Real Climate News – Beyond “Dangerous” (Draft)

[This is a draft.  Over the next week or so I will be revising, adding links and making other versions to send to any news outlet that might take them.]

Here is the climate news.  The real climate news.

So far the world has warmed about 0.6°C.  If currently advised reductions of greenhouse gas emissions were realised there would still be a 90% chance global warming will exceed two degrees Celsius (2°C).  2°C used to be regarded as the threshold of “dangerous” climate change, but new science has shifted that threshold to only 1°C.  2°C is now regarded as the threshold of “extremely dangerous” climate change.  At that level, global warming effects would be widespread and severe.

However, somewhere between about 2°C and 4°C lurks a tipping point, beyond which global warming will run beyond human control, driven by natural feedback mechanisms that drive temperatures higher, perhaps to 6°C or 8°C, no-one knows.  4°C would already be “incompatible with an organised global community”.  Higher temperatures could result in the extinction half or more of the world’s species and much of the human population.

To have even a moderate chance (one in two or one in three) of staying below 2°C, the rich countries need to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately and developing country emissions must peak by 2020.  In both cases subsequent reductions of emissions must be by as much as 6% per year, which is much faster than anything contemplated at present.

These conclusions are from a paper by Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows and published by Britain’s Royal Society.  Professor Anderson is a leading climate researcher at a leading institution, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, and the paper synthesises a large amount of work on the effect of projected emissions and on current climate science.

Two things have changed over the past few years.  Climate science has shown that the tolerance of the planet for global warming is less than previously thought.  At the same time estimates of the effects of human emissions have increased, because many previous estimates tried to soften the requirements passed to policy makers.  For example, they assumed steep reductions in emissions could be postponed until new technologies were developed, like carbon capture and storage (CCS).  But CCS has so far been only a pipe dream and a distraction.  Meanwhile political procrastination has wasted more precious time.

The reductions that policy makers have been arguing about, but not yet implementing, were supposed to meet the 2°C target with reasonable assurance – say a better than two in three chance.  Instead the chance is down to 10% or less.  There is a 50% chance currently proposed policies would result in 3°C warming.  For all we know, that could give us a 50% chance of runaway warming and the ultimate global catastrophe.

If airline staff told you your plane had a 1% chance of crashing, would you board it?  Well, we have been planning flight that would supposedly give us a 33% chance of very severe weather and perhaps a ten percent chance of crashing.  Do you still trust the airline?  Now it turns out the chance of very severe weather is actually 90% and the chance of crashing is 50%.

Professor Andrews concludes that “… the prospects for avoiding dangerous climate change, if they exist at all, are increasingly slim.”

Actually the technical means to reduce the danger are available.  The obstacles are mainly psychological and political.  It has been known for some time that the quickest and most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to dramatically increase the efficiency with which we use energy.  For example our buildings can be built to use only 10-20% of the energy they presently use.  Cars could still be twice as efficient.  Many factories can reduce their energy needs by 50-80%.  If strong incentives, information and assistance were deployed, we would probably soon discover many more ways to save energy.

As our need for energy declines, renewable energy sources become more sufficient, so there is a double bonus.  Even better, the same approach to increasing energy efficiency can also increase the efficiency with which we use other resources, so our heavy footprint on the Earth can be lightened.  We can stop polluting and degrading water, soil, forests, habitats.  There is a triple bonus in this approach.

You don’t hear about this approach because it would reduce the profits of the fossil fuel and other industries that profit from our wastefulness.  Politicians will only find the will to challenge them when enough of us challenge our politicians.

You also don’t hear about this approach because mainstream economists are wedded to perpetual growth.  These are the people who brought us the Global Financial Crisis.  Increasing numbers of non-mainstream economists are now saying the mainstream is deluded and practising pseudo-science.  They don’t even include money and debt in their fancy computer models of the economy.  Yes, hard to believe.

The other reason we don’t hear about the clean, efficient approach is because it is hard to hear bad news and be told we have to change our ways.  Yes, it is challenging.  No, the messenger is not an alarmist, it is the news that is alarming.

So, many people are loudly claiming there is no global warming, or that we are not the cause.  The most prominent deniers are not scientists, they are media people or politicians, so how could they know.  They claim they are backed by scientists, but only a tiny fraction of climate scientists think deny the majority message.

The deniers claim there is a scientific conspiracy, but that is just rubbish.  What about the motives of ExxonMobil, which funds denier web sites to create confusion?  They claim the “climategate” emails proved the conspiracy, but that is one of the biggest beat-ups ever.  The scientists involved were discussing a minor issue, not the overall state of the planet.  They used some intemperate language among themselves, big deal.  And so on.

It is time we stopped indulging the deniers.  Science is about figuring out how the world works.  Climate scientists have been telling us very clearly for some time we have a problem.  We need to listen, and we need to act, and very soon.

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3 thoughts on “Real Climate News – Beyond “Dangerous” (Draft)

  1. Kevin Cox

    This is very alarming and I expect that it too is an underestimate. We should be thinking of removing green house gases on an industrial scale not just reducing emissions.

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  2. Michael Collins

    Excellent summary of key points. I look forward to the full iteration.
    There are powerful political forces creating the fiction that there are “two sides” to the issue of global warming. That is a huge problem but one that can be resolved. The bigger problem with our leaders their patrons is that they are truly ignorant people, intellectually challenged in the extreme. I’m not sure that we can resolve that aspect of the problem without some luck.

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  3. Dejan Tesic

    I’m glad you made a comment about the CCS. I’ve been saying the same thing wherever anyone would listen. It’s not only unproven, it’s potentially extremely dangerous. CO2 leaks from a CCS facility in Canada have been reported earlier this year.

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