Thursday, July 06, 2017

Cassandra Calling. Our Goose is Nearly Cooked.

Another climate change report from the "Yeah, it's way worse than you imagined" file.

Has there ever been an area of science where predictions have been so persistently unduly optimistic. Not all that long ago the really dire predictions were that, if we didn't quickly slash our emissions of greenhouse gases, thus and so might hit us by 2100. Of course that meant not us, not you and me, but maybe our grandkids or their kids. That Arctic sea ice might be gone by 2100 if we didn't change our ways. The temperature might rise by 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 if we kept gorging ourselves on fossil fuels. We might trigger feedback loops, runaway global warming, by 2100 unless we were really careful.

Okay, so here's the latest.

“The hope was that climate sensitivity was lower and the Earth is not going to warm as much,” said Cristian Proistosescu, at Harvard University in the US, who led the new research. “There was this wave of optimism.”

The new research, published in the journal Science Advances, has ended that. “The worrisome part is that all the models show there is an amplification of the amount of warming in the future,” he said. The situation might be even worse, as Proistosescu’s work shows climate sensitivity could be as high as 6C.

Prof Bill Collins, at the University of Reading, UK, and not part of the new research, said: “Some have suggested that we might be lucky and avoid dangerous climate change without taking determined action if the climate is not very sensitive to CO2 emissions. This work provides new evidence that that chance is remote.” He said greater long term warming had implications for melting of the world’s ice sheets and the rise of sea levels that already threatens many coastal cities.

The reason the historical temperature measurements indicated a lower climate sensitivity than models or paleoclimate data is because the Earth has a fast and a slow response to increases in carbon emissions, Proistosescu said.

Land, mostly in the northern hemisphere heats up quickly. But there is also a slow response, he said: “This is mostly associated with warming over the oceans. They are big and full of cold water, especially at depth, and take a long time to heat up.” Furthermore, when the slow warming does kick in, it is likely to reduce the cloud cover that shades the Southern ocean and the eastern tropical Pacific, amplifying the heating.

Now, here's the thing. The impacts of 4 or 5 or 6 degrees Celsius warming above pre-industrial levels are generally the same as what we'll see with 2C of warming only orders of magnitude greater in severity. For example, you'll get sea level rise only as the world gets ever hotter the seas will rise faster and higher and the losses and disruption will be more catastrophic.  Floods in some places and droughts in others will have the same pattern of increased intensity, frequency and severity as temperatures rise. The deadly consequence of heatwaves will likewise just get worse and more areas will be rendered uninhabitable.

The world may already be seeing the increasing rises in temperature, said Prof Piers Forster at the University of Leeds, UK: “It may already be happening – the rapid increase in temperatures since 2014 could be partly due to the eastern Pacific catching up.”

There you go, our goose is pretty much cooked. We don't have five or ten or thirty years to abandon fossil energy. As Hans Joachim Schellnhuber warned the delegates to the 2015 Paris climate summit our only chance of surviving climate change depended on our willingness to accept an "induced implosion" of our fossil fuel industries. And you know that we've never had a government - federal or provincial - in Canada onside with that notion.


Toby said...

Have you listened to CBC's podcast, 2050: Degrees of Change? "CBC Meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe guides a journey to our future in a CBC Vancouver original podcast that explores how our world and lives will adapt to climate change within a few decades."

It's a bit Pollyanna, probably as a result of trying to find a middle path of the predictions. They did get Gwyn Dyer in at the end to up the stakes a bit. My main objection is that they ignored the feedback problem which causes acceleration of warming. Consequently, the theme is that most of us in BC will adapt and live happily ever after.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's a common affliction these days, Toby. We refuse to acknowledge that climate change is just one of at least three, possibly four, interconnected existential threats and that our hopes of solving any of them are negligible without finding a means to resolve them all. You can't do that with our existing modes of organization - political, economic, social - that created our dilemma. We're pretty much heading in the wrong direction on every score.

Solving these challenges - global warming, overpopulation and dangerous over-consumption of resources - demands a high level of global stability, cooperation and, ultimately, sacrifice. We don't talk about these things yet they're well understood at high levels - understood and stubbornly resisted. We're having a Thelma & Louise moment. You and me are stuck in the back seat unable to unlatch our seat belts.

Lorne said...

As a regular reader of your blog, Mound, I have for some time been aware of the accelerating pace of climate change, especially of the feedback loops now in play and the dangerously increasing rate of glacial melt both in the Arctic and the Antarctic. Often I post a link to your climate stories on Facebook or Twitter, but almost never do I get a response or a sharing of them. To me, this typifies the unforgivably blasé people still have about the whole crisis.

We already have had major flooding here, with Lake Ontario three feet above normal, but all people complain about is that the Toronto Islands are still closed, or a particular waterfront trail is inaccessible. Connecting the dots does not seem to be a particular forté of our species, does it?

The Mound of Sound said...

Three feet above normal? I had no idea.

I expect that you know people who just a handful of years ago thought that this climate change business, even if legitimate, was exaggerated and now seem simply resigned to whatever befalls them. The one thing they don't want to consider are responses that might impact them financially. They see themselves as already much too highly taxed, unwilling to accept measures that could reduce their standard of living especially if they think the benefits will accrue to future generations. Consider all the emotions at play here - fear, confusion, helplessness, anger. How many of us are prepared to deal with this. Don't you find yourself at times unable to believe the magnitude of this predicament. I certainly have my "this can't really be happening" moments. I don't want to believe this as much as anyone and I'll bet you know exactly what I mean.

It's a hell of a situation when you come to fear that you might live long enough to be overtaken by these events.

Lulymay said...

And while some people in BC are chortling away, suggesting that we will gain all the benefits that California currently enjoys with their fruit and veg production because it will be too hot to grow anything down there, they continue to ignore the broader picture.

They overlook some very current problems such as where will we get the bees that are diminishing as we speak because of years of blatant pesticide use. Are they willing to get on their knees in the dirt and attempt to hand pollinate everything we grow?

I worked in the Environment Ministry and recall 20 years ago when a Habitat Tech told me we now have opossums on some of the small islands in the Straight that came up most likely on trucks from the southern states and are thriving in the Vancouver Island region. That they can survive (and multiply) that well is a sure sign that this is a bi-product of climate change that will be responsible for destroying our ground nesting bird population. And that's just one small example that probably never got much circulation.

I could go on, not to the level of your knowledge, but there are most likely many folks like me who have been made aware if isolated pieces of info that add up to a much bigger story.

My thanks for not letting this subject languish in the back pages.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hard to imagine where we're going to grow this agricultural bounty, Lulymay. The coast is too mountainous to support California-style agriculture. The interior already gets about as hot as it can manage. There's a reason why BC has Canada's only true desert.

What worries me most is the loss of much of our mainland tree cover to drought, heatwaves and the spread of pests and diseases in a warming climate. There are tree species much better suited to these climate extremes and side effects but it would take many centuries for those forests to develop if we chose to allow nature to take its course.

We should be treating our natural gas fields as a strategic reserve strictly for domestic consumption on a reduced capacity. The same for our shale oil. Better yet is the neglected option of developing bio-fuels, both gas and oil, out of the stocks of deadwood across the interior. There's nothing better than wood cellulose, especially from the most resinous conifers, for production of bio-fuel from the surface carbon cycle. If only we would come to our senses.