Climate Change

Climate change/global warming is undoubtedly a very serious prospect which will have enormous political/economic/social/ecological consequences in the current century. In 50 years time people will look back and be ashamed and astounded by the lack of effective action on this issue at the current time, despite abundant knowledge as to the seriousness of the threat, and the abundant resources available to tackle it.

Our political and economic systems seem to be frozen, like a rabbit in the headlights of an approaching car.

The figure below shows the essence of the problem particularly clearly:

(figure supplied by George Crabtree, Argonne National Laboratory. References: N. Oreskes, Science 306, 1686, 2004, D. A. Stainforth et al, Nature 433, 403, 2005)

This shows data from antarctic ice cores, showing an extremely strong correlation between methane and CO2 levels in the atmosphere and global temperature, over the last half-million years. The reasons for the strong fluctuations are unknown, but the correlation between the greenhouse gas levels and the temperature is nevertheless very strong.

The current CO2 level is shown by the red dot floating off the top of the scale on the right! If the correlation between greenhouse gas levels and global temperature is maintained, we would experience a 10 degree rise in global temperature, even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases now. A 10 degree rise in global temperature would correspond to an inconceivable catastrophe.

I must emphasize that this argument is oversimplified and that most of the current climate models do not anticipate the full 10 degrees of warming. Nevertheless we may be lucky to escape with even a fraction of this temperature rise. We seem to be gambling that there are enough mitigating mechanisms.

I believe that we need emergency action to cut energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions on a global level. Kyoto and its follow-ups are nothing like enough. In my view the only game in town is Contraction and Convergence proposed by Aubrey Meyer at the Global Commons Institute.

My own fears about global warming have inspired the musical composition "Slow Burn" which can be listened to here.

Back to the politics page.