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“Zero emissions is an ambitious but achievable goal.” —UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Zero has become the most important number for humanity. Why?
Any chance of stabilizing the climate hinges on transitioning to zero greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as humanly possible. Simply slowing the rise of emissions will not work. For the first time, the world’s leading climate authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has embraced a goal of near zero greenhouse gas emissions or below.
Top military experts and government institutions like the U.S. Department of Defense and National Intelligence Council warn that climate destabilization threatens our national security, yet global emissions just keep going up. Leading biologists like E.O. Wilson warn that the sixth great extinction is now upon us, yet emissions keep going up.
By heating the globe at such a relentless rate, we are playing a deadly game of planetary Russian roulette. In the words of Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University: “There is no precedent for what we are doing to the atmosphere. It is an uncontrolled experiment.” If you believe your own eyes that climate chaos has already gone too far, the only logical response is to stop making things worse.
We are not suggesting ending the use of fossil fuels tomorrow. Decarbonizing our industries, homes, transportation, power generation and food production will take years of concerted effort and require every ounce of courage, ingenuity, patience and humility we possess. But intergenerational justice demands that we commit ourselves now as a nation to leading this green industrial revolution.
Some will no doubt call this goal unrealistic, saying it cannot be achieved, but they would underestimate the creative genius of the American people. What is unrealistic is thinking we can continue with business as usual and leave a habitable planet for our children. Americans are a supremely resourceful people with a long history of meeting, and exceeding, monumental challenges. While we have never faced anything as daunting as the global climate crisis, there are precedents for the U.S. overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.
When destiny came knocking during World War II, we initially resisted, then answered by leading the allied forces to victory in three and a half short years.
It took a Civil War to end the scourge of slavery, and a monumental civil rights struggle to outlaw segregation, Jim Crow laws and discrimination, but we not only overcame, we elected a person of color as President of the United States.
When President John Kennedy boldly challenged America to land a man on the moon in less than a decade, our best and brightest responded by accomplishing this seemingly impossible task ahead of schedule.
It is now time for our generation to do something great.
Zero Emissions Bandwagon
It may surprise you to learn that zero emissions has already been embraced as a goal by business leaders as well-known as Bill Gates, and world leaders as prominent as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria; UN climate chief Christiana Figueres; Prince Charles; and former President Jimmy Carter, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of The Elders.
Again, even the conservative, consensus-based IPCC supports near zero emissions or below, albeit on a year 2100 timeline that belies the urgency of their August draft report, which warns of “irreversible impacts” from continued emissions.
Major corporations, like Google, have embraced a zero carbon goal. Others like Microsoft and Deutsche Bank are moving in this direction by committing to net zero emissions, or carbon neutrality (using carbon offsets or carbon credits to balance out remaining emissions). 684 college and university presidents (and growing) have taken a similar climate neutrality pledge. And a fossil fuel divestment movement is picking up steam on college campuses (including Stanford University, Sydney University and historically black colleges and universities) and in houses of worship around the world.