We Are Nudging 1.5 Degrees

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Originally published on the ECOreport.

While Canada’s political leaders toy with the idea of expanding the pipeline infrastructure out of Alberta, average global temperatures reached a record high in 2014, exceeded it in 2015, and are expected to be even warmer in 2016. According to Dr Kirsten Zickfeld, of Simon Fraser University, we are nudging 1.5 degrees.

We Are Nudging 1.5 Degrees

17299838022_2421327032_k-1038x576The average global temperature rise was 1.6 degrees above late 19th century levels in February. If this keeps up throughout the year, we will cross the 1.5 degree threshold.

“The warming is not uniform, these are values that are averaged over the globe. So if we look at a map of the warming what we see is the warming is much worse in the Arctic. In those regions temperature records were broken by two digits this winter,” said Zickfeld.

“This means some temperatures in Alaska or close to the Arctic circle actually being ten to twenty degrees warmer than the average and previous year. One of the consequences of that is that the Greenland ice sheet has already started melting this year, several months earlier than is usually the case.”

“Over the past few months, we have really seen that the warming is accelerating.”

(Click this link to access a podcast of our interview)

The Focus Of Her Research

Diving Trip in Tioman (2010) - lots of coral bleaching but good viz and otherwise good conditions by Paul via Fklickr (CC BY SA< 2.0 License)

In her biography, posted on SFU’s website, Zickfeld describes the focus of her research as “the effects of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols on climate on centennial to millennial timescales. The goal is to better understand the response of the climate system to forcing and the interactions between the different climate system components (the atmosphere, ocean, land surface, biosphere and cryosphere) in order to improve predictions for the future. To achieve this objective, I use climate models of different complexity, from simple conceptual models to complex Earth System models.”

Prior to coming to SFU, Zickfeld worked beside Andrew Weaver in the University of Victoria’s School of Earth and Earth and Ocean Sciences (2009-2014).

She is a former research scientist from Environment Canada’s Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis in Victoria (2008-2010).

Zickfeld was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in Germany, before she moving to Canada.

Attempting To Fight Climate Change AND Expand The Oil Sands Is “Delusional”

She described the nation’s current idea of fighting climate change while expanding the oil sands and building new pipelines as “delusional.”

After announcing that Canada is back in the fight against climate change,  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has let it be known that he wants to build both the Trans Mountain expansion and Energy East Pipelines.

Premier Rachel Notley and supporters holding up signs supporting the Energy East Pipeline - Courtesy Premier of Alberta via Flicke (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Under Premier Rachel Notley, Alberta has finally taken its first steps to curb its emissions. The province’s leading offender, coal-fired plants, will either “be phased out and replaced by renewable energy and natural gas-fired electricity, or by using technology to produce zero pollution” by 2030. Though oil sands development will continue, there is now a legislated emissions cap. The oil sands currently emit 70 megatonnes (Mt) of greenhouse gases a year and will not be allowed to exceed 100 Mt in any given year.

This is a large success within the Albertan context, but far from what is needed.

A carbon budget is very similar to a financial budget. There is only a finite amount of carbon that we can release into the atmosphere and keep the global temperature rise to 2 degrees. Canada’s budget, if it is willing to assume its fair share of the task, is 4 billion metric tons of CO2. This is about ten years of our current emissions, which means that even if we add no new fossil fuel infrastructure we will exceed the limit by 2030.

“If leaders at the Federal level, and the provinces, are serious about meeting the targets they agreed to in Paris, then there is no room for pipelines or any other fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Zickfeld.

Today’s Changes Will Manifest In The Future

During the course of our interview, we discussed the possibility of reversing the processes that are causing climate change.

Unfortunately, carbon dioxide has both a very long lifespan, and atmospheric changes are communicated slowly. The changes taking place today will manifest in the future.

“Even if we stopped emissions tomorrow, the  … (change would not be noticeable) for a very long time … So in order to reverse these warming effects, we would need to remove carbon dioxide artificially from the atmosphere,” said Zickfeld.

She mentioned techniques such as limited use of fertilizer, burying charcoal in the soil and large scale reforestation.

Even then, Zickfeld believes climate change is pretty much irreversible. We will be able to influence the total amount of sea level rise, but we will not be able to stop it because the ocean is still responding to past changes.

California’s fog-shrouded Humboldt Coast Courtesy the Bureau of Land Management via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

“Sea level rise is something we will have to live with for many centuries if not millennia, even if we go to a totally decarbonized energy system,” she said.

