Forget 2030 or targets; we need to reduce our carbon emissions right now

George Monbiot says you don’t set targets in an emergency, you act.

It’s a new year and I am teaching sustainable design at Ryerson University, mostly to interior design, architecture and urban design students in third and fourth year. As I noted last year, I usually use the petals of the Living Building Challenge or the 10 categories of the British One Planet Living program as my guides.

This year, I have thrown all that out the window and have been concentrating on one thing: carbon. The 1.5 degree target. Where greenhouse gases come from and how we cut our emissions in half by 2030. That, as designers, they should be thinking about this with every thing they do. I keep hammering: 1.5 degrees. 10 years.

But there is a problem with this: nobody is doing anything. Everyone knows there is a target but everyone is just sort of talking about it. And every year, the mitigation curve gets steeper, from a comfortable green circle, had we started 20 years ago, to a blue square to double black diamond, and now to an insurmountable cliff. By the time my students are practicing and have any control of the situation, it will be target time, 2030, and it will be too late.

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, recognizes the problem in a post titled Let’s abandon climate targets, and do something completely different. Most of the article is about the inadequacies of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which I have complained about as well. But keep going:

It’s not just the target that’s wrong, but the very notion of setting targets in an emergency.

When firefighters arrive at a burning building, they don’t set themselves a target of rescuing three of the five inhabitants. They seek – aware that they may not succeed – to rescue everyone they can. Their aim is to maximise the number of lives they save. In the climate emergency, our aim should be to maximise both the reduction of emissions and the drawing down of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. There is no safe level of global heating: every increment kills.

Monbiot calls for Maximization, pursuing the highest possible ambition, right now. “We are all familiar with the absurdities of target culture. We know how, in many workplaces, the target becomes the task.” He claims that targets actually encourage us to underperform, especially if they are as far away as 2050. “As soon as you set a target, you pull back from maximization.” Monbiot concludes that we have to do everything we can possibly do, right now,

…. to explore every economic sector in search of the maximum possible cuts in greenhouse gases, and the maximum possible drawdown. We have arrived at the burning building. The only humane and reasonable aim is to rescue everyone inside.

It’s hard to imagine that we are going to fix this, especially since the latest trick is to deny that acid rain or the ozone hole ever existed, both of which we actually fixed through legislation and regulation. And I know I always get preachy when school is in session.

But George Monbiot is right. Anyone who does get the science and knows this is happening should stop talking about having ten years to mitigate this, or even the 1.5 degree target. We have to go for Monbiot’s maximization, and do everything we can right now.

That’s why I am going to keep trying to live that 1.5 degree lifestyle right now, to set an example for my design students and to encourage them to try it too.

But I am not giving up coffee!

George Monbiot says you don’t set targets in an emergency, you act.

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