Good enough tools for global warming policy making.
We present a simple analysis of the global warming problem caused by the emissions of CO2 (a major greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. We provide quantitative tools which enable policymakers and interested citizens to explore the following issues central to the global warming problem. (i) At what rate are we permitted to continue to emit CO2 after the global average atmospheric concentration has 'stabilized' at some chosen target level? The answer here provides the magnitude of the effort, measured by the necessary total reduction of today's global (annual) emissions rate to achieve stabilization. We shall see that stabilized emissions rates for all interesting stabilized concentration levels are much lower than the current emissions rate, but these small finite values are very important. (ii) Across how many years can we spread the total effort to reduce the annual CO2 emissions rate from its current high value to the above-mentioned low and stabilized target value? The answer here provides the time-scale of the total mitigation effort for any chosen atmospheric concentration target level. We confirm the common understanding that targets below a doubling of the pre-industrial concentration create great pressure to produce action immediately, while targets above double the pre-industrial level can tolerate longer periods of inaction. (iii) How much harder is the future mitigation effort, if we do not do our share of the job now? Is it a good idea to overshoot a stabilization target? The quantitative answers here provide the penalty of procrastination. For example, the mitigation task to avoid doubling the pre-industrial level is a problem that can be addressed gradually, over a period extending more than a century, if started immediately, but procrastination can turn the effort into a much more urgent task that extends over only a few decades. We also find that overshooting target levels is a bad idea. The quality of public discourse on this subject could be much enhanced if ball-park quantitative answers to these questions were more widely known.