The “Good” Tipping Point

If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you’ve probably heard about tipping points.

Usually, it’s the climate scientist’s job to look at the probable results of continuing to pour carbon pollution into our atmosphere, including a record 37.1 billion tons this year. Most scientists get pretty worked up about “tipping points,” points of time in the future when temperatures rise so high they trigger multiple unpleasant events. Temperatures in the Arctic, for instance, will get to a point where all the frozen methane under the permafrost will be released and add their weight to the blanket of greenhouse gases now smothering the Earth.

One of my favorite climate scientists is Katharine Hayhoe. Her major talking points align with mine: It’s serious. We’re the ones who caused it. There are solutions readily available, but the solutions must begin immediately.

Recently, she talked about another, more optimistic tipping point. We’ve reached a point where the the costs of the damage the United States will sustain due to climate change is less than the costs of retooling our energy system.

In Montana, last year, we had a clear window into our future. The State had to drastically cut back services to the needy just to pay the costs of fighting the fires that ravaged our state.

According to the new study published at the end of November, if we do nothing to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, the US as a whole will sustain $200 billion in damage each year by mid-century.

At the same time, Hayhoe says, “from 2015 to 2050, it would cost the US a total of somewhere between 1 to 4 trillion dollars to reduce its carbon emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement: and that’s without including any of the economic benefits of clean energy, just the costs of switching.”

So . . . do the math. We’ve reached the point where the costs of cleaning up this mess — moving to the carbon-free technologies we already know are available — is equal to 20 years’ worth of damage.

Is it worthwhile to comply with the Paris accords? Yes!

What are we waiting for?

Jeff Smith, co-chair, 350 Montana

P.S. 350 Montana and the Montana Sierra Club are sponsoring a “people’s hearing” on Montana’s energy future on Tuesday, December 11, 7 p.m., at the Double Tree Inn, 100 Madison Street. Brian Fadie from the Montana Environmental Information Center in Helena will introduce Montana’s future choices, and then David Merrill from the Sierra Club will open the meeting up for comments and questions.