Global warm­ing re­port falls short of hon­est truth

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - Opinion - gwynne dyer Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ­Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work)

The spe­cial re­port on global warm­ing con­tains ter­ri­fy­ing fore­casts about what will hap­pen when we reach an av­er­age global tem­per­a­ture 1.5 C de­grees higher than the prein­dus­trial av­er­age. (We al­ready are at plus-one.) But it still shies away from talk­ing about the feed­backs, the refugees, and mass death.

The In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) or­dered this spe­cial re­port in 2015, after the Paris cli­mate agree­ment ef­fec­tively ad­mit­ted the tra­di­tional tar­get — stop­ping the warm­ing be­fore it reaches two de­grees C higher — had been set too high. By then, re­ally bad things al­ready would be hap­pen­ing.

So, all the coun­tries that want to stop the warm­ing be­fore it goes ru­n­away (ev­ery­body ex­cept the United States) said gov­ern­ments should as­pire to stop the warm­ing ear­lier, at plus-1.5C. And they asked the IPCC to fig­ure out how hard that would be.

The an­swer, re­vealed at a meet­ing in South Korea on Sun­day, is: very hard. There is very lit­tle time left. In or­der to skid to a halt, brakes on hard, be­fore we hit plus-1.5C, we will have to cut our green­house gas emis­sions by al­most half (45 per cent) dur­ing the next twelve years.

To cut emis­sions that fast by 2030, we would have to de­cide to close down all re­main­ing coal-fired power plants within the next two years. It would take the next decade to get that done and get the same en­ergy from ex­panded re­new­able sources (wa­ter, wind and so­lar), leav­ing us just on track to reach zero emis­sions by 2050.

Cli­mate sci­en­tist John Skea, who worked on the re­port, summed it up: “Lim­it­ing warm­ing to 1.5 de­grees C is pos­si­ble within the laws of chem­istry and physics, but do­ing so would re­quire un­prece­dented changes.” Changes of a scale that peo­ple would read­ily ac­cept if they faced an im­mi­nent in­va­sion by Nazis or Mar­tians, but that they are less will­ing to make when their en­vi­ron­ment is at risk.

The re­port ef­fec­tively says we can’t af­ford to go any­where near plus-two C. It talks bluntly about the need to end all fos­sil fuel use, re­for­est vast tracts of mar­ginal land, and cut down on meat-eat­ing. It even ad­mits we prob­a­bly will have to re­sort to geo­engi­neer­ing such as “so­lar ra­di­a­tion man­age­ment.”

How­ever, gov­ern­ments don’t like to talk about the mass move­ments of refugees and the civil and in­ter­na­tional wars that will erupt when the warm­ing cuts into the food sup­ply. And they don’t want to talk openly about the feed­backs.

Gov­ern­ments take cli­mate change very se­ri­ously these days, but they worry too much frank­ness about the cost, in lives, of go­ing past 1.5C will create ir­re­sistible pres­sure on them to take rad­i­cal ac­tion now. In the en­su­ing strug­gle be­tween the sci­en­tists and the politi­cians, the ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary al­ways gets toned down.

What got re­moved from the sum­mary this time was any men­tion of “sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion dis­place­ment con­cen­trated in the trop­ics” at plus-two C.

Even worse, “tip­ping points” barely are men­tioned in the re­port. These are the dreaded feed­backs — loss of Arc­tic sea ice, melt­ing of the per­mafrost, car­bon diox­ide and meth­ane re­lease from the oceans — that would trig­ger un­stop­pable, ru­n­away warm­ing.

They are called feed­backs be­cause they are self-re­in­forc­ing pro­cesses unleashed by the warm­ing we al­ready have caused.

If you don’t go into the feed­backs, you can’t talk about ru­n­away warm­ing, and go­ing to four, five or six de­grees C higher av­er­age global tem­per­a­ture, and hun­dreds of mil­lions or bil­lions of deaths. And if you don’t ac­knowl­edge that, you will not treat this as the emer­gency it is.

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