Scientist Kevin Anderson on the 4 Degree world we're headed for

Kevin Anderson: Real clothes for the Emperor: Facing the Challenges of Climate Change
Cabot Lecture given at Bristol, 6th November 2012

"If we peak by 2020 we come down off the curve at 3.5% per annum that's the sort of stuff we've
been talking about, we can hold to four degrees C. Four degrees C is doable....

Lots of the things will not work in that sort of world. Not been designed for that sort of future certainly not with the populations that we have and the urban heat island effect on top of it. Ten to twelve degrees in New York. These are high really very high temperatures and the infrastructures and the way we live out lives could not deal with these things. Remember in London, what was it three days food, this could be a good thing, there's three days food in London? For those sort of temperatures you may find that there's no transport network. So in three days, you know, things won't be working. The fridge probably won't work because the air conditioning unit's been blasted away so you'll probably be blowing the fuses on the grid. So, you know, this is not a world that we know how to contemplate and at four degrees C hmm think at lower latitudes the estimates are that you'll see significant reductions, 30 to 40% reductions in some of the staple crops in maize and rice and so forth. At the same time the population is heading towards nine billion. So this is the sort of four degrees C world.

...So if we do everything we say we're going to do, but that we're not doing, hmm then we still can't hold
two degrees C. Four degrees C by 2050, 2070 doesn't seem unreasonable if you look at the current
projections of emissions ."

I got to this lecture from Radio Ecoshock. Lots of stuff in here to contemplate. We only have a few years to peak in emissions, which means an urgent drop in consumption/demand because we don't have the time to build up sufficient renewable energy in that time frame.

"Real hope, if it is to rise at all, will do so from an honest assessment of the scale of the challenge. It
is, admittedly, very uncomfortable: the numbers are brutal and the hope is tenuous – but it still exists. Brazilian philosopher and politician Robert Unger captured the essence of our challenge when he observed: ‘At every level the greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and the imagination that it could be different".


insomnialex's picture

as i mentioned before, i'd like to grapple with that Stanford University proposal sometime. how the numbers are derived for each state concerning each renewable source. have you read or are you aware of more in-depth documentation by chance? not sure if there's more available than what's listed in the link below. seems mostly overview and visual.
with this being the most extensive i see on methodology:

insomnialex's picture

nice job formatting the blog by the way. i thought it might be good to add a wysiwyg editor for those not as comfortable.

insomnialex's picture

i find these as well, but while i haven't read through, it's not so much a breakdown of the state by state plan but a world overview:

here's one critique:

BeeB's picture

In the critique of Jacobson and Delucchi, Ted Trainer basically makes the case that Jacobson and Delucchi's projections are unrealistic and that powering the world with renewables requires reducing demand in the high intensity consumer societies. He does have a point, but I still think that supporting Jacobson's approach is worthwhile while at the same time working on changing the system. Below is a link to a paper published by Trainer.

insomnialex's picture

i'm a bit skeptical about Jacobson's conclusions. what amazes me is how little work seems to be going on to do that kind of assessment. it's all anti-this and that or just trying to raise awareness that a problem exists. we need a lot more people modeling the material reality of transition. i think we need somewhat accurate models that hold some reputable scientific consensus to base political decisions on. e.g.: X amount of land and X amount of dollars would be needed for wind turbines in our state. now, we have a specific goal we can point to on the cultural level for support. and now we want people in political offices that will support legislation based on that. plus, a lot of details about exactly what land and where the dollars come from with longer term projections.

of course, i'm for 'non-political' projects that can also meet those same goals. and, of course i think our political system of decision-making, and in general, sucks and should be massively transformed. but it's not realistically happening in one big sweep as far as i can tell. and i also support integrating cooperative and public ownership models to meet those goals, but it seems hard to get serious about how best to go about that if we don't have clear goals.

insomnialex's picture

i have a couple things to write here, but am also pre-occupied with site stuff too, so a bit slow. you may be familiar already, and speaking of Klein (elsewhere) or Suzuki etc, there is also the Leap Manifesto ( this is interesting, a collaboration of general vision to integrate climate and economy, which can appeal to the political spectrum (to put it one way). notice at the bottom of the main page it refers to Jacobsen’s work as well as “Acting on Climate Change, Solutions from Canadian Scholars”. the latter has some in depth breakdowns on realities such as “Key Enabling Policy - Carbon Tax or Cap and Trade” among many things.

things on my mind briefly: what are other examples? - though i’m mostly concerned with local and major consumption. what is necessary to expand that work, those entities? breaking down more technical data into decision options, and allowing/creating granualar learning from basic ideas/options to multiple levels of understanding in the most accessible ways.

