Post #53 – AR5: Another Urgent Report on Climate Change

When we consider benchmarks that will help explain why the world ignored dire warnings of climate change, we will want to dwell on AR5, the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (www.ipcc.ch).  The report, put together by some of the world’s most eminent climatologists, describes what can only be called the cataclysmic consequences of our unceasing pursuit of the hard-energy path to growth.  One sentence says it all: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.”

Only the most die-hard climate change deniers—and as we know, there are many, including more than half the Republicans in the US Congress—will turn their backs and close their ears to this report.  (Actually, they probably won’t read a word of it.)  As the deniers insist, “I’m not a scientist” (see my post #49).  But then they should listen to those who are. The so-called core writing group that prepared AR5 consisted of 49 scientists—31 from the major industrialized countries (including 7 Americans), 8 from middle-income countries such as China, and 10 from low-income countries such as Sudan.

Here are some key findings (with italics in the original) from the full-length report, which is available at http://ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_LONGERREPORT.pdf:

  • On atmospheric changes: “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. The period from 1983 to 2012 was very likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 800 years in the Northern Hemisphere, where such assessment is possible (high confidence) and likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence). . . . Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are at levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years.”
  • Temperature: “It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales, as global mean surface temperature increases. It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and longer duration. . . . Extreme precipitation events over most mid-latitude land masses and over wet tropical regions will very likely become more intense and more frequent as global mean surface temperature increases.”
  • Causation: “CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed about 78% to the total GHG emission increase between 1970 and 2010, with a contribution of similar percentage over the 2000–2010 period (high confidence). . . . The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to that of the previous three decades, while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply (high confidence).”
  • Our role: “The evidence for human influence on the climate system has grown since AR4. Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, and in global mean sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
  • Consequences: “Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence). Impacts of such climate-related extremes include alteration of ecosystems, disruption of food production and water supply, damage to infrastructure and settlements, human morbidity and mortality, and consequences for mental health and human well-being. For countries at all levels of development, these impacts are consistent with a significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability in some sectors.”
  • Remedies: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”
  • Bottom line: “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence). . . . Limiting warming to 2.5 °C or 3 °C . . . would require substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades, and near zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived GHGs [greenhouse gases] by the end of the century.”

The irresponsibility of the world’s governments when it comes to climate change will soon be on display in Lima, Peru, when leaders meet to consider a new agreement.  The meeting will (once again) be heavy on rhetoric and light on substance.  Some governments will agree to voluntarily curb greenhouse gas emissions, and a few of those will actually do so.  (Sweden is the lead country when it comes to “going green,” moving toward relying for less than 20 percent of its energy on fossil fuels.  See the global rankings at  http://earthtechling.com/2014/10/swedens-environmental-leadership/?google_editors_picks=true; and thanks to Glen Jackson for this item.)  But most countries will continue devoting far more resources (including subsidies) to fossil fuel extraction than to conservation and alternative energy.

What about the just-concluded verbal agreement on climate change between President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping?  Much ado about precious little, I’d say.  Obama promised that the US would emit 26 to 28 percent less carbon dioxide in 2025 than it did in 2005—an easy promise, since he won’t be around to carry it out, and still far short of the reductions that need to take place.  China’s promise was even less meaningful: allowing carbon dioxide emissions to peak “around 2030,” and by then to have renewable energy comprise 20 percent of China’s energy picture. Well, by 2030 (maybe), when Xi won’t be around either, China’s coal-driven economy will have further blackened the skies, and its consequent public health problems will have worsened considerably.  So where’s the sacrifice?

Future historians—I assume there will be some—will be bewildered by such willful shortsighted and political slights-of-hand.  As they peer out from their offices on the moon or some distant planet, they may wonder if the lesson of Earth’s failures at self-protection will be repeated.

