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Your Climate Crisis elevator speech

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UPDATE: A complete list of climate series pieces is available here:
The Climate series: a reference post.

UPDATE 2: If you want my personal smallest-footprint boiled-to-bones version, I added it as a comment here.

For those not steeped in corporate culture, an "elevator speech" is what you say to the CEO who gets into the elevator with you and asks, "So Mary, how's it going in your department?"

You get four or five floors to either say what you're thinking — succinctly — or say, "Fine; and in yours?"

Most people with important work issues to solve prepare an elevator speech, ten or so sentences that tell the story they want to tell. And then they state the "ask" — the part that says, "Maybe you could help; here's how."

With that in mind, here's my version of your Climate Crisis Elevator Speech. I've given this in radio interviews from time to time (for example here).

You can use it on your right-wing cousin. (Though careful; if you meet resistance, walk away. Time is too valuable to waste on the unteachable.)

The current print version, using both Celsius and Fahrenheit, appears below. If you want to stick with just one measurement, leave the other one out.

Two notes: (1) You don't need the charts to make this point. Just describe the "hockey stick," skip the second chart, give the numbers and the bottom line. It goes pretty fast if you practice. I given this in less than two minutes when I had to.

(2) This converts Bill McKibben's parts-per-million (ppm) metric into temperatures. I don't find ppm numbers to be compelling. People get temperatures right away, so I don't use ppm at all.

Climate Crisis
The Numbers & the Bottom Line

Take a look at the chart below. It's a version of the Michael Mann "hockey stick" diagram showing average global temperature from 500 AD to today, plus various predictions through 2100.

Global warming (Fig 21 from The Copenhagen Diagnosis)

The black line near the right edge of the chart shows global warming measurements. This is global warming — starting from 1900 it never stops climbing.

(Note: If you really are in an elevator, just use your hands. Everyone knows what a hockey stick looks like.)

Where are we headed?

All you need to know in four numbers:

  ■ We get 1½°C — 3°F — by 2100 regardless, even if we Stop Now. We've gotten half already (that's where the black line stops). The rest is in the pipeline.

  ■ The political elites — G8, Copenhagen conference, etc. — want to stop 2°C — 3½°F. But no one wants to do anything.

  ■ At 3°C — 5½°F — we have James Hansen's mass extinction scenario ("game over" he says). 20–50% of species will disappear.

  ■ What are we on track for? 6–7°C — a whopping 11–12½°F. This is Stop Never, the carbon industry plan.

Short form — We get 1½°C regardless and we're only halfway there. 2°C is where elites want to stop, but won't. 3°C is a mass extinction scenario. And we're on track for 7°C by 2100.

(Optional) How do we know we're on track for 7°C?

Go back to the chart above and look at the projection labeled A1F1 (the red line). It takes us to 6°–7°C by 2100.

Now look at the chart below. It zooms in on the time 1980–2010. The projections start at 2000. The measurements keep going through summer 2008. See for yourself:

Where we are relative to projections (Fig 1)

We're doing what was predicted. Stop Never is taking us to 7°C by 2100. Our grandchildren will see the result. You and I will live through the early stages.

What does "stop" mean?

We can Stop Now or Stop Never; there's no middle choice. Stop Later is the same as not stopping.

Stop Now means aggressively pursuing — as a action, not an aspiration — "zero new carbon into the air." Permitting new carbon means not stopping.

Why does Stop Never level off at 7°C?

It's obvious. (1) All the real science says this is man-made. (2) Global warming stops a few decades after man stops using carbon — after everything in the pipeline plays out.

There's only two ways to stop — voluntarily, or after we're pre-industrial. If we never stop, global warming will level off a few decades after industrial society collapses. Projections of the "do nothing" (Stop Never) scenario put that around 2100.

Remember, the "mass extinction" temperature is only halfway to the worst-case (Stop Never) level-off point. We get to the first on the way to the second.

The bottom line

Even if we put on the brakes immediately, today's global warming "floor" is 1½°C — 3°F. This is inevitable, in the pipeline.

If we don't stop soon, the new floor will be 3°C — 5½°F.

If "do nothing" gives us 3°C in the 2030s or 2040s, it will be in the pipeline sooner than that. (Check the first chart for when 3°C shows up in the worst-case scenario.)

Our children and grandchildren will watch this.

The "ask"

It's pretty stark, but it's not hopeless if we act now. If we really do stop, we could deal with today's floor. That won't be true of tomorrow's floor.

Your call, folks:
  1. When should we stop?
  2. How slow should we go?
  3. How much are you willing to do?
Look at your children while you think this through.


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