State of emergency for planet earth

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, July 22nd, 2017 - 52 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, science - Tags: ,

There’s a current state of emergency happening in Dunedin, Otago, Waitaki and Canterbury due to heavy rainfall and flooding. Wishing everyone affected all the best.

That’s the short emergency. Here’s the long one. James Hansen and a team of climate scientists just published this,

Abstract. Global temperature is a fundamental climate metric highly correlated with sea level, which implies that keeping shorelines near their present location requires keeping global temperature within or close to its preindustrial Holocene range. However, global temperature excluding short-term variability now exceeds +1 °C relative to the 1880–1920 mean and annual 2016 global temperature was almost +1.3 °C. We show that global temperature has risen well out of the Holocene range and Earth is now as warm as it was during the prior (Eemian) interglacial period, when sea level reached 6–9 m higher than today.

Further, Earth is out of energy balance with present atmospheric composition, implying that more warming is in the pipeline, and we show that the growth rate of greenhouse gas climate forcing has accelerated markedly in the past decade. The rapidity of ice sheet and sea level response to global temperature is difficult to predict, but is dependent on the magnitude of warming. Targets for limiting global warming thus, at minimum, should aim to avoid leaving global temperature at Eemian or higher levels for centuries. Such targets now require negative emissions, i.e., extraction of CO2 from the air.

If phasedown of fossil fuel emissions begins soon, improved agricultural and forestry practices, including reforestation and steps to improve soil fertility and increase its carbon content, may provide much of the necessary CO2 extraction. In that case, the magnitude and duration of global temperature excursion above the natural range of the current interglacial (Holocene) could be limited and irreversible climate impacts could be minimized.

In contrast, continued high fossil fuel emissions today place a burden on young people to undertake massive technological CO2 extraction if they are to limit climate change and its consequences. Proposed methods of extraction such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) or air capture of CO2 have minimal estimated costs of USD 89–535 trillion this century and also have large risks and uncertain feasibility. Continued high fossil fuel emissions unarguably sentences young people to either a massive, implausible cleanup or growing deleterious climate impacts or both.

Our conclusion that the world has overshot appropriate targets is sufficiently grim to compel us to point out that pathways to rapid emission reductions are feasible.

My translation of that reserved science speak:

  1. we’ve missed the agreed targets that would allow BAU for Western civilisation
  2. the only thing to do now is drop fossil fuels rapidly
  3. high tech Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is very expensive, unreliable, risky, and probably implausible as a solution.
  4. low tech sequestration via natural cycles might buy us some time but on its own won’t be enough
  5. it’s our kids that will bear the brunt of this

I’ll add,

  1. saving the conventional economy can no longer be the priority. We have to drop fossil fuel use immediately.
  2. the Powerdown gives us the best shot at this without collapse.

________________________________________________________________________

Moderator note: zero tolerance of climate change denial or ‘we’re all going to die, it’s too late’ comments. 

52 comments on “State of emergency for planet earth”

  1. Andre 1

    “saving the conventional economy can no longer be the priority. We have to drop fossil fuel use immediately.”

    I recommend being very careful to separate out arguments about the urgency of responding to climate change and arguments about the problems of the settings of our current flavour of capitalism. The arguments for each stand alone on their own merits, and conflating them simply raises the suspicions of the unconvinced that there’s a hidden agenda.

    Let me illustrate: a while back while helping with the school camp, the bus driver made a climate change denial remark, so I said I’d be happy to talk through the physics with him. After about an hour of discussion (and collecting quite a group participating in the discussion), he finally came around to asking “ok, looks like it’s a real problem. So how come it’s only the communist happy-clappy hippy-trippies getting excited about it?”.

    • weka 1.1

      Well I hope you pointed out to him that the hippies are right and have been talking about this for decades and that if we’d listened to them we wouldn’t be in such a crisis 🙂

      Not sure what your point is though Andre, care to be more specific?

      Btw, the base of my comment wasn’t anti-capitalism. It’s that along with cognitive dissonance, resistance to doing things that might affect the Economy is the biggest block to preventing the worst of climate change. I don’t care if we transition to another form of capitalism or a different form of economics entirely but we really need to stop protecting the economy at all costs.

      • Andre 1.1.1

        My point is that if an argument for addressing climate change comes across as a stalking horse for some other radical change to how society is organised, it closes a lot of minds. The bus driver was aware of Naomi Klein, and had formed the impression Klein exaggerates the threat of climate change to scare people into accepting her economic goals. This had the backfire effect of making him much more receptive to the likes of de Freitas and Lomborg.

