November 27, 2012

4° Celsius

Those in the know on the global warming front have officially despaired of limiting the average rise in global temperatures to 2°Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit). Why? Simply put, it would take a massive world-wide effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions above and beyond what has already been committed to in various international agreements. And you and I both know that ain't gonna happen any time soon. Even if all current pledges get carried out, "the world [is] on a trajectory for a global mean warming of well over 3°C." This, according to a report prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.

Here is the money quote from the report's Executive Summary:
Without further commitments and action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world is likely to warm by more than 3°C above the preindustrial climate. Even with the current mitigation
commitments and pledges fully implemented, there is roughly a 20 percent likelihood of exceeding 4°C by 2100. If they are not met, a warming of 4°C could occur as early as the 2060s. Such a warming level and associated sea-level rise of 0.5 to 1 meter, or more, by 2100 would not be the end point: a further warming to levels over 6°C, with several meters of sea-level rise, would likely occur over the following centuries.
The report goes on to detail the disastrous impact that a 4°C rise would have for the developing world. Agricultural production could suffer, and countries like Bangladesh, Egypt, Vietnam, and parts of Africa would lose arable land to encroaching seawater. Given that these countries are poor to begin with, they would have enormous difficulties in finding the money to cope with the impact of climate change. Even the richest countries balk when they see the price tag attached to building seawater barriers needed to protect coastal megacities. But its not like we won't need to come up with billions of dollars to repair the damage from the extreme weather events that are a hallmark of a warming climate.

Europe and the United States are meeting their greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, but keep in mind that the goals themselves were the bare minimum levels and are being met in the U.S. mostly by increasing production of natural gas through fracking, a practice which has its own burgeoning problems. Last year's mild winter didn't hurt either.

As for India and China, both are on a path to seriously increase their green house gas emissions. China is doing much better in the lip service department and may actually be getting serious about curtailing its use of coal, but experts warn that China's greenhouse gas emissions are unlikely to start falling before 2030. India, which recently suffered a catastrophic power blackout, seems poised to keep on firing up those coal plants.

In 2011, the wealthy countries reduced their emissions 0.6 percent last year, but developing countries saw their emissions grow 6.1 percent. Overall, the gap between what was promised in terms of emissions levels and what was actually pumped into the atmosphere is growing.

In an ideal world, we should have emissions of no more than 48.5 gigatons (44 metric gigatons) of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The most recent data puts current emissions at 54 gigatons. The gap is expected to continue to widen to between 8.8 and 14.3 gigatons. (A gigaton is one billion tons.) As a historical point of reference, British coal production in 1829 was 15 million tons. In 2011, world coal production was 7.9 billion tons.

The year 2060 is less than 50 years down the road. My youngest grandchildren will deal with a changing climate for their entire lives. This is their new reality. Their only hope is if my generation wholeheartedly joins with them to make a commitment to seriously address the problem of a changing climate. So far, the abundance of looming trouble is exceeded only by the lack of political willpower to deal with the problem.

My advice remains the same. First, do your own research. The internet abounds with web sites presenting all sides of this issue. I recommend Spencer Weart's web site, The Discovery of Global Warming, as a good place to start. Second, listen to your gut instinct. Anyone who has lived as long as I have knows that things are different. You can feel it in the air, literally. Mother Nature is putting on a global warming show-and-tell program for us. It's up to us to heed the warnings and do something. The ounce of prevention has already become too little, too late, but there is still time to educate yourself and your children about the new world they will have to raise their children in.

No comments:

Post a Comment