Climate Change


 

NASA Global warming temperature map: 1880 to 2012

 

NOAA Time history of atmospheric carbon dioxide from 800,000 years before present until January, 2012. Recommend full screen/HD to read titles. (Source: NOAA)

…So we need growth, but we also need green growth that respects environmental sustainability. Good ecology is good economics. This is one reason why getting carbon pricing  right and removing fossil fuel subsidies are so important. Unless we take action on climate change, future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled

- Christine Lagarde, President IMF

Under current policies, we estimate that energy use and CO2 emissions would increase by a third by 2020 and almost double by 2050. This would likely send global temperatures at least 6 degrees Celsius higher. Such an outcome would confront future generations with significant economic, environmental and energy security hardships — a legacy that I know none of us wants to leave behind

- Richard Jones, IEA Deputy Executive Director

A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2°C

- Jim Yong Kim, President, World Bank Group

Our climate is changing. The evidence tells us that the world needs to limit the average global temperature increase to no more than two degrees Celsius (°C) and yet we are far away from reaching this target, taking us toward potentially catastrophic climate change. As the energy sector is the largest source of global carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions, it must be the focus of climate-change mitigation efforts. However, analysis shows that increases in energy-related CO2 emissions are currently so rapid that if more action to reduce them is not taken before 2017, all the emissions allowable under a 2 °C trajectory would then be locked in by existing energy infrastructure.

- IEA World Energy Outlook 2013 pre-release statement

Professor Emeritus Richard Somerville of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography on The Scientific Case for Urgent Action to Limit Climate Change

Al Jazeera global warming special part 1

Climate Scientist James Hansen: TED Talk: “Why I must speak out against climate change”

Dr. Guy McPherson:We have triggered Climate Chaos

 

Climate Change in the Arctic 2013: The many changes scientists are witnessing in the Arctic are unprecedented and terrifying

 

Peter Sinclair provides a clear explanation of climate change fundamentals

 

2008 talk: David Wasdell, world-renowned climate scientist – we have a problem

The Impact of Business as Usual

After decades of unheeded warning from the scientific community, warnings that have only become more vocal, the global political and economic community is finally beginning to grasp the cost of doing nothing. The forecast is beyond gloomy. Business-as-usual is no longer an option because it unequivocally equates to a collapse of human civilization within the lifetime of our children.

Figure 1: IPPC Atmospheric CO2 concentrations as observed at Mauna Loa from 1958 to 2008 (black dashed line) and projected under the 6 SRES marker and illustrative scenarios.(Source: IPPC)

  • A1B Emissions Scenarios – A future world of very rapid economic growth, low population growth and rapid introduction of new and more efficient technology. Major underlying themes are economic and cultural convergence and capacity building, with a substantial reduction in regional differences in per capita income. In this world, people pursue personal wealth rather than environmental quality.
  • A2 Emissions Scenarios – A very heterogeneous world. The underlying theme is that of strengthening regional cultural identities, with an emphasis on family values and local traditions, high population growth, and less concern for rapid economic development.
  • B2 Emissions Scenarios – A world in which the emphasis is on local solutions to economic, social, and environmental sustainability. It is again a heterogeneous world with less rapid, and more diverse technological change but a strong emphasis on community initiative and social innovation to find local, rather than global solutions.
  • B1 Emissions Scenarios – A convergent world with the same global population as in the A1 storyline but with rapid changes in economic structures toward a service and information economy, with reductions in materials intensity, and the introduction of clean and resource-efficient technologies.

Climate Interactive’s simulation below summarizes the latest scientific data and allows the user to see the impacts of doing nothing. This is a simulation built on the Climate Rapid Overview and Decision supports C-ROADS platform developed by the Climate Interactive team, Ventana Systems, and MIT. Move the slider below to see what the impacts are on sea level rise and temperature. There are 3 options: 1) business as usual, 2) do something 3) do a lot

 

Figure 2: Simplified explanation of IPCC graphs and scenarios (Source: Dept of Atmospheric Science, University of Washington)

The artificial dualism of short term gain which degenerate ecosystems and drives all economics vs long term actions necessary to rehabilitate and protect ecosystems is the cause of our crisis. It is time to recognize that a rapid re-balancing of ecology and economy is not only good for business, but necessary for the survival of human civilization.

