The headline in the Irish Times reads Warsaw climate talks in disarray after group walk-out. A group of 130 developing countries has threatened to walk away of talks on climate finance due to countries blocking progress on the “loss and damage” from climate change; the Australians have been condemned for their “bad behaviour” relating to their government’s plan to reverse plans for putting a price on carbon; others are “backtracking” from previous commitments made in 2011 in Durban.
With the exasperation, backtracking and betrayals, it’s a race to the bottom. There is little chance that participants will be able to lay the groundwork for a global agreement in time for the crucial conference in Paris in 2015.
However, in the midst of the disarray, it is imperative to feature the efforts of responsible participants who are working relentlessly at moving the climate change agenda forward. The following speech was posted on the Climate Reality Canada Facebook group by Lee Norton (Climate Leader and Presenter).
Professor Mark Maslin of the University College of London speaking at the 2013 Warsaw U.N. Conference.
I’ve been in denial. I wasn’t denying that climate change is real or that the present changes are caused by human activity. My denial centers around the speed and degree of change. I tended to believe the gradual curves shown in the IPCC reports and that things would be difficult for the next generation, not mine. It has taken me quite awhile to acknowledge the present state of our world and that we are being lied to, or at least led to believe untrue rosy scenarios by people and organizations we trust.
For example Bill McKibben’s, 350.org says that we can get back to an atmospheric CO2 level of 350 ppm in decades. David Archer among others show that under a realistic best case scenario, if we don’t cross any tipping points, and our carbon sinks continue as at present, it’ll still take 500 – 1,000 years to return to 350 ppm. Andrew Weaver has called it a “Wishful pipe dream.”
The IEA (International Energy Agency) say we still have 5 years grace to start serious reductions in our carbon emissions, but they’re using the IPCC limit of 450 ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere to limit our warming to 2 degrees. In their own contradiction, the IEA, on November 11 at the Warsaw Conference, said that the world average temperature would rise 3.5 degrees in the next 25 years.
The IEA projects global energy demand to surge 36 percent over the next 25 years. Fatih Birol of the IEA says the use of modern renewable energy sources will triple (sounds good) and their share in total primary energy demand will therefore increase from 7 percent to 14 percent (not so good). In other words, fossil fuels in IEA estimates, will continue to dominate. This is frightening and eye-opening as the information is usually on how a certain location has just installed so many megawatts of power from solar and or wind and how renewable energy is being cost competitive and coming on strong. We have the technology and it’s constantly improving. We need more manufacturing.
From David Archer’s excellent first year lectures (U. of Chicago) we are emitting about 4 ppm of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Our sinks are taking out about 2 ppm, leaving us with an increase of about 2 ppm of CO2 every year. This data is now a couple of years old and our CO2 is increasing a little more than 2 ppm. However it means that in order just to stop increasing our atmospheric CO2, the world must reduce it’s CO2 emissions by 50% or more. That is a best case scenario as there’s no guarantee our sinks will continue to take up 2 ppm due to the increase in forest fires and ocean acidity that both reduce our sinks’ capacity. We likely have to reduce our CO2 emissions by over 80% in order to maintain the climate of the last 12,000 years.
Our present CO2 level of 400 ppm is too high for a sustainable future. We are being lied to when we are told we can increase our CO2 to 450 ppm and will stay below 2 degrees increase in warming over the pre-industrial value. The IPCC used Charney’s constant to arrive at this figure and Charney’s constant (Doubling of CO2 is equivalent to an increase of 3 degrees plus or minus 1.5 degrees.) is only good for relatively short periods as it assumes there are no changes in the atmosphere (aerosols, methane, ozone) and no changes in the world’s vegetation, ice sheets, and ocean circulation. It’s not true for the longer time periods that we should be considering.
Hansen in 2009 using the above long term effects found that doubling of CO2 was equivalent to about 6 degrees of warming. As Myles Allen (U. of Oxford) showed using Hansen’s work, 2 degrees will then be equivalent to 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2 and we are now above that. Andrew Weaver has said that getting back to 350 is “A wishful pipe dream.” as CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for thousands of years and we’re presently increasing, not reducing our yearly CO2 emissions..
If we consider Dan Lunt’s work on the 3 million year ago mid-Pliocene period, we find that his atmospheric CO2 was about 390 ppm, temperature was 2.9 deg above our pre-industrial, and sea levels were 15 – 20 m higher than today. CO2e was about 20 points higher or about 410 ppm. It’s said this period is a good indication of where we could end up at our present CO2 value except for one thing, our CO2e is presently 478 ppm. (CO2e is a term where we indicate the value of all our greenhouse gasses as a function of CO2.) For full disclosure on the Pliocene; CO2 at the time was between 360 – 420 ppm with temperatures 3 deg +/- 1. The picture gets fuzzy as we go back that far. The value of 20 points higher for CO2e was estimated from past values in the ice cores.
If we graph or draw the best line through Myles Allen’s 2 deg at 350, Lunt’s 2.9 deg at 390 (mid-Pliocene), and Pagani’s 2.6 deg at 360 (mid-Pliocene) and we extend this line to a CO2 of 478 ppm, we get over 4 degrees above our pre-industrial temperature. That’s high enough to enact the following tipping points according to the IPCC; Arctic summer ice, thawing permafrost, Himalayan Glaciers, Greenland ice sheet, Amazon rainforest, thermohaline circulation ( or AMOC). It would mean a new world would be created that would be unrecognizable to us.
