Global Over-Heating: New Insights: A Summary in 1200 words.
Most people realise that humanity is grossly mismanaging the planet’s natural resources. We could cope, having the knowledge and experience of many exemplary efforts and remarkable historical precedents such as Tikopia (Jared Diamond’s book ‘Collapse’). But the dominant ideology pursues growth in consumerism, determined by short-term market forces, with no thought for future generations. (For references to books and all other information see below).
The extent of destruction and degradation on land and at sea is well-documented and relentless (Callum Roberts’ book ‘Ocean of Life’). Probably much of this could be reversed over several generations. Of great concern is the less obvious damage to the many ecosystems upon which all of our lives depend. We are causing mass extinctions (20% – 50% of species by 2100, the sixth biggest extinction since 450 million years ago (Al Gore’s book ‘The Future’). A recent US Intelligence Report says that over-use of aquifers is near to crisis level in California, Brazil, China, the Middle East, North Africa, and South East Asia, including Australia. The Report says that food and water shortages are the main instigators of violent revolutions.
Most of us acknowledge that there is an even greater crisis that exacerbates all of those mentioned. This is changing the fundamental processes on this planet that determine the climate conditions, the weather, the winds and ocean currents, the melting of the ice caps etc. It is named Global Warming, implying normality plus a little more pleasant sunshine. I call this crisis Global Over-Heating, because it is more akin to having a fever when a temperature rise of a few degrees could kill you. The one outcome that we can be sure of, is that extreme conditions will become less predictable, more intense, and more frequent.
I want to draw your attention to the key question: why is humanity’s response to this crisis inadequate and impotent, when we are confident and assertive at managing other existential threats, notably the speed of mobilization for war in 1939-40?
Here are a few of the many reasons why we are reacting badly to this crisis. It requires a global view, it deals with abstract concepts, and it needs an understanding of scientific evidence (but not necessarily details). Misinformation, partly deliberate and partly from a lack of understanding pervades the media. A ‘shifting baseline’ eg. younger people have not experienced the natural world of a few decades ago and believe that nothing has changed.
An important reason why the response to Global Over-Heating is inadequate is that information about its consequences has been greatly understated. Yet, as early as the 1980’s, James Hansen, probably the most eminent climate scientist, spoke out fearlessly about the severity and urgency of this crisis. (Hansen’s book ‘Storms of my Grandchildren’).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPPC, endorsed by 120 member countries, was set up by the UN in 1988 to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [i.e., human-induced] interference with the climate system”. The IPCC Reports are derived from thousands of independent climate scientists. Regrettably, the Reports have seriously underestimated the consequences of Global Over-Heating because of the politics of member countries, the requirement of consensus, and delays in publishing. This ultra-cautious process obscures accumulating evidence from climate scientists which reveals that the consequences will be much more severe than predicted in past decades.
The melting of Arctic summer ice has raced ahead of IPCC predictions. The well-known positive feedback processes accelerating the melting were not included because they could not be quantified, whereas the end result was always beyond doubt. The latest research shows that the Arctic ice feedback processes are twice as powerful as previously thought. Similarly, IPCC predictions of sea-level rises were based on thermal expansion, omitting the effects of ice on land melting into the sea. Another potentially catastrophic feedback process is methane release from melting permafrost etc which is minimal at present but may be accelerating (Michael C. MacCracken et al ‘Sudden and Disruptive Climate Change’).
The IPCC prediction of global temperatures, if we continue to cause Global Over-Heating, states temperature increases in the range of 1.5°C – 4.5°C by the end of this century. Global Over-Heating is already 0.8°C. The optimistic 1.5°C lower prediction derives from models that omit the effects of clouds. Recent research that measured cloud behaviour showed that the range must be raised to 3°C – 5°C or more. The internationally agreed limit is 2.0°C , (giving a 66% chance of avoiding catastrophic consequences) but many reputable climate scientists consider it too high. Clearly, the catastrophic danger level is much closer than the end of the century.
Many people are in denial because they cannot imagine that fundamental changes are possible. The reality is that the rapid melting of the Arctic has already changed the temperature differential between the Arctic and the Equator. This has moved trade winds further from the Equator, altering where monsoons occur (affecting billions of people); changing the Polar Vortex wind system (that brought freezing conditions as far south in the US as Atlanta); changing the speed and variability of the Jetstream (that controls Europe’s weather); and increasing the frequency and intensity of El Niño events in the Pacific (that cause extreme weather events world-wide). These, and other major changes, will be exacerbated over the decades ahead.
About 34 million years ago the polar ice caps began to form and stabilize as they are now – big enough to hold back runaway melting and too small to cause runaway freezing. Only after the last ice age, as recently as 8,000 years ago, did sea-levels and climate conditions stabilize sufficiently for our ancestors to begin farming and eventually build cities. We are destabilizing the fundamental conditions in which civilization has been able to develop (Chris Turney’s book ‘Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past’).
Humanity is causing Global Over-Heating by burning 90 million tonnes of carbon (coal, oil, gas) – an energy equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atom bombs – every day. Proven reserves total 2,795 gigatonnes, worth $7 trillion.
The awesome reality is that burning only 20% of these fossil fuel reserves would have undoubtedly catastrophic consequences. (Mike Berner-Lee et al book ‘The Burning Question’). So 80% must remain in the ground indefinitely. Dependance on fossil fuels must be reduced very rapidly. It will be difficult, but not impossible, to achieve this whilst establishing decent living conditions for the world’s population and ensuring sustainable management of the planet’s resources for future generations.
Only governments have the legitimacy to make this happen against the vested interests of powerful international companies. It will take an overwhelming consensus of public opinion to induce Governments to take effective action. This is the only viable, responsible option. We have no rational choice but to engage in talking about this with everyone we can persuade to respond. Talking is the first, essential step towards understanding reality. The alternative is that the consensus will fail and the consequences of Global Over-Heating will overwhelm us to the bitter end.
Dr. Morris Bradley February 2014
References: Details of the books mentioned and all other references can be found at www.350resources.org.uk.