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Climate Change

Published on September 27th, 2018 | by Steve Hanley

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Ho Hum. 6th IPCC Report Says World Is Headed For Existential Crisis. What Else Is New?

September 27th, 2018 by  


The International Panel On Climate Change will meet in Inchon, Korea, the first week in October. Its mission will be to review and approve the 6th IPCC climate change report, a document that will detail the progress made toward meeting the goal set at the COP 21 conference in Paris in 2015 to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 1.5º Celsius.

IPCC logo

Global Warming Of 1.5º C

That document, entitled simply “Global Warming of 1.5º C,” has been in the works for the past two years with input from many of the world’s most prominent climate scientists. Once approved, it will be published officially on October 8. But some hints about what it will say are beginning to emerge.

Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the report, tells The Guardian that meeting the under 1.5º C goal will require a massive change in how humans behave and how they derive the energy they need to maintain their accustomed lifestyle.

Emissions from transportation, electricity generation, and agriculture will need to be slashed dramatically or eliminated entirely in order for there to be any hope of meeting the goal, Shindell says. “It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5º C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that. While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”

Even assuming carbon emissions can be greatly reduced, the world will have to remove massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to meet the 1.5º C goal. That will be a problem. “The penetration rate of new technology historically takes a long time,” Shindell says. “It’s not simple to change these things. There aren’t good examples in history of such rapid, far reaching transitions.”

The Norway Conundrum

At the UN this week, Ola Elvestuen, Norway’s environment minister, told The Guardian, “We have to find solutions even though the US isn’t there. We are moving way too slowly. We have to do more of everything, faster. We need to deliver on policies at every level. Governments normally move slowly but we don’t have the time.

“The 1.5º C target is difficult, but it’s possible. The next 4 to 12 years are crucial ones, where we will set the path to how the world will develop in the decades ahead. The responsibility in doing this is impossible to overestimate. To reach the goals of the Paris agreement we need large structural changes.”

Elvestuen’s comments illustrate precisely what is involved in the battle against global warming. Norway is a world leader in EV adoption, thanks to aggressive incentives. But it is also one of the world’s larger producers of petroleum and natural gas. The profits from those industries have made it possible for Norway to fund a lifestyle for its citizens that is the envy of the world. But can it continue to do so if it stops producing fossil fuels?

The United States, which is currently a hostage to fossil fuel special interests, has shown little appetite for curbing its carbon intensive lifestyle. The political consequences of addressing an increase in global average temperatures suggest everyone is happy to talk about climate change and make flowery promises, but few are willing to do the heavy lifting needed to prevent the looming climactic crisis facing the world community.

The disconnect between short term goals and long term concerns was painfully obvious at the United Nations this week where alleged president Donald Trump encouraged global leaders to think more about their own self interest rather than work together. Nowhere in his tirade was there any mention of the threats to the America that rising sea levels and more frequent forest fires present. One wonders if The Donald has the mental capacity to appreciate the enormity of the challenge the United States faces from an overheated atmosphere.

Human Foibles

It’s one thing to tell people there is a storm out to sea that may bring high winds, rain, and flooding to their area in a few days. It’s quite another to tell people there’s a storm brewing in the atmosphere that is going to dramatically affect their lives in 40 or 50 years.

As humans, we seem genetically incapable of comprehending threats that won’t affect us for decades. Perhaps it is function of the reptilian part of our brains, the part where our “fight or flight” response is located. Back in the dim mists of time, when having the neighbors for dinner meant something quite different than it does today, survival was totally dependent upon reacting to immediate threats in real time. Our internal programming doesn’t permit us to see much beyond the end of next week.

1.5º C seems like something humanity could adapt to quite easily, but Dr. Tabea Lissner, head of adaption and vulnerability at Climate Analytics, warns “Even 1.5º C is no picnic, really.” It will mean the Arctic will be ice free in summer, half of land based creatures will be severely affected, and deadly heatwaves will occur with much greater frequency. Getting to 2º C of warming would make things just that much worse. “0.5º C makes quite a big difference,” Lissner says.

Many climate scientists are already beginning to think in terms of 3º to 5º of average global temperature rise. But that’s 100 years from now. Who even cares about something that far in the future? Heck, the Earth could be wiped out by a meteor before then. And besides, when we really need it, science will come up with something completely unexpected that will save us all and allow us to drive our F-150s forever. Right?


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may take him. His muse is Charles Kuralt -- "I see the road ahead is turning. I wonder what's around the bend?" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.



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