- People are dying right now
- Global warming contributed to the war in Syria
- Farming drops 25%: flood, fire and famine
- Decreased fresh water for Australia
- Sea level rise: flooded farmlands and drowned cities
- 100 million refugees
- National security implications
- 50% biodiversity extinction!
- Prehistoric warming sounds the alarm
- Will peak oil stop global warming?
1. People are dying right now
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), climate change was a significant factor in 150,000 deaths in the year 2000. This figure is predicted to double in the next 30 years. Scientific American’s podcast “Science talk” of 7 November 2007 indicates that this trend has grown to 200 thousand people per year.
The same report estimated that a further 5.5 million years of healthy life were lost each year to debilitating illnesses caused by climate change. The World Bank estimates that one fifth of all ill health in poor countries is related to environmental factors (esp climate change and pollution). Such statistics could be multiplied, and these reports come from well-respected international organisations.
2. Global warming contributed to the war in Syria
Drying and drought in Syria from 2006 to 2011—the worst on record there—destroyed agriculture, causing many farm families to migrate to cities. The influx added to social stresses already created by refugees pouring in from the war in Iraq, explains Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who co-authored the study. The drought also pushed up food prices, aggravating poverty. “We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” Seager said. “We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”
3. Farming drops 25%: flood, fire and famine
The physicists tell us that the atmosphere can carry 5% more water for every 1 degree it warms. Extra heat will dry out farmlands faster, and the atmosphere will be able to carry more water. It will dry faster, move further, and then dump it catastrophically. Not only this, but prevailing wind and weather patterns will change. Today’s trapped energy amounts to about 4 Hiroshima sized bombs per second! This extra heat is a form of extra energy in the wind, messing around with previously stable wind zones. Jet streams shift, prevailing wind patterns change, and so where exactly regular rain used to fall will become irregular.
The broad brush: our global food scenario
In all likelihood, the official IPCC document that emerged today won’t have swerved much from its drafted consensus. Now a team of researchers, led by the University of Leeds, has published a study in Nature Climate Change containing results that likely align closely with what the final report says.
“On average, we are looking at yield decreases. By the 2030s most of the changes in crop yields are negative,” says Andy Challinor, University of Leeds climate researcher, author on the paper, and on the new IPCC report, too. “The second half of the century is when the negative impact in yields becomes more common.”
The researchers found this by comparing results from almost 100 independent studies—more than double the number used in the IPCC’s fourth assessment—that measured the impact of higher temperatures on three of the globe’s primary staple crops: maize, wheat, and rice. It’s currently the largest dataset we have that demonstrates how crops will respond to changing climates, and it suggests that decreases in yields will grow larger, affect both temperate regions and the tropics, and become increasingly erratic as the weather turns more unpredictable too.
Once mid-century hits, crop losses of up to 25% will become more commonplace, as well—a number that does account for basic mitigation efforts in farming regimes.
Australia’s Climate Council (2014 IPCC summary) says Australia will experience:-
Marked decreases in agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin and south western and south eastern Australia, due to severe dry conditions under high-end scenarios Widespread drought in southeast Australia (1997-2009), including the southern Murray Darling Basin was associated with a decrease in southern Murray Darling Basin GDP by nearly 6% in 2007/2008. Dry conditions and resulting economic downturn can have substantial impacts on local industry, the national economy, and the health (particularly mental health) of rural communities…
…Increased loss of life, damage to property, and economic loss due to bushfires in southern Australia.
The intense 2009 Victorian bushfires caused 173 deaths and destroyed over 2,000 buildings. Similar bushfire events may become more frequent. Australian fire danger weather has increased in some areas around Australia since the 1970s. Hotter and drier conditions in southern Australia mean that fire danger weather is projected to increase in this region. Under certain scenarios, Australia is likely to see an increase in days of very high and extreme fire danger. For example, Canberra currently experiences an average of 17 days per year of very high and extreme fire danger index.
