Again, this post started as an edition of Climate clippings.
Where I ended up after a series of happenings as described below, is concluding that we need a paradigm shift in our climate change aspirations. Instead of trying to limit warming to a point where we can avoid dangerous climate change, we need to recognize that we’ve already gone too far, that the climate is already dangerous, so we should aim to ratchet down GHG concentrations in the atmosphere to attain a safe climate.
1. Germans look to 7.4 trillion tons of fake snow to save the West Antarctic Ice Sheet
James Hansen once said you can’t sling a rope around an ice sheet if it starts to decay. Very sober German scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), one of the world’s leading climate research institutes, are thinking of installing around 12,000 wind turbines (I think it may be more, perhaps up to 850,000?) to pump snow onto Pine Island Glacier and the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica. Those glaciers are melting 10 times faster than other glaciers in Antarctica.
Their worry is that simply reducing CO2 emissions will not stop the glaciers tipping, and if they go other glaciers will follow.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that last time there was 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, over 3 million years ago, there were trees growing near the South Pole. The article reads as though this is new, but I knew over 10 years ago of at least one fossilised birch tree there, and you would not expect it to be alone.
Such an intervention would be enormously disruptive, but bold choices may have to be made that are not altogether palatable.
Phys Org also carries the story. The red rectangle marks the spot:
This image shows the most vulnerable spots:
This article says:
The latest estimates indicate that 25 percent of the West Antarctic ice sheet is now unstable, and that Antarctic ice loss has increased five-fold over the past 25 years.
I’ve done a screenshot of the graphic showing progressive ice loss form 1992-2019:
Now it’s only a few millimetres, but the graph is leaping off the page.
The red spot on the eastern side is the Tottenham Glacier, which alone threatens several metres of sea level rise.
2. Climate apartheid
Professor Philip Alston was in town the other day, urging action on climate change:
- Professor Alston said pursuing ambitious reform now offered an unprecedented opportunity to make systems inherently fairer.
“Economic prosperity, decent work, and environmental sustainability are fully compatible,” Professor Alston said.
More than 20 countries had already uncoupled their economies from fossil fuels without slowing them down, he found in a recent report. Not only did they create new green jobs, they reduced poverty at a faster rate than elsewhere.
He urges action by everyone, including individuals and corporates. One corporate has, namely BHP, which is going to spend $US500 million on helping its customers reduce their emissions.
3. Defence authorities warn about climate change
Defence authorities have long been alert to the dangers of climate change, in terms of climate refugees, direct danger to defence facilities, many of which are a metre or two above sea level, and civil unrest, even state failure from the impact of climate change. The US has 1700 facilities threatened.
Australia’s Defence Force chief, Angus Campbell, has used a private speech to warn that China could take advantage of climate change to occupy abandoned islands in the Pacific.
This issue was unpacked by Gwynne Dyer in 2008, when he found for example that Russian defence authorities were war-gaming 100 million Chinese moving into Siberia in his book Climate Wars (available online). Here’s a list of recent articles:
- What Happens When Parts Of South Asia Become Unlivable? The Climate Crisis Is Already Displacing Millions
4. Murray-Darling Basin in ‘most severe’ two-to-three year drought conditions in 120 years of records
Dr David Jones, climatologist from BOM, said that the Federation drought (1891-1903) and the World War II drought were similar to this one.
- “The general picture across the Murray-Darling Basin, for droughts lasting two to three years, this is the most severe we’ve now seen in terms of the rainfall totals and probably also in terms of the general runoff into dams,” he said.
This is what it looks like:
The picture for the last two decades is also ugly:
That looks ominous. The article asks What is making this drought so bad? Dr Jones outlined three main reasons:
Warm conditions in the far Indian and Pacific Oceans resulting in reduced rainfall
- Underlying reduction in southern wet season rainfall
- Underlying temperature increase.
Both the Pacific and Indian Oceans have been unhelpful to our rainfall, according to Dr Jones.
We need above average rain to break the drought, but the prospects are not good.
The official outlook for ENSO is Inactive.
Meanwhile ten towns in northern NSW and the Southern Downs in Qld are at high risk of running out of water. Indeed news.com reports that Stanthorpe could be dry by Christmas, with nearby Warwick at risk of running out in 17 months’ time:
5. June temperature is a record
The globe has just had the hottest June on record with talk about how the climate crisis is creating ‘a new normal’.
Piers Forster, professor of climate physics at the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, says:
temperatures are expected to increase globally even if greenhouse gases are reduced. “So to prevent them from going up, we have to reduce our emission of greenhouse gases all the way to zero.”
