Countdown to global catastrophe
January 24, 2005 1:36 PM   Subscribe

Global warming approaching point of no return...
Climate change: report warns point of no return may be reached in 10 years, leading to droughts, agricultural failure and water shortages. The possibilities include reaching climatic tipping points leading, for example, to the loss of the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets (which, between them, could raise sea level more than 10 metres over the space of a few centuries), the shutdown of the thermohaline ocean circulation (and, with it, the Gulf Stream), and the transformation of the planet's forests and soils from a net sink of carbon to a net source of carbon. Countdown to global catastrophe
posted by y2karl (80 comments total)
Michael Crichton is going to be totally pissed off, karl
posted by matteo at 1:38 PM on January 24, 2005

The other day this lady said here in Atlanta "You know, I was up in Michigan visiting my parents. It doesn't snow as much as it used to up there" and then she shrugged, hopped into her H2 and sputtered away.

Man I sit at night and go "just how much longer until we start seeing severe effects of this."

I know I'm alarmist, I know this...but it scares the ever-loving-hell out of me and has ever since I heard he words "Global Warming."

on preview: I know H2's do not account for Global Warming totally
posted by Hands of Manos at 1:46 PM on January 24, 2005

I just listened to George Carlin's routine about "Saving the Planet" and agree with him that the planet will survive whatever we do to it.

But we won't.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 1:47 PM on January 24, 2005

I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit.
posted by psmealey at 1:52 PM on January 24, 2005

I'm just hoping this will get me out of my student loans.
posted by crapples at 1:55 PM on January 24, 2005 [1 favorite]

Maybe the "rapture" is when the atmosphere gets completely destroyed on the day when everyone starts their H2s at the same moment.

Sort of like everyone in the same building flushing all the toilets at the same instant.

More seriously...I love it when a W administration flunky actually says "whoa...this stuff is real after all" and refuses to be the patsy they (or Exxon) wanted. Ha!
posted by MiHail at 1:56 PM on January 24, 2005

That's not a very well written article.
posted by smackfu at 1:59 PM on January 24, 2005

George Sibley was right!
posted by pmbuko at 2:00 PM on January 24, 2005

I just don't get it, people are so stupid that sometimes I think they deserve what they get. This is exactly the sort of problem that is beyond the grasp of one person to control. Yet the top-down approach isn't working either, Bush certainly doesn't give a shit, nor does the rest of the world either, given the balance of power. In addition, even if individuals could make a difference by banding together, everyone is too busy jerking off to internet porn. It's quite sad really. I think everyone in the US should consult #3 on this list.
posted by kuatto at 2:09 PM on January 24, 2005

Dying, such an argument.
posted by sled at 2:10 PM on January 24, 2005

The report says this point will be two degrees centigrade above the average world temperature prevailing in 1750 before the industrial revolution, when human activities - mainly the production of waste gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which retain the sun's heat in the atmosphere - first started to affect the climate. But it points out that global average temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees since then, with more rises already in the pipeline - so the world has little more than a single degree of temperature latitude before the crucial point is reached.

To put this in perspective, the last major ice-age was only 5 degrees cooler than the average temperature now. 1-2 degrees is a pretty big deal.
posted by carmen at 2:16 PM on January 24, 2005

Record rainfall and deaths from said rainfall followed by 80-degree weather in January here in Southern California.

Everything be just peachy!
posted by basicchannel at 2:18 PM on January 24, 2005

I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit.

Its the only way to be sure.

[/silly sci-fi reference]
posted by googly at 2:28 PM on January 24, 2005

I question the objectivity of any article that claims that "[Bush] immediately tried to slap him down".
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:32 PM on January 24, 2005

I question the objectivity of anyone that questions the objectivity of any article!
posted by papakwanz at 2:37 PM on January 24, 2005

papakwanz - Serious point... sure I'm probably not any more objective than you or y2karl. Never claimed to be. But, it's still a legitimate point that the article is pretty obviously biased.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 2:41 PM on January 24, 2005

Oh, oh, oh! Six o'clock and the master not home yet. Pray God nothing serious has happened to him crossing the Hudson River. If anything happened to him, we would certainly be inconsolable and have to move into a less desirable residence district.

The fact is I don't know what'll become of us.
posted by MotherTucker at 2:47 PM on January 24, 2005

Putting Some Heat on Bush
posted by homunculus at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2005

"Environmentalists Fomenting False Fears?"
yeah, couldn't have that, ey.. that's a politicians job ..

a thing I'd like to know: how far has your direct environment changed since your childhood? (not that it would be of any scientific value or anything)

I spoke to some guys from Swiss; they noticed that the snowline moved up a couple of hundred meters is the last 10 years..
It seems to be rainin quite a lot more in NL.. but then again I guess it always did... winters are less fierce though, that's for sure..

& how silly is
carbon-emission permittrading

posted by borq at 2:56 PM on January 24, 2005

It's not happening, it's not happening, it's not happening - what? - oh well, Can't do anything about it.
posted by grahamwell at 3:00 PM on January 24, 2005

Meanwhile, plenty of influential people still have their heads in the sand.

