Time to ‘Do the math’ again: Allowing 2°C global warming is madness

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Have we gone mad? 2°C of warming will bring catastrophic and irreversible consequences. We should not take risks with the climate that we would not take with civil infrastructure.

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Climate Red Code

Recount.250Have we gone mad? A new report released today explains why contemporary climate change policy-making should be characterised as increasingly delusional.

As the deadline approaches for submissions to the Australian government’s climate targets process, there is a flurry of submissions and reports from advocacy groups and the Climate Change Authority.

Most of these reports are based on the twin propositions that two degrees Celsius (2°C) of global warming is an appropriate policy target, and that there is a significant carbon budget and an amount of “burnable carbon” for this target, and hence a scientifically-based escalating ladder of emission-reduction targets stretching to mid-century and beyond.

A survey of the relevant scientific literature by David Spratt, “Recount: It’s time to ‘Do the math’ again”, published today by Breakthrough concludes that the evidence does not support either of these propositions.

The catastrophic and irreversible consequences of 2°C of warming demand a strong risk-management approach, with a low rate of failure. We should not take risks with the climate that we would not take with civil infrastructure.

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There is no carbon budget available if 2°C is considered a cap or upper boundary as per the Copenhagen Accord, rather than a hit-or-miss target which can be significantly exceeded; or if a low risk of exceeding 2°C is required; or if positive feedbacks such as permafrost and other carbon store losses are taken into account.

Effective policy making can only be based on recognising that climate change is already dangerous, and we have no carbon budget left to divide up. Big tipping-point events irreversible on human time scales such as in West Antarctica and large-scale positive feedbacks are already occurring at less than 1°C of warming. It is clear that 2°C of climate warming is not a safe cap.

In reality, 2°C is the boundary between dangerous and very dangerous climate change and 1°C warmer than human civilisation has ever experienced.

In the lead up to the forthcoming Paris talks, policy makers through their willful neglect of the evidence are in effect normalising a 2.5–3°C global warming target.

This evidence in “Recount: It’s time to ‘Do the math’ again” demonstrates that action is necessary at a faster pace than most policy makers conceive is possible. Decades of procrastination mean there is no longer sufficient time for an incremental and non-disruptive reduction in emissions.

Only a whole-of-society rescue plan, understood as action at emergency speed outside of the business-as-usual political mode, can provide hope of retaining a livable planet for ourselves and future generations.

In a foreword to the report, Ian Dunlop, the former Chair, Australian Coal Association & CEO, Australian Institute of Company Directors, says that:

For the last two decades global leaders have been guilty of willful denial regarding human-induced climate change, none more so than in Australia. Despite much rhetoric and endless negotiations, human carbon emissions continue in line with a worst-case scenario… 

Unfortunately the years of procrastination have cut off options to solve the climate challenge with a graduated response – emergency action is now inevitable if potentially catastrophic and irreversible impacts are to be avoided.

Such views are dismissed as extremist by political and corporate incumbencies, and by most activist NGOs and investors. However, there has never been an honest official acknowledgment of the real climate challenge; as a result realistic solutions have not been forthcoming.

Climate change is happening faster and more extensively than officially acknowledged and sensible risk management requires far more stringent action. This paper explains why.

Source: Climate Code Red. Reproduced with permission.

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20 Comments
  1. MIro 4 years ago

    That’s it everyone thanks to Howard, Rudd, Abbott policies and willful inaction we all need to walk or ride our bikes from today on. Hope you were ready for this. That is if we are to have 90% chance of keeping the global worming to 2C yep and 2C is by no means smooth sailing if the current spate of storms, floods and wildfires is anything to go by…all caused by a current 0.5C raise.

    Like I said, get the bike out and grease up the chain….

  2. Motorshack 4 years ago

    When I was a kid at the height of the Cold War, there was a joke three-step “plan” for dealing with a nuclear attack. If I remember correctly, someone may have even made a poster of it.

    1) Bend over.

    2) Put your head between your legs.

    3) Kiss your ass good-bye.

    Looks like it’s time to dust off some of those old posters, and paste on a new title.

    • john 4 years ago

      I had the poster that showed that exact position.
      In fact I can remember the situation when it happened

  3. Mark Roest 4 years ago

    This is a wake-up call that it is madness to accept a 50%
    chance of runaway global warming in society’s planning (that’s what the
    2 degrees C threshold is!), in order to gradually phase out fossil
    fuels over the next 35 years, which those allied with the fossil fuel
    industry are promoting. If we stop fossil fuels today, we only
    have a 90% chance of stopping runaway warming — that means we now have a
    ZERO carbon budget. To put that in perspective, even zero now
    is like playing Russian Roulette with a revolver with ten chambers. By
    the same mathematics, accepting further use of fossil fuels to a 2
    degrees C level is like putting 3 bullets in six chambers and playing
    Russian Roulette.