        • weka 1.1.1.1

          Klein is one of the most important global activists on CC. If it wasn’t for people like her we wouldn’t even be looking at the need for a rapid transition. Better strategy there is to explain the reasons why radicals are needed and in such a way as meshes with the bus drivers world view. It’s not that hard.

          However I wonder if you are in fact arguing not that the messengers are scaring people off but that message is wrong and that we should keep on with the Economy.

        • Bill 1.1.1.2

          Correct if I’m wrong Andre. But aren’t you one of the people who has thrown the “stalking horse” accusation at posts I’ve done on global warming?

          Just thinking it an odd thing for you to do given your supposed insight from talking to that bus driver, no?

          Regardless.

          Global warming can’t be decoupled from capitalism. It’s capitalism that’s driving our use of fossil fuels, that in turn are driving up temperatures.

        • ropata 1.1.1.3

          Turning your comment around Andre, is it not a sad comment on capitalism and our perennially divided arbiters of public opinion that we even have a climate change “debate”.

          There should be no such thing as “climate denialism”, but it is being kept alive by sociopathic corporations. Not the scientific community, that’s for sure.

  2. Tony Veitch (not etc) 2

    See my post on Open Mike today.

  3. Thanks weka – I prefer to be informed even if the news is grim. But fuck it I’m still going to keep on trying to sort the shit out – you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

  4. we’ve missed the agreed targets that would allow BAU for Western civilisation

    Capitalism has never been sustainable as history proves. It’s always had major environmental degradation as part of its MO.

    the only thing to do now is drop fossil fuels rapidly

    True. Not going to happen though as the rich get massive profits from selling and using it and the rich own the governments.

    high tech Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is very expensive, unreliable, risky, and probably implausible as a solution.

    That was a given from the get go.

    low tech sequestration via natural cycles might buy us some time but on its own won’t be enough

    We need to replant massive forests around the world to help build up the soil but that’s going to change other availabilities.

    it’s our kids that will bear the brunt of this

    That’s been known for some time as well. I recall it from the 1990s and it didn’t make any difference then either.

  5. Tony Veitch (not etc) 5

    At the risk of repeating myself – but acting on Weka’s suggestion – my post from Open Mike.
    Incidentally, this is why we need the Greens in government – at least one party is awake to the terrible consequences of ‘business and usual!’

    Further to my post of yesterday about extreme climate change, we need to be proactive, not reactive. At the moment we have a government which is barely even reactive: business as usual, as if you can have infinite growth on a finite planet!

    So, how could we future-proof this country, accepting that we have not a hope in hell of escaping the world-wide effects of climate change:

    • ‘weather bombs’ like the one that hit South Canterbury yesterday will occur with increasing frequency and intensity. These are hard to guard against, but putting more money into Civil Defence both nationally and regionally would be a good idea.

    • think locally, not globally. For instance, unless bananas can be grown in the far north of New Zealand, (and they can) bananas will disappear from the menu. So will all imported tropical fruit. But we lived without them before and we can again.

    • industrial farming has to go. The Fonterra business model is ludicrous, even in a capitalist society; in Bill McKibben’s harsh new Eaarth, it has no place.

    • nor has the whole capitalist system of growth. We need to think small, non-profit (ie – service) and local.

    • I may be criticised for saying this – and perhaps deservedly so – but in the mass migrations which have already started and will continue, NZ is particularly well insulated. At the moment people are moving north into Europe (and to a lesser extent into USA) but they’ll also stream southwards, in Africa, South America, from Indonesia and India into Australia. This country has more chance of closing its doors than most. We need to be prepared for these migrations! Think through the implications of this!

    • we need a government, like that of France, which commits to 100% electric cars by 2030 or some such date. Yes, too little, too late but still . . .; imported petrol won’t last forever, but the sun will.

    • every new house should be as self-sufficient as possible. Power companies should be compelled to promote solar power.

    • no new highways, but much investment in railways. Put the long-haul trucking companies out of business.

    We’re talking survival here, not convenience.

    I could go on – some further reading. Suggestions?

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2017/jul/17/neoliberalism-has-conned-us-into-fighting-climate-change-as-individuals

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/07/climate-change-earth-too-hot-for-humans.html

  6. Richard 6

    We not only need a complete replacement of all emitting energy sources but we also need much more energy to clean up the mess we’ve made. State owned nuclear energy with passive safety mechanisms is the most realistic means of achieving this. The state should own the means of transmission also. Solar panels and windmills won’t cut it. Cheap plentiful energy is the only way this planet can support the population we have if it is to be treated equitably.

    • Bill 6.1

      And the time required to lay in that supply side infrastructure (nuclear or otherwise), versus the time available to drop fossil related emissions to nigh on zero at a precipitous rate of knots – that stacks up how?

