Interviews And Articles by Nick Breeze
Lord Rees explains how governments can lead the world in an energy revolution that would change the course of human civilisation by making renewables cheaper than coal within a decade.
Martin Rees says: “Everyone agrees that if the warming gets too severe the net harms will grossly overwhelm the net gains and that’s why it’s been supposed by most people that a 2ºC limit is what we should strive for.”
"The world should take note that the climate summit in Paris later this year (COP21) may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2-degrees C, and aim to stay well below 2-degree C for safety, yet the current trajectory may well reach a devastating 4-degrees C or higher"
We the undersigned have assembled at the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences to address the challenges of human-induced climate change, extreme poverty, and social marginalization, including human trafficking, in the context of sustainable development. We join together from many faiths and walks of life, reflecting humanity’s shared yearning for peace, happiness, prosperity, justice, and environmental sustainability. We have considered the overwhelming scientific evidence regarding human-induced climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the vulnerabilities of the poor to economic, social, and environmental shocks.
If the answer is “no”, then “good night and good luck.” If the answer is “yes”, then “see you tomorrow (and good luck).”
Whatever decision humanity takes on the next step forward, whether it be to do nothing and allow industrial human civilisation to continue, or to cease emissions and hope that is enough to see us through, or to start actively sequestering carbon whilst attempting to reduce solar radiation hitting the Earth’s surface, each path is in itself a course of climate intervention.
I am a little confused about the notion of Earth Day. The only analogy I can think of is standing over the mutilated body of someone whom I have done grave harm to and saying, “Today I just want to think about YOU!”
Humanity is the runaway species on Earth. Economics is the religion that drives the destruction of each and everyone of us. But how to convey this in a way that is easy enough to understand, honest and not over dramatic?
The excellent documentary ‘Last Call’ focuses on the team of scientists who worked on the ‘Limits to Growth’ research over 40 years ago. It was recently screened at the British House of Commons (the irony was not lost on the audience), the silence that reigned in the ancient room was palpable. This is not a feel good movie but it is certainly one worth watching, perhaps several times.
After writing my review, I was still feeling very moved by the whole notion that such an important warning had been ignored by a so-called civilised global population. It is fairer to say the warnings were derided and ridiculed in favour of corporate, political and individual greed, that has, over the decades, consumed us all.
Nobel Prize winning economist, Amyrta Sen, distinguished philosopher, Onora O'Neill, cosmologist and astronomer, Martin Rees, discuss the difficult subject of Climate Engineering at the Cambridge Science Festival.
The discussion was chaired by Briefings and Essays editor for The Economist, Oliver Morton:
LIVE STREAMING: Engineering the Climate - 12 - 14 March 2015 - Cambridge, UK
Envisionation are pleased to announce that we will be streaming the SRMS 2015 Conference from the University of Cambridge. The important 2 day event comprises a series of keynote presentations through out Friday and Saturday daytime. On the evening of Friday 13th there will be an all-star debate in the Lady Mitchell Hall as part of the Cambridge Science Festival (Chair: Oliver Morton. Panellists: Martin Rees, Amartya Sen, Onora O'Neill, David Keith).
Last night I attended a screening of ‘Last call’ in the House of Commons. This documentary, produced over a period of 7 years by Italian film director Enrico Cerasuolo, tracks the legacy of the seminal work of the MIT scientists who authored ‘Limits To Growth’ in the 1970’s. Famously, the book challenged the iron clad belief of economists, politicians and the public alike, that human civilisation can enjoy unlimited growth on a finite planet.
IPCC ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’ are based on fantasy technology, concealing a very bleak trajectory for humanity. Is this why policymakers are getting it so wrong?
Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP’s)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in their latest report, AR5, a set of ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’ (RCP’s). These RCP’s consist of four scenarios that project global temperature rises based on different quantities of greenhouse gas concentrations.
The scenarios are assumed to all be linked directly to emissions scenarios. The more carbon we emit then the hotter it gets. Currently humanity is on the worst case scenario of RCP 8.5 which takes us to 2°C warming by mid century and 4°C warming by the end of the century. As Professor Schellnhuber, from Potsdam Institute for Climate Research (PIK) said, “the difference between two and four degrees is human civilisation”.