The most interesting and personally moving way I've heard the plea for action is this. Politician are used to scientists asking for large sums of money to perform great experiments, hopefully yielding innovation or at least fundamental knowledge. This is the first situation where scientists and the public need to press politicians to fund not doing an experiment--namely, seeing what happens to the earth as CO2 levels pass 400ppm.
posted by fatllama at 3:03 PM on January 24, 2005

Articles like this make me wish that I could self-rightously talk about how good I am to the environment. Unfortunately, it'd be bullshit.

Somebody needs to stop me, because I won't stop myself.
posted by mosch at 3:05 PM on January 24, 2005

If you think that this is scary, then read some stuff on global dimming. And why it requires a total rethink of all the global warming statistics that have been accumulated over the past 20-odd years. The BBC's Horizon strand did a documentary covering it; find a full, and frankly rather terrifying transcript here.

I've looked, but can't find, a torrent for the programme; a shame since it's compulsive and compelling. I saw it when it was first broadcast, but if anyone finds a torrent, please let me know ...
posted by Len at 3:10 PM on January 24, 2005

Personally, I believe that there is too much momentum/inertia in our (western civilization's) current way of life to halt development of severe environmental trouble. Yes I'm a defeatist.

I believe a much more pertinent question is: what are we going to do to adapt to the situation, if anything at all?

This is based on my (perhaps misinformed) perception that humanity doesn't ever "back-up-the-truck", so to speak. We only ever move forward. So instead of moving forward, squaking like chicken little about the falling sky, I prefer to think of moving forward in a proactive "how can we deal with the aftermath" outlook.
posted by C.Batt at 3:20 PM on January 24, 2005

Len, we discussed global dimming earlier on Metafilter. I will again forward anyone interested on global dimming to this blog, which is very accurate.
posted by carmina at 3:27 PM on January 24, 2005

This is about error bars. You know those little "I" shaped things you see on a line chart, that show the predicted error --- that's the statistical risk the actual number is far above or below the point on the chart

With 2 degree C. warming, the error range is fairly small over the next few decades for the various climate models -- and they're using ALL of them to make this cautionary statement.

With 3 degrees C warming, the upper end of the error range gets rather high -- there are more factors likely to produce positive feedback ("making things worse") than a negative ("self-limiting") feedback.

With 4 degrees C warming, the upper end of the possible error gets VERY large.

Bottom line -- hold warming at 2 degrees, system will most likely recover within a century.

Let warming go uncontrolled, and the system is rather likely (40-50-60 percent probablility) of getting _very_ warm and _very_ erratic for several centuries as things sort out.

You know when you drift off the edge of the road and feel that BRRRRRMMMMM of the outside wheel vibrating ? The signal that you're a few inches from dropping the wheel into the ditch?

This is that.

Figuring out just how to keep from going into THAT ditch without veering across the double yellow line into oncoming traffic and the opposite ditch is an exercise left to the species.

And they wonder why SETI isn't hearing from anybody.
posted by hank at 3:29 PM on January 24, 2005

Damn. Thanks, carmina, I missed that thread, cheers for the link. (And for the one from realclimate.) Don't know if you saw the doc., but it was one of the best Horizon pieces in a long time; they've been awful and sensationalist too often in the past few years, so it was nice to see one which, even though the content was to say the least alarming, the programme itself was a little more measured.
posted by Len at 3:32 PM on January 24, 2005

I don't understand why these issues are always discussed in terms of how "stupid" we humans are. This isn't a judgement; it's an outcome. There are 6 billion people on the planet, and they don't behave, collectively, as one person behaves. Discussing the morality of humans en masse is at least problematic.

I think some of you were churchgoers growing up.

It is utterly, absolutely impossible for a profound change in our behavior to happen immediately. Even if it did, we may have put out enough pollution to do ourselves in anyway. And we probably did so in complete ignorance.

It may not pan out. But there's no need to moralize about it.
posted by argybarg at 3:41 PM on January 24, 2005

UN was recently debating the issue: The U.S. stand reflects the opposition of U.S. President George W. Bush's administration to treating global warming as a priority problem. Is there hope?

Elsewhere, private sector seems to be responding faster to scientific evidence: Ford faces the future. Strange times....

On preview, Len, I have read the transcript. I think they are incredibly awful this time also.
posted by carmina at 3:42 PM on January 24, 2005

I credit Bowie with the scoop.

"Pushing thru the market square, so many mothers sighing
News had just come over, we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us, earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying
I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys electric irons and T.V.'s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I'd need so many people..."

(sigh) All whimper, no bang.
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:47 PM on January 24, 2005

I salute you, hank. It is all a matter or error bars. Climate change is true within the error margins and the attribution to greenhouse emissions is too.

C.Batt, don't underestimate humanity and sane political decisions. My favorite example is the Montreal Protocol which reduced CFC emissions and the ensuing ozone hole. People believed evidence and did something about it. Recent measurements show the ozone hole shrinking. That's nice, isn't it?
posted by carmina at 3:51 PM on January 24, 2005

Personally, I believe that there is too much momentum/inertia in our (western civilization's) current way of life to halt development of severe environmental trouble.

