The Bomb is Ticking
The odds are against us. That is the bottom line in the latest IPCC report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on global warming (IPCC_AR6_SYR_SPM.pdf), the most comprehensive scientific report to date. Once again we are told that 2030 is the year of living dangerously—when humanity must cut greenhouse gas emissions in half, and then proceed to stop them altogether by 2050. Otherwise, the planet faces all the climate catastrophes we’re already witnessing evolve. “The climate time bomb is ticking,” said the UN’s secretary-general. “The rate of temperature rise in the last half-century is the highest in 2,000 years. Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest in at least two million years.”
The chances of holding global warming to 1.5 degrees C., which scientists tell us is the aim if we are to survive those catastrophes, are very small. The planet has already warmed to 1.1 degrees C. above pre-industrial levels, and every year we see heat records being set around the world. Another major part of the problem is national interests: Governments will violate their pledges on climate change whenever their economies need pumping up—such as China’s decision to permit 168 new coal-fired power plants to be built, or the US decision to go ahead with the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska (https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/14/politics/inside-willow-project-approval-biden-haaland-climate/index).
Then there is the refusal of populations, especially in the richest countries, to change their habits. They (we!) want more plastic packaging, more air conditioning, more access to food from far away, more oil and gas, more lumber from old forests, more water to combat the drought they helped create, more homes where they shouldn’t be built, and more government bailouts when things go wrong.
More Bad News
Climatologists are not saying that the world will end as we approach 2.0 degrees C. of warming. What they are saying is that living conditions for nearly everyone will be profoundly affected by changes in weather, including health and safety for many millions of people and other species. We are all aware of what those changes will probably be, but they are regularly updated, invariably with worse news than before. For example (the quoted words are from the IPCC report):
- The rich-poor gap in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) continues to grow: “The 10% of households with the highest per capita emissions contribute 34–45% of global consumption-based household GHG emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute 13–15%.”
- Food and water security is endangered: “Roughly half of the world’s population currently experience severe water scarcity for at least part of the year due to a combination of climatic and non-climatic drivers.” As many as 2.4 billion people will experience water scarcity by 2050, and millions more will not have access to safe sanitation in water supplies.
- Extreme heat is responsible for increased deaths, water-borne diseases, and displaced persons in all world regions. “Compound heatwaves and droughts are projected to become more frequent . . . Due to relative sea level rise, current 1-in-100 year extreme sea level events are projected to occur at least annually in more than half of all tide gauge locations by 2100 under all considered scenarios. Other projected regional changes include intensification of tropical cyclones and/or extratropical storms, and increases in aridity and fire weather.”
- Every increment of global warming increase will increase the risks and make them more difficult to manage. “Multiple climatic and non-climatic risk drivers will interact, resulting in compounding overall risk and risks cascading across sectors and regions. Climate-driven food insecurity and supply instability, for example, are projected to increase with increasing global warming, interacting with non-climatic risk drivers such as competition for land between urban expansion and food production, pandemics and conflict.”
Good News, But Not Enough
As usual, the IPCC report does mention multiple ways in which adaptation and mitigation can affect climate change. All are quite familiar, such as more efficient use of resources, better forest management, carbon capture of fossil fuels, sustainable land use, electric vehicles, and more efficient buildings. There’s never been a problem imagining a net-zero carbon world. Here and there, these changes are being accepted. But for every piece of good news, there’s an “on the other hand.” For example:
- From 2035 on, new gasoline-powered cars and most heavy trucks cannot be sold in California, and only zero-emission cars can be sold in New York. That’s two big states, but it leaves 48 others.
- Greenpeace reports that an international group is now putting together a legally binding Global Plastics Treaty. (Worst offender? Coca-Cola.) But only a tiny fraction of plastics is being recycled, and more than 170 trillion plastic particles are found in the ocean alone (https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/08/world/ocean-plastic-pollution-climate-intl/index.html).
- The soft-energy path is catching on. As the IPCC reports: “From 2010– 2019 there have been sustained decreases in the unit costs of solar energy (85%), wind energy (55%), and lithium ion batteries (85%), and large increases in their deployment, e.g., >10x for solar and >100x for electric vehicles, varying widely across regions.” But: “Public and private finance flows for fossil fuels are still greater than those for climate adaptation and mitigation.” Any wonder why oil and gas company profits are at their highest level ever? BP, for example, reported $28 billion in profits in 2022, and ExxonMobil reported $56 billion in profits. These companies have, without embarrassment, announced they will be scaling back commitments to move toward renewable energy.
- The Macron government in France is the first to support a ban on deep sea mining. Will any others follow suit?
The Sky is Falling
This latest IPCC report was approved by 195 governments, and synthesizes the results of countless other scientific reports as well as summarizes its six previous assessments. Yet many people read them (if at all) as just more dire predictions that are either overly pessimistic or best left to future generations to deal with. Thus, the IPCC contributing authors keep issuing warnings, governments keep making dubious promises, and worsening environmental conditions keep multiplying. We’re approaching a tipping point, but no authority exists to stop our passing it. This time, the sky really is falling.
