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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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As warming approaches 1.5°C, talk of a carbon budget for the Paris targets is delusional

As warming approaches 1.5°C, talk of a carbon budget for the Paris targets is delusional

There’s a lot of delusional talk about how much “carbon budget” (or new emissions) are allowable that would still keep global heating to the Paris target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). The reality is that over the last year, global average warming was already close to 1.5°C, based on a true, pre-industrial baseline.

And the warming already in the system may well be enough to take the planet past 2°C, without any more emissions. The propositions pushed by governments, big business and many large climate movement NGOs that we have a “carbon budget” available for the Paris targets runs contrary to the evidence and suggests a world of politically convenient make-believe. 

Figure 1: Global warming July-to-June, illustrated here with a 1981-2010 baseline.  Image by CarbonBrief.

Here’s why:

  • According to CopernicusECMWF, globally, the twelve-month period from July 2019 to June 2020 was 0.65°C warmer than the 1981-2010 average (see chart above).
  • Then 0.63°C should be added to these values to relate recent global temperatures to the pre-industrial level defined as a late 19th century baseline.
  • So warming for the period July 2019-June 2020 is 1.28°C, compared to the late19th  century, for which instrumental temperature records are available from 1850.  This ties with the warmest year on record.
  • But there was also warming from the start of the industrial revolution and the use of coal from the mid-eighteenth century, up to the end of the nineteenth century. That figure ranges up to 0.19°C, according to Importance of the pre-industrial baseline for likelihood of exceeding Paris goals
  • And new research published last year found that gaps with missing data in the observational temperature record are responsible for an underestimation of the global warming between 1881–1910 and 1986–2015 by 0.1°C.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to communicate the climate emergency

How to communicate the climate emergency

Download guide as PDF

What are effective ways of engaging people in conversation about the gathering climate crisis and the need for an emergency response? Let’s start with some key content:

1. Urgency and courage   

The Earth is already too hot: we are in danger now, not just in the future. Warming will accelerate, and 1.5°C is only a decade away, yet annual emissions are still growing and the current, post-Paris emissions trajectory will result in catastrophic warming. The Great Barrier Reef and other coral systems are dying. We are greatly exceeding Earth’s limits, and food and water shortages are contributing to conflicts and forced migration.

On current trends, following the Paris Agreement, we may face catastrophic warming within our children’s lifetimes, with large parts of the world uninhabitable and major food growing regions ruined by drought (such as Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, south-western USA) or rising seas (such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Egypt). In past periods when greenhouse levels were similar to the current level, temperatures were 3–6°C higher and sea levels around 25–40 metres higher than in 1900.

Climate warming is an existential risk to human civilisation, and on the current warming path we are heading towards outright chaos.

The failure of community and political leaders to talk about such concerns leaves unspoken fears lurking just below the surface of public life, sapping our strength. Fear and alarm should be welcomed as healthy reactions that show we’ve noticed something dangerous is going on.

Our response to the climate crisis is the courage to match actions to the size of the problem.

2.    Emergency response 

Many people realise we are heading for a social and planetary crisis. Three-quarters of Australians consider climate change a “global catastrophic risk”.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

When we look at the crisis rationally, the only logical response is to declare a climate emergency

When we look at the crisis rationally, the only logical response is to declare a climate emergency

Participants in this week’s Darebin Climate Emergency conference in Melboure.
Photo: John Englart

People engaged in the climate debate are often bewildered by society’s lack of response. How can we ignore such overwhelming evidence of an existential threat to social and economic stability?

Given human history, we should never have expected anything else. Humans have a consistent tendency that when change is uncomfortable we delay action until a threat becomes a crisis. The scale of the threat or the existence of powerful evidence makes little difference.

There are countless examples – personal health issues, a business’ declining success, or global financial and credit risks. Historically, though, World War Two (WWII ) remains the best analogy.

The evidence of the threat posed by Hitler was overwhelming and the case for action crystal clear. However, many were still deeply resistant to acting. Only when the threat became overwhelming – until it was accepted as an imminent crisis – was Britain triggered into action. When it was, Winston Churchill led the critical shift in thinking, arguing that no matter how uncomfortable, expensive or challenging to the status quo, sometimes you just have to do what is necessary. Not your best, or what you can afford, or what’s “realistic” – but what is necessary. In his case, that was going to war and assuming victory was possible.

And so began one of the fastest and most dramatic economic mobilisations and industrial transformations in history. As a result, something that was rationally bordering on the impossible was achieved.

I would argue we are approaching a point where this same cycle will play out on climate change – and we will get to the transformational action stage.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our energy challenge in 6 eye-popping charts

Our energy challenge in 6 eye-popping charts

Renewable energy is winning and coal is on the skids. Disruption of the fossil fuel industry is well under way, and the global energy system is being decarbonised. We’re right on track, right?

To avoid dramatic climate system tipping points, the world needs to decarbonise very quickly and start drawing down the level of carbon in the atmosphere, because it’s already unsafe. As one dramatic example, in past periods when greenhouse levels were similar to the current level, temperatures were 3–6°C higher and sea levels around 25–40 metres higher than in 1900.