    • State owned nuclear energy with passive safety mechanisms is the most realistic means of achieving this.

      Nope. Nuclear seems to be a false economy.

      Solar panels and windmills won’t cut it.

      Actually, they do – especially when combined with hydro-power and stable state economy.

      Cheap plentiful energy is the only way this planet can support the population we have if it is to be treated equitably.

      Renewables are the cheapest available when measured in real terms.

      • Liberal Realist 6.2.1

        Nope. Nuclear seems to be a false economy.

        Nuclear is a false economy. No one ever seems to take into account the energy investment required to:
        – Build the required infrastructure
        – Mine / Refine uranium fuel
        – Maintain the infrastructure for the lifetime of the system
        – Costs of decommissioning
        – Waste processing and disposal

        Not one nuclear energy plant has ever been built, anywhere, without state subsidies. Wonder why that is?

        An example in the UK below, specifically Hinkley C
        https://www.ft.com/content/b8e24306-48e5-11e6-8d68-72e9211e86ab

        • Richard 6.2.1.1

          You are referring to light water reactors. There are much better alternatives.

          • Draco T Bastard 6.2.1.1.1

            Not ATM there isn’t.

            • Richard 6.2.1.1.1.1

              Integral Fast Reactor and Molten Salt Reactor.

                • Richard

                  That link points to an article by Nick Touran that corrects six common misconceptions about thorium as a fuel. It is good information and had I not already read it, I would be thankful for your direction to it. If you read it carefully, you will see that none of what Touran says refutes anything I have said here. BTW – I did not specify thorium as a fuel, although I did suggest that molten salt reactors (MSRs) are an excellent alternative to currently used nuclear technology. You are confusing the two and so would appear to be a proponent of misconception number six in your linked-to article. Touran is a strong supporter of the MSR (and thorium). Strange that you would use his article to suggest my support of the same to be ‘astounding ignorance’. I do though confess some ignorance though as I am not a nuclear scientist. I prefer to defer to experts such as Touran (as you have done too). 🙂

                  • And in it he makes the same mention that I did – not viable ATM. It’s some years away and when, or if, it becomes ready renewables will be even better and cheaper than now meaning that they’ll be even less viable.

      • Richard 6.2.2

        Hydro has fairly severe environmental impact and is not an option everywhere.

        • Draco T Bastard 6.2.2.1

          Not really. Nature makes dams all the time and simply deals with them.

          And as for them not be valid everywhere – that’s why we have solar and wind.

          • Richard 6.2.2.1.1

            Nature can make all the dams it wants. We shouldn’t be making any when we have better alternatives. Solar and wind simply cannot realistically supply enough energy even if we were to cover the planet in them. Where will we get the materials for all these solar panels anyway?

    • savenz 6.3

      Westinghouse Files for Bankruptcy, in Blow to Nuclear Power
      https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/29/business/westinghouse-toshiba-nuclear-bankruptcy.html

    • Incognito 6.4

      Cheap plentiful energy is the only way this planet can support the population we have if it is to be treated equitably.

      We’re paying a phenomenal price for energy in dollar terms and it’s killing us.

      We have to curb our insatiable consumption of energy and material goods – it is raping & pillaging the environment and polluting & poisoning it at the same time, the same environment that is our own ecosystem and which sustains the biosphere – and “cheap and plentiful energy” does not provide the appropriate (corrective) incentive to achieve this.

      In any case, energy will never be distributed equitably if it is accompanied with profit generation.

      No human can ever assume to own the sun or the sunlight reaching our planet or the Earth’s rotation, for example, and yet some invest in harvesting and converting this energy for general consumption and sell it at a profit. Thus, a free natural resource becomes a commodity that’s controlled by a few and the retail price is not set by the cost of production and transport but largely by demand. This demand is always increasing and so are the prices. Even more perverse is that pricing is influenced by competing energy sources where commodity ownership is also in the hands of a few.

      As long as there are these economic controlling elites equitability is just a pipedream.

      • Richard 6.4.1

        You remove the profit motive by taking it out of the hands of the elite. Energy generation should be fully state owned.

        • Incognito 6.4.1.1

          🙂

        • Richard 6.4.1.2

          Btw cheap (very cheap) state owned energy could create the possibility of desalination of sea water, of digging up and recycling landfills and other measures as yet unknown that may be demanded by the electorate. The electorate who own the energy generation and transmission means. We could drastically reduce our environmental footprint.

          • Incognito 6.4.1.2.1

            You lost me; please elaborate.