Reality often isn’t that much fun … I applauded you for “seeing it, and saying it”, Mel. The data you shared is sobering, indeed. Our collective ship is going down, more harshly for those who had the least contribution in ensuring unnecessary and incalculable suffering. As you point out, the “big boys” who continue to financially benefit from the harm they inflict on Planet and her creation, aren’t anywhere near finished having their way with our children’s children’s futures. Our system of laws was designed, and continues to reward the greedy… I’m grateful to stand/work with the many justice seekers who, regardless of outcomes, remain dedicated to exposing and challenging injustice. We will persist. #CommunityRights
Mel, A pro pos this post, I woke up in the middle of the night last night with this vision:
Joe Biden went to Saudi Arabia last year to ask ben Salman to hellp him out – to increase oil production and lower prices. Their conversation may have gone like this:
Bin Salman: Joe, if I’m going to do that, I need you to slow the expansion of renewable energy production and the electric car market (and trucks and busses too). It’s going to kill my grandchildren if you stop buying enough oil to keep making us rich – and my kingdom along with the granchildren. We’re just getting started on our investments in creating a tourist paradise here in SA. It’s going to take a while, and we need the time.
Joe Biden: I can’t do that, Ben. That horse has already left the barn. I ran on an platform that included fighting climate change, and I can’t go back on that. Besides, it’s out of my hands. The cost of renewables has dropped so far that the big American corporations are going for it whatever I do.
Bin S: Then if you can’t or won’t, I’m going to cut production and increase the price of oil so we can wring the money out of what we have left before it’s too late. That implies that I also have to back Trump with more cash because he’ll do what I ask, and I’ll also have to cozy up to the Russians because they’re so effective in getting Trump into office and keeping him bought off once he’s there.
Joe Biden: I’m sorry to hear that, Ben. But I can see that it makes sense from your viewpoint.
Bin S: Yeah. In fact, I’m sorry that I have to do it. The Russians are such pigs. But Trump basically gave them Syria the last time he was President, and that swung the Middle East into Putin’s pocket anyway. I can’t hold out any longer.
And so Joe Biden came home with his pants around his ankles, and last week he got screwed again when bin Salman jacked up his prices again to try and ease Biden out of office as quickly as he can.
That’s how my imagination works. I hope you’re more sanguine than I am about the potential for change there. If I’m right, we’re all screwed.
Entirely accurate, Jim, and beautifully scripted. The sequence of events is precisely what has happened, which is why I keep arguing for treating the Saudis and MBS like the unreliable partners they have always been. Now, whether they and Trump can unseat Biden is another matter.
Jim…. Remember what Bin S. does to people who criticize his person… i.e., as Khashoggi experienced first-hand, being changed from a solid to a liquid has its downside. Can’t blame Biden one bit for his good sense of self=preservation.
Overpopulation is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, problems of climate change.
Noted futurist and science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov said it best (now so long ago: I read it during my service in Vietnam!) when he wrote something like “You can either decrease the birth rate, or increase the death rate; take your pick…” But the word now is must.
Can’t agree with that, Mike. Far more important causes of global warming — and birth rates are shrinking in many parts of the world. Trouble is, consumption especially in wealthy countries is killing us
True that, at least partially. Just remember the world’s population is at eight billion souls. Granted consumption is what’s spurring things along, but, again overpopulation is way beyond earth’s “carrying capacity.” I rest my case.
Hi Mel… I’m new to your site, havng read your article: ‘The Cllmate Time Bomb’… Before making any comments on the probable severity of the Bomb, there is anohtre kind of bombing scenario that could make the Climate Time Bomb irrelevent. The enemies fighting in Ukraine could unleash the type of Time Bomb for which there is no hope whatsoever. Yet, the two issues, ‘The Climate Time Bomb, and the Nuclear Time Bomb have their sources in the same cauldron, that which the majority of humanity is sitting just watching the calamities evolve, while they pursue watching their favorite sporting event. In your article, may I suggest that the existence of the Global Dimming effect is not included. As you well know, or as anyone should know, the effects of global Dimming cannot be ignored in any serious conversation about reducing carbon emissions. Anyone who has experienced wildfire conditions in their vicinity, (Washington State, Oregon and British Columbia) and who happen to have been aware of predicted temperature highs during days when the skies were smoky, should have witnessed ‘Global Dimming’ at work. The phenomenon is obvious in that the effects of aerosols in the air have a damping effect on the severity of temperature highs, and lessen that severity relative to the amount of air particulates. The more carbon emissions are reduced, the less particulates will have been made air-borne, thereby increasing Global Warming accordingly. If you have some comments to make regarding what is written above, I would most certainly be interested. In my opinion, as the astronauts in the Appollo spacecraft radioed home… “Houston, we have a problem”…. a problem which cannot be resolved by reducing carbon emissions alone, an action that could very well exacerbate the Global Warming conumdrum to its core. .
