17 Oct 2007
The Single Most Depressing Thing I Have Ever Read.
Regular readers of **Transition Culture** will know that I try not to make a habit of presenting depressing or distressing information, but today I will make an exception. Yesterday morning I read Carbon Equity’s The Big Melt report which is basically a review of all the literature and studies looking at what happened to the Arctic ice this summer. It does not make for comfortable reading, and indeed it adds enormous urgency to to need to reduce emissions. It argues that to speak of 2 degrees being a safe threshold is nonsense, that we haven’t yet reached 1 degree, but already the Arctic ice is melting 100 years ahead of when the IPCC predicted it would.
Its other key findings from its executive summary are;
• Climate change impacts are happening at lower temperature increases and more quickly than projected.
• The Arctic’s floating sea ice is headed towards rapid summer disintegration as early as 2013, a century ahead of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections.
• The rapid loss of Arctic sea ice will speed up the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet, and a rise in sea levels by even as much as 5 metres by the turn of this century is possible.
• The Antarctic ice shelf reacts far more sensitively to warming temperatures than previously believed.
• Long-term climate sensitivity (including “slow” feedbacks such as carbon cycle feedbacks which are starting to operate) may be double the IPCC standard.
• A doubling of climate sensitivity would mean we passed the widely accepted 2°C threshold of “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate four decades ago, and would require us to find the means to engineer a rapid drawdown of current atmospheric greenhouse gas.
• Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are now growing more rapidly than “business-as-usual”, the most pessimistic of the IPCC scenarios.
• Temperatures are now within ≈1°C of the maximum temperature of the past million years.
• We must choose targets and take actions that can actually solve the problem in a timely manner.
• The object of policy-relevant advice must be to avoid unacceptable outcomes and seemingly extreme or alarming possibilities, not to determine just the apparently most likely outcome.
• The 2°C warming cap is a political compromise; with the speed of change now in the climate system and the positive feedbacks that 2°C will trigger, it looms for perhaps billions of people and millions of species as a death sentence.
• To allow the reestablishment and long-term security of the Arctic summer sea ice it is likely to be necessary to bring global warming back to a level at or below 0.5°C (a long-term precautionary warming cap) and for the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases at equilibrium to be brought down to or below a long-term precautionary cap of 320 ppm CO2e.
• The IPCC suffers from a scientific reticence and in many key areas the IPCC process has been so deficient as to be an unreliable and dangerously misleading basis for policy-making.
This is the up-to-the-minute, as-it-happens climate change argument, and it should be very useful to any of you doing Transition work who encounter the “well, it won’t happen in my lifetime” folks. Well it will, and it is, and it is happening so much faster than anyone thought it would. I would class this as essential reading, but not for the faint hearted.
I was talking to Ben Brangwyn of the Transition Network yesterday, and he talked about the “Peter Schmeichel factor”. Peter Schmeichel is a former Manchester United goalkeeper (during the year they won the treble, which is a very tenuous way of my being able to link to this and this). Apparently when he had a bad game, or made a howler, he was able to let it bother him for just 3o seconds, then he put it out of his mind and got on with the next thing. So, this report requires having a high Schmeichel factor, but is key reading nonetheless.