Colin Wright's picture

Could you expand on your second paragraph when you get a chance? You're looking for alternatives to the Leap approach?

Also here is an interesting, communist critique of Klein, which we all should probably be familiar with:

insomnialex's picture

decision options and accessibility: so, i agree we should create a livable future, and i've heard there are a bunch of problems with that based on the way things are. what should i support?

that's one approach, but what is your answer?

insomnialex's picture

to elaborate a bit, since i was about to go to bed when i saw your comment…

no, i didn’t mean finding alternatives to the leap approach, i do mean that the leap approach is part of the approach that may be hinting at the right direction. i haven’t read critique you posted just yet.

maybe people hop on board with the anti-something protests because it’s accessible, and people know there is ‘something’ that must change. but the anti approach seems to have exhausted itself. it comes to deciding what you want, what changes we’ll make, what we should support. but how much of an expert does any person need to be to support something? must we have studied all the science? must we all be read on marx or various ideologies? what are we going to get out of another article or film but more critiques and pause?

what we may need are some accessible ideas to support in the general public, that go beyond ideological debate. we don’t seem to have a very unified approach when it comes to what we are for. there is a large we against the somethings, but we breaks down when it comes to being for.

so if someone says yes, i accept the science, and agree that our economic and political system is not currently up to the task… what are the top things you think that person should support?

insomnialex's picture

i read over the article. i could agree and disagree with a few things, but it didn't really seem to be advocating much. what did you make of it?

Colin Wright's picture

good point. will write more soon.

Colin Wright's picture

Thinking more about the Jodi Dean critique today I remember she did sort of advocate at least one thing that seems missing from the Leap approach - energy nationalization. That seems to be off the table today, but it is conceivable that some sort of energy or economic crisis, perhaps a decade or two away, could make it a reasonable idea. ( After all, the Bonneville Power Administration and the TVA were, in a way, a "regionalization" of the grid if not a "nationalization" of the grid that began in the 1930's I believe.)

Anyway, I think it's important to reckon with the communist critiques, even if we are still so very far away from implementing anything. I think Jacobson gave up on his national energy plan, in favor of a 50-state approach. Presumably he felt the national plan was going nowhere with today's Congress. But part of me feels like we need a Green New Deal if we are to have any hope of changing the energy system. And a Green New Deal would have to have a nationalization component (for instance, in having energy-rich states share with energy-poor states). On the other hand, I think the Leap Manifesto also has a national energy policy but one that where energy production&distribution would be regionalized - but funded nationally (mostly with a carbon tax).

insomnialex's picture

i look forward to some of your thoughts. also, want to mention that i hope my general line of questions doesn’t come across as aimed at you, but is just a general thought process. as in, i’m not suggesting you are telling me i must have my phd in marxism. and i am actually interested in what you consider to be some of top issues the left or general public should get behind, but i also just want to highlight the need for a more unified set of support.

just mentioning in case it seemed like i am placing that weight all on you.

Colin Wright's picture

No weight at all, Alex. I appreciate you taking the time to delve into this, with your provocative questioning when you probably have web-design issues you're working on. (Me? I've had two soccer games this week, so that's why I've been slow to react!)

First off, I don't have any answers! But I think the process of exploration is probably most important (and so far seems to be off to a good start). This is something we all probably need to work on as we go along. (So feel free to point out gently any arrogant or polarizing comment you notice me making!) The focus always needs to be about supporting each other, solidarity and all that. (Cool mission statement, by the way! I suspect at some point we'll have to draft up some kind of guidelines that show how to acceptably and respectably critique another's viewpoint.)

I like what you wrote about "what are we for and what are we against". For instance, it seems a large part of Seattle is against Arctic drilling. Yet many more are dependent on their cars. There seems to be all sorts of contradictions and I wonder if there could ever be a unified message that is accessible and non-ideological. Not only that, much of the message people need to hear would be vastly unpopular (cut back consumption, etc). No politician would run on that (or would they?)

But could we help invent some kind of local educational and political campaign whose thesis/driving force is "four degrees will be a disaster"? If we had some local success, then perhaps other communities could take it up - that is, it would have to be scalable. And, as you say, it would have to have a "what are we for" component that resonated with enough people to at least start the conversation with the broader public.