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Where’s the sacrifice? Oh, it’s coming. Industrial society is already an extinction level event on par with the Jurassic. World leaders continue to diddle around with this because to impose the restrictions that actually have some hope of helping would incite riots in first world countries addicted to the unprecedented richness of energy that fossil fuels provide. There is also a strong probability that those at the top feel confident that their wealth will keep them cozy while the ecosystem dies. This thing is a juggernaut out of anyone’s control. I think the best we can hope for at this point is some kind of massive disruption to industrial society, which would entail a sacrifice of human life on a massive scale. Very very few humans actually live within the natural energy economy of the planet, and we are beginning to see that debt being called in. The law of life is balance, and no human constructs of law or thought trump that.

  2. 2025? 2030? If we don’t control the warming of the Arctic Ocean littoral in the next eight years or so, a VERY short window, in order to stop the accelerating melting of the permafrost there and the resulting methane plumes, the ball game is over and the good guys lost; us, our kids, our grandkids…. I am slipping into despair. Walk down the street of anytown USA, hell, walk down the park blocks on the PSU campus, try Harvard Square, and ask people why the melting of Arctic permafrost is a disaster. See how many people have the slightest idea.

  3. The DPRK’s ‘atrocious human-rights record,’ alone is enough to give us pause. I sure do not know enough of their internal politics (read: nothing) to make a judgment. However… That tiny pissant ‘nation’ is already ignored by most of the developed world. I has to ask… Why not collect the vast majority of the world, ,through the UN or otherwise, and simply exclude DPRK from every corner of world commerce, specifically including food. Yes, of course this will hurt some very innocent people. If done thoroughly, it may also cause the citizens of DPRK to initiate and take their own action(s) on their own behalf. There may be some blood and there may be some hunger, but unless the people of DPRK initiate it **themselves,** I see no opportunity for success. Radical? Of course. The more moderate course of occasional engagement over 30-40 years has not produced anything of substance, so why not play hardball with them. Oh, but the a new a nuclear power; be careful and don’t insult them. Nuts. Their current technology would drop their own missile on their own ground as often as it might hit someone else, even if it got off the ground. As inhumane as it may be, I’d rather starve them and break their budget for a few years and let their own citizens make the change. Our – meaning the U.S., Russia, China and a very few others, continuing to enable them, if only to relieve some human discomforts, is simply more money in their accounts. Cut them off. Isolate them to the nth degree. China and Russia will certainly offer some interim support, but Russia cannot afford to assist DPRK for long and China probably won’t risk its own, improving relations with other nations to bail out N. Korea.
    Is this realistic? Heavens no, and I understand that. No Western nation has the (ahem..) to initiate and lead such an action, but… it may be the only course that Mr. Jong-un and his ilk understand. Radical? Yes! Since the cease-fire agreement in the early 50s, show us another course that has produced a better outcome. If they get seriously nasty and begin shooting because the West is not PAYING enough, Mr. Jong-un should not surprised when he and his ‘nation’ become jam for toast. Hell no, I do not like the Big Stick theory. Still, DPRK and Mr. Jong-un apparently want those tools – for some reason. From all quarters, stop the aid that enables them. If they get sooty about it and start shooting, make them into jam. I have to believe that N. Korea still has a few folks who can think and act well enough to form som kind of reasonable government. Ceasing all – every darn dime of outside assistance for a couple of years will, IMO, cause the people of DPRK to take their own action. When they do, ,,,we can find ways to support them.
    Yes Mel, I enjoy your posts. I don’t often spew like the foregoing, but I do enjoy reading your musings. Politics on the other side of the Pacific Rim is a weak spot for me and I rely on you to keep me reasonably well informed. On short, reading your periodic posts IS well worth my time. Thanks – C.

    1. I understand your exasperation; dealing with the DPRK is very frustrating, as the Chinese are finding out. But cutting them off is not only risky given their angry behavior when put to the wall; it also, as you say, means that the bulk of the population will go hungry. An uprising is possible but very unlikely these days; that would have to come from Kim’s military. Thus, I maintain that more contact with the North is a more fruitful path than isolation if we want to promote the human interest.

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