camp – those seeking negative atmospheric GHG – might argue that it is perfectly okay to go for the gold as it were, to try to achieve the ultimate, insisting that in not reaching that outcome doesn’t necessarily mean failure, but instead realizing that emissions at parity or even lower emissions in the grand scheme of things is certainly better than nothing – nothing in this case referring to continued ascending GHGs. Others, meanwhile, contend that it would just be better to go for the low-hanging fruit first and go from there.

These may be exactly the considerations different countries may be grappling with as they decide on what plans to adopt in terms of their getting and keeping their GHG emissions in check. What I feel is right in my heart of hearts is that there are no easy answers here, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all approach, which leaves the all-of-the-above tact I alluded to above as the only realistic option. Hmm.

Alan Kandel

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This post was last updated on Sept. 30, 2022 at 12:17 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. The “middle-of-the-readers” clause has been adjusted to now read correctly.

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