More and more, mainstream organizations are finally waking up to the overwhelming scientific evidence about the reality of climate change. Recent events are bringing the evidence to the naysayers in the most frightening way. When conservation, fossil-fuel friendly organizations such as the International Energy Agency, Price Waterhouse Cooper, the World Bank and the IMF begin to take climate change seriously, we know the days of climate deniers are coming to an end. The question now is: Is it too little and too late?

Climate change is the biggest crisis facing humanity and it’s effects are only beginning to manifest. In hindsight, the burning of fossil fuels for 2 centuries at exponentially increasing quantities has been a huge geo-engineering experiment gone awry. The recent appearance of disturbing global-scale symptoms does not bode well because humanity has been tinkering with geological systems which possess inertial effects in the scale of decades if not centuries or millenia. This means that the beginning signs of tumultuous weather are unfortunately the pre-cursor of much more to come.

In the IEA World Energy Outlook 2012, the IEA analysis shows that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power  plants, factories, buildings, etc. If major action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at  that time.  The IEA report goes on further to say:

“Rapid deployment of energy-efficient technologies – as in our Efficient World  Scenario – would postpone this complete lock-in to 2022, buying time to secure a much needed global agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to  2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS)  technology is widely deployed. This finding is based on our assessment of global “carbon reserves”, measured as the potential CO2 emissions from proven fossil-fuel reserves.
Almost two-thirds of these carbon reserves are related to coal, 22% to oil and 15% to gas. Geographically, two-thirds are held by North America, the Middle East, China and Russia. These findings underline the importance of CCS as a key option to mitigate CO2 emissions, but its pace of deployment remains highly uncertain, with only a handful of commercialscale projects currently in operation.”

The impacts of climate change are manifesting in frightening ways and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  It is now a race against time. Lester Brown of Earth Policy Institute feels we have a chance, but it will require a massive mobilization effort – comparable only to the US wartime mobilization during World War II. To combat climate change will require the full participation of every segment of society – from government to industry to citizenry.

In 2011, Paul Gilding, former global CEO of Greenpeace was pessimistic  about our chances of changing in time to avoid major disruption but in 2013, he felt a bit more optimistic, noting the dramatic change in mainstream awareness and action.

We are between 2 Options: One is Terrible, the other is Unthinkable

The Challenge

As noted climate scientist Dr. Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall research center notes, we are between a rock and an extremely hard place. Even the 2 Deg C target is already very dangerous but we have two options before us: one terrible and the other, unthinkable:

  1. Option 1: completely unprecedented 10% per annum decarbonization
  2. Option 2: Shoot above 2 Deg C and aim  towards a more feasible 4 Deg C
  • When Russia suffered total economic collapse, it only achieved 5% decarbonization.
  • For 4 Deg C peaking by 2020, an unprecedented 3.5% decarbonization rate is very painful but achievable
  • But if 2 Deg C is unachievable, should we set 4 Deg C as a new target?
  • A 4 Deg C world is one in which:
    • Land mean temperature is 5 to 6 Deg C
    • Hottest days will increase by:
      • 6-8 Deg C in China
      • 8-10 Deg C in Central Europe
      • 10-12 Deg C in New York
    • In low latitudes, this means a 40% reduction in maize and rice yields
  • A 4 Deg C future is incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond adaption, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems and has a high degree of not being stable
  • 4 Deg C would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level
  • From 2001 to 2007 global emissions grew 3.5% per annum from the previous year
  • From 2009 to 2010, global emissions grew 5.6% per annum from previous year
  • The dramatic recession in 2008 had virtually no impact of carbon emission growth rate
  • After all the international talks and public awareness, carbon emissions are actually growing!

Kevin Anderson speaking at the EcoCities conference at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester on 14 May 2012.

