Another post by Lee Norton, on BoomerWarrior. Lee is a presenter for The Climate Project – Canada. He has given over 75 presentations to more than 8,000 people (Editor of BoomerWarrior).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that 2 degrees is the highest safe target to aim for. Any temperature increase over 2 degrees would lead to a world that we would not recognize. An increase to 2 degrees over our pre-industrial average is equivalent to an atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 450 ppm.
We can release an additional 565 gigatons of CO2 before we get to 450 ppm and still stay below the 2-degree threshold. Based on current trends (which show no sign of changing) that limit will be broken within 16 years. The oil and coal companies have at least 2,800 gigatons of CO2 locked away in the reserves they currently own, and they’re searching for more with the intention of using it.
Before we buy into the above numbers, should we have faith in the IPCC? Climate change is happening faster than forecasted. At less than 1 degree, we are seeing the melting of the Arctic ice, Greenland, West Antarctica, the perimeter of East Antarctica and basically all glaciers. We are seeing floods, droughts and increasing intensity of storms. We are even seeing earthquakes increasing about 150% (Munich Re). So we’ll be safe at twice this temperature rise? Given the empirical evidence, I doubt it.
Man has Never Lived in such a World
2 degrees above our pre-industrial average temperature is greater than our planet has seen in millions of years. From The Guardian – Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees, we can expect our coral reefs to be killed off with the resulting devastation of marine biodiversity and species of plankton – the very basis of the marine food chain; droughts to be spread through the sub-tropics, and heatwaves and intense wildfires in S.W. United States, Australia, the Mediterranean, and Southern Africa. The Amazon, responsible for about 20% of our photosynthesis (or oxygen), may cross its tipping point and become nonviable. 2 degrees would result in a sea level rise of tens of metres. The floods, droughts, storms and heat waves would dwarf in comparison to such a sea level change.
The following was left out of the 2007 AR4 due to politics or its controversial nature:
- Collapse of Greenland Ice Sheet
- Rapid melting of Antarctica
- Release of carbon dioxide and methane from soil, ocean bed, and permafrost
- Reduction of ocean sea level rise to 0.59 m (Interim 2010 I.P.C.C. report put it at 1.5 – 1.9 metres) due to outcry from scientists
How the IPCC Works
The IPCC produces reports every 5-7 years. The 2,800 page (AR4) assessment reports consist of numerous papers (800 papers, 18,000 references) by many scientists. For a scientist to get a report published in the 2007 IPCC AR4 papers, some papers had to be submitted by 2004. Therefore the report contains papers that were out of date by 3 years when it was published. The papers have to be submitted that far ahead of time due to a review process that is cumbersome, politically motivated and considered an illusion by many in the scientific community. See IPCC Peer Review Process an Illusion, finds SPPI Analysis.
The final report is very conservative, especially since the second assessment report in 1995 that contained the hockey stick graph showing the present temperature increases over the last couple thousand years and the statement that there was discernible evidence that the warming was man-made. Michael Mann, Ben Santer and the IPCC were ruthlessly attacked by the well funded ‘denier community’ for that inclusion as it proved that global warming was real.
For Our Planet to Remain Safe
The Arctic sea ice temperature difference with the mid-latitudes (us) has a pronounced effect on the jet stream, which in turn, has a pronounced effect on our weather. See post in ClimateSight. The jet stream wavers north and south as it makes its way across our continent. If you’re south of the jet stream peak, while the west and east of you are north of the jet stream trough, you will get warm weather from southern tropical like winds while the areas east and west of you will get the cold Arctic winds. If you’re on the jet stream you’ll likely get snow or rain depending on the season. Due to the Arctic warming and the decrease in temperature difference between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, the jet stream has increased its amplitude. In other words, the troughs go further south while the peaks go further north. This increases the chance of extreme weather patterns and also slows the jet stream down. The jet stream may become stalled, giving you a longer time in whatever weather you are getting. In summary, global warming can give you increased chances of super snowstorms, wet periods, droughts, and extreme weather as seen in 2012.
According to James Hansen, for our Arctic ice to recover, allowing us to maintain our climate without the extremes we are just beginning to witness, the CO2 level must be reduced to 300-325 ppm. This would equal a temperature rise of about 0.5 degrees above the pre-industrial average, a level more scientists are believing would be the high “safe climate” point. We are above that and witnessing extreme and dirty weather. Returning to safer levels is becoming a wishful pipe dream.
