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Last train to Copenhagen (or, filibuster all the way to 4 degrees C)

Last train to Copenhagen (or, filibuster all the way to 4 degrees C)
by Andrew Glikson

It is unclear whether US lawmakers filibustering Obama’s CPRS, and their Australian counterparts threatening to do the same in the Australian Senate, all the way to 4 degrees Celsius, have read the latest Copenhagen Synthesis Report, which states, among other:

Recent observations show that greenhouse gas emissions and many aspects of the climate are changing near the upper boundary of the IPCC range of projections. Many key climate indicators are already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which contemporary society and economy have developed and thrived. These indicators include global mean surface temperature, sea level rise, global ocean temperature, Arctic sea ice extent, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. With unabated emissions, many trends in climate will likely accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

And:

Since 2007, reports comparing the IPCC projections of 1990 with observations show that some climate indicators are changing near the upper end of the range indicated by the projections or, as in the case of sea level rise, at even greater rates than indicated by IPCC projections.

And:

The scientific evidence today overwhelmingly indicates that allowing the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities to continue unchecked constitutes a significant threat to the well-being and continued development of contemporary society.

And:

The risks, scales and uncertainties associated with climate change are enormous and there is a significant probability of a devastating outcome at the global scale.

Referring to the next UN Copenhagen meeting the Report states:

While no single meeting can transform our society to one living within the climate change boundary, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP15, to be held in December 2009 offers a unique and timely opportunity to start such a transformative journey. Many are hoping that if society is successful in meeting the climate change challenge, future generations will read in their history books that COP15 was where the journey really began.

Nor is it likely the legislators have read the recent US Government report documenting extreme climate changes, including in the northeastern U.S., winter temperatures have increased by 4 degrees F since 1970; in the Pacific Northwest, the depth of the Cascade Mountain snowpack on April 1 has declined by 25 percent over the last half century, while spring runoff from the Cascades now occurs nearly a month earlier than 50 years ago; and in Alaska, winter temperatures have increased a stunning 6.3 degrees F in the last 50 years.

Despite this evidence, the chances for success of the December Copenhagen meeting are already being jeopardized, by two major factors:

First, the scale and efficiency of the proposed emission cuts are insufficient to avert runaway global warming. The cumulative long-residence nature of carbon dioxide which, combined with methane, is reaching 450 ppm CO2-equivalent and rising at about 2 ppm/year, implies the atmosphere is close to conditions of about 500 ppm CO2 at which the Antarctic ice sheet began to form some 34 million years ago.

In the US the Congress bill would slash U.S. carbon emissions produced by utilities, manufacturers and other companies by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, but some Democratic senators from states that produce coal, a major emitter of carbon dioxide – would have a hard time supporting the climate change bill

In Australia, barring objections by instant climate experts, a conditional emission cut target for 2020 is proposed at 25 percent relative to 2000,

Second, a powerful coalition of fossil fuel vested interests, rapture-welcoming fundamentalists, right wing ideologues and large sections of the media have combined to obfuscate the issue and sow doubt, recruiting self-proclaimed instant “experts” in both the US Congress and the Australian Senate.

Using the ENSO cycle (El-Nino Southern Oscillation) of multi-year warming and cooling, associated with decade-scale global warming as a smoke screen, these people can expect “good news” allowing them to continue to obfuscate the climate issue, if and when the melting Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets cool large regions of the North Atlantic Ocean and of the Southern Oceans, as happened through the recent history of Earth, for example at 8200 years ago and between 12,900 and 11,700 years ago.

In the race between exponential atmospheric processes and human inertia, a yawning chasm between climate projections, including the likelihood of tipping points, is only widening.

Rarely do politicians listen to climate scientists, nor is the atmosphere likely to cooperate with governments trying to obtain a “balance” between fossil fuel corporations, trade unions, environmentalists and the public.

Not to decide is to decide.

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The deniers

An interesting list of scientists I came across while browsing Amazon's list of ten best science books of 2008.

A severe carbon diet is unfeasible

While I understand the urge to prescribe emissions cuts (and Dr Glikson explains in great detail what will happen if the current trajectory continues), any carbon diet strategy would be dependent upon clean coal:

The vast majority of new power stations in China and India will be coal-fired; not "may be coal-fired"; will be. So developing carbon capture and storage technology is not optional, it is literally of the essence.

-- Breaking the Climate Deadlock, Tony Blair, June 26, 2008

But, Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, has estimated that capturing and burying just 10 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted over a year from coal-fire plants at current rates would require moving volumes of compressed carbon dioxide greater than the total annual flow of oil worldwide -- a massive undertaking requiring decades and trillions of dollars. "Beware of the scale," he stressed.

Before you despair, there is an inexpensive and simple way to immediately cool down the Earth: just add a little (more) sun dimming aerosol into the upper atmosphere. The short-lived sun dimming pollution we already (inadvertently) put into the air is cooling us down around 1C.

If this scheme backfires, it can be halted immediately and the particles will wash out of the air. On the other hand, since this scheme immediately cools the Earth, we can wait until most everyone is convinced global warming is real and very harmful before we start.

The alternative (to geoengineering) is the acceptance of a massive natural cull of humanity and a return to an Earth that freely regulates itself but in the hot state.

-- Dr James Lovelock, August 2008a

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