Friday, August 19, 2016

And We're a Long Way From Done Yet

Here's the problem. When our leaders are debating how little they can get away with doing about climate change,  they're looking only at the tip of the iceberg, the part above water. That's their frame of reference.

Despite how much publicity it has received, most of us have a poor if not erroneous understanding of atmospheric greenhouse gases and what they hold in store for the next few decades and over the two centuries following that.

There's already a lot of atmospheric GHG, enough that we've already locked in 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming even if we abandoned fossil energy entirely tomorrow. The stuff is very persistent, especially CO2, and it will continue to cause the planet to heat until, over a very long time, we're long gone and it finally dissipates.

At last December's Paris climate summit there was general agreement to limit warming to 1.5 C. We are effectively already there, just give it a few more years to work its magic.

Then there are the knock-on effects this 1.5C will create. That could add another 1.5C over a couple of centuries from the heating effect of the loss of reflective ice caps and glaciers. That's a total of 3 degrees Celsius without factoring in other natural feedback loops such as a massive methane release from melting permafrost and warming northern lakes and seabed.

Now, bad as this mess already is, we have a new government dragging its heels in the footsteps of its predecessor, intent on driving the extraction and export of ever increasing amounts of Athabasca bitumen. The greenhouse gas emissions from that initiative go directly on top of the basic 1.5 C plus the additional, long-term 1.5C plus the added warming from the methane feedback loop and so on.

Is "genocidal" too strong a word to use? There is credible scientific opinion concluding that we're on the path to a major extinction event, the first in our planet's history created by any species of life, by one species - mankind. It lacks the malevolence of concentration death camps of the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia or the slaughterhouse of Rwanda yet, in raw numbers, it could eclipse all of them in sheer numbers.

Some, such as Gaia hypothesis creator, James Lovelock, foresee mankind emerging from this century with a population reduced to a few hundred million. If he's remotely correct that's talking not about millions of deaths or even hundreds of millions but many billions of humans wiped out through man's own indifference, greed and neglect. How genocidal is that? Global, encompassing almost every species, the lot wiped out. Maybe we should change it to "omnicidal."

Think about the image of that iceberg the next time you're treated to a heaping helping of climate change nonsense from Trudeau enviromin, Lady Cathy - especially when she gets to the part about keeping warming under 1.5C. When she starts on about 1.5C you know she's talking with her head up her past.


aweb said...

There was a past mass extinction event attributed to the first oxygen out gassing life forms.

Not that this makes the current situation better of course. And we're already in a mass extinction event by many definitions.

Anonymous said...

You do know that is a phony picture?

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, Anon, I know it's an illustration and now, I guess, so do you. Well done.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ AWEB - there have been several mass extinctions in Earth's history, at least five. The most recent was the asteroid impact. Prior to that there were a few caused by rapid global warming and the carbonization of the oceans. Paleontologist Peter Ward describes these in "Under a Green Sky." Ward fears we're triggering another, similar event through our carbon-enriched atmosphere transferring excessive levels of carbon into our sea water. It takes many centuries but it leads eventually to a hydrogen-sulphide or green atmosphere.

crf said...

We are geo-engineering whether or not we want to be.

I think it is far passed time to study geo-engineering proposals more seriously. One of the mistakes of certain climate-change political activists, including some climate scientists, has been not just point out its risks, but often to denigrate talk of geo-engineering while in the same breath saying that we have the time and tools to decarbonize rapidly (often just using renewable energy). It doesn't look like this is a good strategy, as climate reality plays out.

(For example see: TorStar in 2015 on Geoengineering.)

The Mound of Sound said...

I understand your point, Chris, and I suspect that eventually, probably well after it's too late, we will resort to these options out of desperation. Unfortunately we're apt to go for the means that best suit us as individual nations or groups of nations, options that usually mean a tougher time elsewhere. Or some smaller nations could use our action as the go ahead for geo-engineering technologies that worsen our situation. Military types see this as a dandy way to spark a war.

Geo-engineering is a Band Aid fix that is flawed in that it tries to solve the global warming problem in isolation of the other existential threats facing mankind that tend to fall within the categories of overpopulation and over-consumption of resources.

If there is one lasting solution to all of these threats it is to bring mankind back into harmony with our global environment. That means rapidly decarbonizing our economies and our societies and a switch to some sort of Steady State economic principles. That, in turn, would demand of the West a sharp reduction in GDP and standard of living. Adam Smith foresaw it and Daly, Prugh, Costanza, Cumberland and others are its modern advocates. There is a madness that reaches into our highest offices that believes we can live beyond the finite carrying capacity of this planet. It has brought us to where we are today and it stands to bring us to a much worse place in the coming decades.

Northern PoV said...

" Maybe we should change it to "omnicidal." "

I'd call it housekeeping. Gaia is just cleaning out the vermin.

Anonymous said...

Can't take much teasing.