If you substituted "smog in US cities" and "environmental trouble" and made this remark in the 1970s, today you would have been proven incorrect. Taxes, regulation of the content of gasoline, laws forcing auto makers to produce cleaner cars, carpool lanes, and mass-transit have all helped to mitigate what today could have been a horrendous air pollution problem in the United States.

The reason this took place, even under large economic growth and automobile proliferation, might be explained by the Environmental Kuznets curve. This is an empirical correlation between the wealth of a society and its attitude concerning environmentalism. The theory predicts that during rapid industrial development (e.g. China, now), the environmental impacts are largely ignored. However, as the populace becomes richer and a large middle-class develops, people are motivated to spend more for a cleaner, healthier, more pleasant environment.

To those with the attitude that nothing can be done, I argue that the single quickest way to influence positive change is to force via legislation as many environmental externalities as possible to be accounted for by corporations and private citizens. If Bush and business-owning conservatives want an ownership society, let them own their excess sulfur and CO2 produced under lax environmental laws.
posted by fatllama at 3:54 PM on January 24, 2005

Carmina: you said you thought that Horizon was "awful" this time too. Having glanced through the previous thread you linked to, it's obvious you know more about this topic than me; any particular reasons why you though that that programme was so mistaken? (A genuine question; I'm pretty ignorant when it comes to science stuff, and wish I was less so).
posted by Len at 4:10 PM on January 24, 2005

I guess we're not any smarter than any other primitive culture (Easter Island, whatever they were called) that uses up their resources and becomes extinct. We should really know better by now.

On the other hand this is probably just the end of the last ice age and we'll discover Atlantis when the North Pole melts. I'm excited!
posted by snsranch at 4:14 PM on January 24, 2005

Peak Oil will cure all this global warming hubbub.
Contraction in populations. An end to the SUV.

YAY! Peak Oil!
posted by tkchrist at 4:15 PM on January 24, 2005

Time to plug Thom Hartmann's extraordinary book again: The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. It's a terrific summation of the problems facing us, and presents some very cautious ideas about what we need to do. Everybody ought to read this.
posted by muckster at 4:22 PM on January 24, 2005

Len, I work in this field and I have heard/read a lot about the Horizon piece. As you noted, the program is using extreme language to describe some dubious phenomena. The is doing a good job addressing the documentary and rebutting some major errors in it. I am part of the team that addressed the issue there.

Meanwhile, I will refer you to what hank said earlier. The (credible) measurements show 2 units of surface solar attenuation (dimming) but the error bars in the measurements are about 10-15 units!!! Can you believe that trained scientists overlook those error bars?
posted by carmina at 4:23 PM on January 24, 2005

thanks, insomnia, for reminding me of that wonderful song.
posted by NationalKato at 4:38 PM on January 24, 2005

Carmina: thanks. I guess I should read up more on the phenomenon, such as it is. And it does seem odd that such big margins of error are being completely ignored; the last time I had to pay any attention to such graphs/tables was a decade ago, when I was studying engineering. Terrible as my memory is, though, error bars of 10-15 units seem, well, pretty big.
posted by Len at 4:39 PM on January 24, 2005

fatllama: "However, as the populace becomes richer and a large middle-class develops, people are motivated to spend more for a cleaner, healthier, more pleasant environment."

While I think that is true, and we saw the changes you mention in the 70s, 80s and 90s, I'm not sure that situation applies anymore. We now apparently have a shrinking middle class - or at least, a middle class with markedly shrinking economic buying power - with a relatively small group of very wealthy people whose corporate-derived profits demand growth every year, here in the US anyway. The trend seems to be going back toward ignoring environmental effects in favor of greater profits, thus Hands of Manos's H2 lady:

"The other day this lady said here in Atlanta "You know, I was up in Michigan visiting my parents. It doesn't snow as much as it used to up there" and then she shrugged, hopped into her H2 and sputtered away."

That being said, from now on I'm going to drive my '67 Camaro every weekend, if possible, for as long as I can afford it. No emissions controls on it, but it gets a lot better mileage than all them Hummers and other big SUVs! Sigh... it's my "dream car," so I want to enjoy it for a while. (Most of the time I'm on a 45-mpg motorcycle.)
posted by zoogleplex at 5:15 PM on January 24, 2005

I just finished reading Chrichton's book and found his data to be compelling. I personally now think this global warming thingyo is just a lot of hogwash.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 5:16 PM on January 24, 2005

Crichton's confusion.
posted by homunculus at 5:24 PM on January 24, 2005

Hey, there's nothing like a single source to bring a smile.
posted by cytherea at 5:36 PM on January 24, 2005

So, we'll trust Crichton, a novelist who writes novels and TV and film scripts all day (and socializes with the glittery celebrity crowd evenings), over a huge majority of very very smart scientists who study actual data all day, in fact for their entire lives, most of 'em, and build on the science and discoveries of the generations of very very smart scientists who came before them.

