When Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner published The Wrong Trousers in 2007, they famously attributed the failure of the Kyoto Protocol not to the fact that the developing countries did not have legally binding commitments as it was fashionable to do. Rather, they argued that a tame solution of a top-down international treaty was being imposed on a fundamentally wicked problem. In other words, addressing climate change was inherently different from negotiating reductions in nuclear warheads or ozone depleting substances where targets and timetables make sense.
Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark in The Burning Question resuscitate the numbers game again. And, they do so with frightening lucidity. Opening with an honest admission by Bill McKibben in the preface about how “ineffective” the fight against climate change has been over the last 20 years or so, the book initially walks us through a few figures. For example, if we want a 75% chance of staying below two degrees of warming, we can burn 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050. However, as we are growing emissions at the rate of around 3% per year, we will exhaust this budget of 565 gigatons within the next 16 years.
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