Hi Jean. In my understanding, Global Dimming, caused (as you say) mainly by fires, has an array of harmful consequences for all species, for plants, and for hydrological cycles, all combining to make global warming even more intense. From what I’ve read in the scientific literature, global dimming reduces the amount of the sun’s rays reaching the earth’s atmosphere, causing a drop of temperatures around the globe. You say the opposite, that it will increase temperatures. I suppose some increase is possible in some places, but I have to believe that it is a small price to pay relative to the harm done by Global Dimming.
Hi Mel… Perhaps I didn’t express the issue as it should be presented.. You are correct, Global Dimming reduces the amount of heat significantly. In the Okanagan Valley where we live, the summer of 2021 was extremely hot, establishing new heat records for all of Canada, Kelowna (where I live) registered 46 C (115 F) at the end of June. In fact, it was hotter here in the Great White North than anywhere in Saudi Arabia on that particular day.
There are a few sporting businesses here in the valley which cater to aquatic activities, namely a large slide for adults and kids. The summer of 2021 was filled with smoke from the hundreds of uncontrolled wildfires that raged cross British Columbia. On many days weather forecasts were predicted to reach over 30 degrees C , but the actual temperatures on days when there was extensive smoke across the Okanagan Valley (a favorite summer destination for many) never reached more than 25 degrees, C .. The only factor that could explain the temperature anomalies being that of the smoke-filled skies. In fact, the business I mentioned went out of business that summer as the result of the lack of hot days.
You are correct in identifying Global Dimming as a factor that prevents the sun’s rays from reaching the ground. The main pont I was trying to make is that the problem that would arise if we were to stop emitting aerosols is that the absence of particles in the air would make the heating problem worse because there would be no aerosols to block the sun’s rays from reaching the Earth, thereby exarcerbating the Global Warming potential.
Last point:… CO2 apparently remains in the atmosphere for decades on average. .Therefore, even though emissions would be reduced , the Global Warming conditions from CO2 and other gases would also remain since the CO2 gas is still in the air and continuing to contribute its Warming effect, even though the actual emissions have been reduced. This condition is how the Global Dimming scenario goes the opposite way as the skies no longer carry aerodols, which fall from the stratosphere in days, as opposed to decades for CO2., thereby intensifying Global Warming conditons to levels which may become overwhelming. In 2001, following the grounding of all planes across the U.S. , it was determined that the average temperature rose by about 1 degree C in less than a week as the result of clearer skies.
I don’t know how accurate those stats may be, but the Global Dimming phenomena was first noticed by Israeli scientists in the middle of the last century. In the near term, Global Dimming might be a bigger problem whose after-effects have yet to be determined, and more seriously addressed.. Admitedly, it’s tough enough to convince some folks that Global Warming is a problem, and so adding Global Dimming to the picture might be a bridge too far to cross. …
Hope the above is a better portrayal of the point I was trying to make…
MEL, The Climate Time Bomb meets The Incredible Disappearing Doomsday (How the Media Stopped Worrying about Climate Change). See latest April HARPER’S cover story for more.
Reminds me of the time when people decided to stop worrying about the A- bomb.
One last reference Mel….
Perhaps the most well-known exposure of Global Dimming is explained in Carl Sagan’s book ‘Nuclear Winter’. in which he describes the effects of airborne aerosols from as little as 100 nuclear detonations on the planet at any one time. If a nuclear war were to occur at any significant level, when tens of thousands of firefighters would not be available, to fight fires everywhere, I personally believe that the air around the Earth would literally become unbreathable, notwithstanding the years of freezing temperatures and radioactive debris floating about that Sagan believes would then prevail.
According to experts, Global Dimming also caused the extinction of most dinosaurs about 66 million years ago, revealing perhaps the most advanced theoretical ramifications of Global Dimming.. I think the human species would not survive Global Dimming, assuming that humans would have survived in underground bunkers in which air intake filters would still work.
I do apologize for my doomsday scenarios, but I didn’t create them, we all did.
Thanks my friend. Sad and scary. Humans are very dangerous
Sent from my iPhone
One item which is sorely missing in (How the media Stopped Worrying about Climate Change) …is MONEY. In fact, most of the articles written on Climate Change mitigation are connected to MONEY. MONEY, and then MONEY. More importanty however is what the lack of MONEY implies… (f you want to find out what is behind impending apocalyptic scenarios, ‘Don’t Look Up’, but rather just look around you and you can easily observe what it means to live without MONEY. Along with the climate change worry stories going AWOL, the survival goods for humanity are also on schedule for AWOL exits. When a million dollars becomes the cost for a loaf of bread, MONEY will still matter, to the last ….