Wednesday 16 January 2019

We have 12 years to save the earth!

Maybe I’m being rather melodramatic, more like the start of a disaster movie than a blog, but it really is way past the time when we should have got serious about climate change.

Global average temperatures are now about 1 degree centigrade above what they were before the industrial revolution.  The consensus is that we must keep any future rise below 1.5 degrees in total.  Effects are already serious; above 1.5 degrees the effects become significantly worse.  Our current trajectory will miss 1.5 degrees by a mile!  1.5 degrees will be bad, 2 degrees could be disastrous for civilisation, but at the moment we will probably overshoot 3 degrees by the end of the 21st Century.  Children born today will then be in their eighties and by then the world will not be livable!  No wonder the younger generation are pretty fed-up and starting to be rebellious!

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the largest and most well-respected groupings of scientists on the planet.  It is informed by thousands of scientists, submitting research often on a voluntary basis, carefully scrutinised and peer reviewed.  The IPCC has submitted several reports over the years – huge bodies of work supported by extensive research.  The tone of these reports has become more and more serious through the years as we consistently fail to effectively address the climate situation that we are in.

The IPCCs recent report is again a huge body of work.  Chapter 3, for example, looks at the climate impacts of the 1.5 degree rise and has some pretty sobering reading. Alone it is nearly 250 pages long and 60 of those pages are references to supporting scientific study.  Once again it highlights the need to urgently bring our greenhouse gas emissions down.  It is difficult to highlight some of their conclusions without sounding melodramatic!  The climate is now changing.  This is no longer about vague possibilities sometime in the future.  In many respects it is changing faster than predicted; in fact, it seems to be running ahead of the “worst case” scenarios presented a few years ago.  The IPCC therefore stresses that we need to drive a significant turn-around in the next 12 years.

All sorts of statistics could be marshalled to illustrate our predicament.  The analogy that shocked me, however, regards the amount of extra heat going into the world’s oceans because of climate change.  Global warming has heated the oceans by the equivalent of one atomic bomb explosion every second for the last 150 years!

The tone of climate scientists has become more and more dire over the decades.  30 years ago we were warned that we had a few decades to sort this out.  That was probably the time when a sensible, planned transition could have brought us to a new economy that stood some chance of maintaining a stable climate.  By the end of the 1980s / early 1990s we might have got away with immediate action.  At the turn of the century we should have planned an emergency decarbonisation of society.  Today, even the emergency ending of fossil fuel use is unlikely to stop us experiencing at least some climate breakdown.  Prevarication must end – we need to get on with this!

Of course, the response of some is to deny reality – as ever.  But, as one of the IPCC scientists said, “you can deny gravity but if you walk off a cliff you are going to go down”.

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