So climate warming is now an existential risk to human civilisation, that is, an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential. It is now too late for incremental, measured steps to protect what we care about. Winning slowly is now the same as losing.

So how are we going with our energy system? It is the predominant source of the dramatic human-caused rise in the level of greenhouse gases, which over the last century has increased 70 percent, from 280 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent (ppm CO2e) to 480 ppm CO2e.

The question is pertinent, with the Guardian reporting last week, “Rise in global carbon emissions a ‘big step backwards’, says BP” on news that global electricity emissions rose 1.6% in 2017 after flatlining for the previous three years, despite renewable power generation growing by 17% last year, because “strong economic growth led to above-average energy demand, coal use bounced back in China and efficiency gains slowed down, causing emissions to jump”.

And there was this from China:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What goes up must come down: It’s time for a carbon drawdown budget

What goes up must come down: It’s time for a carbon drawdown budget

There is no carbon budget left for 1.5°C climate warming target, which means that to achieve this outcome every tonne of emissions must be matched by a tonne of drawdown of atmospheric carbon from now on. For that reason, carbon budgets and emissions target should be complemented by a carbon drawdown budget and target.

That’s the proposal made by Breakthrough, the Melbourne-based National Centre for Climate Restoration, to the Victorian climate change targets 2021-2030 expert panel, last week.

In the submission, Breakthrough established that:

  • 1.5°C of climate warming is not safe;
  • There is no carbon budget remaining for 1.5°C, so “What goes up must come down”;
  • “Overshoot” in emission reduction scenarios should be minimised in extent and duration to avoid tipping points that may be irreversible on human time-frames.

Here’s the story in more detail.

1.  1.5°C of climate warming is not safe

The Paris Agreement has a policy goal of 1.5–2°C, but even 1.5°C is far from safe and is not a satisfactory target:

  • In 2015, researchers looked at the damage to system elements — including water security, staple crops, land, coral reefs, vegetation and UNESCO World Heritage sites — as the temperature increases. They found all the damage from climate change to vulnerable categories like coral reefs, freshwater availability and plant life could happen before 2°C warming is reached, and much of it before 1.5°C warming.
  •  In 2013, Australian scientists contributed to an important research paper which found that preserving more than 10% of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below 1.5°C. Recent research found that the surge in ocean warming around the Great Barrier Reef in 2016-17, which led to the loss of half of the 2015 reef area, has a 31% probability of occuring in any year at just the current level of warming.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

1.5°C of warming is closer than we imagine, just a decade away

1.5°C of warming is closer than we imagine, just a decade away

Global warming of 1.5°C is imminent, likely in just a decade from now. That’s the stunning conclusion to be drawn from a number of recent studies, surveyed below.

Paris Commitments now put the
world on a path of 3.4°C of
warming by 2100
(Climate Action Tracker)

So how does hitting warming of 1.5°C a decade from now square with the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”? In two words, it doesn’t.

The Paris text was a political fix in which grand words masked inadequate deeds. The voluntary national emission reduction commitments since Paris now put the world on a path of 3.4°C of warming by 2100 (as illustrated), and more than 5°C if high-end risks including carbon-cycle feedbacks are taken into account.

The Paris outcome is an emissions path continuing to rise for another fifteen years, even though it is clear that “if the 1.5°C limit should not be breached in any given year, the budget (is) already overspent today”. Two years ago, Prof. Michael E. Mann noted: “And what about 1.5°C stabilisation? We’re already overdrawn.”

In fact, the emission scenarios associated with the Paris goal show that warming will “overshoot” the 1.5°C target by up to half a degree, before cooling back to it by the end of this century. Those scenarios rely unduly on unproven Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology in the second half of the century, because the Paris Agreement does not encompass the steep emissions reductions that are required right now.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Quantifying our Faustian bargain with fossil fuels 

Quantifying our Faustian bargain with fossil fuels 

Our Faustian bargain: the byproduct of burning dirty
fossil fuels are short-lived atmospheric aerosols
which provide temporary cooling

The climate system will heat well past 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) and perhaps up to 2°C without any further fossil fuel emissions. That’s the conclusion to be drawn from new research which should also help demystify the rhetoric from the 2015 Paris climate talks of keeping warming to below 1.5°C .

It’s not that 1.5°C isn’t dangerous: in fact, at just 1–1.1°C of warming to date, climate change is already dangerous. A safe climate would be well below the present level of warming, unless you think it is OK to destroy the Arctic ecosystem, tip West West Antarctic glaciers into a self-accelerating melt, and lose the world’s coral reefs, just for starters.

The new research quantifies the effect of losing the very temporary planetary cooling provided by atmospheric aerosols.
Aerosols (including black-carbon soot, organic carbon, sulphates and nitrates and dust) are very short-lived particles in the atmosphere that have a cooling impact that lasts around a week. Most of these aerosols are anthropogenic, that is produced by human activity, and most of the anthropogenic aerosols are a byproduct of the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Perhaps best known are the polluting sulphates and nitrates from coal-fired power stations, that combine with water molecules in the atmosphere to produce what is popularly known as “acid rain”.

