There’s a country that contains about four percent of the world's population. Its people live pretty well, on average, and account for roughly 13 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas (GHG) that's primarily responsible for climate change. (We're not accounting for the carbon footprint of the imported goods they consume.) So, in 2022, this country's government passed legislation that, according to models, would reduce its GHG emissions a whopping 40 percent by 2030 – that is, compared to the peak level emitted in 2005. They’d already made it halfway to the 40 percent goal over the past 17 years, taking advantage of low-hanging-fruit solutions such as higher gas mileage standards for vehicles and the adoption of LED lighting, and now they're ready to achieve the remaining reductions in only eight years. Climate change is an existential crisis, the nation's leaders proclaim. Future generations will judge us sternly if we don't take decisive action.
But wait for how long? If our green gambit isn't producing the 2.5 percent per year reduction in GHG emissions that models project, at some point we'll need to unleash the stick alongside the carrot. We'll need to levy taxes and fees to raise the price of behaviors that propel climate change. So, when exactly do we admit failure – a hard thing to do, in politics and life – and adopt stronger steps to help keep global temperature increases in the industrial era below 2.5 or 2 degrees Celsius? (Temps are currently at 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and soaring; sorry, the 1.5 degree goal is utter fantasy.)
Of course, we have to give the legislation a little time, a fair chance to succeed. On the other hand, we can't go all the way to 2030 if yearly reductions are lacking. Yes, there may be a learning curve, a period of adjustment, and yes, technocrats will always urge a tweak to this subsidy and a twerk to that rebate, but the Earth's physical systems don't care one fig for our flailings. There's too much at stake to be prideful. If this "really big green sale" attempt at lessening our contribution to a gathering global disaster isn't sufficient – and, alas, it probably won’t be – then we have to be brave enough to admit it.
So, I say, let's give it three years and a few months. It'll be the spring of 2026, with mid-term elections on the horizon. There's a decent chance that Congress and the presidency will be controlled by Democrats. At that juncture, we may be gifted one last, blessed chance to get serious, really serious about climate change. Now, if denialist Republicans are in control, it's "Katy bar the door!" and let's hope the rest of the world are doing better than us.