Hmm, there's some survival wisdom, yep! ;)

(only intended as wry, medium-intensity snark)
posted by zoogleplex at 5:40 PM on January 24, 2005

Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us

I always like to point out that its not just "self serving environmentalists" who provide this information.
posted by punkbitch at 5:49 PM on January 24, 2005

I think the best thing to do is to ignore the global warming 'crisis' for the next ten years. By then we will have a better idea as to whether global warming is actually occuring and whether it can be prevented by changing the behaviour of people.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 6:06 PM on January 24, 2005

Cool. Well, time to fill up the Camaro tank and go for a cruise then! Might as well contribute...
posted by zoogleplex at 6:17 PM on January 24, 2005

As I read punkbitch's first link, the current Administration reminds me of a famous musician who said, "I dunno what's gonna happen, but I'm gonna get my kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames."
posted by alumshubby at 6:20 PM on January 24, 2005

Len, 10-15 units out of the 200-300 units of light that reach the earth's surface each day (low latitudes) is not that big of uncertainty in the measurements. In fact, it is the best we got now. The same data show some sorta dimming of about 2 units/year. That's an issue which needs be monitored but we cannot say yet for sure.

About Crichton: what homunculus, cytherea, punkbitch and the others said: I love you guys.
posted by carmina at 6:58 PM on January 24, 2005

I'm sure most of you will recall the Long-Island-sized iceberg that was recently in the news because it was drifting towards a sea ice peninsula. Well, it stopped short of that (the Drygalski Ice Tongue), apparently running aground. But NASA TV today was feeding satellite photos showing that, instead, a huge region of the adjacent Ross ice shelf (I'd guess the size of Connecticut) has broken up in the last couple days. Fortunately, this is sea ice that breaks up and reforms every year (it's the peak of summer right now down there), so it was due to break up anyway. Still, having this colossus stumbling around can't be good.

Naturally, what's most disturbing is that the only thing currently getting play in the mass media is "oh, it ran aground, no more problem!".

Here's NASA's page about what's happening. Check the animation further down the page.

Freedom is on the march!
posted by intermod at 7:17 PM on January 24, 2005

None of this is news. Putting a ten-year timeline to it is nice because it grabs some attention and gets people talking.

This book is an excellent read for anyone really interested in (1) learning about the science behind global warming, (2) learning about the evil tactics of (mostly) US politicians and and oil executives over the last 15-20 years to fight this kind of news from getting out (and discrediting it when it does), and finally (3) scaring the hell out of yourself.
posted by Ardbeg at 7:18 PM on January 24, 2005

The world is going to the goats
(registration possibly required. Life is full of little tradeoffs.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:46 PM on January 24, 2005

The world is going to the goats
(registration possibly required. Life is full of little tradeoffs.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:46 PM on January 24, 2005

It's funny how many different ways they manage to peddle the same message...
posted by nightchrome at 8:08 PM on January 24, 2005

>error bars

Right here. This is the big informative paper coming, I think.
January 27th 2005, Anyone at Oxford able to attend?

Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Planetary Physics Seminars
... 4.15 p.m. on Thursday in the Dobson Lecture Room, the Atmospheric Physics Laboratory....check first by telephoning Oxford (2)72933).

27 Jan.: `On the risk of overshooting 2 degrees C: implications of the uncertainty in climate sensitivity for the derivation of "safe" stabilisation and peaking concentrations.'
posted by hank at 8:14 PM on January 24, 2005

The trend seems to be going back toward ignoring environmental effects in favor of greater profits, thus Hands of Manos's H2 lady

zoogleplex, you've nailed the key difference and the only reason to be pessimistic, though I'm not sure running your Camaro until Doomsday is the best way to go (then again, maybe it has a really nice sound system). Americans didn't push for anti-pollution laws until the problem became bad enough for people to see and, ahem, taste. Here we may not be afforded that option if there is no global negative feedback loop in place to stabilize CO2 after we cross a threshold near 400-500ppm. And who knows what trend will hold in China where the main production of energy is still coal burning.
posted by fatllama at 8:17 PM on January 24, 2005

This has nothing to do with the Bush administration, nightchrome, as its the kind of fear that makes people vote Democrat. Or, god forbid, GREEN!
posted by mek at 8:27 PM on January 24, 2005

I don't recall mentioning the Bush administration anywhere.
Do they have something to do with all of this?
News to me...
"What's this here en-vye-row-ment y'all are talking 'bout?"
posted by nightchrome at 8:34 PM on January 24, 2005

OK, found a version as an Adobe ".pdf" file (cite at end of posting)

Note -- the document itself uses the acronym "PDF" for "probability distribution function" -- that's those error range calculations -- and the charts in the Adobe file are the key to understanding the range of likely risks, for different levels of greenhouse gases, that he's pointing out

The question is how "sensitive" the climate is to the changes that are happening so fast right now. The work is setting out probabilities (and gives the footnotes -- those wishing to criticize the conclusions would be wise to check the math rather than bluster about the thought).

The critical point seems to me to be that he's giving an idea of how risky it is to delay -- that's what this "last ten years" stuff is all about.

If greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions were held constant at present day (2005) levels, CO2 (equivalent) concentrations would rise up to 531 (527) ppm by 2100 and 929 (899 ) ppm by 2400.

