Tuesday, August 01, 2017

5% - How Do You Like Them Odds?

Five percent. One in 20.

Two new studies suggest that we've left climate change unanswered for so long that we have the slimmest of odds of avoiding dangerous levels of global warming. And the science gives us just 3 years to introduce sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Five percent. Three years. Think your petro-pimping prime minister is on that page? No, he's got pipelines to build, bitumen to ship to foreign markets to be turned into ever more greenhouse gas emissions.

In recent years, it has become increasingly common to frame the climate change problem as a kind of countdown — each year we emit more carbon dioxide, narrowing the window for fixing the problem, but not quite closing it yet. After all, something could still change. Emissions could still start to plunge precipitously. Maybe next year.

This outlook has allowed, at least for some, for the preservation of a form of climate optimism, in which big changes, someday soon, will still make the difference. Christiana Figureres, the former head of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, recently joined with a group of climate scientists and policy wonks to state there are 3 years left to get emissions moving sharply downward. If, that is, we’re holding out hope of limiting the warming of the globe to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, often cited as the threshold where “dangerous” warming begins (although in truth, that’s a matter of interpretation).

Yet a battery of recent studies call into question even that limited optimism. Last week, a group of climate researchers published research suggesting the climate has been warming for longer than we thought due to human influences — in essence, pushing the so-called “preindustrial” baseline for the planet’s warming backwards in time. The logic is clear: If the Earth has already warmed more than we thought due to human activities, then there’s even less remaining carbon dioxide that we can emit and still avoid 2 degrees of warming.

Two new studies published Monday, meanwhile, go further towards advancing this pessimistic view which asserts that there’s little chance of the world will stay within prescribed climate limits.

The research finds that the median warming is likely to be 3.2 degrees Celsius, and further concludes that there’s only a 5-per-cent chance that the world can hold limiting below 2 degrees Celsius and a mere 1-per-cent chance that it can be limited below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That will come as bad news for vulnerable small island nations in particular, which have held out for a 1.5 degree target, along with other particularly vulnerable nations.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about the future, our analysis does reflect that, but it also does reflect that the more optimistic scenarios that have been used in targets seem quite unlikely to occur,” said statistician Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington, Seattle. Raftery conducted the study, which was just published in Nature Climate Change, alongside colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Upstart Networks.

Those who follow Ottawa U climatologist Paul Beckwith on YouTube will know that, of late, he's been focusing on another growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, one we may have triggered but can't control, the release of once safely frozen methane from the tundra and sea bed of the Arctic. That is what's called a "positive feedback loop" and, barring some brilliant idea of how to re-freeze the Arctic in the next few years, all those warnings of runaway global warming that have fallen on deaf ears in Ottawa and other capitals for the past fifteen or twenty years probably will come to pass. Now you know what it's like to be sold down the river by your own political caste with their "just not yet, eventually" attitude to the gravest threat ever to confront human civilization.

1 comment:

Toby said...

In some respects I can understand Politicians ducking the subject. The majority of voters simply don't want to hear that we cannot continue to live the way we do. However, we like to hope that we elect grownups who will act in our best interest. I can imagine that when the crunch comes voters will be screaming, "Why didn't you tell us?"