    The owners of the fossil fuel industry
    appear quite happy to put humanity and the rest of life in the position
    of having 3, 4 or even 5 bullets in the chambers of a six-chamber
    revolver and playing Russian Roulette, just so they can maintain their
    wealth and power. *

    We can use this article to back up
    framing the true situation this way, because it is graphic enough to cut
    through a lot of denial. Check out the graph that adds another column
    to what we have been shown by the media!

    What goes
    with that is teaching that, as Stanford scholars and major investment
    banks agree, we can switch off fossil fuels within a few years and see
    almost no economic disruption — as they phrase it, “at very low cost.”
    The technological truth is that we can do even better than that: we can
    save so much money that it triggers a Renaissance.

    * See https://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/fossil-fuels-must-face-up-to-black-swan-moment-45121, which includes this:

    “But for an industry that Carbon Tracker says has “a history of
    failing to assess risk,” the report notes that such 2°C-driven scenarios
    as a global cap on emissions are still considered unlikely by many of
    the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies.

    “Companies like Exxon Mobil, for example, have disclosed business
    forecasts that are still not yet aligned with even the IEA’s New Policy
    Scenario (NPS) on demand – an outlook that is less constrained than its
    2°C scenario.”

    ‘Considered unlikely’ and ‘not yet aligned’ are euphemisms for ‘denial’.
    If we start using this kind of information (and there is a more out there)
    assertively, we can accelerate the conversion of opinion leaders who
    are sitting on the fence due to the political and economic balance of
    power being currently in the fossil fuel industry’s favor. That is a
    path to tipping the balance of power.

  4. cardigan 4 years ago

    This whole thing is madness. Two degrees is a meaningless figure, first given life by an economist in 1977, with no scientific base. The climate is a highly complex non linear system. Controlling one tiny aspect, which has never seen empirical proof, is to condemn billions to an expensive energy future, which will impact heavily on the poor, but not so much on the purveyors of this nonsense, who have gotten rich from the public purse.

    • patb2009 4 years ago

      Solar PV appears to be the cheapest source of power, it would appear you wish to condemn billions of people in the developing world to expensive oil energy.

      • Miles Harding 4 years ago

        … or centralised coal energy.
        That is a central part of the Lomborg plan for the developing nations.
        Centralised power makes about as much sense in the developing world as wired telephones do.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      Meaningless to a science illiterate person perhaps.

    • john 4 years ago

      Mate you have been informed by Fox News which is actually not news at all but a junk outlet for selling crap like their comment.
      Get a real life and read some information we are now in a situation where co2 is above the highest level for 800.000 years and that means we are now going to a new CLIMATE NORM. The outcome for this civilisation is going to be some what of a gamble depending where you are some will be good most bad.

    • john 4 years ago

      Pss no one has got rich from this you clown

  5. GLG 4 years ago

    What a load of nonsense! To suggest a 2 degree temperature rise would be irreversibly catastrophic is just stupid. No it wouldn’t be. It would have some negative effects in some parts of the world, neutral effects in most if the world and very good effects in son of the world. Imagine the vast frozen areas of Siberia and Canada that might become farmable. Imagine the increased life that could grow in vast areas of the sea and land that would now be slightly warmer – haven’t you noticed how much life there is in tropical rainforests and corel reefs – and these grow in warm areas of the world. And just as important, think of the billions of people who won’t have access to electricity and won’t be able to move out of poverty if we deprive them of the right to use fossil fuels. No, I just don’t buy the fear. Sadly I’m not sure that I buy that warming is happening either…

    • Ricardo K 4 years ago

      You could try to educate yourself instead of “I just don’t want to believe it!” For example, most of the coral reefs in the world are desperately stressed, partly because of CO2 pollution.