” … The oceans are warming very rapidly. In 2015, again, was a record year in terms of ocean warmth. This was, in part, also due to the El Niño phenomenon … along the equator and the Pacific, which makes water along the coast of South America and the central Pacific much warmer than average.”

She described phenomena such as the blob of warm temperature off the coast of western North America, a mass dying of sea birds, dead sea lions washing on to the shore of California, and coral reefs bleaching.

“Most of the impacts (are) actually happening offshore, so this means that ecologists do not really exactly understand what is going on, but we are seeing the symptoms that something is wrong.”

People Are Starting to Get It

Despite this, Zickfeld says she sees signs that people are starting to “get it.” There may not be any binding agreements in place, but at Paris, world leaders recognized they must combat climate change. Financial advisors are starting to warn their clients that investments in fossil fuel companies may end up as stranded assets.

“Had you asked me a year ago, I would have been much more pessimistic. I think it is possible to tackle climate change and avoid the worst of it, but this only works if everybody does something. We must hold our political leaders accountable and we must let them know we expect them to lead in this regard,” said Zickfeld.

The audio of my interview with Kirsten Zickfeld, “We Are Already Close to 1.5 Degrees” (podcast, above), will be aired on CKTZ Monday at 4:30 PM PST.

Top Photo Credit: Iceberg in North Star Bay, Greenland from NASA’s Earth Observatory via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Diving Trip in Tioman, Malaysia (2010) – lots of coral bleaching but good viz and otherwise good conditions by Paul via Fklickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); Premier Rachel Notley and supporters holding up signs supporting the Energy East Pipeline – Courtesy Premier of Alberta via Flicker (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); California’s fog-shrouded Humboldt Coast Courtesy the Bureau of Land Management via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

Roy L Hales has 441 posts and counting. See all posts by Roy L Hales

18 thoughts on “We Are Nudging 1.5 Degrees

  • I’m ashamed of my country.

  • Don’t worry, let’s just keep driving big oversized SUV’s, big sport pickup trucks, and allow natural gas fracking, as our world experiences record high temperatures and the effects of Global Warming intensify. Never mind that solar and wind, which are plunging in price, could replace natural gas fracking, which poisons our water, or that small solar powered electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, or solar electric ELF from Organic Transit, could get us off using dirty polluting oil, and replace 95% of all trips in big polluting SUV’s and sport pick up trucks. Used Nissan Leaf’s and Mitsubishi I-Meav’s are selling for $10,000, so their is no reason why most people cannot buy an electric car, or a plug in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, which gets 51 miles to an electric charge. Used Chevy Volts are selling for $15,000, and so their is really little reason why people should not be buying either electric or plug in hybrid cars.

  • What units is this author using for temperature? The difference between 1.5F and 1.5C is huge so it is absolutely mind-boggling that he neglected to provide the units. It ranks right up there with all those moronic authors who put graphs in their articles but don’t label the axes.

    And no, we can’t assume that he means 1.5C when he says “1.5” because there are still lots of people left in this country who use dinosaur units and there are lots of non-American writers who use American data sources that use dinosaur units.

    • It’s Celsius.

    • Do any climate scientists not use the Celsius temperature scale?

      • 1.) “Sure, units should always be stated, but the content of the article is more important.”

        The magnitude of the temperature delta is an important part of the article. A delta of 1.5F is only 0.83C thus it is important to know which units are missing.

        2.) “Do any climate scientists not use the Celsius temperature scale?”

        Articles in science journals, as opposed to mere magazines, are almost exclusively metric … but magazine and web site writers often convert to dinosaur units when summarizing the journal articles for us – particularly when those writers are catering to North American audiences.

        One of my biggest frustrations with the magazines I read – Scientific American, American Scientist, New Scientist, etc – is that they use a mix of metric and dinosaur units. Similarly, the web sites for those magazines and many other sci/tech web sites also use a mix of metric and dinosaur. Ie., the Sci/Tech web sites and magazines have taught me that I can’t make assumptions about missing units. Thus I think I’m quite justified in wanting to know what units the author of this article neglected to include.

        British sci/tech web sites are better. Sort of. They still often use dinosaur units for heights and weights of people.

        (The magazine and web articles that *really* get my goat are the ones that mix metric and dinosaur in a single article. For that crime “Scientific American” is the worst offender.)

