Climate change

29 09 2013

Use your head – for we have only one planet

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have written about climate change on my Norwegian blog (the link is a translation of the Norwegian text. I cannot guarantee that google translate did a superb job. But the point is: I have always been interested in the climate, already as a 12-year old I made flyers to “save the nature”. When I found an interesting article in “the guardian” I just had to share it with you.

No more denial. Time to act on climate change

Our leaders must set the climate change gainsayers to one side and confront imminent catastrophe

 

Greenland Ice-Cap Draws Global Warming Tourists

Melted water runs over the icecap in Greenland. Photograph: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

 

In his recent book Ten Billion, Stephen Emmott
posed an intriguing question: what would happen if humanity discovered
tomorrow that there was an asteroid on a collision course with Earth,
one that would bring calamity on a precise date several decades in the
future? An event like that could result in the eradication of a large
chunk of life on Earth and would surely galvanise the planet, argued
Emmott. Every scientist, engineer, university and business leader would
be enlisted to find ways to deflect the errant asteroid and help our
species survive. We might even succeed.

 

The idea is intriguing because humanity now finds itself facing just such a global catastrophe
– except there is no specific date for our meeting with destiny and
there is no asteroid. Nor is there any sign that we appear to be
interested in trying to save ourselves or rescue our planet. The problem
is that we face a threat that is manmade and insidious but which is
every bit as dangerous as an asteroid impact – and that is global
warming.

 

Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
published its fifth assessment report on the physical science of global
warming and made it clear that the continued burning of fossil fuels to
run our cars, factories and electricity plants is now virtually certain
to induce serious alterations to our climate. These changes will not
arrive with an astronomical bang, of course, but will appear with
stealth. Nevertheless, the IPCC’s report makes it clear that rising sea
levels, acidifying oceans, shrinking icecaps and thawing Arctic tundra
are now likely to occur with virtual certainty by the end of the present
century.

 

Thus humanity is conducting the greatest and most
important scientific experiment ever carried out – on itself. And it is
doing so by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an accelerating rate. Since the Industrial Revolution
began, we have burned half a trillion tonnes of carbon from coal, oil
and gas, states the IPCC. Now we are set to burn another half trillion
in a few decades.

 

Surface temperatures have already risen by 0.89C
in the past 200 years and could rise by a further 3C or more by the end
of the century. Populations on coasts, in Bangladesh, for example, face
the prospect of devastating flooding, while those who live at the edge
of spreading deserts could suffer famine and increased disease.

 

Such
scenarios are the worst possible outcomes of our continued burning of
coal, oil and gas, of course. Further temperature rises may be limited
to lower figures and that would certainly lessen future damage.
Unfortunately, we cannot be sure what future temperature rises will be
or how severely our climate will change, despite scientists’ best
efforts. Meteorology is a complex business.

 

Under such
circumstances, it might seem prudent to act today to reduce carbon
emissions, thus avoiding the potential threats that lie ahead. Yet
climate talks remain deadlocked, nations continue to burn fossil fuels
while those who deny our climate change is changing have quadrupled in numbers in the UK since 2005.

 

The
critical question is straightforward: why are we so reluctant to act?
Why has the world turned its back on a disaster that has the potential
to wreck life on Earth for centuries? Answers have a lot to do with the
unpalatable nature of the message that climate scientists bring us. A
quiet turning away is common.

 

However, there is another pernicious
reason for our failure to act: the bitter, often vitriolic campaigns of
climate change deniers – men and women (but mostly men) who simply
refuse to accept that humanity is changing weather systems. They have
played a major part in halting progress that could lead to global deals
to reduce carbon emissions. The most vociferous of these operate in the
US where rightwing thinktanks, often backed by oil and energy
corporations, have funded lobbyists who, by questioning every statement
made by government scientists, have helped to paralyse the nation’s
political ability to tackle climate change. (Craig Rosebraugh’s
documentary, released here last week, reveals his considered view of
these individuals in his film’s title, Greedy Lying Bastards.)

 

By
contrast, the activities of UK deniers look less extreme, though they
have still been dangerously effective, constantly sowing seeds of doubt
in comment articles and news stories peppered with falsehoods and
cherry-picked data. Similarly, news and current affairs programmes have
all too often “balanced” the voices of scientists with the views of
cranky deniers, despite the expertise of the former and the ignorance of
the latter. Last week’s coverage of the IPCC report provided many
examples.

 

In some cases, commentators said global temperature
rises have paused recently. In fact, they have continued to increase,
albeit at a reduced rate. Others have maintained that Arctic sea ice
levels have bounced back from their recent calamitous drop. This, again,
is untrue. They reached their sixth lowest extent this year. And then
there is the claim by others that Arctic sea ice loss has been balanced
by Antarctic sea ice gain. Once more, this is a travesty of the truth,
though at least one national newspaper promoted it yesterday in its IPCC
coverage. The Arctic has lost about 3m sq km of ice in the past 30
years while the Antarctic has gained 0.3m, the latter figure probably
being no more than a reflection of year-to-year variability.

 

The spread of climate change denial now, sadly, touches government. David Cameron,
who once expressed a wish to lead a coalition that would be the
“greenest government ever”, has found himself surrounded by Tory
colleagues who simply cannot accept that climate change is happening.
Two have recently been elevated to important posts. Peter Lilley is now a
member of Cameron’s strategy group but is an avowed sceptic who voted
against the UK Climate Change Act 2008, while Owen Paterson, another
sceptic, has been made environment secretary with responsibility for
making the UK resilient to climate change impacts. These are not
encouraging developments. Key decisions about shale gas, electricity
generation and flood protection will have to be made in the UK in the
next year. It is now doubtful we have the right men to do the job.

 

What
Britain urgently needs is an unambiguous statement from our government
that it recognises very serious changes are now affecting our planet;
that we have the will to tackle a growing global catastrophe; and that
we are prepared to address difficult, unpopular truths. To date, we have
heard nothing.

 

 

 








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