Temperature would increase monotonically up to 4.2°C in 2400 (2.0°C in 2100) – according to the ‘7AOGCM ensemble mean’. Assuming lower (1.5°C) and higher (4.5°C) climate sensitivities, the temperature range in 2400 spans from 2.5°C to 6.1°C, respectively (2100: 1.4°C to 2.7°C) x.

The 90% confidence ranges for global mean temperatures based on climate sensitivity estimates by Murphy et al. is 1.9°C to 3.0°C in 2100 and 3.7°C to 7.0°C by 2400. See Table I for further estimates for different climate sensitivity pdfs.

The projected sea level rise is 28cm (7 AOGCM ensemble mean) with a 22 to 40 cm range when assuming the conventional IPCC climate sensitivity uncertainty. By 2400, sea level will have risen 87 cm with a range from 65 cm to 121 cm (see Table I and Figure 3). Note that the overall
uncertainty in sea level rise is significantly bigger than shown above ....

posted by hank at 8:40 PM on January 24, 2005

I don't know what's scarier: the impending end of the world or the fact that I referenced Crichton in the last global-warming thread as an expert and was (mis)taken seriously.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:08 PM on January 24, 2005

Wonder if war will be declared against the United States as it continues to ignore the evidence.
posted by ed at 12:08 AM on January 25, 2005

The critical point seems to me to be that he's giving an idea of how risky it is to delay -- that's what this "last ten years" stuff is all about.

Which is why I find drscroogemcduck's I think the best thing to do is to ignore the global warming 'crisis' for the next ten years so disturbing. We are so incredibly profligate and wasteful with what we have known all along were finite resources. We could have gotten started years ago and if we still have any chance whatsoever, we have to start moving fast. Ignoring it is how we got to where we are and there are people who deny it like a perpetual drunk denies being an alcoholic or says I'll quit tomorrow. There has to be a better answer to FEAR than willful STUPIDITY.
posted by y2karl at 1:04 AM on January 25, 2005

There has to be a better approach to CONSEQUENCE and RESPONSIBILITY than willful FEARMONGERING.
posted by nightchrome at 1:08 AM on January 25, 2005

If you had a crazy dog in your neighborhood that you heard totally went nuts and bit some guy a few years ago, would it be fearmongering for your mom to tell you to stay away from it?

The attitude of many is "let's see what happens". The idea being that there's no reason to change anything until the sea level starts rising a bit. These people think that the worst that could possibly happen is that the water at the docks goes a few inches higher and then we'll fix it.

The problem with that attitude is that once the sea level starts rising perceptibly, no force on Earth can stop it from rising a few feet or more. This is because the climate systems are extremely chaotic, like a crazy dog.
posted by breath at 1:55 AM on January 25, 2005

There has to be a better approach to CONSEQUENCE and RESPONSIBILITY than willful FEARMONGERING.

And STUPIDITY is not it.
posted by y2karl at 2:08 AM on January 25, 2005

There has to be a better approach to CONSEQUENCE and RESPONSIBILITY than willful FEARMONGERING.

It's a proven tactic. Works for foreign policy so why not the environment? Being rational has little mass appeal.
posted by missbossy at 2:11 AM on January 25, 2005

Being rational has little mass appeal.

Ain't that the truth...
posted by nightchrome at 2:13 AM on January 25, 2005

is it FEARMONGERING or raising awareness??
we need to WAKE UP.. nothing to be afraid of a lot to work on though

btw ESI 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index will be published one of these days
posted by borq at 2:22 AM on January 25, 2005

Spreading information is quite different from screaming at the top of your lungs that the sky is falling and we are all doomed. Even if we *are* doomed.
Perhaps especially if we *are* doomed.
posted by nightchrome at 2:35 AM on January 25, 2005

Environmentalists need to work with religious leaders on getting the churches and synagogues to shame their congregations into driving less often, driving smaller and cleaner vehicles, and walking or taking the bus.

A religious leader could take a stroll outside with congregants for a look at the vehicles they arrived in, ask people about their cars, how many passengers were in it, etc. Make congregants understand that it's a moral duty, not just a matter of convenience or style, to get rid of the worst ones, and that the worst vehicles are not welcome in the parking lot.
posted by pracowity at 3:44 AM on January 25, 2005

re: The Environment

"We're in a speeding car heading for a brick wall at a hundred miles per hour and everyone's arguing about where to sit."
--David Suzuki
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:25 AM on January 25, 2005

Here is the Meeting The Climate Challenge pdf

And here is an excerpt from the institute for public policy research's press release on the topic:

Key recommendations of the Taskforce include:

The G8 and other major economies, including from the developing world, form a G8+ Climate Group, to pursue technology agreements and related initiatives that will lead to large emissions reductions.

The G8-Plus Climate Group agree to shift their agricultural subsidies from food crops to biofuels, especially those derived from cellulosic materials, while implementing appropriate safeguards to ensure sustainable farming methods are encouraged, culturally and ecologically sensitive land preserved, and biodiversity protected.

