Climate action: a doddle or deep adaptation?

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.

Here’s the PIK media release, from which you can link to the article.

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:

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 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:

Figure 3: Meinshausen’s emissions reduction options

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:

Figure 6: Stabilisation scenarios using the ‘carbon budget’ approach

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 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

Mary Robinson’s book Climate Justice quotes Christiana Figueres as saying that emissions must peak by 2020 if we are to put the ship right.

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.

So he has launched a campaign The Deep Adaptation Forum:

    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.

18 thoughts on “Climate action: a doddle or deep adaptation?”

  1. I swear this one will be the last of my blockbusters, at least for a while. It was really the alarm set off by so many drastic events in the news recently.

    The notion of the Germans planning to repair Antarctica with fake snow is seriously alarming. I think it was Doug Hynd who sent me a link about Jem Bendell’s ‘deep adaptation’ concept last year. Then he popped up again next to a YouTube of Peter Wadhams in methane leakage sent by BilB.

    I’m also going to ratchet down on stories of gloom, just regard them as background noise from here on unless something exceptional comes along.

  2. Brian:

    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.

    It is a shame too few Australian leaders have played Go. Go can be all about creating small outposts that make it to link up later with larger, defendable forces.
    This particular Go strategy suggest that it would be smart for example to encourage Pacific Islands to sell their Islands to Aus or its allies with part of the deal being the right to move to Aus when they choose plus jobs associated with building and operating Aus/Allie bases on their Is.
    What China is doing with reef reclamation in the South China Sea comes across as textbook Go to me.

  3. OK

    I had a go at professionelle Betriebsblindheit and got something along the lines of

    “professional blinkered-blindness”

    The persistence or habit by professionals/scientists of taking a blinkered view of reality ??

    Vielen Danken,
    Herr Brian

  4. Ambi: Professional scientists can help their careers by brilliantly articulating the coming orthodoxy. Get too far in front and they are toast.

  5. Yes indeed.

    Quill Science has been languishing here in Victoria.
    Even though genetic engineering has prospects of assisting in producing the Ultimate Quill!

    And Proceedings of the Royal Society for Quill Research has sadly closed down.

    Apparently those new-fangled pencils and Texta Colours are the coming fashion???

  6. Ambi:

    Apparently those new-fangled pencils and Texta Colours are the coming fashion???

    Nah. Can’t happen mate. It is like saying that we won’t need drays.

  7. Keep supplying the quills and the demand will follow. I’m told it’s an ironclad law of the universe.

  8. On Drays.

    One of the nippers misheard your mention, Brother John, of “high drays”.

    He thought you said “hide rays” and he’s been trying to get rays out of bullock hides. Ridiculous of course. His little mate started rambling on about getting rays out of bits of rock. Always was a bit strange that Curey lad. He reckons he could get a “death ray” sorted out, whatever that might be. Off to the funny farm for him.

    The Quill Combine and Devices Corporation has been making great strides.
    One of their young engineers reckons you could get folk interested in sort of blankets for beds, stuffed full of quills. He reckons the brand name “Quillt” is a goer. Lad by the name of Dooner, you might have seen him down the pub.

    Another engineer reckons if you could get the feathers off and trim the quill, some folk might like to sip their drink through it. He calls it a “drinking quill”. Strange, eh?

    And don’t get me started on that other cove who reckons we could sell WATER in bottles. Plain water!! No fizz, no hops, no cordial flavours. Yes, he says, “at a profit”!! Words fail.

    Anyway, we’re all working away at it, and the new generation of geese are thriving. So no worries at all.

  9. Ambi: Any Eskimo could tell you that furs and a warm wife are what’s best for keeping warm in winter. But quilts?
    Any Aborigine could tell you that dogs are what you need on a cold night. Haven’t you realized what they are talking about when they talk about a four dog night? The dogs are also useful as a hunting aid. (Can’t use quilts for hunting can you?)
    If the climate change that Brian keeps rabbiting on about happens we wont have to worry about keeping warm in winter.

  10. indeed not, John, but a warm wife (or husband) will always be good to have nearby.

    You wouldn’t be the first to suggest I give the Product Development game away…..

    Must hurry back to the porch now, there’s a very generous Nigerian at the front door, asking me to solve a small banking difficulty for him. Banking: that has to be the future!

    Q**** Enterprises

  11. The latest it that the energy regulator AER is sueing four wind farm companies over the South Australian blackout.

    This seems like a highly vexatious action. We know that the wind farms did not have ‘ride through’ settings turned on, as they should have according to the letter of the law. So guilty as charged.

    My impression is that the two biggest causes of the blackout were that a dirty big storm blew down 22 pylons, and that at the other end of the SA network, the market operator had let the Heywood Interconnector run flat chat at 595GW/h when 600 would cause it to trip.

    The net effect was that the blackout in Adelaide happened a few seconds earlier than it otherwise would have.

    But I’m not an electricity engineer, so what would I know?

    If they are found liable, it will encourage affected consumers to sue for negligence. It all amounts to a disincentive to invest in renewable electricity generation in Australia.

    AER are not supposed to be influenced by the Commonwealth government, but you have to wonder.

  12. And are the pylon owners to be sued for not having dirty-big-storm-proof pylons?

    (At least this action is based on engineering aspects. Some improvement on the Joe Hockey/ Mr Abbott “wind turbines are so ugly, I don’t like seeing them when I drive from Sydney to Canberra” dummy-spits?)

  13. Well least now a Court of Law can pass judgement rather than the media.

    From what I hear around these parts the defendant has nothing to worry about.

    It’d be good to have it settled properly.

  14. Speaking of the Murdoch media I see from Loon Pond that Chris Mitchell still claims there is/was a pause in global warming.
    He wrote

    Readers today can find out for themselves online the truth about sea level rises, sinking islands, the pause in temperature rises, the backlash against renewables in Europe and Canada, the many prominent senior scientists who disagree with the IPCC about the role of CO2.

    He’s right of course. As Brian has demonstrated, readers today who bother to check will find ample online evidence that Mitchell is lying to them.

  15. Thanks for that link to Giles Parkinson, Brian. He talks about some of the technical points and the regulatory ambience, very clearly.

    I still think your “dirty big storm” is a very welcome addition to the jargon of power generation.

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