Climate change: the end of civilisation as we know it

James Hansen said in his book Storms for my Grandchildren that if we burnt all the available coal, tars, and oil then the ‘Venus Syndrome’ would be a dead certainty, extinguishing life as we know it on the planet. He has now thought further and says that is not going to happen, the time-scales make it impossible. It would take 100 million years to get enough carbon into the atmosphere, and by that time much of it would be back on the sea floor.

However we are on a path to make living at low latitudes impossible, plus more than half the major cities in the world cling to the coastline and are subject to sea level rise. The world, he says, would become ungovernable.

How likely is this? The short answer is that we appear to be on a path to achieve an ungovernable world within a century.

There is another story to be told, one which says that mainstream science is too optimistic, that we are heading for disaster faster than even most climate scientist will admit, at least in public.

For now, just take it that Climate Analytics, a very competent and authoritative outfit, said this last year:

    At present the overall globally aggregated effect of INDCs and current policies put the world on a 3°C or close to 4°C pathways respectively

The INDCs are the Initial Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement. Climate Action Tracker says current policies will land us with 3.6°C, with the range 2.6°C to 4.9°C. On that basis 4.0°C looks like at least a 25% probability.

Michael le Page in the New Scientist took a look at our prospects under the latest information.

We’ve had several theories about recovery from disasters, such as hurricanes Harvey and Maria. They vary from ‘creative destruction’ to ‘no recovery’. An optimistic view is that an economy flattened by a big storm will eventually be better off. The pessimistic view is that recovery happens, but the area will never be as well-off as it would have been without the disaster.

Unfortunately studies show the following:

That was after looking at the effects of 7000 tropical storms since 1950 in work carried out be Solomon Hsiang at the University of California, Berkeley and Amir Jina at the University of Chicago, a study done in 2014.

Maria, apart from initial damage, could lower incomes by a fifth. It could take 26 years to get back to where they were before Maria.

Now Jina and Hsiang are looking forward and looking at what might happen in other disasters, such as floods, and in areas beyond the tropics.

Michael Mann says there may be more extreme weather events than the models predict. James Hansen worries that all hell will break loose on the Basis of what happened 120 kya during the Eemian.

Then there is sea level rise. The article says that a 3-metre rise by 2100 is the wort-case scenario. That would be devastating, but most scientists have underplayed sea level rise prospects. The models don’t include the effects of ice sheet decay, because our records of measurement over the last century are a mere moment in time in this issue. We know that serious melting of ice sheets has started in the last 10 years.

I’ll stick with what I wrote in Scoping long-term sea level rise, where I said:

    4. 380 (360-400)ppm gives a temperature variance of 2.7 to 3.7°C and SLR of 25m (±5)
    5. 500 (400-600)ppm gives a temperature variance of 5 to 7°C and SLR of 75m (complete deglaciation).

We are currently at 403ppm and most think we’ll get to around 550ppm during this century, or double preindustrial. SLR plays out over centuries and millennia, but it can happen rapidly under the right circumstances. I suspect 5-metres by 2100 is about the worst case scenario. As to the longer term, I suspect we’d be better looking at ‘back of the envelope’ calculations based on David Archers 2006 graph:


We really have no idea, but we should expect around 20 metres SLR for each degree of temperature rise. We also don’t know what would happen to ameliorate the situation if we reduced emissions to net zero.

Meanwhile in the immediate future the biggest impact could be from the straight temperature rise. Jina and Hsiang looked at this as far back as 2015, would you believe.

They found that when a country’s average temperature 24/7 over the whole year was at 13°C, maximum agricultural productivity is achieved.

At present the Earth’s average is about 16°C:

That image is calibrated in Kelvin, which shows in absolute terms how hot the place is. I think it does a good job in showing the relative warmth of different parts of the planet.