G8 governments establish national renewable portfolio standards to generate at least 25% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, with higher targets needed for some G8 governments.

G8 governments increase their spending on research, development, and demonstration of advanced technologies for energy-efficiency and low- and zero-carbon energy supply by two-fold or more by 2010, at the same time as adopting strategies for the large-scale deployment of existing low- and zero-carbon technologies.

All industrialised countries introduce national mandatory cap-and-trade systems for carbon emissions, and construct them to allow for their future integration into a single global market.

A global framework be adopted that builds on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, and enables all countries to be part of concerted action on climate change at the global level in the post-2012 period, on the basis of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities.

A long-term objective be established of preventing global average temperature from rising more than 2 C (3.6 F) above the pre-industrial level, to limit the extent and magnitude of climate-change impacts.

Governments remove barriers to and increase investment in renewable energy and energy efficient technologies and practices by taking steps including the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies and requiring Export Credit Agencies and Multilateral Development Banks to adopt minimum efficiency or carbon intensity standards for projects they support.

Developed countries honour existing commitments to provide greater financial and technical assistance to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change, including the commitments made at the seventh conference of the parties to the UNFCCC in 2001, and pursue the establishment of an international compensation fund to support disaster mitigation and preparedness.

Governments committed to action on climate change raise public awareness of the problem and build public support for climate policies by pledging to provide substantial long-term investment in effective climate communication activities.

posted by y2karl at 6:31 AM on January 25, 2005

And here is an excerpt from the institute for public policy research's press release on the topic:

Yeah exactly. ZZZzzz... How many people will read past the first paragraph (excluding anyone willing to read this far down this thread)? There's only so many reports you can publish before you start screaming "Keep it up and you will all die horribly!"

What's more effective on a pack of cigarettes? The warnings of the surgeon general or alarmist pictures of half dead babies and black lungs?

You're right. Probably neither. People will smoke this planet down to the very last drag whether you rant or reason.
posted by missbossy at 7:22 AM on January 25, 2005

Antarctica, Warming, Looks Ever More Vulnerable

...Thus far, all of the ice shelves that have collapsed are located on the Antarctic peninsula. In reality a collection of islands, mountain ranges and glaciers, the peninsula juts northward toward Argentina and Chile and is "really getting hot, competing with the Yukon for the title of the fastest warming place on the globe," in the words of Dr. Eric Steig, a glaciologist who teaches at the University of Washington.

According to a recent study published in Geophysical Research Letters, the discharge rate of three important glaciers still remaining on the peninsula accelerated eightfold just from 2000 to 2003. "Ice is thinning at the rate of tens of meters per year" on the peninsula, with glacier elevations in some places having dropped by as much as 124 feet in six months, the study found.

But the narrow peninsula contains relatively little inland ice. Glaciologists are more concerned that they are now beginning to detect similar signs closer to the South Pole, on the main body of the continent, where ice shelves are much larger - and could contribute far more to sea level changes. Of particular interest is this remote and almost inaccessible region known as "the weak underbelly of West Antarctica," where some individual ice shelves are as large as Texas or Spain and much of the land on which they rest lies under sea level.

"This is probably the most active part of Antarctica," said Dr. Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the principal author of the Geophysical Research Letters paper. "Glaciers are changing rapidly and increasingly discharging into the ocean, which contributes to sea level rise in a more significant way than any other part of Antarctica."

According to another paper, published in the journal Science in September, "the catchment regions of Amundsen Sea glaciers contain enough ice to raise sea level by 1.3 meters," or about four feet. While the current sea level rise attributable to glacier thinning here is a relatively modest 0.2 millimeters a year, or about 10 percent of the total global increase, the paper noted that near the coast the process had accelerated and might continue to do so.

posted by y2karl at 8:02 AM on January 25, 2005

hank, the work you posted is very interesting, but really old news. Here is a very comprehensive reference which explains that the relative importance of different greenhouse agents such as CO2 but also methane, black carbon etc. And we need to cut down emissions in an international effort, cooperative not punitive. From the conclusions:

It is now impossible to avoid global warming this century. However, the actions outlined here can slow the warming, having other benefits that justify the actions. If CO2 emissions are kept level, and if technology is developed to reduce capture emissions in the second quartile of the century, it should be possible to limit midcentury warming to 0.5°C and stabilize atmospheric composition later in the century.
posted by carmina at 8:18 AM on January 25, 2005

Yes, Hansen in 2001 said -- based on the assumption that "C02 emissions are kept level" -- we could expect to limit warming to 0.5 degrees C. by mid-century and 2 degrees C. by 2001.

The articles I came across are not assuming Hansen's right -- they're laying out an attempt to say where the climate may go under a range of assumptions.

Hansen was an optimist, in 2001.
posted by hank at 10:52 AM on January 25, 2005

Here's what the October 2004 article I pointed to says, in the p. 1 abstract -- this is the level of uncertainty they ascribe to what Hansen in 2001 predicted, a 2 degree C warming if emissions were held at the 2001 level.

The point is -- the risk of getting much more warming increases rather fast if emissions aren't controlled soon.

