Time to stop waffling about degrees of climate danger

7 12 2013

The Conversation

by Peter Christoff

Associate Professor at University of Melbourne

Peter Christoff is the editor of the 30-author book, Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a Hot World. The profits from this book will be donated to The Climate Council.

“Erratic”, “inconsistent”, “highly political” and “lacking in direction”. That’s the unvarnished verdict on Australia’s climate policy, according to experts within our own Parliament House.

It wasn’t a statement from the government or even the opposition. Instead, it came from the well-respected Parliamentary Library, which this week quietly released a helpful timeline of Australian climate change policy since the 1970s.

By chance, that timeline came out just ahead of an important new paper by a team of global experts, and a new book here in Australia.

Both highlight how little the world has done to tackle climate change in all that time. But they also point to some clear solutions that could help us avoid a dangerously hot future, including: tougher emissions targets, putting a price on carbon emissions, rapidly reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, and – in Australia’s case – ending its insupportable boom in coal and gas exports.

Two degrees is one too many

It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here. – NASA scientist Dr James Hansen, June 1988.

Twenty-five years ago James Hansen warned a US Congress hearing that global warming was a problem they could no longer afford to ignore.

His latest research, published yesterday, warns that the widely-supported international target of stopping the average global temperature from rising to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above the pre-industrial level would have “disastrous consequences”.

Co-written with a high-profile global team including US economist Jeffrey Sachs and Australian coral expert Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, their Assessing Dangerous Climate Change paper finds:

some climate extremes are already increasing in response to warming of several tenths of a degree in recent decades. These extremes would likely be much enhanced with warming of 2°C or more.

Critically, the authors argue that it would be “exceedingly difficult… yet still conceivable” to limit human-induced warming to about 1°C (1.8°F) with strong action.

They support a carbon tax, which they say is simpler and easier than an international emissions trading scheme; greater investment in technology development; and cutting energy subsidies, including “large direct and indirect subsidies” for fossil fuels.

But to achieve their aim of about 1°C of warming, current global emissions would need to be cut by 6% per year starting from this year – when in fact, emissions are continuing to rise.

Extreme risks for Australia

Based on existing emissions trends and insufficient national mitigation pledges, we’re actually on track to see average global warming of around 4°C by the end of this century, if not earlier.

Released last night, the book Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a Hot World – of which I am the editor – reports the latest research on what 4°C of warming would do to Australia’s environment, society and economy.

Given current trends, by the end of this century Australia will be a continent under assault: hotter, subject to greater extremes of weather such as bushfires, floods, storms, droughts, possibly hungrier, poorer and more insecure.

For instance, increasing temperature and declining rainfall could undermine agricultural production. By the end of the century, Australia could go from exporting its surplus food to struggling to feed its larger domestic population.

Other significant contributors to Australia’s economy – tourism, fisheries and mining – would be substantially transformed and severely affected.

A 4°C world would batter Australia’s environment. Extreme events and rising temperatures would force more Australian species to extinction. The Great Barrier Reef would be devastated by gradual warming, high-heat bleaching events, and ocean acidification. The A$6.4 billion tourism industry it supports would likely collapse.

Pressures on the national economy would be compounded as governments and communities struggle to deal with the rising costs of adaptation and remediation in the face of extreme events. Basic services like public transport and housing, water, sewerage, health and communications would be under increasing stress.

By the end of the century living in Melbourne could become climatically like living in southern NSW, Sydney like Rockhampton, and Alice Springs like the Sudan. In Darwin, the number of days over 35°C is projected to rise from an average of 10 a year now to more than 300 – which would be like nowhere on Earth today.

What we can do

Assessed against these threats and their costs to Australian communities and ecosystems, the weakness of current policies and targets becomes starkly evident.

To avoid this scenario, Australia – as well as other countries, particularly those that contributed the most cumulative emissions over the years (see charts below) – must dramatically step up its efforts in this critical decade.

Fossil fuel CO2 emissions. Pie chart (A) shows 2012 emissions by source region, while (B) shows the cumulative emissions from 1751 to 2012. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648.g011

We have to change our emissions reduction target, from aiming to cut emissions 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 to, at minimum, aiming for a 38% reduction by 2020.

That target is appropriate given what climate science is telling us: it’s the necessary contribution Australia has to make to bridging the emissions gap between a 4°C world and a path to warming closer to 1.5°C.

Leading economists such as Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut agree that early and effective action will be less expensive and more effective than delay. If countries like Australia stopped being so erratic on climate policy, and finally committed to long-term, serious emissions reductions, we would be providing the international leadership needed to start making the “exceedingly difficult… yet still conceivable” changes proposed by Hansen and his co-authors.

No regrets

But the grounds for hope in Australia are presently thin; the political climate is, euphemistically, challenging.

As the Parliamentary Library’s timeline reminds us, back in the 1980s Australia adopted a national target of cutting emissions 20% on 1988 levels by 2005 – but only as a “no regrets” strategy. The loophole was that any reduction would not be “at the expense of the economy”.

Similar short-termism has largely won out in decades that followed – and it looks like it could prevail again with the Coalition government’s push to repeal Australia’s carbon price.

Australian efforts and international negotiations are increasingly at odds with the scientific evidence on the need for urgent, substantial emissions cuts.