End Fossil Fuel Industry Subsidies

Christine Lagarde is the chief of the much demonized IMF. As an indication of the mainstream turnaround view on climate change, the IMF has released a Jan 2013 report entitled Energy Subsidy Reform: lessons and Implications  which tries to shed light on the amount of fossil fuel industry subsidies in the world. This augments work already done by the Carbon Tracker project which is education institutional investors of the carbon bubble – the fact that most fossil fuel company valuations are based upon future unexploited reserves and 80% of these reserves must stay in the ground to keep below the already dangerous 2 Deg. C rise above pre-industrial that climate scientists have begrudgingly defined for policymakers.

It comes up with a figure of 1.9 trillion USD.  Of this, 1.4 trillion is due to  “the effects of energy consumption on global warming; on public health through the adverse effects on local pollution; on traffic congestion and accidents; and on road damage.”  While the IMF calls this “mispricing”, a more transparent way to think of this is indirect subsidies.  However, this is far lower than the numbers produced by a paper entitled Carbon Risks and Carbon Prices: Revising the Social Cost of Carbon written by economists Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth A. Stanton. David Roberts, a writer at Grist does a quick informal calculation to show that this figure is probably many times higher. For more information, visit the Unburnable Carbon and Carbon Bubble page.

Roberts begins by asking how much damage a ton of carbon does. Climate damages are calculated based on the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC). The IMF uses an SCC of $25 per ton,based upon the U.S. Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon. The UK government’s latest calculation is a range of $41-$124 per ton of CO2, with a central case of $83. If the IMF chose to use this figure instead and (here’s the assumption) if half the $1.4 trillion in indirect subsidies were due to carbon pollution, then the 1.4 trillion balloons to $3.5 trillion or 5% of global GDP.  No wonder why Lagarde, along with Bill McKibben and an increasing number of other critics is calling for an end to fossil fuel industry subsidies. The irony is that at this stage of awareness , knowing what rampant fossil fuel is doing to our planetary life support system, by subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, we are subsidizing our own progress trap which may lead to our demise as a civilization.

Failure of Civilizations

As Dr. Guy McPherson of sombre blog Nature bats Last says, back in 1990, the IPCC report already stated that a 1 Deg. C rise above pre-industrial levels is already extremely dangerous. Why then, do we have a 2 Deg.C rise above pre-industrial as a target all nations agree to? (but will probably fail to stay below as demonstrated by Kevin Anderson in the presentation below) …because leading economists, who have zero scientific training are playing Russian Roulette with the future of human civilization.

Anthropologists have studied a number of civilizations that have failed abruptly in an attempt to discover how they failed. Resource overuse and environmental degradation played major roles.

Many of the great ruins that grace the jungles and deserts of the Earth are monuments to progress traps, the headstones of civilizations which fell victim to their own success. In the fates of such societies – once mighty, complex, and brilliant – lie the most instructive lessons for our own. Their ruins are shipwrecks that mark the shoals of progress. Or – to use a more modern analogy – they are fallen airliners whose black boxes can tell us what went wrong. In this book, I want to read some of these boxes in the hope we can avoid repeating past mistakes, of flight plan, crew selection, and design. Of course, our civilization’s particulars differ from those of previous ones. But not as much as we like to think. All cultures, past and present, are dynamic. Even the most slow-moving were, in the long run, works in progress. While the facts of each case differ, the patterns through time are alarmingly – and encouragingly – similar. We should be alarmed by the predictability of our mistakes but encouraged that this very fact makes them useful for understanding what we face today. [pg. 8]

- Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress

As Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute says, failure comes gradually but collapse comes suddenly. What is it like to live in an apparently thriving civilization just moments before a global civilization collapse? – we should all know, because we are possibly living through such a time now. To say that the predicament we are in today is dire, is an understatement. Most of the planet is still in a deep sleep, first denying that human-induced climate change is real, but in the light of overwhelming evidence, now choosing to believe economists and their scientifically unfounded statements once again that gradual decarbonization will work. Greed blinds the selfish capitalists who control world policy to  reality, even when it stares them directly in the eyes.

