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Climate Code Red: The case for a sustainability emergency

Reviewed by John Andrews

Climate Code Red – the case for a sustainability emergency”, was written by David Spratt and Philip Sutton for Friends of the Earth. It was released in February 2008. It assembles many of the arguments we have been making in advancing the Plan B, Code Green, and Secure Green Future initiatives. It is particularly valuable in covering both the scientific and political facets of the climate change issue. It’s main point is this: Science says that we are in a life-threatening crisis. But political forces are keeping us from acting. We need to change the politics radically by declaring an emergency.

The authors take particular aim at the widespread support for setting a target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. They marshal an array of data to argue that 2 degrees was chosen for political reasons, not because of science. They argue that 2 degrees is an extremely dangerous temperature rise, which could easily lead to runaway global warming. They note that people are already dying in storms and droughts that are driven by global warming. As we move toward an increase of 2 degrees, we enter a dangerous arena. And if we aim for 2 degrees there is a good chance we will get 3 or 4 degrees instead. Instead, the authors argue that we should be aiming for a 0.5 degree rise, which would require *lowering* the current levels of atmospheric CO2 from the current 380+ ppm down to about 320 ppm. This means emission cuts of more than 95%, combined with efforts to sequester carbon. The authors note that this cannot be done by pursuing greener ways of conducting business as usual. More fundamental changes in the economy are needed.

The authors stress that the changes they see as absolutely necessary are not something that politicians even want to talk about. The 2 degree target with emissions cuts of 60-80% by 2050 are what is considered “politically reasonable”. Politicians like to pick target years of 2050 since this allows us to do little in the next few decades with the rationale that we will make up for our sluggishness by more concerted action as 2050 approaches. This is especially dangerous given the uncertainties in how the Earth is going to respond to further GHG emissions.

So what do we do? We need to change the politics by declaring a state of emergency for our entire society. We need to stop tolerating politicians who keep compromising the science in order to please their corporate friends and avoid telling people the disconcerting truth. We need to shake up the political landscape.

Is there still time to save the planet? Maybe. The authors claim that “Experience in the Second World War of the rapid change from producing consumer commodities to military equipment suggests that the transition to a post-carbon economy might be completed in as little as 10 years once a society has made a firm commitment to energy action.” That commitment will be made only when a critical mass of people get together to make foot-dragging politically untenable.

To download a copy of the report in pdf format, go to


The report is also available in book form. To learn more, visit www.climatecodered.net.


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