What is the risk that we are committed to overshoot 2°C? Based on the conventional IPCC uncertainty range for climate sensitivity (1.5°C to 4.5°C) and more recent estimates, we found that a
(1) constant emission scenario is virtually certain to overshoot 2°C with a central estimate of 2.0°C by 2100 (4.2°C by 2400). <---- Hansen's "constant emission"
(4) Assuming future emissions according to the lower end of published mitigation scenarios provides (350ppm CO2eq to 450ppm CO2eq) central temperature projections of 1.5°C to 2.1°C by 2100 (1.5°C to 2.0°C by 2400) with a risk to overshoot of 10% to 50% by 2100 ...


Note that "radiative forcing" means the human produced heating, expressed as CO2-equivalent parts per million in the atmosphere.

At the LOWER end of the published mitigation paths -- and the odds we can stop the CO2 equivalent at 450 ppm seems itself very low --- they calculate the risk range that the temperature will go much higher than hoped at ten to fifty percent.
In other words, the question is -- once you've put a frog in a pot of cool water on the stove and started to heat it up -- at what point do you have to turn down the heat, and how low, if you do NOT want to kill the frog in the hot water?
posted by hank at 11:12 AM on January 25, 2005

Boy, I'm back late to the party... got a couple things to say.

fatllama, I was being a bit facetious about bombing around in the Camaro - and btw, the only sound system it needs (and the only one it's got, actually) is the lovely roar of the 350 Chevy! - it's a weekender. I'm not going to try to singlehandedly double the CO2 emissions and fuel consumption of Southern California... I'll let the Hummer people do that. Plus, I just put in a whole new engine that has increased my gas mileage by 33%! Uh, from 9 to 12, that is... *blush*... heh.

y2karl, regarding that Meeting the Climate Challenge PDF... there are a lot of things listed there which make a lot of sense. However, with all due respect to the well-meaning people involved in coming up with those sensible ideas... I'm sorry, but almost all of them are extremely unlikely to be implemented. I didn't say impossible, but it's mighty close.

The problem is that while these ideas are sensible, they have to be considered in light of economic and political realities, and the realities of energy use in the world's industrial/technological society. I'll tackle a couple of points:

"G8 governments establish national renewable portfolio standards to generate at least 25% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025, with higher targets needed for some G8 governments."

20 years? That's awfully optimistic considering we get less than 10% total electricity from truly renewable sources - the only ones that even count at this point are hydro and wind power. Solar is not being implemented in any significant amount, nor is tidal or geothermal. There are no other renewable sources, and at the moment very little - actually make that no economic incentive to switch away from oil and coal.

Also consider that governments can try to make all the standards they want, but governments are not the primary consumers of energy and producers of greenhouse gases in the West; it's private industry and corporations, and us consumers who buy and use their products, who are the prime users. Here in America, we have the energy industry (along with other corporate interests) essentially running the country now, because they have the most money. And they are making record profits. Where's the incentive for them to change what they're doing? Burning their fuel is what generates the greenhouse gases - it's really the only cause - and buying it from them it what generates their profits. The only way to really cut back on CO2 emissions is to stop burning their fuel.

But then there's a fundamental issue that follows directly from that. This techno-industrial age has produced an exceptionally high standard of living in the West, and raised the standard in most of the world in some way. But in the process, it's clear that industrialized technological society consumes more and more energy year after year. All these wonderful advances in agriculture, medicine, sciences and technology are fueled by burning immense amounts of fossil fuel and thus releasing immense amounts of CO2.

This is why this next point from the Climate Challenge PDF is unfortunately misguided:

"G8 governments increase their spending on research, development, and demonstration of advanced technologies for energy-efficiency and low- and zero-carbon energy supply by two-fold or more by 2010, at the same time as adopting strategies for the large-scale deployment of existing low- and zero-carbon technologies."

It's misguided because developing advanced technology requires even more expenditures of CO2-releasing fossil-fuel-burning-generated energy. This technology does not grow on trees; it's developed by smart people in research labs and industrial plants using lots of computer power (energy) and raw materials (energy used to mine, transport, process etc.) to develop whatever technology they come up with. Adding more R&D on top of what's already going on now simply means we produce CO2 faster.

Now, of course, there is a way to deal with that, and that is to divert other R&D efforts, other smart people, and energy that's already being used for something else into R&D into advanced energy technology (renewable or otherwise).

And there, we get into the problem of priorities.

From what do we divert the effort and energy? What is essential to keep developing, and what is not? Who makes the decisions about where effort and energy gets allocated?

I can think of dozens of examples of places where there is massive amounts of expensive, energy-consuming R&D going on that, compared to preventing the planet from becoming uninhabitable for humans, seem a bit frivolous. What do you think folks would have to say about stopping R&D and production on the following items?

Firearms; ICBMs, nuclear weapons, advanced military aircraft, ships, submarines and groundfighting gear; cell phones; cruise missiles; personal computers; new cars; home entertainment systems; game software; Internet and communications infrastructure (other than essential communications, of course); children's toys; professional sports; passenger jets; overnight shipping; suburban housing development; shopping mall development; fashion design; road and highway building; GM foods; meat animal production; pharmaceuticals; paper production; textiles... etc. etc. etc.