Back to the serious stuff, there are two problems with temperature increase alone. One is that it becomes too hot to work outside in some areas. The other is that productivity and GDP drops away rapidly. The study suggests a 23% drop in incomes on average, and rising inequality. The effects are from 2.5 to 100 times greater than previous modelling suggested.

So here is the impact of 4°C worldwide:

Of the major economies, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico are completely stuffed, The US, Spain, Italy, China and Australia are in bad shape. Germany, Britain and the UK along with Belgium, The Netherlands and Denmark could be OK, but then there is sea level rise.

There are uncertainties in all this, but the risks are astonishing.

Now you may have heard coming out of climate talks in Bonn that emissions were up a bit in 2016, but had been flat in 2014 and 2015, and they expected them to return to flat in 2017.

Don’t believe a word of it. Those scientists are simply not looking in the right place. It’s embarrassing. Here is the latest from the WMO via NASA:

That’s not just from Mauna Loa, it’s from stations all around the globe:

In reducing emissions, we are achieving in net terms exactly nothing. We are in trouble, deep trouble.

Indications are that there is going to be a population collapse of Homo sapiens in the future not too far away. If we get our act together on emissions, we may still need drastic solutions in other areas. Energy from the sun is virtually unlimited, and we may be eating synthetic food. But or politicians and policy makers are walking backwards into the future.

A final warning. The above is based on a linear response of earth systems to climate change. We can be almost certain the response will not be linear. And there is also the matter of low probability, high impact events, which could trigger further tipping points.

Just about anything could happen, short of the Venus Syndrome.

39 thoughts on “Climate change: the end of civilisation as we know it”

  1. To anticipate Geoff M’s question, I am planning a further post based on recent work done by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop to show why the mainstream science is coming up short. That will be in about a month’s time, given current commitments.

  2. I’m for a plebicite on cliamte action. No action, strong action, climate war footing. Or something along those lines. Then stand back and listen to the cacophoney of weasle words. I couldn’t yield a worse result than what we have now.

  3. BilB, what is making me cranky at present is that the LNP are running around openly saying money spent on renewables is wasted, and the media thinks that is not unusual, just fine.

    The ABC seems to have climate change marked as one of the issues it must be ‘balanced’ about,

  4. The LNP have fallen into line with the US coal lobby it seems. This was made clear with Trumps “team” openly talking up coal at the recent climate talks in Bonn.

    Its plainly obvious that Turnbull is a Trump sycophant and probably sees his hosing down of renewables in this country as being a big win buy-in to Trump’s favour.

    We are in for a rough legislative ride in this country as what should happen when Labour gets a wide seating on the government benches should immediately undo everything that Turnbull has effed up and get the renewables build back on track. Labour should also purge key agency positions of LNP appointees, to undo the stacking that has been going on. It was Labour’s being to nice and playing by the old play book in leaving Maurice Newman in command of the ABC that delivered the prime minister-ship to Tony Abbott.

    The first two I would dump from the ABC are that pair who do the morning breakfast show Trioli and Rowland who are neither clever nor smart. I usually have the sound muted when they are on, but I caught Trioli commenting to a discussion about celebrity political appointees “who could forget the pink bats saga” referring to Garret’s demise at the hands of Abbott during his Sociopathic best period of maximum demolition (facilitated by the ABC) as opposition leader, the basis for which Credlin later admitted was purely for personal political gain…not the advancement of the nation.

    The fact is that the roof insulation initiative was the best energy efficiency program the Australian government has engage in, and, my friend Bill K reminds me was Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion to John Howard at the time of the light bulb changing. Had the program completed much of the summer power blackout risk would not be a reality now.

    We need Bill Shorten as Prime Minister to apply some well focused revenge delivery after this next election. If he can’t do that then we need another Leader.

  5. Brian,

    Castlereagh Coal (part of the Manildra Group) has put forward a proposal for development consent to mine coal at the Invincible Mine (currently mothballed). The consent approval has triggered an assessment by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC).