The public has been thoroughly confused by politicians and business people with vested interest in the carbon economy. Right wing media outlets label this as healthy climate science debate – but it can hardly be called a debate when one side consists of the majority of respected scientists and the other side by non-scientists or those few scientists whose research is sponsored by the vested interest. Since climate science is so complex, it is easy for denialists to deceive the naive and scientifically uneducated public to discredit valid science. A new trend is emerging of  labeling scientists as alarmists for reporting the truth of their findings. The fact is that scientists are indeed becoming alarmists because so little has been done to mitigate carbon pollution after warnings were first issued decades ago. If a child is about to fall into a river and drown, the mother has every right to be alarmed. Similarly, science shows increasingly that human civilization and life on earth is now at threat. In an emergency, there is little space for political correctness. Scientists have a right to sound alarm bells; they are society’s canary in the mineshaft.

Rome Burns while Nero Fiddles

Doha 2012 was just the lastest in a string of failures of global leaders to come up with an adequate solution to the global warming crisis.  With the passing of each global meeting with no action taken, we come more perilously close to the edge of the climate change cliff. While the early years of climate change science still had debate, now, the consensus among scientists is overwhelming. In fact, there has never been as much consensus on any major scientific subject as there is on climate science. Reputed climate skeptics such as Dr. Richard Mueller, once funded by the infamous Koch Brothers  have recently switched sides, citing his latest research that there is no longer any reason to deny the truth of global warming.

It’s not surprising that the effort to manufacture consent to the belief that Global Warming doesn’t mean anything is pretty successful. What’s interesting about this is that it tells us something about the nature of our society. Those same CEO’s and managers who are trying to convince the public that it’s a liberal hoax know perfectly well that it’s extremely dangerous. They have the same beliefs that you and I have – they’re caught in a kind of institutional contradiction. As leaders of major corporations, they have an institutional role, that is, to maximize short term profit and if they don’t do that, they are out and someone else is in who will do it. So institutionally speaking, it’s not a choice that’s going to happen in the major institutions. So they may know that they are mortgaging the future of their children but they are caught in a trap of institutional structures – that’s what happens in market systems.

- Noam Chomsky

Learn more about the truth behind climate change denialism here

The global fossil-fuel resource base is enormous, and could easily yield over 2°C of warming, if exploited to meet growing global energy demands (particularly coal and unconventional gas). To keep warming below 2°C will require a rapid transition to non-emitting renewable energy sources, while avoiding commitments to infrastructure that supports fossil fuel dependence

- Neil C. Swart, University of Victoria

Learn more about the Carbon Bubble that threatens Fossil Fuel companies here.

Figure 3: Effects of a 4 Deg. C Rise in Temperature (Source Netheralands Environmental Assessment: Growing within Limits, 2009)

Global Warming is the defining issue, not of the decade or even century, but perhaps of our entire human history. It is no coincidence that as we approach runaway global warming, it is accompanied by a host of other serious crisis; environmental distress, the global meltdown of the economic system, international demonstrations such as the Arab Spring and OWS and resources peaking. All these events are visible signs of a system that is standing on its last legs.

Never before have we, as a species faced a threat to its global survival. The magnitude of the problem is best understood and appreciated by the scientists who are working in these areas, NOT politicians or laymen armed with nothing more than rhetoric. Climate change is nothing, if not science. The world’s climate systems are among the most complex systems known. The independent conclusions reached by politicians and publicist in this area count for almost nothing in this arena; they can only be guided by science.

The unanimous result reached by scientists involved in climate study is that climate change induced by man-made activity is real. Attesting to the seriousness of our predicament, the experts are deeply afraid not just for humanity, but for ALL species of the planet. There is an unprecedented feeling of pessimism and fear amongst the scientific community that politicians have failed, not just the people, but the entire planetary ecosystem.

Human Beings, like all other living beings have a fear of mortality and that plays into our psychological resistance to the awful truth of global warming. When that dread is coupled with the powerful misinformation games of a fossil fuel industry blinded by it’s own greed, the sad reality is that we won’t see the required level of action until the evidence of real world impacts is so great and so painful that it will be all but too late. Remorse and admonishments will matter little when we will all inhabit the world we have all contributed to.