For our planet to remain “safe”, we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero, or damn near. Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, HFC’s, SF6, etc. must all be kept out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is usually the only greenhouse gas mentioned as it represents about 80% of all non-condensing greenhouse gases (NASA). It has increased about 40%. Methane, the second most common greenhouse gas representing about 13% of non-condensing greenhouse gases has doubled, while nitrous oxide represents about 7%. This is no easy task as our society has been built on using the atmosphere as an immense waste storage area – the thinking being it was too big to affect. This thinking, as we now know, was wrong. Carbon dioxide, left on it’s own will last in our atmosphere for thousands of years.
In a previous rant, I assumed we reduced our carbon dioxide emissions by 80%, and as it would take some time to enact this, I assumed that our atmospheric carbon dioxide had increased to 450 ppm before reductions began. Using linear analysis, (as I don’t have access to a sophisticated climate model) I calculated a rough estimate of 600-1,000 years to get back to 350 ppm by the process of using the earth’s carbon sinks. (Presently we are emitting about 4 ppm/year of CO2 and the natural sinks are taking out 2 ppm which leaves us about 2 ppm increase per year.) I assumed we would do everything, such as major production and burying of biochar to keep our natural sinks from degrading more than 10%. Work by Joseph Canadell, of the Global Carbon Project indicates our sinks have decreased by 10% from 1959 to 2006. At the present pace a lot can happen in 1,000 years; so a reduction of 80% for CO2 only is insufficient.
Since such a reduction is insufficient, I next calculated the extreme. Carbon dioxide would be reduced 100% with no fossil fuel burning. Methane would be reduced by a third as we would still have natural methane being produced. Nitrous oxides, due to using biochar in place of nitrogen fertilizers, are reduced by just over half. The total reduction would range from 64% to 86%. This is the highest possible reduction, and making the same assumptions of our natural carbon sinks, it would take about 80-120 years to get back to 350 ppm.
In other words, it would take about a century to reduce our carbon dioxide to the level of 350 ppm where it was in 1987, and even this may not be sufficient to produce a safe climate, as the loss of Arctic ice has been a major factor in giving us extreme climate conditions. In order to gain back the ice in the Arctic, we would need to reduce our atmospheric carbon dioxide to 300-325 ppm in according to James Hansen. Reducing this additional 25 to 50 ppm would likely take another century as the natural sink process slows as we get closer to the natural equilibrium point of 280-300 ppm.
Now in 2013, we are not standing at the threshold of dangerous climate change. We have passed through that doorway decades ago. We are in trouble, and I don’t mean for our grandchildren. The present anthropogenic forcing is so much greater than anything we’ve witnessed in the past that we can’t predict the timetable for the imminent climate changes.
For example, 130,000 years ago, carbon dioxide increased in our atmosphere at the maximum rate of 86.5 ppm over 10,000 years, or about 0.00865 ppm per year. This data was taken from the steepest part of the Antarctic Dome C ice core record during warming from the ice age at that time. We are now increasing our atmospheric carbon dioxide at a rate of over 2 ppm per year, or over 230 times faster than the previous record. We don’t know how fast our planet will react as what took thousands of years in the past might now be represented in decades under the present forcing. Our scientists know this, but our leaders keep acting as if we have lots of time. We don’t.
The first step in getting back to a safe climate is to educate everyone on what is happening, why it’s happening, what has to be done and how fast. So why aren’t scientists speaking out more forcibly?
Scientists have been persecuted and threatened and are afraid to speak out due to the risks involved. Some don’t want to be perceived as alarmists. Some fear losing their credibility and or their funding. And most simply do not have the formal training in dealing with the media or the public.
It’s Up to Citizens to Speak Out
It’s up to all citizens to speak up and not let denial go unchallenged. We must somehow break the present situation where our political leaders get about 300 contacts from their fossil fuel lobbyists (along with $$$) for every time they hear from a radical environmentalist. Climate change must also be a required subject in high schools, colleges and universities.
When I look into the future and how my life might be then, despite knowing intellectually what is happening, climate change does not enter into my thoughts. Does that make me a denier or just human? As we have been through 12,000 years or so of a relatively stable climate and non-changing sea levels, it’s hard to accept anything else. That’s the problem.