      • GLG 4 years ago

        Well, perhaps you’re right. But as I understand it, the stress on coral reefs by rising carbon dioxide is due to pH, not temperature. I could just as easily point out that forests and trees grow faster with higher CO2, but again that isn’t due to temperature. Okay so I’m not a meteorologist but I still have the right to an opinion and I can guarantee you that there is certainly some education behind it. And it’s not that I just don’t want to believe – I think it’s the other way round and that global warming advocates are unable to admit they are probably wrong. Look at what eminent proponents for global warming have said over the decades about loss of arctic ice, rising sea levels and the end of snowfall in places like the UK. All of these things were supposed to have happened by now but none of these predictions have even come close to being true. I’m sorry, I don’t believe it because it isn’t happening, not because I just don’t want to believe it. But it any case I’ll not convince you and you wont convince me and that’s okay. Feel free to do all you can on a personal level. Stop using a car. Don’t use heating or an airconditioner at home. Grow your own vegetables. Don’t turn on your computer. That’s fine, but I don’t want my government’s policies to impose costs on me and I certainly don’t want people in Africa and India and other areas of extreme poverty to suffer because of this “settled science”. I’m not anti green issues, I think that loss of habitat and clearing of land are hugely important issues that need to be addressed but I think these real, tangible issues have been mainly forgotten in a bizarre quest to keep temperature rises to under 2 degrees. But even if global warming was happening, if you think a 2 degree rise in temperature would be catastrophic for the world then we don’t have any common starting point because I don’t think this would be a problem. Feel free to respond and tell me I’m burying my head in the sand.

        • Ricardo K 4 years ago

          I don’t have time to correct you and it would be pointless. Global warming IS happening. It already IS screwing with climate systems that have been stable for millennia. Exact consequences – who knows? But we’re playing Russian roulette and we just keep pushing more bullets into the chamber.

        • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

          pH is directly related to dissolved CO2 in sea water. the reactions are complex but more CO2 drives down pH with carbonic acid one of the resulting products. Dr Google has more time than me (for deniers), ask him. Skeptical Science is a good place to start on the debunking the denialist myths.

        • Coley 4 years ago

          Aye, your burying your head in the sand, I did it for years, it’s a comfortable place to be, let’s face it,the status quo will keep me in comfort till I pop me clogs,as it will all those who have staked their futures in FF.
          But what of your children/grandchildren? They are the ones who will have to face the consequences of our comfort seeking lifestyles.
          I know where your coming from, I spent a a while there mesel, but do a bit reading, and you may find an “uncomfortable truth”
          But the future can be changed, but a lot of people need to get off the fence or their arses fairly quickly.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      Imagine vast areas in Siberia and Canada that thaw and release volumes of GHGs methane, CO and CO2 that dwarf human emissions. Runaway CC scenario. And that thawed land you want to farm, yeah not so much soil which is a rich living thing that supports crops and trees. Very poor ‘soil’ indeed, and we just lost the good soils to desertification great strategy, GLG.

  6. Miles Harding 4 years ago

    Spot on!

    Our politicians confuse probability and certainty and fail to understand that there is no refuge if we are wrong and reality is worse than we thought.

    If you want something truly chilling, try Guy McPherson’s interview on the subject:

    I don’t necessarily subscribe to his unavoidable doomsday scenario, but he is correct in identifying a lot of possible tipping points with each one like another round in a chamber when playing Russian roulette. Our ‘Business as usual’ practices continue to chamber additional rounds.

    Aside from the climate ultimately getting us, modern economics responds to stresses by increasing efficiency through globalisation and ‘just in time’ processes, the financial system has its own version conducted through various incomprehensible derivatives, all of which make the system more inter-connected and fragile. Apparently, no lessons were learned from 2007.

    The rapidly growing disconnect between the limits of a finite environment and an economic system, dependent on exponential growth, will have to come to a day of reckoning sometime soon.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      I’ve always thought Australia needs a ‘Grim Reaper’ type wake-up campaign on climate change. It doesn’t have to be entirely doom and gloom but it needs to state the risk in no uncertain terms. Appeasing fossil fuels and GHG heavy agriculture-as-we-know-it will not win the safe climate we all desire.

      It’s the governments responsibility to educate the people as well as address the problem. We can’t solve it if we don’t understand it. Even if we can’t solve it, the better prepared we are for it the less violence and carnage will come.

      I spent time mourning too, now I’m fighting because there are still degrees of suffering and a discriminating person choose the less suffering for ‘self’ and for others. Detachment does not imply passivity. Empathy does not require inaction.

  7. john 4 years ago

    We may not see it but our grandkids will and they will look back at us and say what a self-centred generation we were.
    I feel awful to think that is how I will be derided.
    The chance of changing our ways absolutely zero because society is all about me not anyone else.
    I feel there is no chance of a change because we live in a life of a spoilt brats society.
    We were spoilt our kids are spoilt and the ongoing outcomes are we and our kids only think about the immediate.
    How to give a social responsibility meaning to life hmm very difficult considering out outlook which is self centred in the extreme.

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