This is expected to increase to 18-23 days by 2020, and to 20-33 days by 2050. The severity of some key regional risks is dependent on a large range of climate variables, even for a particular global average temperature increase. However, if the most extreme scenarios occur, these risks would be severe.
4. Decreased fresh water for Australia
Limited water resources in southern Australia, due to higher temperatures and decreased rainfall Southwest Australia has experienced decreases in autumn and winter rainfall since the 1970s, and the southeast has experienced decreased autumn and winter rainfall since the 1990s. Increased drought frequency is expected in southern Australia, with decreases in the amount of rainfall by as much as 10% by 2030, and by up to 30% by 2070. These upper-limit scenarios would have important implications for regional agriculture, rural livelihoods, ecosystems, and urban water supply. Uncertainty in the scale of projected rainfall changes means that effective adaptation to these risks will be particularly challenging.
5. Sea level rise: flooded farmlands and drowned cities
This 45 minute documentary by National Geographic is the best I’ve seen on sea level rise. Please set aside an evening to watch “Earth Under Water”.
If you don’t have 45 minutes, try Peter Sinclair’s 7 minute version on sea level.
Flooded farmlands may prove far more catastrophic than flooded cities. We can mass-produce accommodation faster than the rate at which we will lose our cities to climate change. But farmland? Where are we going to find new farmland? EG: Up to half of Bangladesh’s rice fields may be submerged by salt water. (National Geographic movie above).
Not only this, but increased Co2 actually makes many foods more toxic and increases their cyanide levels (see ABC Science Show podcast).
Also: “CO2 is plant food?”
6. 100 million refugees!
7. National security implications
8. 50% Biodiversity extinction!
A review of more than 60 recent studies: An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces concludes that just a 4 degree world would mean:-
- Permanent Dust Bowl conditions over the U.S. Southwest, parts of the Great Plains and many other regions around the globe that are heavily populated and/or heavily farmed.
- Sea level rise of some 1 foot by 2050, then 4 to 6 feet (or more) by 2100, rising some 6 to 12 inches (or more) each decade thereafter
- Massive species loss on land and sea — perhaps 50% or more of all biodiversity.
- Much more extreme weather
9. Prehistoric warming sounds the alarm
Prehistoric climate change has caused mass extinctions and dead oceans.
Global warming caused prehistoric mass extinctions
10. Will peak oil stop global warming?
Emphatically no! We can’t even afford to burn the remaining oil, let alone the gas, and coal could cook the planet 5 times over.
Kharecha, P.A., and J.E. Hansen, 2008: Implications of “peak oil” for atmospheric CO2 and climate. Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 22, GB3012, doi:10.1029/2007GB003142.
Unconstrained CO2 emission from fossil fuel burning has been the dominant cause of observed anthropogenic global warming. The amounts of “proven” and potential fossil fuel reserves are uncertain and debated. Regardless of the true values, society has flexibility in the degree to which it chooses to exploit these reserves, especially unconventional fossil fuels and those located in extreme or pristine environments. If conventional oil production peaks within the next few decades, it may have a large effect on future atmospheric CO2 and climate change, depending upon subsequent energy choices. Assuming that proven oil and gas reserves do not greatly exceed estimates of the Energy Information Administration, and recent trends are toward lower estimates, we show that it is feasible to keep atmospheric CO2 from exceeding about 450 ppm by 2100, provided that emissions from coal, unconventional fossil fuels, and land use are constrained. Coal-fired power plants without sequestration must be phased out before mid- century to achieve this CO2 limit. It is also important to “stretch” conventional oil reserves via energy conservation and efficiency, thus averting strong pressures to extract liquid fuels from coal or unconventional fossil fuels while clean technologies are being developed for the era “beyond fossil fuels”. We argue that a rising price on carbon emissions is needed to discourage conversion of the vast fossil resources into usable reserves, and to keep CO2 beneath the 450 ppm ceiling.