In 2009 the International Union of Forest Research Organisations delivered a report to the UN that stated that the natural carbon sink of trees could be lost at a 2.5°C temperature increase. The ranges for RCP 4.5 and RCP 6 both take us over 2.5°C and any idea that we can survive when the tree sink flips from being a carbon sink to a carbon source is delusional.
Where does this leave us?
Of the four shown RCP’s only one keeps us within the range that climate scientists regard as survivable. This is RCP 2.6 that has a projected temperature range of 0.9°C and 2.3°C. Considering we are currently at 0.85°C above the preindustrial level of greenhouse gas concentrations, we are already entering the range and as Professor Martin Rees says, “I honestly would bet, sad though it is, that the annual CO2 emissions are going to rise year by year for at least the next 20 years and that will build up accumulative levels close to 500 parts per million”. The recent US/China ‘agreement supports the contentions of Rees.
Even if Rees is wrong and we do manage to curtail our carbon emissions, a closer look at RCP 2.6 shows something much more disturbing. In the attached image, vertical red lines have been inserted to mark the decades between years 2000 and 2100. Within this 21st Century range he has also highlighted a steep decline in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (shown by the steep declining thick red line).
It is interesting that concerted action for emissions reductions is timed to occur just beyond the date for the implementation of a supposed legally binding international agreement.
Stopping emissions does not reduce atmospheric carbon. The emissions to date are colossal and the warming effect is delayed by around 40 years. Therefore, even if we halt emissions, we know there is much more warming to come. That will also set off other positive feedbacks along the way that will amplify the warming further, stretching over centuries.
So how does the IPCC achieve these vast reductions in greenhouse gases?
If we look at the vertical red lines, at around 2025 the steep decline in atmospheric greenhouse gases begins. Accumulated emissions not only are reduced to zero in 2070 but actually go negative. This chart shows that carbon is removed from the atmosphere in quantities of hundreds of billions of tonnes, for as far ahead as 2300 to sustain a temperature beneath 2°C.
What makes this idea of projected large-scale Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) even more perverse is the talk by policymakers of a “carbon budget”. This refers to the amount of fossil fuel that can be burned before we are at risk of reaching a 2°C rise in global mean temperature. It is quite clear that we have no carbon budget whatsoever. The account, far from being in surplus, is horrendously overdrawn. To claim we have a few decades of safely burning coal, oil and gas is an utter nonsense.
Sequestering billions of tonnes of carbon for centuries
If all of the above has not raised any alarm bells then perhaps it is time to consider the proposed methods for sucking the billions of tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere.
In February 2015 the National Research Council in the United States launched their two reports on “climate interventions”. Dr Nutt concluded with this statement on CDR: “Carbon Dioxide Removal strategies offer the potential to decrease carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere but they are limited right now by their slow response, by their inability to scale up and their high cost.”
Dr Nutt’s conclusion points to very important factor that we can elaborate on with a rare case of certainty. There is no proposed CDR technology that can be scaled up to suck billions of tonnes out of the Earth’s atmosphere. It simply does not exist in the real world.
This is reiterated by Dr Hugh Hunt in the Department of Engineering, at the University of Cambridge, who points out,
“10 billion tonnes a year of carbon sequestration? We don’t do anything on this planet on that scale. We don’t manufacture food on that scale, we don’t mine iron ore on that scale. We don’t even produce coal, oil or gas on that scale. Iron ore is below a billion tonnes a year! How are we going to create a technology, from scratch, a highly complicated technology, to the tune of 10 billion tonnes a year in the next 10 years?”
It is not just that there are currently no ideas being researched to such a degree where they are likely to be able to bring down atmospheric carbon to a safe level of around 300 parts per million. It is also that the level of funding available to the scientists doing the research is woefully inadequate.
These RCP’s are used by policymakers to decide what actions are required to sustain a safe climate for our own and future generations. The information they are using, presented by the IPCC, is nothing more than science fiction. It makes for sober thinking when glossy images of President Obama and the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, are presented to the world shaking hands on global emissions reductions by 2030 that we know will commit us to catastrophe.
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Dr Saleemul Huq: “They are making profits by killing people, it is as simple as that… so tax them! Let’s put a Loss and Damage levy on them”
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