He says he’s personally quite optimistic because “humanity always rises to these challenges”.
Good for him, but what exactly are “these challenges”? I don’t think we’ve had one like this before.
James Hansen’s site has a handy graph:
He says the El Niño effects temperatures with a 4½ months delay. June is still benefitting from a fizzling weak El Niño. He expects 2019 to be the second hottest year behind 2016.
6. Warming is 100% human-made
New research on temperatures over the last 2000 years shows that variations prior to the industrial era were mostly due to aerosol changes associated with volcanoes rather than changes in the sun’s radiation.
In statistical terms, rates of warming during all 51-year periods from the 1950s onwards exceed the 99th percentile of reconstructed pre-industrial 51 yr trends. If we look at timescales longer than 20 years, the probability that the largest warming trend occurred after 1850 greatly exceeds the values expected from chance alone. And, for trend lengths over 50 years, that probability swiftly approaches 100%.
Petr Hannan’s SMH article Human-Caused Global Heating Breaks Clear From Nature, Studies Find published at Lethal Heating is worth a look. Here’s the new hockey stick:
Please note, it’s warming rate, not temperature.
7. The fierce urgency of now
The phrase comes from a meeting of held in May 2009 at the St James’s Palace Nobel Laureate Symposium, where some of the best minds on the planet addressed the issue of climate change, in the run up to what was to be the Copenhagen 2009 meeting of the Conference of parties to the UNFCCC.
In January 2011 I re-posted a post I had done in November 2009 – Climate crunch: the fierce urgency of now. It began:
- Back in 2003 James Hansen was saying that we had about 10 years to get ourselves organised to tackle global warming and climate change. You ignore him at your peril.
The St James meeting was based on a similar one held two years earlier. Seem thry were initiated by those earnest Germans at the Potsdam Institute (PIK). Two of the participants were Dr Malte Meinhausen and Prof Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Also Lord Anthony Giddens and Sir Nicholas Stern, in a cast of scientific glitterati!
The PIK Germans came up with the idea of a ‘climate budget approach’ – the idea that there was a permissible amount of CO2 that could be emitted before 2050 for an x% chance of keeping warming to 2°C. “x” varied from 50 to 75% depending on who was doing the the calcs. The big message was that the longer you left it before you started to ratchet emissions down, the harder you would have to go, and you would have to reach zero sooner, plus go into overshoot:
Peaking at 2010 would have mean 2% reductions pa, by 2020 that becomes 6%, and by 2030 it becomes 22%.
Moreover, some countries, especially Australia and the USA, start from a higher level and developing countries will need to increase emissions before we can expect them to reduce. Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber, then head of PIK made this helpful graph to indicate a fair sharing of the burden:
However, back then some scientists were worrying that 2°C was not safe.
By May 2014 David Spratt pointed out that if we wanted better odds than the 67% offered by the IPCC, say 90%, then there simply was no burnable carbon budget left at all.
Would you get on a plane if there was a 10% chance of it crashing?
8. The road to perdition
Meanwhile Gwynne Dyer, who was a newspaper columnist syndicated in 175 papers at the time, had penned an entertaining article Last exit for the Holocene era, beginning:
“Damn! I think we just passed the last exit for the Holocene!”
“I’m sorry, honey, I wasn’t looking.”
“We have to get off this highway. What’s the next exit?”
“It’s a long way ahead. Goes to somewhere called Perdition.” (Ragged chorus from the back seat) “Are we there yet, Daddy?”
That was in 2008, when he’d just finished researching and writing Climate Wars. He tells how James Hansen had also assumed that 2°C was a fair enough target, and if we kept emissions to 450ppm we should be OK. Bill McKibbin wanted to start an organisation 450.org to promote climate action, so he asked Hansen’s opinion to make sure.
Hansen thought about it for three months, and made his famous 350 ppm statement in December 2007 at the American Geophysical Union annual conference.
Dyer says, it might just work, so there was one turnoff left.
We took no notice, stuck with the IPCC and the UNFCCC, so we may have missed the turnoff.
9. Mission 2020
Figueres was appointed Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010 after the disastrous Copenhagen conference in 2009, and stayed to see the success of Paris 2015. So she had a personal stake in the Paris Agreement. However, she says there is no urgency built into the Paris Agreement. So she has mounted Mission 2020 (M2020) citing a string of scientist who say that emissions must peak by then.