The Public’s Failure to Appreciate the Science

Scientists and policy-makers alike face the challenge of significant division amongst the population, both in the public and in governance. This division is important to resolve as it leads to inactivity and even harmful public policy, allowing the threat of anthropogenic impacts to grow to dangerous levels.

Climate Denialism

Part of it is due to the effective misinformation campaign led by fossil fuel industry itself as well as it’s powerful political lobbying allies who have a vested interest in preserving the huge profits derived from the dirty energy industry or feel threatened by the change required to for rapid decarbonization. In a democratic society, manufacturing consent is a way of subtle deception to manipulate the knowledge of the public to vote in favor of those with lobbying power and media control. Huge sums of dark money have been funneled into hundreds of climate denial front groups to sway public opinion. These organizations present an appearance of many diverse independent organizations agreeing that climate change science is wrong.

Education

There is a fundamental and inherent challenge with educating the masses about the issues that threaten civilization; the danger is not yet immediately visible to our senses. A car that has careened out of control and about to run you over is a very visible threat and we can respond to it immediately. However, the many ways in which we are destroying the ecology that supports life is not apparent for a number of reasons:

  1. Many of the planetary limits we are exceeding are invisible – Nobody can directly and physical sense a CO2 molecule with the 5 built-in senses which human beings are equipped with. We cannot directly perceive the atomic scale changes and conclude there is something wrong with the behavior of CO2 molecules in the Earth system.
  2. Not only are the causal agents not perceivable through our five senses, but the problem is spread out in vast spaces that no single human being can directly experience…such as through the entire atmosphere or ocean of the planet.
  3. Billions of people do not understand, and therefore trust the science that establishes these conclusions. This is because they have not studied science to a sufficient level to know how universal scientific laws, experiments and measurement works and how sophisticated and very non-intuitive measuring instruments work to extend our senses into the invisible domain.

Personal Bias

Research by the Yale Forum on Climate Change and Pew public opinion polls show that personal bias plays a significant role in climate denialism. Yale’s research into the collective psychological response to climate issue shows that many climate denialists are quite well educated and they carefully cherry pick any data to support their fixed views.

Climate deniers and many lay people who trash science are hypocritical. In the same breath that they dismiss the conclusions of climate scientists, they readily use all the modern technologies and material conveniences that rely on exactly the same kind of scientific methodology underlying climate change. The average climate denialist has no greater understanding of the quantum physics and subatomic models that the cell phones, flatscreen televisions or computers have been built upon, than the models that climate science relies upon. Indeed, the scientific approach which yields the conclusions of climate science is the same one that has produced the highly abstract concepts which form the basis of our modern technological society….atoms, molecules, electrons, electromagnetic energy, electricity, nano-technology, quantum mechanics, DNA….none of these things can be directly perceived by the 5 senses belonging to the ordinary person, yet they are the basic building blocks of our entire modern consumer, electronic, communications and manufacturing society.

The Complexity of Climate Science

Climate models are amongst the most complex in science. Running model simulations on supercomputers can take years of mainframe time. Many variables affect the global climate. Albedo is a variable that measures how much solar energy a surface absorbs. Snow has a low albedo, dark ice a higher one, land a higher one. Oceans absorb vast amounts of heat, delaying the warm-up of the atmosphere, yet they also absorb excess CO2. Vegetation soaks up CO2 as well but eventually re­releases the gas as plants rot or burn—or, on a much longer time scale, drift to the bottom of the ocean to form sedimentary rock such as limestone. Warmer temperatures drive more evaporation from the oceans and the water vapor itself is a heat-trapping gas, whereas the clouds it forms block some of the sun’s warming rays. New evidence is showing that not only the sea level water vapor but also troposphere water vapor can play a significant role in warming processes. Volcanoes erupt and spew CO2 into the atmosphere, but they also add particulates that diffuse the sun’s rays. Add to this anthropogenic emissions with their complexity. For example, industrial aeresols, while contributing to CO2 rise in the atmosphere also block out CO2 in an effect called Global Dimming. There are multiple natural processes, each of which can affect the other. This makes climate science one of science’s most daunting fields.