    The proposal is to mine ‘nut coal’ at a demand rate of 85 kilotonnes per annum for Manildra Group’s ethanol production at Bomaderry NSW. The mine workings will be open cast, and in order to get at this prize other coal needs to be removed that has ash content up to 30%.

    Manildra gets its nut coal from Clarence Mine, but it claims the Invincible Mine nut coal will be cheaper than sourcing from Clarence. I don’t believe it.

    Higher EROI coal being used to produce lower EROI ethanol – a stupid idea!

    Any thoughts?

  6. Geoff M, sound stupid to me, but I’m a lay person in these things. John D was a chemical engineer, then worked as a process engineer in the mining industry, including for some time coal. He might have a comment.

    BilB, I recall Robert Merkel doing a post at LP saying the four deaths on pink bats proportionately was fewer than what had been happening in the industry before that. But ABC people are often shallow and pick up LNP lines, repeating them as truth.

  7. The roof insulation scheme,
    4 electrocuted
    50,000 homes had to have their insulation removed and replaced
    1-1.5 billion dollars to rectify the problems
    Program axed
    Millions of compensation to companies with warehouses full of batts
    Royal Commission
    Unknown homes burnt down or in danger of doing so

    Yeah, brilliant.
    Unless of course one looks at all the energy used to earn the tax that payed for it all.

  8. Brian,

    Yes I recall Robert Merkyl reporting that too. Bill K recently added that one of the deaths was from heat exhaustion, and another was caused by a previous installation where a staple had been driven through a power cable in the roof. All four of these deaths were a result of shoddy work practices by LNP voting contractors such as Jumpy.

    The governments only failure was caving in to Abbott and his Goons.

    Everything you spelt out there Jumpy were the cost that the LNP foisted on the public 100% unnecessarily just so Abbott could push his anti Australian anti Climate Action agenda which has been proven to be purely egotistical and political.

    Much of the power shortage problem supposedly facing the grid can be sheeted directly home to the LNP as a result of the sutting down of the Home Insulation Progamme shutdown.

    That’s now number five in the Abbott and Trump supporting Jumpyphile.

  9. What you are declaring there Jumpy is that all building contractors do shoddy work and that places all new construction at risk from a multitude of risks. Get real.

  10. In the private sector, when atrocities like the insulation scheme happen, the people responsible get bankrupt, jailed or both.
    Politicians are exempt so far more careless.

    And I’m going to have to ask your definition of ” supporting “, it doesn’t make senses to me that I gave support to anyone with my comment.

  11. What you are trying to BS across, Jumpy, is that is a person contracts a builder to construct a house, and due to the builder’s shoddy practices someone gets killed on the sight, the person for whom the building is being constructed is liable for the death and should go to gaol.

    Apart from that obvious fallacy, the fact is that building standards and practices are controlled by the states not the Federal Government.

    So tell me, Jumpy, how many of the shoddy contractors who set up the four deaths went to gaol?

    Further, we have to check your interpretation of “atrocity”. My reading of the meaning of t

  12. …..erm is there is an intention to cause injury or death. Are you saying that the primary purpose of the roof insulation scheme was to kill people and not insulate houses??

    On the other hand the guy you are sticking up for had absolutely no good intention with his offensive attack which culminated in huge losses tgo the public, with ongoing consequences to the present day.

  13. I’m talking about energy waste in the roof insulation mess.
    The shortsighted view was little, the longsighted view is huge.
    When does zoot think it may one day be paid for and how much energy expended to do that ?

    If BilB wants to go looney that’s on him/her/ whatever.

  14. BilB
    Straight up question, given your gift with math and electricity, how much energy will be expended to achieve the savings that are claimed?

    The emissions used in future to achieve paying off the cost is far greater.

  15. Jumpy: My recollection was that the death rate per house insulated was higher during the Howard years than that of the much vilified pink batt time.
    Am I to assume that Howard was the politician you are going on about even though neither Howard any more than Rudd controlled the relevant state inspectorates?