So is it possible to get popular support around an unpopular message ("reduce your carbon footprint")? (Or am I already framing the issue in a non-optimal way?)

insomnialex's picture

hmm, some provocative thoughts back... thanks, i'll return to some of these things as soon as i can.

insomnialex's picture

going to post some thoughts on your Newz post about Gar when i get a chance, unless you have a starting point you want to post first to make note of, or both :) - time! ha

Colin Wright's picture

Alex and Barbara, thanks for the links. My sister attended some of Ted Trainer's lectures and went to visit his homestead (about 1995) in Australia where she lives. I think I have his book (The Simpler Life?) somewhere. He thinks industrial capitalism is just not sustainable and takes that as his starting point (with some backing data). He's more of a back-to-the-land Marxist than an engineer, so I take his analysis with a grain of salt. For instance, I think battery storage technology alone has come a long way in just the last few years.

Still, he provides an anecdote to the techno-optimism of Jacobson. But I'm sure we could all profit from looking at Jacobson in more depth.

What I found "new" in the Kevin Anderson talk was his "truth-telling" with respect to a 2 degree future and that keeping to 4 degrees will be difficult enough. Also, that we need to peak in emissions soon (before the time-frame it takes to build out renewables). So this would mean a short-term strategy of demand-reduction (which actually fits in with Trainer). I suppose we need both (short and medium-term strategies) as well as a long-term strategy of shifting away from capitalism. (I don't know if we would all agree to that breakdown.) It all seems so daunting.

Anyway, thanks for responding. Maybe we can chat some about this at the next meeting.

PS Alex, with regards to website feedback, I liked that there was a way to preview blog posts before posting. I don't see a way to preview new comments. Does that just keep things simpler?

insomnialex's picture

part of my concern with projections like Jacobson's, and much of the call for renewables, is the assumption that we can sustain the same lifestyle we're accustomed to. i'd have to swing somewhat Trainer's way on that and i don't even think it requires a serious grasp on global numbers to see reason for doubt. i think it's just the preferred narrative in developed nations. what if the whole world was living this lifestyle we've created out of the fossil-fuel energy bubble? impossible. we import food from plantation states on the other side of the planet produced by people who can barely even survive.

part of the reason it's so daunting to me, is that it's the integration of capitalism with fossil fuel that has formed our lifestyle. it feels like we need to change the political/economic system first to meet our ecological problems. but at the same time, to meet the eco-clock, we need to work with the existing system. how do we approach demand reduction? we at least need to factor in the environmental cost of what we consume, as well as decent living conditions for the producer. it means higher prices, which takes its toll on the lower class here. so we need to approach a more equitable system in our own nation state. put some real numbers behind all that, i think we might find ourselves needing to bring production closer to consumption, focusing more on lasting quality items, wasting less, giving up a bit of convenience.

i'm not so much on the belief that we all need to be farmers, or hunter/gatherers for that matter. i also don't believe that just trying to promote better choices will get us too far, either. but what mechanisms do we have for reduction? should this be integrated into goals for renewables that are based on our current consumption, or does it just put everything into endless debate?

Colin Wright's picture

All good points, Alex. On this graph hopefully you can see US emissions per person relatively flat about 17 tons, while China is increasing but still only up to about 7 tons/person.

Meanwhile, though Seattle emissions per person have been dropping a bit, freight road transport is still about 20% of emissions, second only after passenger road emissions (45%).(2012 data)

So, yes, to trying to bring consumption down and closer to production. Animal agriculture carbon emissions are also a biggie, left out of the Seattle CAP. Would Seattle residents tax meat consumption with the profits going to carbon sequestration though soil and forest management? Just thinking out loud...

insomnialex's picture

@Colin or other- meat consumption tax: first questions would be how much and where does it occur? is it going to be more of a burden on the lower ecomomic classes? is it going to occur on just meat or all animal product? is it going to occur at point of purchase or within industry that then decides how to pass on to point of purchase, or other? does it have an integral relationship with other regions? are there other regions with policies to build on that can add support, political legitimacy, or create relationships with economically? what are the effects of different approaches and how would you propose? (personal pref aside if possible, hard)

what are the effects of such a tax on decision making? folks travelling outside of city if more cost effective for life. ideological battles to implement, is it practical politically? (the meat tax party! - to take it just one step into the media) but, what would make it so? are there other implementations that are just as necessary that contain an easier gap to conjoin? is there something that needs to come first? strategy? would that be your first? and does that differ with what you think is practical?

how do we know what is practical?

what are your thoughts on personal transporation within the city of Seattle?