    • Are you questioning that 2015 was the hottest year on record, or the overwhelming scientist consensus from 97% of the world’s climate scientist that Global Warming is anthropogenic? The oceans are warming rapidly. What difference does the graphs this article uses. The fact is that every year is setting a record as the hottest year on record, and 2016 is predicted to beat the previous record in 2015. You must be smoking marijuana.

      • No – you obviously didn’t read what I posted or you wouldn’t be asking such a stupid question. I was questioning whether the temperature rise reported by the lazy author is 1.5F or 1.5C. Either one is a large temperature increase but obviously one is much larger than the other.

        This was an article posted on a sci/tech website so you would expect the authors would have completed at least one high school science class and thus should know that you ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS provide the units. “1.5” is completely meaningless. “1.5F” or “1.5C” or “1.5K” are just a tad more useful.

  • Another month with a record high temperature average. The momentum has begun.

  • One way to counter the melting sea ice at the northpole:
    Take a couple of oil tanker sized ships, that are powered with nuclear energy, like submarines.
    Put on board a machine that extracts nitrogen from the air or hydrogen from the water, depending on which is cheaper/easier. Freeze that gas to liquid form. Blow (or throw in some kind of capsule, torpedo?) that liquid gas in to the water (behind the ship offcourse) to freeze the water.
    With a few ships, if the system can work fast and efficient enough, can allready stop the northpole from getting smaller.
    A few more ships and the northpole atleast will be back to what it was a decade ago in a few years.

    The north pole getting more and more dark blue (water) instead of white or light blue (ice) is a big reason why the earth is warming up (darker colours absorb more heat then lighter colours and the northpole region is a big *ss place). And it can be easily and cheaply be solved (if this idea was used, 1 ship from each of the g-20 countries and the problem is solved)
    Why hasn’t it been done yet? Oh yeah, no money in it, it just costs money….

    • I’d like to see you do the math to prove out your idea.

      Until then I’m going to remain ultra-skeptical.

      • Lol, it’s just a very rough idea I’ve had in my head for a while, thought I’d put it out there. Maybe someone smarter then me can get a better idea out of it or maybe even think it’s a good idea and do the math for me.
        I just think a big enough ship, could easily carry a big enough machine/factory to pump out enough liquid gas to refreeze a wide area of seawater (or have I seen to many movies :P)
        Even if such a ship could only freeze 150 square miles a day (average oil tanker can go 15/16 knots = allmost 20 miles an hour, let’s assume the ship I’m talking about is lighter and more streamlined) it would still at up over a year. (My very rough, very fast calculations, lol)

        • 5,427,000 square miles. 150 sq mi per day = 36,180 days. 99 years with one ship.

          That’s assuming it would be possible to build a ship like you envision.

          BTW, extracting nitrogen or hydrogen would create waste heat as would the nuclear reactor. How do you get that heat out of the Arctic so that it doesn’t melt the ice you’ve formed?

          • That was just 1 ship, I also said every G20 country 1.
            Or 5 per country, problem solved in a year?! 😛
            Heat rises, get the heat out of the water and into the air and most of your problem is solved, a little wind and it’s gone.

          • The heat isn’t “gone”. It’s in the air over the ice and helping to melt the ice.

          • True, but heat rises, so it won’t effect the ice that much.

            Off topic, what do you think about this article, should I ask Zachary to reblog it or can you, if the OP allows it offcourse: http://energytransition.de/2016/04/california-has-too-much-coal-and-nuclear/
            (The title is incorrect, since California barrely has any coal, it should be more like “California, why not give renewables more priority?”)

          • The heat heats the air which it comes into contact.

            California is in the process of getting coal off its grid. For contractual reasons it can’t be done abruptly.

          • That, I know.
            But from my understanding, the article was more about the fact, that utilities in California and the rest of the US and most of the world for that matter, are aloud to choose there own source for production of electricity. And because of that, instead of renewables, base load powerplants are getting a higher priority then non-base load renewables. They do that to keep fluctuations, in the price of electricity, to a minimal. Which I understand, from a utilities point of view.
            Germany (as mentioned in the article, one of the few countries in the world, that I’m aware of, that gives priority to renewables) sometimes has prices in the negative to keep power plants running at minimum speed.
            I think, if a lot more countries did this, alot more FF power plants would be forced to shut down.
            That’s why I thought, to ask, to put it on clean technica, because this is a bigger website then the other one.

            Sorry for the long msg, wanted to be clear…
            And let’s forget about the northpole idea, it’s not like anybody is gonna spend money, to save ice, let alone 20 governments millions.

Comments are closed.