Dept. of Magic Asterisks – Climate Edition

The ‘magic asterisk’ was imagined into being in 1981, by then CBO Director David Stockman. In order to account for a $44B deficit in Reagan’s proposed budget, he offset the shortfall with a revenue followed by an asterisk and a footnote: ‘Future savings to be identified.’ It threw the hounds off, for a time. One is forced to conclude that investors and financial journalists did not read small print in those days.

How disappointing to see the magic asterisk return, in full view, on a far more important topic: the arithmetic used to calculate the planet’s carbon budget, and therefore the projected success of every plan under discussion at COP21 in Paris. Policy makers are assuming that some new technology will be capable of capturing carbon dioxide already released and store it safely, somewhere that it will not cause problems or escape. Even more optimistically, they assume that some nation (or nations) will lead the way, solve the technical issues, navigate the politics and then pay for it all.

“ …even policy makers are often unaware of the amount of negative emissions climate economists assume for the future. I.P.C.C. models foresee negative emissions of about 600 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2100, which equals more than 10 years of current annual emissions. This is the amount of carbon dioxide that we will somehow have to remove from the atmosphere.”

Thus, keep this in mind: If any good news comes out of COP21, and countries actually decide to live up to their *entirely voluntary* reduction targets, then… it still does not matter. The planet will still need leprechauns riding unicorns to charge over the hill and save the day.

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