  16. GM: I assume that the “nut coal being used for ethanol production” was coal that would be burned to provide energy for ethanol being made from grain? The nut coal would be used for a very basic furnace that needed closely sized coal to work properly.
    My understanding is that the whole ethanol from grain business is questionable in terms of net reduction in the use of fossil energy let alone in terms of diverting arable land from food production.

  17. That may be so John.
    My point is the program isn’t finalised till it’s payed for.
    The final death toll isn’t known.

  18. JY: The surge in spending after the GST protected Aus from most of the effects of the GST. We would have been a lot worse off if we had followed Malcolm’s advice at the time and used tax cuts fro the rich to boost the economy.
    I said at the time that the pink batt project was not managed as well as it could have been because the environment dept was not equipped to handle projects like these. Governments need a project management dept that can either take over large projects or at least check that projects handled by other depts are set up and managed properly.

  19. I get cranky when scientists say CO2 is at higher levels than it has been for 800,000, because that is the extent of the Vostock ice cores, and they wouldn’t want to say anything that is not 100% true.

    At The Conversation Paul Fraser and others from the CSIRO have an article World greenhouse gas levels made unprecedented leap in 2016.

    They say:

    Geological records suggest that the last time atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide were similar to current levels was 3-5 million years ago. At that time, the climate was 2-3℃ warmer than today’s average, and sea levels were 10 to 20 metres higher than current levels.

    Then they add to that and confuse things by saying that counting the CO2 equivalence of the other GHGs:

    “CO₂-e” concentration in the atmosphere in 2016 would be 489 ppm. This is fast approaching the symbolic milestone of 500 ppm.

    They don’t say whether this means that temperatures will be even higher, and ditto for sea level rise. I think they mean ‘yes’ to both, but don’t give us an idea of by how much.

  20. John
    Putting to one side the budgetary effect which it a different topic, the nett energy usage of the program is not settled.
    First is the ongoing saving due to less heating and cooling, most people’s focus ends there.

    Second, and what less people see is the cost of the program is still going up because it was borrowed money. The final cost can only be known after it loan is settled, interest calculated, and associated administrative costs added.
    Those funds have to come from taxpayers burning energy on an ongoing basis.
    It’s like saying a house costs $ 400k so that’s only $1k per week= 8 years of petrol to pay for the loan.When we know it’ll be over 20 years of petrol.

    Thirdly, what some people refuse to see, opportunity cost.
    If government left that money in citizens hands they would be more able and inclined to upgrade that old energy chewing appliance for the new 5 star one, install insulation when the market isn’t artificially overheated or afford that bit more for that electric vehicle over the diesel one.

    I was addressing energy consumption not the effects of two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.

  21. As you are to damned lazy to figure it out for yourself, Jumpy, the roofing insulation ERoEI energy payback period for the average family house is 5 years, or 1.25 Australian political terms.

    And answer the question, Jumpy. As per your logic on the ALP Home Insulation Plan, are you claiming that a person who commissions a building should bear the liability for the illegal acts of his nominated builder?

  22. Jumpy, without the action taken, $10 billion in cash out, pink batts, school halls and libraries, and in total I think about $40 billion in infrastructure spending addressing years of neglect under Howard/Costello, we would have been in recession, perhaps depression.

    Some comparable countries lost 15% in GDP and still haven’t caught up.

    Debt even now is low by international standards.

    Could this thread get back to the topic, please, which was about the end of civilisation as we know it?

  23. As your too damned ignorant BilB to recognise, the average household is still paying it off through taxation than I can’t help you.

    On the second, in the private sector, liability is apportioned all the way to the top and the onus is on the principal to prove they put everything in their power in place to prevent injury.
    There were plenty of claim of this in the Royal Commission. It was rushed, ill informed and careless.

    On a discussion process point, if you keep being personally insulting and rude, I reserve the right to retaliate.