Hansen made clear that 350 ppm meant CO2 equivalent. CO2e is the CO equivalence after including the all of ‘Kyoto 6’, that is methane, nitrous oxide etc. Roughly it means that you have to add an extra 25% to the CO2 number. The total is seldom cited, but this graph from the CSIRO/BOM State of the Climate 2018 shows how we are going:
10. Gavin Schmidt’s response
Gavin Schmidt, Hansen’s successor at NASA GISS, in commenting on the IPCC Special Report on 1.5ºC, addressed directly the question of Can we avoid going through 1.5ºC? He says the IPCC has used “a few circumlocutions to avoid giving a direct answer to this question (for reasonable and understandable reasons).” He was not quite so constrained, and his answer was a simple “no”. He says:
near-term reductions in carbon emissions by ~70% are required to even stabilize CO2, and to stabilize temperature, even further (net) reductions are required. And worse still to stabilize sea level, eventual temperature drops would be required.
It’s a marathon effort which will need to be sustained over many decades. Naturally we will need to turn to carbon capture and storage and geo-engineering.
Paraphrasing Eliud Kipchoge, the recent winner of the Berlin marathon, Schmidt says:
- The best time to start [reducing emissions] was 25 years ago. The second best time is today.
Remember, the IPCC Special Report only offered a 50% chance of achieving 1.5°C. David Spratt and Ian Dunlop’s report What Lies Beneath: The scientific understatement of climate risks, with a foreword by Prof Schellnhuber, tells of the deformation professionelle (French) or German Betriebsblindheit that has beset much of climate research.
11. Deep adaptation
Jem Bendel, Professor of Sustainability at the University of Cumbria, believes that social breakdown from climate change is now inevitable. He says that even if you don’t believe that, the risk is so high that we need to think about how we would cope under those circumstances. Certainly we should mitigate, indeed flat out. He has suggested spraying huge quantities of water into the atmosphere to brighten clouds to save the Arctic ice from melting, which he sees as a tipping point.
He has established an Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS), and has come up with the concept of Deep Adaptation. Last year a paper by him appeared online Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy (IFLAS Occasional Paper 2), which he could not get published in existing journals, because the concept was too new.
- an international space to connect and collaborate with other professionals who are exploring implications of a near-term societal collapse due to climate change.
In May this year he explained his ideas at a meeting arranged by the EU, see YouTube Because this is NOT a drill.
Nearby on YouTube was Dr. Peter Wadhams: Methane Hydrates and Arctic Research. Bendell says the release of Arctic methane represents an existential threat. I’d have to say that when I’ve examined the issue, it has come up short of that, but last week the New Scientist told us that dozens of wildfires of an unprecedented intensity have been burning across the Arctic circle for the past few weeks, releasing as much CO2 in just one month as Sweden’s total annual emissions.
Fires of this kind are not unknown, but this week NS tells us that more CO2 has been emitted this year from the fires than the record year of 2004, and they are still burning.
12. What to do?
I’m not qualified to make a judgement on whether Bendell is right or not. However, I am disposed to take notice of James Hansen and Gavin Schmidt. Also the Germans at PIK are not a frivolous lot, and what they are doing and saying tells me that urgent action is required.
At the last election we were faced with an option from the LNP government that willfully avoided climate action by tomfoolery with accounting numbers, against a Labor climate action plan that said it would follow the science, and would institute a process of discovering the latest science through re-vamping the Climate Change Authority who would oversee the first triennial Australian Climate Assessment. This, I think, was their principal policy position, albeit to my knowledge, never mentioned during the campaign.
I believe Labor should embrace the aim of returning emissions to 330 ppm as soon as possible, and take a comprehensive approach to transitioning the economy and society to a sustainable future. We can no longer be technology neutral. Emissions must stop and we’ll need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
This would mean putting some distance between their position and that of the UNFCCC, where, it should be noted, Saudi Arabia has put the kybosh on formal consideration of 1.5°C. Australia should fully participate in international forums, indeed use them to promote pivoting away from targets that involve more warming than already besets the planet. We should join Hansen in turning down the dial to achieve a safe climate.
Climate mitigation is not a doddle, as our elected leaders would have us believe. There is indeed a tangible risk that Jem Bendell might be right. Here and now is not the best place to start, but really, we have no choice.
Update: See also climate scientist Joëlle Gergis in The Terrible Truth Of Climate Change.
It seems to me some scientists have just about caught up to where James Hansen was 10 years ago, or more. See Reconciling estimates of climate sensitivity for what he said about earth system equilibrium in 2011.