Colin Wright's picture

I think you're right Alex, that a meat tax would have to be part of a broader strategy of footprint reduction. (I only bring it up because other groups seem to ignore the idea.)

And you're right too that it shouldn't be regressive. You could start, in fact, with a "tax holiday" on vegetarian options in restaurants as a way to start getting the message out.

For reference, here is a recent Guardian article on a meat tax. (Click the link inside to reference the scientific paper).

On personal transportation, the city does seem to be taking baby steps (climate action plan, etc). Did you look at the pros and cons of Prop 1? Any strong feelings about it?

ricknew's picture

Lots of working taking place here:

Colin Wright's picture

Cool! There is an interview with Rob Hopkins (and Albert Bates) on this week's Radio Ecoshock:

insomnialex's picture

hi Colin, i’m going to start to respond to your last three comments in one just to center around a common thread of thought. so forgive me for not hitting every bit (or going on at length), i can throw in some side tidbits, or you can highlight something you’d like to pursue more than this.

(maybe comments could have a numbering thing but one: "Thinking about the Jodi Dean critique..." two: "No weight at all..." three, meat tax and stuff...)

going to have to resonate with the idea of not having answers but “think the process of exploration is probably most important,” and “I wonder if there could ever be a unified message that is accessible and non-ideological.”

in some way that kind of says it all. i’m thinking more and more about the pursuit of the process as the message itself. there’s always real things in front of us we have the option to yay or nay, but it doesn’t have to mean we full-heartedly yayed or nayed with our entire being. i think that’s some of the spirit of pursuing consensus and solidarity. our ideology may be important to us and very helpful for others, but when it acts as an obstruction to our own goals, as it requires the involvement of others, then there’s something missing in the approach. but it’s not a matter of just giving up our ideals and catering to another’s. ‘we’ could take a more passive approach and simply find ourselves dominated by those who stand by a dominant approach with their own ideology. so, then our voice is not being heard. a natural response to that dominance then might be to make my voice louder or place some blame, and there we spiral back into further division.

so how do we deal with division when what we really want to create is collective potential? i really don’t expect every person in the world to suddenly realize the value of collective potential by simply sharing a philosophy about it, or even by example. it’s also a personal process, one that’s made more difficult to relate to by having never experienced it, or being indoctrinated by opposite values from birth. i would not expect too much from a billionaire ayn rand fan, a person that feels their ideology is clearly working as it’s working so well for them. that’s not a bubble i even care about trying to break.

but, i do think there’s a large number of people with pretty similar ideals at heart, a general sense of equality and sustainability. for those more focused on it, we may still not have much experience in pursuing our collective potential, partly as our environment is not very conducive for it. we may find ourselves attached to certain ideologies, and then want everyone else to get it, and just argue those back and forth as separate “we’s”. sometimes with enough energy a “we” can resonate just enough to get “something” done, but it’s rarely breaking the mold of the process to lend way to more substantial change.

so, perhaps it’s an ideology in itself, for one, to want to focus on finding common ground to achieve common well-being. but, if you are currently one who does believe the current system of things is failing in many ways, and doesn’t believe your lack of ability to influence is a virtue, it might be worth considering. and perhaps it’s also an ideology to believe we need to focus on the process itself that achieves solidarity through diversity. but, it’s ceratinly not new to recognize the fragmentation of our efforts, and perhaps worth elevating into a more serious question, a question that can be embedded in our interactions. that’s not so much a single answer but potentially a norm that opens many answers.

and feel free to tell me if i’m being arrogant as well! or overly esoteric or something, whatever it may be, just say so.

insomnialex's picture

along these lines, i think about a communist critique of Leap, say. sometimes i see what we might call radicals clinging to their ideology. they have studied their manifestos and formed their vision of the world, and anything else that falls short of that gets a big frown. presumably, we should all study their particular vision to unify our efforts behind. and when that doesn’t happen, i guess it’s frustration with a slight comfort in knowing “I” am right. such radical visions often seem to come pretty void of steps to take in the actual world around us, other than, first, you must agree with me. perhaps a more constructive approach from a radical ideology, would be to identify the specific ideas they support in others that lend direction to the kind of vision they have in mind. it doesn’t mean they wholeheartedly agree with the rest but it’s a positive step in a common direction. and, in the right atmosphere, they can simultaneously offer some possibilities that add small bits to those ideas that come out of their ideology, as well as focus on some other ideas that are practical steps, thus, opening the door into their current beliefs, and maybe opening their own minds when it comes to application.

at the same time, of course, there might be what we call the liberal and some of progressive left that likes to believe a few singular changes will result in the kind of change they have at heart, and when they hear more radical approaches, scoff, in a “as if that will ever happen” manner, or just haven’t thought deeper about what those basic changes imply. they could benefit from opening their mind to some serious questions about how the system works, or planet for that matter. we just need to get money out of politics! ok, so you expect that a few reforms can separate those two? not to say those reforms aren’t helpful, and it takes very little for someone from a radical mindset to support, but let’s not discount the radical visions by oversimplifying the root cause.