            • Richard 6.4.1.2.1.1

              I’m referring to the supply of energy being a limiting factor on otherwise doable work to solve serious looming problems.
              The shortage of fresh potable water could be solved by desalination of sea water.
              Much of the waste lying in landfills could be recycled.
              Carbon neutral liquid fuels could be derived from the air.
              I’m sure that more ideas will be thought of when energy is in much much greater supply.
              The key of course is state ownership. That way we the people can up the price on industry we see as harmful and make it basically free to other state owned industries (water suppliers and recyclers for example). Gen IV nuclear is the way I see this becoming possible.
              While we are at it ACC need to sell back their share of KiwiBank back to the government for a dollar. The government should then aggressively build it up to undercut and outcompete the private banks. Sorry off track I know.

    • weka 6.5

      Fukushima.

      • Richard 6.5.1

        Climate change.
        Fukushima is a light water reactor. LWRs are inherently dangerous. Integral Fast Reactors could be built wherever a LWR currently stands as they use LWR waste as fuel. They are also passively safe.

        • weka 6.5.1.1

          Sorry, but it’s hard to take seriously someone who believes that nuclear power stations in the Shakey Isles is not inherently risky. And that’s not even getting to nuclear waste.

          • exkiwiforces 6.5.1.1.1

            Seagrove was earmarked as a nuclear power station as it was a former RNZAF/ USMC airfield and apparently plans were quite well advance from I believe and the one in Jervis Bay south of Sydney almost got to the building stage and in fact its become a awful big carpark in what is now a National Park near Murrays Beach.

          • Richard 6.5.1.1.2

            Fukushima is a light water reactor and very vulnerable to seismic activity as was seen. I do not suggest the use of LWRs in geologically unstable areas or any other areas for that matter. There are passively safe alternatives that are much more efficient and create much less waste. For example: IFRs use spent LWR waste as fuel. You don’t have to take my word for it and I would not expect you to. When attempting to shut me down, Draco provided a very useful link that leads to more detailed information. Please do give it an hour or so of your time. I get the impression I am thought of as a troll judging by some of the replies. I assure you I am not.

            • Draco T Bastard 6.5.1.1.2.1

              When attempting to shut me down, Draco provided a very useful link that leads to more detailed information.

              A link that you failed to understand.

            • weka 6.5.1.1.2.2

              Can you provide a link that a layperson can understand to existing tech that is completely quake and tsunami proof?

              Also, where in NZ would it be built?

  7. RedLogix 7

    Having spent 7 months in the Arctic this past year I want to share this inspiring, moving and charming video with all the regulars here. Oh and the kids are amazing:

  8. savenz 8

    “CHASING ICE” captures largest glacier calving ever filmed – OFFICIAL VIDEO

  9. Corokia 10

    Kia ora from a very soggy East Otago. This combination of heavy rain and big tides shows us how vulnerable our infrastructure is to projected sea level rise.
    This government is spending billions restoring SH1 and the rail line from Christchurch to Picton, but wouldn’t the money be better spent on coastal shipping? I think that would result in fewer trucks on the roads (and so a decrease in CO2 emissions) as well as a transport system that was less vulnerable to floods,landslides,snow, earthquakes and sea level rise.

  10. Pat 11

    we may discuss alternative energy, strengthened infrastructure or even moving whole communities the fact remains …”for a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations for nature cannot be fooled”.. Richard Feynman.

    what must be done….does anyone see any of it happening (in time)?

  11. Pat 12

    Choosing to fail….

  12. Rae 13

    The future of our ONE AND ONLY home, Planet Earth is probably the one thing that bothers me over and above everything else.

    Every single thought I have had about it leads back to the same conclusion again and again, and that is our overpopulation of this place, we can do little with our numbers increasing all the time. There is barely a spot on this planet that is still in its virgin pre human state. The oceans are beginning to look very small to me, now we can see how easily we are able to damage it.

    If we do manage to do the right thing, and I am becoming more and more despondent about our ability to do so, then capitalism is not going to fit in this picture. If you asked me to supply one word to describe capitalism it would be “more”, because to survive that is what capitalism demands.

    The clue to that is in its name – capital. It is about that and the acquisition of as much of it as one person can manage in a lifetime, it demands that we continue to buy, use, throw away as much stuff as possible. And, it demands more and more people (for that is what growth really is at the end of the day) to keep doing it, capitalism demands growth!

    If you are able to get your head around that, then it may also become clear to you, that that is not how it can continue to be in the future. Capitalism demands that we keep putting pure water into billions of single use plastic bottles, we cannot continue.

    We are now in the sixth mass extinction, it is us driving it, by screwing up the habitat of other species mainly but also via climate change – think Great Barrier Reef.

    I do not think we actually have a choice any more.

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