Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Imagining Climate Change, 2015

Human civilization dates back about 11,000 years. Just 11,000 years, a blip in the history of our 5-billion year old planet.

Temperatures over that interval have been remarkably stable barring disruptive events such as major volcanic eruptions and such. We even designated it a geological epoch, named the Holocene. Here's a tidy summary from Wiki:

The Holocene also encompasses the growth and impacts of the human species worldwide, including all its written history, development of major civilizations, and overall significant transition toward urban living in the present. Human impacts on modern-era Earth and its ecosystems may be considered of global significance for future evolution of living species, including approximately synchronous lithosphericevidence, or more recently atmospheric evidence of human impacts. Given these, a new term,Anthropocene, is specifically proposed and used informally only for the very latest part of modern historyand of significant human impact since the epoch of the Neolithic Revolution (around 12,000 years BP).

As geological epochs go, the Holocene was particularly truncated. That's on us. Thanks to man-made global warming, we've now kicked the Holocene into the Anthropocene. This is where it gets complicated. Mankind is now embarked on an uncertain path.

Climate change is set to pass the milestone of 1C of warming since pre-industrial times by the end of 2015, representing “uncharted territory” according to scientists at the UK’s Met Office.

2015 is also set to be the hottest on record, as the temperatures are so far beating past records “by a country mile”, they said. The World Meteorological Organization further announced on Monday that 2016 would be the first year in which the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is over 400ppm on average, due to the continued burning of fossil fuels.

The trio of landmarks comes just three weeks ahead of a crunch UN summit in Paris where world leaders including Barack Obama, Xi Jinping and David Cameron meet in Paris in a bid to reach a new deal on cutting emissions.

Here's something to mull over. In 2014, we reached the 0.9 C mark. One year later that's reached 1.0 C. That's 1 degree Celsius per decade. Not per century, per decade. At that rate, by 2025 we could break right through the dreaded 2 C mark which would leave us on course for runaway, globally cataclysmic climate change.

There are things we might do to mitigate the onset of warming. That begins by immediate and drastic cuts in our greenhouse gas emissions, something that would necessitate what Schellnhuber refers to as the "induced implosion of the carbon economy." That means the near-term abandonment of Athabasca and every other high-carbon/high-cost fossil fuels. Sorry Alberta that can't be helped. Think of it as taking one for the team, the team being humanity. Surely none of would begrudge Ottawa supporting clean energy development in the Wild Rose province.

This is decision time. It's decarbonize or perish. That means shutting down the carbon economy and decarbonizing our society. That also means adjusting federal and provincial treasuries to meet the demands for adaptation strategies beginning with a wholesale overhaul of our aging and decrepit infrastructure. It means building as much resilience as possible to minimize the risk of falling victim to unanticipated impacts as they arrive.

It's a common theme that runs through the history of civilization that societies fall when they're overtaken by events that trigger collapse. Often the calamity is foreseen. They know it's coming and what it likely portends. Yet it turns out the society does not institute proactive measures. It does not act quickly enough or effectively.

Will we act in a timely and effective manner as we must if we're to have much hope of blunting the worst impacts of the looming challenges?  If we're to do that we have to begin by recognizing the forces that stand firmly in our path, corporatism and neoliberalism foremost among them. They won't budge simply for the asking.


Lorne said...

The Star's David Olive had an interesting piece the other day, Mound, about the power of grassroots action. While I think it is probably overly optimistic, take a look at it, because it seems that mitigating the worst effects of climate change only have a chance with wide scale buy-in:

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Lorne. Thanks for the link. We seem to have reached the point at which grassroots action is too little/too late. That's why the top experts like Schellnhuber warn that our only hope now is for an "induced implosion" of the carbon economy. That means a global, government-abandonment of the fossil fuel industry and an abrupt and massive effort to construct a clean-energy economy using every alternative energy technology available.

Even if grassroots action might prevail it would be a generational struggle and we don't have enough time to divert our efforts and attention into that. We're simply running out of time and options that might have been feasible in the 70s, 80s and 90s now stand foreclosed.

The critical factor and the least understood by the public is time. We look outside and everything seems pretty normal. We don't see it coming, not really. We don't see it, we don't feel it, and so we don't believe it. By the time we do see it and feel it, it's already much too late.