Prop 1. no, no strong feelings about it, haven’t read a long list of alternating opinions. seems to me the constructive aspects of it do not come with something particularly harsh in the method of funding to those that bare that brunt. i can support based on that, but also not particularly inspiring. you mention Green New Deal, and we talked a bit about this in regards to the Seattle CAP. one of my criticisms there, was the lack of regard for where work comes from and how opportunities get created. that is, if you want more people to embrace an ecological plan, then it should also relate directly to a pathway of employment. i would be more inspired by a plan that includes requirements for local hiring and job training (with attention to demographics) through NGO’s connecting city and the businesses currently equipped to fill infrastructural needs, with a focus on longer term transfer to cooperatively owned entities. and sure i think some progressive taxation methods could be applied that don’t break anyone’s entitled lifestyles OR cause capital flight. (some of me wouldn’t mind a bit of that flight). other paths there, too. but, just as i feel about the 15NOW cause, supporting ways currently accessible, things that groups have worked on that DO have more radical beliefs and some that don’t necessarily, are positive means to get more of the public thinking about better ways while improving people’s lives right now. i’ve had a lot of observations on how that movement has been received, as you probably have to. one mistake to make is thinking THAT is THE goal.

i’m glad you brought up the meat tax based on the fact it’s part of an equation generally ignored, as this space is not meant as an organization, but as a way to open and connect spaces. i think some groups might ignore animal industry feeling it might cause too much controversy, and some might still participate in those groups holding their ideas back simply to support the elements that are already agreeable. that’s fine, but we still need to open the paths, as i think the controversy that causes the WHOLE conversation to get ignored doesn’t have to be the case. someone says animal industry, and some others immediately hear “meat is murder” or something. some may want you to hear that. but, maybe there’s a time for offering awareness into personal beliefs, but also more options to focus directly on industrial animal production that have more immediately available support. we have to shed the absolutes without personally abandoning our beliefs OR silencing our collective voice. the mutual support isn’t the end of our personal beliefs, it’s the next step in collective AND personal ability.

reducing the carbon footprint. the idea is already there i think, but the options are unclear. it’s popular in theory. well, i’m stopping there for now. enough of me already. you raised some possible local strategies and i’m interested in those talks, too. it’s my hope we can get to the point of having some others on board that will engage in those and this place will run itself, too. maybe it’s just good right now to talk more about the process and what solidarity means. or maybe it’s just good to keep it mind as we create new topics so we just engage in that process. i don’t mean that to be limiting, like, a specific guideline. not up to me. you mentioned guidlines and i’m just thinking aloud about the kind of norms we can create from the get-go toward wherever we do go. so, cheers!

Colin Wright's picture

Hi Alex, sorry for the delay. (Had the flu last week.) Re-reading it, I realize there is a lot of wisdom in what you say (and nothing really for me to disagree with). It's a good philosophy you set out.

Hope to see you tomorrow.
Cheers, Colin

Fred's picture

A little late but I heard a really interesting interview with a fellow named Guy McPherson recently. Somewhat alarming, don't know the validity of his claims. I guess I hope he is wrong, as he says it is really just too late. The interview was on This is Hell. He seems to believe that the human effect on climate change has already passed a point of no return, and now it is just a waiting game to our inevitable extinction.

Colin Wright's picture

Hi Fred, Yes, I've heard McPherson on Radio Ecoshock over the years. He is a "doomer" but usually uses published research for his conclusions and extrapolations. Some of his claims are definitely over the top (eg. human extinction by such and such a year). On the other hand, I think it's safe to say that things are much, much worse than the IPPC portrays (as climate scientist Kevin Anderson reveals in his papers and presentations). So when making our case for increased action to the public, I think it's better to rely on experts in the field like Anderson. But if there is a specific claim that McPherson makes that you are interested in, we could both look into it.