Climate change phenomena is a very complex subject but one which is critical to the future course of humanity. Although the overwhelming scientific consensus supports a causal link between anthropogenic (man-made) Green House Gas emissions and a rise in global mean temperature, science always leaves room for some doubt, especially with a model this complex.  Aspects of the model such as the effect of water vapor in the upper atmosphere are undergoing investigation. Indeed, some climate scientists such as James Lovelock have expressed doubts of whether our models are sufficiently powerful to predict the outcomes of a system as complex and chaotic as the global climate.

Climate science results are highly abstract, having been arrived at through complex mathematical, physical and climate model analysis performed on  huge global datasets. The cause and effect relationships are not obvious and the predictions are necessarily uncertain and far enough into the future as to not be directly observable by the common person. This lack of directness and immediacy makes for weak causal links for the layman.  We can see the effects of  a car hitting a tree; we cannot so easily and directly see the effects of GHG. It is no wonder that so many lay people don’t understand the importance of findings and are easily confused and swayed by rhetoric rather than truth.

The full implications for global warming coming from greenhouse gases are outlined both in the IPCC Synthesis Report and a more recent paper from MIT looking at the probabilities of warming. To quote MIT’s News Office this is “the most comprehensive modeling yet carried out on the likelihood of how much hotter the Earth’s climate will get in this century shows that without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated six years ago – and could be even worse than that.” By 2100, surface temperatures could be 5.1 degrees Celsius higher.

In spite of the complexities, the line between those who support Global Warming theory and those who do not has cleaved the professional population into two conspicious groups. Supporters of that global warming is caused by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is almost the entire scientific community while disbelievers of the theory are mostly nonscientists….fossil fuel industry interests and their conservative politic interest allies. Scientists have awaited the climate denial camp to come up with a valid scientific argument but so far, none are forthcoming. This cannot help but make one very suspicious of the climate denial camp.

Sadly, to many leading climate scientists, it does appear that big oil and climate deniers have won the battle. Many feel we have passed the point of no return and the positive feedback cycles are already beginning to appear. The climate deniers delaying and lobbying tactics have succeeded in preventing critically needed emission control, renewable energy and environmental policies. There victory will be short-lived, however. When global extreme weather of an unprecedented scale takes hold of the planet, it will be too late for apologies.

If 388.92 parts per million as a concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is an alien term to you, think in terms of tonnages: 350 billion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere. Read on to find out the scientific implications of that much pollution in our atmosphere.

Corporations continues to pollute the atmosphere with impunity. The United Nations UNFCCC report shows little CO2 emissions change over a number of years for Annex 1 countries (Developed countries).

Fig. 4 United Nations 2011 Greenhouse Inventory, Table 7, CO2 Emissions

What can and should we do as responsible citizens? Have things gotten so bad that we no longer have any recourse? Have human beings already gone beyond the point of no return? Sadly, many climate scientists now believe we have passed the point of action and anything we do will be too little, too late. Others are more hopeful and still feel something can be done, but the proposals are for emergency procedures for global scale engineering, Geo-engineering that are on a scale never before witnessed. Geo-engineering has stimulated a lot of scientific debate because engineering on this vast scale requires understanding detailed knowledge of the complex earth system, knowledge that many scientists feel we just don’t have.

Do we continue moving towards a long term sustainable path? Or is it too late for any kind of action? As you will see, there are diverging views and the most important thing you can do right now is to become fully informed so that you can make up your own mind. For some scientists

Australian author and climate activist Clive Hamilton, in summarizing the latest climate science in his book Requiem for a Species believes that we are indeed past the point of no return and we shouldn’t fool ourselves with a false sense of optimism. He feels that catastrophic weather is no longer practically avoidable and the best we can do is adapt to a very uncertain future. Other scientists such as Paul R Ehrlich, Denise Meadows and Guy MacPherson believe this too.

Whatever you do, arm yourself with the truth and become vocal. If ever there was a time for the individual and world citizen to speak up, it’s now. Join public vehicles like the Occupy movement, places where big money backed by fossil fuel interest have little power to deny your free speech or start something yourself.