Of all of these I personally think the continual R&D on new cars as style items or fashion items - as if they were shoes or handbags, which especially here in America is by far the norm - is one of the most appalling uses of energy. Many billions and vast amounts of energy (thus producing vast amounts of CO2) are spent every year on designing, producing and marketing the "latest fashions" in automobiles, with people changing cars about every 3 years, and then of course the cars themselves burn lots of fuel - in fact, some fifty percent of the oil imported into the US - and put out lots of CO2 (even with emissions controls). And on top of that we have to lay down asphalt and build parking lots and garages and housing developments and... and... and...

You get the picture.

Here's the straight up truth, and nobody's going to like it. In order to reduce CO2 emissions, we need to burn less fuel - and this is a prerequisite for coming up with technological solutions, since as I said, technological solutions only come at the cost of burning fuel (even wind generators and solar cells have to be built by burning fuel). We need to divert R&D, smart people, and essential energy away from consumer-based growth economy and put those resources into coming up with solutions before we resume technological advancement at the "consumer" level.

Doing that will lower the world standard of living, especially in the West where we are now deeply immersed and accustomed to lifestyles which at their root burn massively more fuel and consume more resources per capita than the rest of the world. Consider that in America, we use 25% of world oil production - which means that 12% of the worlds oil energy is burned by Americans driving our cars (50% of imported oil), and thus a proportional percentage of CO2 emissions are from us driving our cars (it's probably less than 12% now because of our emissions controls). Shedding that lifestyle willingly will be psychologically traumatic to the point of impossibility for (IMO) the majority of people in the West. (It sure wouldn't be easy for me...)

And on top of that, we've set an example for the rest of the world. China is industrializing, chasing the benefits that industrial consumerism have created in the West. Do you really think they're going to stop that now? Unless they are somehow forced to stop?

The world economy is currently driven by constant growth in profits - which is directly fueled by burning more energy every year. As long as Wall Street and its cohort markets are running things, there is no economic incentive to change anything until it actually starts costing people a lot of money. That trend shows little sign of slacking.

We - humanity - have got a very small number of some very smart people who are looking at this problem and saying "hey, we need to address this." There is a slightly larger group of people who are paying attention and supporting that group and trying to get the word out. But there is a much larger group of people who resist or downplay or ignore or ridicule the idea that there is a problem - or they stand to lose too much personally by dealing with the problem. And then there is a vast majority of people who are too busy with their daily problems to even think about this one.

While we pride ourselves on our intelligence, the reality of this situation is that we are acting exactly like a population of rabbits on an island with no natural predators and a finite amount of food. We, collectively, are acting precisely like unintelligent animals - or even like single-celled organisms, bacteria in a Petri dish.

Of course our egos won't let us believe that, because each of us is relatively highly intelligent, but that is just what is happening. And unless we, collectively, behave like intelligent creatures, the same thing is going to happen to us as to the rabbits and the bacteria.

Personally I hope someone finds a wonderful new source of energy that doesn't produce CO2 and will scale up to power society as it is today... because the alternative isn't pretty at all. Of course if that happens, we're still going to have to deal with a "Thermal Crisis" eventually - but it won't be caused by greenhouse gases, it will be caused by humanity and our works just radiating too much heat!

missybossy said: "It's a proven tactic. Works for foreign policy so why not the environment? Being rational has little mass appeal."

And that's why we're probably going to turn the Earth into one big Easter Island in space.

My Camaro has no emissions controls on it at all. When I fire it up, it puts out quite a stink of burned hydrocarbon. I can just barely remember in the early 70s, when every car was like the Camaro (it's a '67), and the air everywhere there was cars stank like that - and in a lot of places was brown all the time. It doesn't anymore (unless you're driving behind me... sorry), so we've made some progress. We even have blue skies here in LA; I've been here 7 years and I've seen quite a bit of improvement even in that time. But we have a long way to go. Fortunately my ancient gas-guzzler is pretty rare, emissions-wise, and I don't put a lot of miles on it. I can only imagine what things would be like if all the cars built since the 70s had never had emissions controls put on them.

Finally, a bit of a disclaimer: the company I work for is essentially a parasite of the US car industry, and by extension of course the oil industry. We're more of a consumer advocate, but our business - and thus my salary - depends on people buying new cars all the time. Believe me, I see the irony of that in light of my opinions on the auto industry... but jobs are hard to find these days, and this one is keeping me above water. Following the sensible route in CO2 emissions would put me out of work, and likely out of my apartment! So, just like most people, probably just like almost everyone who's reading this thread, my own immediate problems and needs trump those of humanity. Such a dilemma, eh? Just another rabbit....
posted by zoogleplex at 3:11 PM on January 25, 2005

Error ranges for estimates and sources of data, right here -- see pp.62 through 67 of this document:
posted by hank at 10:37 AM on January 26, 2005

If the point of no return is predicated on humans as a mass behaving as if the future meant something to them I think that point was hit a long time ago.
posted by nanojath at 8:36 PM on February 23, 2005

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