The problem is our “Faustian bargain”: these aerosols are keeping the planet cooler than it would otherwise be, but are coming from burning fossil fuels that pour carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, heating the planet for centuries to come. The absolutely essential moves to eliminate fossil fuel emissions will also cut the cooling aerosol impact; the net effect will push the planet towards very dangerous warming conditions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

New study on climate sensitivity not what poor media headlines, deniers are saying

New study on climate sensitivity not what poor media headlines, deniers are saying

Courtesy Skeptical Science

One swallow doesn’t make a spring, and nor does one scientific paper change a whole body of evidence. But you could be mistaken for thinking so after the poor media coverage last week of a new piece of climate research.

A study published last week in Nature(“Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability”) claims to tighten the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), range for (short-term) Estimated Climate Sensitivity (ECS), the amount of warming to be expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide  (CO2) in the atmosphere.

The study puts its best guess at 2.8C, which is pretty squarely in the middle of what scientists have thought all along. It also affirms that the best-case scenario of little-to-no warming, which deniers point to as justification for inaction, is unlikely, as are the worst-case, “black swan” scenarios.

But because the AFP write-up was framed around the worst-case scenarios being “not credible,” deniers are celebrating the study as some sort of win.

Now this study, and particularly AFP’s coverage, isn’t particularly helpful from either a scientific or a communications standpoint. For one thing, it’s based on recent short-term variation, not thousands of years of temperature data, like other paleo-climate based ECS studies. Plus, it uses a brand new modeling methodology–not exactly a tried-and-true approach. But apparently those who rail against climate models as hopelessly inaccurate will eagerly believe model outputs if they think it supports their denial.

Then there’s the whole “single-study-syndrome” issue, so we should take the findings with a grain of salt, especially given other recent studies putting ECS at the higher end of what’s likely. This new modeling exercise doesn’t take tipping points into account, meaning that – oops – those worst-case scenarios are still very much on the table if steady warming triggers rapid changes in glacier melt or ocean circulations or any other unexpected surprises.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What we learned about the climate system in 2017 that should send shivers down the spines of policy makers 

What we learned about the climate system in 2017 that should send shivers down the spines of policy makers 

Much of what happened in 2017 was predictable: news of climate extremes became, how can I put it … almost the norm. There was record-breaking heat on several continents, California’s biggest wildfire (extraordinarily in the middle of winter), an ex-tropical cyclone hitting Ireland (yes, Ireland) in October, and the unprecedented Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that swept through the Atlantic in August. The US government agency, the NOAA, reported that there were 16 catastrophic billion-dollar weather/climate events in the USA during 2017.

And 2017 “marks the first time some of the (scientific) papers concluded that an event could not have occurred — like, at all — in a world where global warming did not exist. The studies suggested that the record-breaking global temperatures in 2016, an extreme heat wave in Asia and a patch of unusually warm water in the Alaskan Gulf were only possible because of human-caused climate change”, Reuters reported.

At both poles, the news continues to be not good. At the COP23 in Bonn, Pam Pearson, Founder and Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, warned that the cryoshere is becoming “an irreversible driver of climate change”. She said that most cryosphere thresholds are determined by peak temperature, and the length of time spent at that peak, warning that “later, decreasing temperatures after the peak are largely irrelevant, especially with higher temperatures and longer duration peaks”. Thus “overshoot scenarios”, which are now becoming the norm in policy-making circles (including all 1.5°C scenarios) hold much greater risks.
As well, Pearson said that  2100 is a misleading and minimising measure of cryosphere response: “When setting goals, it is important to look to new irreversible impacts and the steady state circumstances.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

After the encyclical, lessons for climate activism?

After the encyclical, lessons for climate activism?

Note: This blog is based on and extends a short presentation at aLighter Footprints climate action group monthly meeting in Melbourne on 24 June.

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When I first heard early this year about the forthcoming papal encyclical on nature and climate change, my first reaction was that this could be one of the biggest moments so far in climate politics but, like many scientific “tipping points”, that can only be judged well after the fact. That Pope Francis will be addressing the UN General Assembly and the US Congress on consecutive days in September 2015, the drawing of his title from Francis of Assisi (patron saint of nature), and his training as a chemist all suggest that this issue is a core concern and his advocacy is far from over.

Laudato si, on the care of our common home was issued on 18 June and described by an editorial inThe Guardian as “the most astonishing and perhaps the most ambitious papal document of the past 100 years…[it] sets out a programme for change that is rooted in human needs but it makes the radical claim that these needs are not primarily greedy and selfish ones”.  Some key points:

  • It is addressed to everyone, to “every person living on this planet”, and not just to Catholics: “Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.”
  • Nature is not separate from us: “When we speak of the ‘environment’, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature…”…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…



Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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