Two years ago I posted the latest plot of global temperature, and argued that if trends continue, as they are likely to do, the Great Barrier Reef has little chance of surviving beyond 2030 as more than a sad remnant in its southern reaches. Even if we suddenly got serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions the warming will still continue for 2-4 decades, and the damage would only be deferred.
The greater danger is that the warming will tip into being irreversible if it is not soon reversed. In that case our grandchildren would inherit a very different and hostile world.
There is a climate crisis. Deniers commonly have one or two facts that they claim show the scientists are wrong: the climate has always changed, carbon dioxide is only a tiny fraction of the atmosphere, and so on. They have an endless supply of supposed justifications for doing nothing.
Evidently the deniers imagine the climate scientists never thought of these objections, never investigated them. Well, they did.
The main research windmills at NREL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Renewable energy is expensive. It’s unreliable. There’s no way to store it. Anyway the scientists are still arguing about global warming, so why wreck the economy for something that might not exist?
We all know these things here in Australia, but here’s a weird thing. Those tree-hugging pixie-lovers the Germans are converting to renewable energy anyway. They plan to phase out nuclear power within a decade. The official target is to reduce fossil-fuel use by 80% by 2050, but many people think it will be reduced to zero before then. Already more than 25% of electricity comes from renewable sources.
You may have read or heard that the shrinkage of the Arctic sea ice recently smashed the previous 2007 record low. You may not have heard of a new study that says we might, just, still have a chance of keeping global warming below 2°C. You may or may not have heard that some prominent climate scientists, including James Hansen, think 2°C is too high, and we need to keep warming below 1.5°C or even 1°C.
All this means we might still have a chance of avoiding “dangerous” global warming, but the chance is already small, and diminishing very rapidly. It also means we are not doing nearly enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even though there is a great deal more we can do at quite modest cost to our economies.
A federal carbon cap-and-trade program is dead for the foreseeable future. So is a once promising national clean energy standard.
With climate policy paralyzed in Washington, a number of leading U.S. corporations are going it alone, squeezing big reductions of climate-changing emissions from their operations and supply chains. With stakeholder criticism and other pressures building, more and more are also releasing rigorous climate data in their financial reports and enlisting third-party firms to make sure it is accurate.
[This is the first of an occasional series on what we can do to make our presence on Earth tolerable to the rest of the biosphere, and mostly should do anyway, regardless of one’s view of the dangers or possible means of salvation. It will be filed under ‘Solutions’.]
Australia is one of the largest emitters per capita of greenhouse gases. We are also the world’s largest exporter of coal, which is the dirtiest fuel in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. We must therefore be the world’s worst citizens regarding global warming. However we could be rapidly cleaning up our act, and diversifying and improving our economy in the process.
Climate negotiators in Durban have agreed to a “roadmap” that would leave the world at high risk of severe or catastrophic global warming. They have belatedly agreed to discuss adopting outdated targets that would not come into force until 2020, far too late by current climate criteria.
Recent studies require greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced much faster than previously proposed, to give us even a moderate chance of keeping warming below two degrees Celsius (2°C). Meanwhile the climate science now says the threshold of “dangerous” warming is only 1°C.
[I recently spoke to a teachers’ group about the state of the evidence on global warming. Having updated myself, and seen various reports of complacency, confusion or plain arrogant stupidity, I have written a summary here.]
As delegates argue in a Cancun resort on your behalf about who will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions first, what’s your own feeling about global warming? With record rain and floods all over the southeast and a big freeze in Europe, it may seem that global warming has taken a holiday.