Bru Pearce Blogs
Let us imagine for a moment that we had reached our current level of technical advancement and population without the use of coal, gas and oil. Further that atmospheric CO2 levels had remained constant at 280 ppm (no change since the end of the last ice age) and that we had an equivalent understanding of atmospheric science.
Now consider how the world would react, if we suddenly made the discovery of seemly boundless cheap energy that could be released by burning hydrocarbons, but which would releasing vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere so that there would be a doubling of the CO2 content by 2040 with predictable impacts on the climate including the expectation of warming the planet by between 3 and 6°C. Oh yes, and change the acidity of the world’s oceans.
The idea would be regarded as completely outrageous!
Laws would be passed and hydrocarbon burning would be rapidly outlawed.
Sadly of course that is not the reality, the reality absolutely sucks, were already there, we’ve done the geo-engineering damage and taken the planet out of the 180 to 280 ppm of atmospheric carbon range that all life on earth has evolved to function within over the past 1.6 million years.
(Ironically some of our early actions in the past 8,000 years such as clearling forests for cultivation may have prevented the natural slide into the next ice age and demonstrate just how sensitive the system is; that is prior to the great hydrocarbon burn of the past 50 years which is a massive overcorrection).
Looked at in this light, nearly all the science that is been done now is optimistically about trying to prove that it’s not that bad!
For example the suggestion that 2°C of warming will be a safe limit and that the atmospheric CO2 content should not be allowed to rise above 450 ppm before it becomes dangerous, is spectacularly irresponsible!
Hell (as that’s what we are heading for), even the worthy proposal that atmospheric carbon should be bought back down to 350 ppm (which we have long since passed) glosses over just how bad the damage is, a top end figure given by our most eminent climate scientist James Hansen has been taken and turned into a target on a “we ought to be OK with this bases” is just another example of wild optimism.
The whole world is in denial and I am not just talking the loony ‘man can’t change Gods earth brigade’ or ‘the hydrocarbon corporations going for profit and to hell with tomorrow types’. I am talking mainstream scientists, government officers, bankers and insurance executives.
Chief among the optimistic statements, is the International Panel for Climate Change's the AR5 Summary for Policymakers, this is presented to us as a “consensus view of the situation”. But when they say consensuses, remember it’s an admittance of the least amount of damage they can all agree on and it is then further diluted with another dose of optimism through political input. Politicians who then immediately forget their input and present the report as all scientific viewpoints!
If IPCC presented from the default position, then you would get a 99% consensus opinion that increasing CO2 above 300ppm would be extremely dangerous!
The report talks about transient earth system sensitivity. This is how much the climate models based on partial information predict that the earth will warm, based on a doubling of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Their proposed answer is between 1.0° and 2.5°C and extremely unlikely to be greater than 3°C. But, there are known unknowns, which are ignored because they are unknown and unknown unknowns.
Sadly observation and logic provide a quite different answer.
The above image takes us back through the last 4 ice age cycles. Temperature change between the depths of the ice ages and the interglacials is around 6-8°C and the CO2 change is 180 to 280 ppm. The graphic shows that we are now at 400 ppm, that’s up 120 ppm from the interglacial, more than the difference in CO2 levels that lead to the temp changes between the depths of the ice ages and the interglacials. So why would we not expect the temperature increase to be at least as much i.e. 8°C?
Well we are talking about doublings 280 + 280 = 560 ppm and we are not there yet but we are well on the way and getting there fast. Let’s say we are only 40% of the way to a doubling; well 40% of 8°C which is 3.2°C, that’s what we are already set up for at 400ppm. There is generally thought to be about 30 to 40 years lag in the system as temperature catches up, nobody really knows, but as I have identified we are optimists. Unfortunately the evidence coming keep suggesting it may be much less!
In fact if a major El Nino effect kicks in latter this year, which looks likely, then the Pacific Ocean will start releasing heat back into the atmosphere very fast, triggering an even faster lose of the Arctic Sea ice, which in turn means that the Arctic Ocean will start absorbing much more solar radiation and will heat up even faster. Triggering further methane releases and accelerating warming.
Remember everything about climate change is exponential because every feedback feeds on all of the others, so everything will be constantly more extreme. Granted there are a few pollutants we put into the atmosphere which do actually cool the system, but they come at great cost and when we do clean them up it will play against us as they mask the temperature rise that is locked into the system.
For those that want to know; the answer to the Earth system sensitivity question is according to David Wasdell's paper, 7.8°C and to that, you may have to add human induced feed backs as society collapses, crops fail and people burn every last tree to keep warm and eat every remaining living thing in an attempt not to stave. A very few of us may survive to see it through to the next doubling of CO2 at 1,120 ppm, sometime around 2080 on our current track, when the world will be a balmy 15.6°C!
So,if you are planning to live more than another 15 years this really is your problem and not just some shit you are going to leave for your children to deal with. Warming now is only about 0.8°C and already climate disruption is having appalling effects on Global food production, is increasingly destabilise poor countries, forcing migration and putting great economic pressure on the developed countires. Weather events will be more extreme year on year with increasing economic cost as climate change climbs rapidly up the exponential curve.
That’s unless we all act to do something about it!
OK so what can you do to make a difference?
In order of importance
1) Get political, only vote for candidates that back a strong climate action agenda, including urgent research into atmospheric management and carbon recapture
2) Withdraw investments from hydrocarbon companies, coal, oil, gas (in that order)
3) Invest in renewables – it’s a sure thing the only way is up!
4) Educate your family, friends, workmates and children
Any good news?
Maybe, we’ve bust it, now we need to use the biosphere and learn how to fix it, fortunately we are extremely ingenious apes.