Saturday, February 03, 2007

Climate change: we're screwed, but we still have choices

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released the first part of its Fourth Assessment Report, on "the scientific basis". You can read the Summary for Policymakers here.

The quickie version for people who don't want to wade through it is:

  • Climate change is real;
  • It is our fault;
  • It is going to hurt very, very badly.

The latter is really the domain of the upcoming Working Group II report on "impacts, adaptation and vulnerability" - but it is notable that we will likely be facing dangerous levels of anthropogenic climate change (defined as 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, or 1.4 degrees above 1990) according to every single scenario listed, and that only one of the scenarios (B1, involving a switch to an information and service economy as well as a massive switch to renewable energy technologies) even has a possibility of avoiding this outcome. So, we're screwed pretty much either way. But we still have control over how badly we are screwed - and the outcomes of the 4 degree rise predicted if we just keep on burning fossil fuels, and use coal to replace liquid fuels as the oil runs out, are much, much worse.

If this all sounds like doom and gloom, there is a positive side. As Brian Fallow points out in the Herald this morning, the fact that humanity is responsible means that we can do something about it. We don't have to watch the ice caps melt and the polar bear die, provided we act soon. There's some encouraging signs here, with even Bush being forced to at least pretend he's interested in a solution (even if his proposal is literally smoke and mirrors), and a sufficiently strong post-Kyoto regime may be enough to avoid the worst. But if we want that to happen, we need to make it crystal clear to our governments that the sort of footdragging, finger-pointing, denial, and "you first" tactics we have seen in the past are no longer acceptable.


Actually, new research suggests that it will be impossible to save the Arctic ice cap, and that it will likely be gone by 2050. Doesn
t mean that we shouldn't do everything in our power to reduce emmissions though.

I see the normal confusion over the range 1.1-6.4C . This figure represents 21st century change over a range of emmissions scenarios. The scientists, obviously, cannot predict human behaviour!

Posted by Anonymous : 2/04/2007 10:15:00 AM

Sorry, that should have read 'mostly gone'.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/04/2007 10:20:00 AM

Or maybe mother nature will intervene in the opposite direction, with a large volcanic erruption plunging us into winter:


Posted by Anonymous : 2/05/2007 04:03:00 PM