Never Give Up. Never Surrender.

Even if we miss our targets, simply shaving or flattening the carbon curve would be worth fighting for.

Although lacking the same eloquence, today’s post is in the spirit of Churchill’s famous speech promising that Britain would “fight on the beaches, … we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” My point is this: No matter how many battles we end up losing in the fight to stop carbon emissions, we can never afford to give up.

It’s not hard to see why some people despair about the climate. The Paris Agreement’s goal is to keep global warming well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5° C, over pre-industrial levels. Those goals are possible under some of the new IPCC scenarios, but many of the scenarios are more pessimistic. Reaching the 1.5°C goal would require immediate, drastic action on a scale that seems unlikely.  Even reaching the 2°C goal is going to take a tremendous effort. It’s not hard to make a case that we’re likely to miss that one too. Human beings can be short-sighted, self-centered, uncooperative, and sometimes just plain irrational. Despite all the work, all the dedication, of thousands of people around the world, there’s a good chance we’ll blow past the Paris Agreement’s targets.

Suppose we do miss those targets? Is there any point to continuing the fight?  The answer is unequivocally “yes.”

In terms of emissions cuts, the basic rule is simple: Every ton counts. In the long run, warming will be determined by how much carbon we pump into the atmosphere before we stop. According to the IPCC, every trillion tons of carbon dioxide translates into another half degree of warming. That’s about ten years of emissions at current rates. And each half degree of warming causes more and more havoc, as the climate becomes increasingly destabilized.  If we can shave down the curve even a little, we reduce the ultimate tonnage of carbon lingering in the atmosphere.

If you want to be really pessimistic, assume that we can’t reduce the ultimate cumulative CO2 level. Even so, just as with coronavirus, it would be worth flattening the curve, so we get to that ultimate level later. There would be value in slowing down climate change even if we can’t change how bad it will  ultimately get. Slowing the process provides more time to adapt to the changes — not just for human society but for other species. We also buy time for new breakthroughs, maybe to cut emissions more easily, maybe to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Our goal should be cutting emissions as fast as the world can manage. But if we can’t bust the emission curve entirely, there’s value in shaving it down or flattening it. And that means that we even if the situation starts to look grim, we can’t afford to quit fighting.

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Reader Comments

3 Replies to “Never Give Up. Never Surrender.”

  1. Yes, Churchill said it best: Never, never, never Give Up and we won WWII. Now we have a new challenge that is far more destructive than WWII was. Is it the ultimate:


    There is no difference between the “betrayals” that are destroying our Democracy and our health, and those that enable the threats to our environment. The reality is that we are now living in an unacceptably threatened world, and country, because of the systemic corruption in our social,
    political, economic, academic, religious institutions that prevent us from protecting the long-term survival of the human race.

    Studies by Ornstein, Ehrlich and Wilson appear to explain reasons for half a century of failure to protect the human race from Global Warming. The limitations of the human mind, such as our failures to prevent evolving problems from threatening future generations because our brains have been hard-wired to respond to immediate threats and our evolution is not protecting us from our current brain wiring limitations fast enough.

    This reality appears to explain Greta Thunberg’s observation that we have been experiencing 30 (actually 50) years of “empty words and promises” that amount to a generational “betrayal” by the United Nations and other institutions that are supposed to protect the human race from self-destruction.

    AP just reported: “Crucial U.N. climate talks next month could end short of the global target for cutting coal, gas and oil emissions, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry says, after nearly a year of climate diplomacy that helped win deeper cuts from allies but has so far failed to move some of the world’s biggest polluters to act fast enough.”

    The fact is that we are too close to the precipice today and there is no time for any more “empty words and promises.” As an intellectual leader, will you and your colleagues get Congress to make the right things happen with the required sense of urgency to save an acceptable future for the human race, or shall we be the last civilization to fail to meet the challenges of change?

    1. Actually Prof. Farber, Greta Thunberg slammed global leaders when she characterized them as people with “empty words and promises” emphasizing a “blah, blah, blah” rhetorical style that has resulted in generational “betrayal” plus the most outrageous fact of all, “our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction.”

      This is why I must implore you one more time (because I’ll Never Give Up either):

      Will you and your intellectual colleagues motivate Congress to make the right things happen with the required sense of urgency because you are the most educated and qualified, as professors who teach students to do the right things, and understand what must be done to overcome the failures of our political system in order to protect the human race before time runs out.

      One most disturbing fact about climate change consequences we are experiencing today, that proves the urgency of Greta’s statements is “over 50 per cent of all our CO2 emissions have occurred since 1990, and a third since 2005.” This fact alone is terrifying, we truly are like frogs in boiling water.

      And we also watch, 24/7, leadership failures by too many institutions that have motivated people to carry out threats to our Democracy, health and social stability that make this an even more urgent imperative because it accelerates the destruction of our Democracy and quality of life today and into the future.

      So, as you emphasize about yourself in your introduction, I also refuse to give up because I am dedicated to protecting an acceptable quality of life for our newest and future generations, including my granddaughters who provide my highest personal motivation, and for my Cal classmate and role model who gave me 60 years of Joie de Vivre before she passed away this year.

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more