Unless we can break from this pattern of political and policy neglect, Australia will reap a 4°C future. In what way is that a “no regrets” strategy?

The time has come to spread the message

7 12 2013

I just found this.  IF this doesn’t scare the pants off you, then I don’t know what will.  The time to turn “Western Civilisation” OFF has arrived.  It may in fact be way too late, but only time will tell.

Reblogged from Arctic News.

[ click on image to enlarge ]

Above image shows methane rising from the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean on December 3, 2013, and entering the atmosphere, reaching levels as high as 2425 parts per billion (ppb). Last month, on November 9, 2013, methane reached levels as high as 2662 ppb.

The image below gives an idea of the height of this level, compared to historic levels, and how fast levels of methane (CH4) have been rising compared to levels of two other greenhouse gases, i.e. carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

While CO2 levels are in ppm and CH4 in ppb, they are directly comparable, because a CH4 cloud that, 5 years after its abrupt release, has shrunk to 20% its original size will over those 5 years have exercized local warming more than 1000 times stronger than the global warming potency of the same mass of CO2.

Why worry about methane rising from the seafloor in the Arctic? Sediments underneath the Arctic Ocean hold vast amounts of methane. Just one part of the Arctic Ocean alone, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS, see map), holds up to 1700 Gt of methane. A sudden release of just 3% of this amount could add over 50 Gt of methane to the atmosphere, and experts consider such an amount to be ready for release at any time.

The 5 Gt of methane that currently is already in the Earth’s atmosphere is responsible for almost half (42%) the global warming caused by people. As the IPCC puts it, methane is responsible for 0.94 W/m2 of radiative forcing, while total warming caused by people adds up to 2.26 W/m2 of radiative forcing.

Imagine what kind of devastation an extra 50 Gt of methane could cause. Imagine the warming that will take place if the methane in the atmosphere was suddenly multiplied by 11. Recent calculatations by Whiteman et al. show such an event causing $60 trillion in damage. By comparison, the size of the world economy in 2012 was about $70 trillion.

Smaller releases of methane in the Arctic come with the same risk; their huge local warming impact threatens to further destabilize sediments under the Arctic Ocean and trigger further methane releases, as illustrated by the image below.

Victor Hugo

In the light of these figures, there is no question that this is important and that dramatic changes are needed to reduce such dangers. Indeed, the only question is what kind of changes are needed.

The challenges may seem huge, the opposition to change may seem formidable. Yet despite the saber rattling of armies, and despite covert efforts by powerful conglomarates and vested interests to resist change, common sense will prevail, because nothing is as strong as an idea whose time has come. [“On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.” — From: Histoire d’un crime, Victor Hugo.]

As the prospect of climate catastrophe becomes ever more apparent and as the political imperative to take comprehensive and effective action becomes ever more urgent and obvious, this message will spread and the winds of change will grow stronger day after day. Be part of the solution and spread the message!

Wealth Means Waste

7 12 2013

I can’t stand waste.  But almost everything these days is designed to be eventually ‘wasted’.  They say waste is a resource in the wrong place, but the trouble is everyone’s asleep at the wheel, and they either don’t recognise this or plain don’t care……

This is reblogged from NOT BUYING ANYTHING.

Municipal solid waste (MSW) production, kg per person per day, World Bank 2012.

Wealth is synonymous with waste. If you want to know how much waste a country produces, all you really need to know is how wealthy it is. In an emerging global phenomena, increasing wealth means increasing consumption and increasing waste production.

The affluent produce a lot of effluent. They produce a lot of solid waste, too.

Solid Waste Wisdom

  • Developed countries produce more waste per capita because they have higher levels of consumption.
  • These countries consume more than 60% of the world industrial raw materials, but only comprise 22% of the world’s population.
  • Per capita waste generation in developed countries increased by 14% since 1990, and 35% since 1980.
  • USA, the wealthiest nation, unsurprisingly tops the list for the production of rubbish, with 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg) of MSW per person per day, fifty five percent of which is contributed as residential garbage.
  • Urban residents produce twice as much waste as their rural counterparts.

“Income level and urbanization are highly correlated and as disposable incomes and living standards increase, consumption of goods and services correspondingly increases, as does the amount of waste generated.”

Our flagrant waste goes against the basic laws of ecology. It is no surprise that humans are the only species on earth that produce toxic waste products that can not be used.

Basic Laws of Ecology

    1. Everything is connected to everything else.
    2. Everything must go somewhere.
    3. Nothing comes from nothing.
  1. Nature knows best (therefore mimic nature)
Barry Commoner, who wrote the four laws of ecology, warned that any major human-induced change in a natural system would likely be detrimental to that system, and ultimately to humans. He thought that following nature would lead us in the right direction.

In nature there is no final waste – the waste produced in one ecological process is recycled in another.  Any “waste” product from one thing is rebranded as a “resource” when it is used by something else.
To mimic nature we have to “close the loop” and develop cyclical manufacturing processes. This involves the redesign of resource life cycles so that 100% of materials in products can be recovered and reused. The process adopted is one similar to the way that waste products (resources) are reused in nature.

Another obvious and important way to approach zero waste is to reduce consumption. It does not matter how much money we have in the bank – we still can not afford to consume and waste like we have been.

“Waste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly. The scope of thrift is limitless.” 

– Thomas A. Edison