TEOTWAWKI, The End Of The World As We Know It. Many people still think Global Warming is avoidable if we do something now. I’ve been caught out flippantly using the phrase, “It’s nuclear power OR it’s climate change.” I have had to change that to the less punchy “It’s nuclear power OR it’s CATASTROPHIC climate change” because guess what baby, there’s a certain amount of pain locked in right now. It’s coming our way whatever we do! Reverend Byron Smith is studying his Phd in Theological ethics, and is (broadly speaking) asking the question, “What is the churches’ responsibility in a world rapidly approaching an all out ecological catastrophe?”
***Below from Byron***
Three degrees: what does it mean?
Some of these details have cherry-picked the most alarming results (especially for sea level rise; only a handful of scientists publicly expect more than 2m by 2100), but most are either well supported or a viable position within the debate.
Once you’ve read this list, consider the following points:
1. Global negotiations via the UNFCCC have been treating 2ºC as a threshold for dangerous warming. Does this sound like a reasonable judgement in light of these impacts? Yet it is an open secret that a 2ºC target is not currently taken as a serious possibility by any major player.
2. If all countries meet their current most ambitious aspirational targets (very few have legislated targets), then we’re on track to see between 3.5 and 4ºC.
3. On our current trajectory, we’re heading towards something more like 6ºC, a rate of change over the coming century so rapid and dangerous that seasoned climate scientists (not activists) start to talk about not being able to rule out a decent possibility of homo sapiens extinction.
4. By 2017, the infrastructure will be in place to more or less ensure we go beyond 2ºC. Once built, fossil fuel power stations, pipelines, vehicles, etc. are very likely to continue to be used for decades, sunk costs making them unlikely to be abandoned early and the investment written off.
5. Even magically freezing concentrations at today’s levels would still lead to further warming of something like 0.7ºC due to warming already in the pipeline but not yet manifest due to thermal lag of the oceans (the oceans initially absorb the lion’s share of added heat in the planetary system and gradually release some of it to the atmosphere over decades).
6. But it gets worse: we’re currently being shielded from something like 0.5-1.0ºC by short-term aerosol particles from the combustion of coal and biomass. Since burning these things is making the bigger problem worse (and contributing to trillions of dollars in health costs annually), this temporary mask is going to have to go, so we have to accept that we’re looking at this extra warming as already effectively committed.
7. Furthermore, the accepted baseline of science in IPCC AR4 (which forms the basis for international negotiations) does not include a raft of feedback mechanisms that we’re already seeing ahead of schedule, such as Arctic albedo changes due to loss of summer sea ice and the thawing of Arctic methane deposits.
8. Despite all the talk and all kinds of encouraging green shoots (see for instance here: http://thisnessofathat.blogspot.com.au/p/transformation.html), global emissions continue to rise at rates at or above the worst IPCC scenarios. We’re still going up by something like 3-4% pa (5% for the last couple of years). If we could turn this around and reach peak emissions by 2020 (i.e. down to 0% emissions growth), then in order to have a semi-decent chance (no guarantee!) of avoiding sailing past 2ºC, we need to de-carbonise at about 10% pa, becoming carbon neutral globally by about 2040 or so. The fastest de-carbonisation rates in history outside of economic collapse were roughly 1% pa (France going nuclear; UK and Germany switching to gas). When the USSR broke up, Russian emissions dropped by about 5% pa for a few years. So we’re talking about rates of decarbonisation that are off the scale of any historical precedent, a transformative transition that would see more than half of the world’s largest companies more or less cease to continue their core business within a couple of decades, just to have a chance of staying under the already brutal and extremely disruptive 2ºC.
These two posts helpfully expand some of these points.
9. So, even an ambitious roll-out of clean energy that totally decarbonises the world’s energy supply by 2050 is unlikely to save us from the level of disruption associated with 2ºC: mega-droughts in the western US and Mediterranean; failure of the monsoon in China, large crop yield suppression pretty much throughout Africa, huge water stress in India, chronic flooding of tens of millions of Bangladeshis, trillions of dollars of infrastructure threatened by rising seas, deadly heat waves becoming normal, wild fluctuations in crop yields, food price spikes (with their associated civil unrest), coral reefs doomed, Greenland committed to total melt over the coming centuries, Amazonian droughts and the beginning of die back, permafrost thaw underway, marine food chain transformed through acidification at rates unseen in hundreds of millions of years, glacial meltwaters supplying fresh water to millions rapidly depleting and more intense hydrological events in places already prone to flooding – oh, and up to half of all land surface on the planet shifting from one biome to another, with up to half of the roughly ten million species on the planet threatened with or committed to extinction.
10. That’s pretty much a baseline best case. Even if some of these impacts turn out to be less severe than feared, it’s a daunting goal to be aiming for. My point is not to depress or to paralyse. A heroic war effort to keep us to 2-3ºC is massively better than 4-5ºC, which is still almost infinitely preferable to 6ºC+. My point is simply to acknowledge that (even before we consider other threats to global industrial civilisation) we are very unlikely to get through the coming decades without major disruptions and discontinuities (economic, political, cultural). Our plans (and prayers) ought to be made accordingly.