2°C is serious: let's get going
2°C maximum is the target chosen by the Paris Climate Agreement for total global temperature rise. There is nothing magical about 2°C. We are currently at 1°C rise, and because of climate change, wildfires have already increased in the west, and sea level is rising on the coasts. As temperatures go up, so do the impacts - they just get more severe.
To stay below 2°C, we must bring net greenhouse gas emissions down to zero within about 50 years (United Nations commentary, United Nations report). New information suggests we may have even less time to bring emissions down enough to prevent the worst impacts of climate change (IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C). That means drastically reducing most emission sources and offsetting the remaining difficult ones (i.e., aircraft travel). That’s an enormous, but not impossible task.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report in October 2018 that summarizes the serious effects of 1.5°C (2.7°F) of warming and shows emission pathways that can stop further warming.
Which means we need to get to work now, and tomorrow, and the day after. Let's work together to lower our emissions.
Americans emit a lot
The U.S. emits about 36,000 pounds of C02 per person every year (calculation details). This means a typical American family (3 people) contributes about 108,000 pounds of C02. That's enough gas to fill about 10 hot air balloons — each about 60 feet tall — in only 12 months. That much C02 weighs about the same as two full garbage trucks!
Per capita CO2 emissions data for 2014 are from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The U.S. average of about 36,000 pounds of CO2 per capita per year is much higher than the global average of 11,000 pounds. Data reorganized and visualized by World Bank
Yearly carbon emissions for a typical 3-person American family
This column chart is based on the fraction of emissions across four categories derived from a Union of Concerned Scientists 2012 report and a table in that report. For the chart, we have applied these fractional categories to the 108,000 pounds of C02 for a typical U.S. family (3 people) noted earlier.
We can reduce our emissions
Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce emissions across all four source categories (Energy, Transport, Products, and Food). We know reductions are achievable; many countries already have lower emissions than the United States. For example, most Europeans contribute about half as much CO2 as us despite having a similar standard of living (UCS, World Bank). So now is the time for making a change.
Choose whatever actions you like - and get started.