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  • Good morning, John!

  • So, the United States is pulling out of the Paris Climate...

  • Agreement...

  • Treaty...

  • A - Accord?

  • Protocol?

  • The - I don't -

  • Let's be honest - There's a really good chance that you have a strong opinion on the Paris agreement,

  • ... And an EVEN BETTER chance you don't really know what it is.

  • There are too many things to know, so quick timeline...

  • 350 million years ago

  • Ancient plants covered the earth, converting the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the air into Oxygen(O2)

  • and carbohydrates.

  • These plants then die, and they create massive mats of organic materials that get buried.

  • Those organic materials then hang around under the earth getting heated up and smushed and form

  • energy-dense hydrocarbons, also called "fossil fuels".

  • Notice how cardohydrate and hydrocarbon sound similar.

  • 1882

  • (There was a big gap there)

  • Thomas Edison builds the first centralized coal-fired powerplant.

  • We've been using coal for a long time before that, of course

  • but I'm starting here because we have to start somewhere.

  • For the next 100 years, fossil fuels brought tremendous growth and

  • increases in quality life, specifically in Europe and America,

  • where the vast majority of fossil fuels were burned.

  • Decades pass. The benefits of fossil fuels eventually begin to spread

  • and everyone is consuming more and more.

  • It's great, for the most part, except that all that CO2 that was locked up in fossil fuels for

  • billions of years is now being re-released

  • and CO2 is really good at letting visible light pass through it

  • but infrared radiation that gets bounced

  • back up by the earth does not pass right through it.

  • It gets trapped.

  • So the earth's atmosphere and oceans start having more energy in them

  • and that starts to change the climate.

  • And while fossil fuels give us remarkable abilities to do cool and beautiful things

  • and increase the quality of life

  • here on earth, we also

  • rely on a stable climate, for massive farming operations

  • and coastal infrastructure (by which

  • I mean all of the cities that people live in.)

  • Jumping forward again

  • to 2015, 270 countries get

  • together in Paris with a goal:

  • We want to keep the average warming of the earth below

  • 2 degrees Celcius because, if we don't, it's

  • gonna be really bad for everyone.

  • But the problem is no one country can handle this because even the biggest contributors, the U.S. and China, together make up less than

  • half of the pie. Everyone needs to

  • agree to make changes or no one benefits.

  • Worse, the poor countries

  • that have admitted basically zero greenhouse gases

  • are going to be the ones that are most negatively affected by this CO2

  • that's been released by the wealthy countries

  • because they have more food and water insecurity,

  • less access to good medicine, and less infrastructure.

  • It's very difficult to say to them,

  • No! Don't grow your economy using the same dirty fuels and techniques

  • that we used to grow our economies.

  • Instead! Buy these solar panels from us! With the money you don't have!

  • Also, like, since any country that keeps burning its usual will have

  • a competitive advantage in industry. (So, facing climate change) everyone agrees that everyone needs to agree,

  • or this agreement is useless.

  • With advice from scientists, the countries altogether determined

  • how quickly the Earth needs to stop emitting greenhouse gases

  • to meet the 2 degree goal.

  • And then, based on how developed each country is, how many people they have,

  • and how much they're currently emitting, they divvied up that responsibility.

  • At the end, every country had a goal.

  • There was no enforcement for meeting that goal, but there was a goal.

  • And, some countries that had already benefitted a lot from the last hundred years

  • of releasing carbon dioxide even threw in some money:

  • billions of dollars to aid countries that hadn't benefitted from that,

  • to help them grow with less reliance on fossil fuels.

  • Every country agreed to their own path forward, and every country was responsible

  • for figuring out how to meet their goals,

  • whether it's through energy efficiency,

  • subsidizing renewables, regulating businesses,

  • changing people's behavior through education, or

  • ending fossil fuel subsidies.

  • And if countries don't meet their target?

  • Again, nothing happens.

  • There are no penalties.

  • This is an agreement between nations that there is a problem,

  • and we must lead together, or

  • face the price. And, remarkably,

  • A treaty that only encourages countries to reduce

  • emissions with unenforceable promises is

  • a gigantic step, and one that has

  • already seen significant success.

  • But this is an investment, and it does

  • have costs. Do we know

  • exactly what that price will be?

  • No. We don't know precisely

  • how much better off we'll be if we keep temperatures

  • from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, and

  • we don't know precisely how much we need to reduce

  • greenhouse gas emissions to hit that target.

  • But we do know that we are better off

  • incentivizing these changes now, globally,

  • because more than 600 million people

  • live in areas threatened by sea level rise.

  • Every person on Earth has

  • to eat every single day,

  • and climate refugees' lost crops

  • and lost infrastructure could destabilize

  • the entire world economy and result in

  • a very bad era of human history,

  • a sentiment to which the U.S. Department of

  • Defense, by the way, agrees. Remarkably,

  • thanks to a combination of energy efficiency,

  • changing habits, and a shift from coal to

  • natural gas and renewables, the United States

  • was, until recently, on target

  • to meet its Paris goals for decreasing

  • emissions 26% from 2005

  • levels by 2025.

  • We've already decreased emissions by around 14%,

  • even as the economy has grown.

  • But if there is no political will to continue

  • this, if the majority party in both houses

  • of Congress and the president do not

  • agree that humans are causing climate change

  • and want to continue investing in the same energy

  • systems Thomas Edison pioneered

  • in the 1800s, we will stall.

  • Other countries, at the moment, are pledging

  • to move forward, leading in the absence

  • of the United states. And, several states

  • in the U.S., the ones with the largest economies,

  • also have plans to abide by the

  • agreement. But without the U.S.,

  • a country that emits 18% of the world's

  • greenhouse gases with just 4% of the

  • population, this pioneering agreement

  • is considerably weakened.

  • After all, why would other countries hold

  • up their side of the bargain if the country

  • that benefitted the most from the Carbon Dioxide

  • currently in the atmosphere shirks

  • their responsibility? I, for one,

  • am tired of politicians pretending that

  • we don't all share

  • this big, beautiful, but also quite small

  • planet. I was proud that

  • my country was a leader in establishing the Paris agreement,

  • and I am ashamed at the step backward

  • we have taken away from uniting humanity

  • to take on this great global challenge.

  • John, I'll see you on Tuesday.

Good morning, John!

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B1 US fossil agreement country climate earth co2

The Paris Accord: What is it? And What Does it All Mean?

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    g2 posted on 2017/06/04
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