Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sorry to be a downer . . .

but in case you haven't noticed, this global climate change thang just keeps looking worse and worse. Here's the link to the "Copenhagen Diagnosis" report you've likely heard about, in which some of the world's leading climate scientists try to update policy makers on what we have learned since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report was written three years ago. It has become clear that AR4, as it is affectionately known, was far too cautious. Ice sheets are melting faster than predicted, sea ice is diminishing faster than predicted, sea level is rising faster than predicted . . .

The bottom line is that even if anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions were to completely stabilize at current levels right now and then be completely eliminated after 2030, warming would likely continue to above the 2 degrees centigrade generally considered to be barely tolerable. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions are continuing to grow, despite the global recession, and will undoubtedly rise even faster as India and China continue to industrialize. Not only that, but the prospects for positive feedbacks from lowered albedo as ice continues to melt, carbon emissions from thawing permafrost and drought-killed vegetation, and the reduced capacity of the ocean to absorb CO2, among other factors, means that we could well hit tipping points in which the planet shifts to a higher temperature regime which reduced anthropogenic emissions cannot reverse.

Allianz, a huge capitalist insurance company that employs not a single DFH, as far as I know, has teamed with the World Wildlife Fund to lay out some of the likely costs. They tell us:

The focus of climate change mitigation policy to date has been on "preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth's climate system". There is no global agreement or scientific consensus for delineating ‘dangerous’ from ‘acceptable’ climate change but limiting global average temperature rise to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels has emerged as a focus for international and national policymakers.

The origin and selection of this 2 °C policy threshold is not entirely clear but its determination has been largely informed by assessments of impacts at different levels of temperature increase such as those of the UNFCCC Assessment Report 4 (AR4). With few exceptions, such assessments tend to present a gradual and smooth increase in scale and severity of impacts with increasing temperature. The reality, however, is that climate change is unlikely to be a smooth transition into the future and that there are a number of thresholds along the way that are likely to result in significant step changes in the level of impacts once triggered. The
existence of such thresholds or ‘tipping points’ is currently not well reflected in mitigation or adaptation policy and this oversight has profound implications for people and the environment.

To say the least. The tipping points are related to the arctic sea ice, West Antarctic ice sheet, Greenland ice sheet, die back of the boreal forest, thawing permafrost, destruction of the Amazon rain forest, and changes in the climate system including the El NiƱo/Southern Oscillation phenomenon, and the West African and Southeast Asian monsoons.

I, for example, live in Boston. The rise in sea level here is likely to be more than half a meter by 2050, and even higher in the western North Atlantic. Seriously. According to the report, that will mean more than $25 trillion in property exposed to destructive floods, including $462 billion worth in Boston. That's tough -- we'll have to abandon a lot of property, some of our most expensive real estate will in fact be underwater. But it's going to be a lot tougher on poor people in the southern hemisphere and central Asia. The western United States may see major cities turned into ghost towns due to lack of water. (The URL appears to be mistyped, but the link should lead to the correct document.)

But you know what is going to happen at the climate summit in Copenhagen, right? Nothing. President Obama is unwilling to lead on this issue -- as seems to be the case for most of the urgent issues confronting us -- and his caution and reticence guarantee that nothing good will be done.

Catastrophic climate change will happen. It will not be stopped. We will just have to deal with it.

1 comment:

roger said...

the link does lead to an article on drought and resultant wildfire as effects of climate change. read about the red snow in the rockies. we are soon toast. literally.