If any image has singularly captured the public’s attention during the coronavirus pandemic, it has been The Curve. The graph charts the incidence of new cases — and by extension, the use of hospital resources. The rush to flatten its peak ensures health care systems won’t be overwhelmed by a deluge of COVID-19 patients.
As environmentalists strive to draw lessons from the coronavirus response, some have paused to consider whether climate science offers any analogous chart in need of leveling. The activist and author Bill McKibben, for example, writing for the New Yorker, notes that people have “emitted more industrial carbon since 1988 than in all of prior human history, utterly failing to flatten the curve. (In fact, we call the diagram that outlines our dilemma the Keeling Curve, and it just keeps rising.)”
The Keeling Curve, while offering a useful benchmark for grappling with that other global calamity, is no climate corollary to the COVID curve. Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is an effect of the behaviors that worsen climate change. We want the cause.
Undoubtedly, the most immediate driving force behind rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is our collective release of the greenhouse gas itself — our emissions. Read more…