Today, we are not even meeting our present inadequate Kyoto targets. The U.S. supposedly reduced its emissions last year, mainly due to using natural gas (and the ensuing controversial fracking using a large amount of water from our depleting aquifers and likely contaminating our potable water) instead of coal in many of its generating stations. However sources claim that coal production has not decreased, which means the excess is being sold, shipped and burned elsewhere. As it doesn’t matter to the world where the coal is burned, should the U.S. be acknowledged as having reduced their carbon emissions?
Japan has just said that it cannot meet its Kyoto reduction targets as coal burning has now taken over from their carbon free nuclear energy production.
China won’t commit to reductions.
Australia has just axed its environmental policies to Canada’s approval. (We ARE the bad guys.)
The developing countries still want to continue to burn fossil fuels to bring their populations up to our level of living while they claim the developed countries should be drastically reducing their emissions. This may be logical and fair, but it would guarantee disaster. In 2009, we were using the resources of 1.4 earths, mostly by the developed countries. We don’t have the luxury of treating everyone fairly and therefore climate change will likely cause military unrest.
Only Denmark, that I’m aware of, plan to provide all their generating needs with 100 percent renewable power. Yes they’ve engineered electrical storage for their wind generators which is critical for base load conditions. No country, except for maybe Denmark, has made a commitment to reduce their CO2 by over 50%.
The IEA (International Energy Agency), in their 2013 world report indicated that in today’s mix, fossil fuels represent about 82% of the total, the same as it was 25 years ago. Renewable energy has not yet made a serious inroad in our overall use of fossil fuels and our carbon emissions continue to rise every year.
I haven’t even touched ocean acidification and expanding ocean dead zones. Phytoplankton has decreased bout 40% and plankton is responsible for about 70% of our photosynthesis. Without photosynthesis, our atmosphere would become anoxic. Higher mammals like us would cease to survive.
To the above, economists have calculated that the world’s top 200 oil companies are worth about $6 trillion dollars with a debt load of about $1.5 trillion. If their product, oil, suddenly had no value due to everyone suddenly using only renewable energy, the resulting mother of all recessions would make 2008 (and 1929) look like inconsequential blips (Gwynne Dyer). The IEA has said that if we start immediately in earnest, the transition could be slow enough that the fossil fuel companies could manage by changing their product to renewable energy. However, as already noted, the IEA is using 450 ppm for the maximum allowable CO2 in their calculations.
The second problem with immediately going fossil free is that the aerosols that are presently masking the full heating effect of our atmospheric CO2, would quickly disappear as their constant replenishing would stop. The existing atmospheric CO2 would remain resulting in a sudden additional increase of warming of about 1 degree (0.5 to 1.8 degrees range). The outcry for this sudden warming could easily force our politicians to start burning coal again as a $6 trillion dollar reserve can purchase a lot of favours. Note that the wide range of aerosol cooling is due to the fact that knowledge of this requires measurements from space and the Glory Satellite equipped with the capacity to measure our atmospheric aerosols and give us an accurate answer, failed on launch in 2011. Funding for a new “Glory” satellite has not been viewed as important enough to re-instate.
In addition, Andrew Weaver submitted a paper showing that the carbon emissions from arctic thawing permafrost would be greater than all our carbon sinks at about 1.5 to 2 degrees above our pre-industrial value. Professor Anton Vaks of Oxford University has shown that 1.5 degrees results in the continual emission of methane from our thawing permafrost. Ramanathan and Feng (U. of California) showed back in 2005, that we would quickly increase to 2.4 degrees above pre-industrial if we managed to hold our atmospheric CO2 constant while we eliminated all our aerosols. (CO2 = 380 ppm and T = 0.6 degrees above pre-industrial were the values used in their paper.)
The world’s politicians are still not acting as if we had a climate crisis and we don’t have the luxury of time to wait for them. In the Eemian Period (130,000 years ago) it took 10,000 years to increase the atmospheric carbon dioxide 86.5 ppm resulting in the world leaving an ice age to an inter-glacial period. The earth kept pace with this 10,000 year time frame. Now we’ve have a greater atmospheric increase of CO2 over a time frame that’s much shorter. As we have nothing concrete to compare the present forcing to, none of our models can tell us how fast the earth will respond. A recent paper by Morgan Schaller and James Wright of Rutgers University indicate that due to a rapid doubling of CO2, the PETM, 55 million years ago may have increased it’s temperature by 5 degrees over a period of about 13 years instead of the accepted 10,000 years. The timetable for earth’s climate changes is unknown. To date the earth’s systems have responded much faster than our scientific predictions.
Although it’s too late to stop climate change, we can still minimize it if we (the world) could get together and wean our society off fossil fuels. We must stop subsidizing fossil fuels and start heavily subsidizing renewable energy. There is still no indication this will happen over the required time frame. Consider the following excerpts . . .
“I think everybody outside the scientific arena has underestimated the size of the problem.”
“If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians.” (Professor Mark Maslin of the University College of London speaking at the 2013 Warsaw U.N. Conference).