  24. I’ve been musing over the end of civilisation probability and to me the most imminent aspect is the probable collapse of technological support way sooner than the extreme environment arrives.

    The pink batts issue is connected to this argument because it is one gvt action taken that would have made a measurable difference towards climate action but was stopped in its tracks by the ignorance of the denialists, Jumpy’s attack here being typical of that total lack of understanding of the serious nature of our Climate Change exposure. I’m for not being able to find a nice way of putting it.

  25. I’m doing my progressive duty by being at the Kristina Kinnealy campaigne launch. Hopefully stomping on John Howard once more.

  26. I’ll go with Bill Gates on the next mass human die off will most likely be a pandemic.

    Civilisation as we know it is always changing.

    ( I hope no one felt attacked by this comment. Also not to be interpreted as support for Trump or Abbott. But we shall see )

  27. Jumpy, a pandemic is a real possibility. Climate change, if we go to 4C or more, could see a human population crash of 80 or 90%, maybe not so much, but as Hansen says the world would be largely ungovernable.

  28. Unless I haven’t been clear, ungovernability isn’t my major concern 😉

    But in all seriousness, many thing could cause catastrophic calamity, humanity isn’t ready for any of them.

    The survivors with be the ones that picked the guess, prepared the best and got very lucky.

    I don’t expect I’ll be among them.

  29. Unless I haven’t been clear, ungovernability isn’t my major concern

    Jumpy, you have much in common with Karl Marx. Here’s the transcript of a recent ABCRN Rear Vision program.

    Marx saw the ‘state’ withering away entirely.

    The program also says that many different people and groups, all different, go under the rubric of ‘Marxism”. They can’t all be right, but sure as hell they can all be wrong.

    The bloke also says that Marx as such was European, and of his time – still has an influence, but doesn’t really speak to the modern world.

  30. One way to consider the “end of civilisation as we know it” is to consider what we are losing.

    I was touched by the message of this video, and by Neomi’s beautifully subtle smile.

  31. Civilizations as they have been known have ended throughout history. Sometimes dramatically because of drought or plague or salination OR…. Sometimes gradual as cultures and economies change. We, for example, are quite different than our ancestors were when governor Phillips invaded Australia. If you think about we can think about the effects of the evolution of shipping over the last 200 yrs or relatively fast changes with the development of flying. (I think of the switch from shipping migrants to flying migrants as a a key jump.)
    Hard to say how dramatic climate change will be. It could something dramatic like climate change nuclear wars or some disease like a easily transferred version a disease like HIV that we don’t know how to handle OR…….
    I think we have been lucky to have been born when we were and where we were. One can but hope for our grandchildren and do what we can to reduce the risks to their future.

  32. I think I have a post somewhere that should be relevant on Jared Diamond, or something, but can’t find it. Closest is Charting the progress of Sapiens, which is not quite what I was after.

    When civilisations failed there was always somewhere else, but now we are everywhere, in numbers, so it’s hard to see us escaping a population collapse after the good times, which happens all the time in nature with other species.

  33. Important observation..

    “but now we are everywhere”

    …, fortunately though not all environments are equal so immediate collapse is unlikely except for the volcanic possibility.

    The big risk from a pandemic is the collapse of knowledge. Knowledge, particularly in key fields of expertise has never before been a factor, but in the future the death of enough key personnel could lead to the collapse of many segments of our complex industrial and technological supply chain leading to functional disarray.

    There is one technology that is vital to preserve, that being photo voltaic cell production, to maintain primary technological functionality. The secondary product of inverters is highly vulnerable to collapse of the electronic supply chain but can be replaced with the more basic and mechanical motor generator, so solar powering of a low level but still technology based existence is highly probable. It is the very distributed nature of solar energy production that makes it robust, to every possibility except the volcanic or meteor risks. Also computers are an abundant resource in most countries, keep some of those old machines just in case.

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