04 December 2009

2 Days to Copenhagen - Alarmist versus Alarming: What Legacy Are We Choosing?

Alarmist: someone who is considered to be exaggerating a danger and so causing needless worry or panic.

Well, I don't consider myself to be exaggerating the dangers of continued global warming and climate disruption. Only precious time will tell, of course, and I am now reduced to hoping beyond all hope that I (along with thousands of climate scientists) am wrong. Better me than the deniers, cuz if they're wrong, we're up that famous river without a paddle — and no time to save ourselves before we head into the abyss.

So, let's pray that the laws of physics go wonky on us, or that the Americans and Chinese decide to go renewable (dragging most of the rest of us with them) next year, or that all the deniers, skeptics, ignorers and delayers suddenly see the light (or the climate chaos beyond their own backyards) and get all their cronies into action.


Versus alarming. Who's to judge? All our descendants. All future generations. Posterity. Wanna talk about going to heaven or going to hell? Whether you believe in those concepts or not (personally, I've made my peace with becoming compost), I've come to believe that we make our heaven or our hell right here on Earth — and if there's a higher power overseeing this whole grand experiment, then you'd better believe that we are judged by what we leave behind as our legacy: a sort of intergenerational golden rule.


By the way, see that pretty coloured map at the top of this post? It spells the end of agriculture (which spells the end of us, since we're now an agricultural species). It's the first time that climate modellers have been able to predict regional temperature increases given a globally averaged temperature increase. For this map, the global increase is 4º Celsius above the average temperature in 1890.

Why 4ºC when everyone is saying we have to stay below a 2ºC warming? Here's the rationale for a September 2009 conference at Oxford called the Four Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference:
"Despite 17 years of negotiations since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. Since 2000 the rates of annual emissions growth have increased at rates at the upper end of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] scenarios, presenting the global community with a stark challenge: either instigate an immediate and radical reversal in existing emission trends or accept global temperature rises well beyond 4°.

"The immediacy and scale of the reductions necessary to avoid anything below 4°C, and indeed the human and ecosystem implications of living with 4°C, are beyond anything we have been prepared to countenance. Understanding the implications of 4°C and higher temperatures is essential ...."

So please note that with a global average increase of "only" 4º Celsius (it just doesn't sound like much at all, I know, but consider that the Arctic's permafrost is already thawing with an increase of only 0.78ºC), all the bread baskets of the world — all the prime agricultural areas — will increase 6 to 12 degrees Celsius (yellow to red regions).

Holy flying mother of pearl! If a temperature increase of a measly .78ºC is thawing the permafrost, melting the Arctic summer sea ice (our summer "air conditioner"), destabilizing methane hydrates (those pesky frozen methane deposits along our continental shelves that could move us into runaway global heating if they continue emitting into the atmosphere), acidifying the oceans, killing the coral reefs, desertifying vast swaths of land around the world, causing worse droughts, floods and famines, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. (trying to make a point there), then 6 to 12ºC increases are going to be downright deadly — indeed, exterminatious (just made that word up).

We won't be able to grow food, our water sources (for drinking and irrigation) will dry up, and the heat waves will kill our populations off slowly if nothing else does. How much more do the deniers et al need to see and hear before they start to give a damn for their children's future?

So go ahead: how would you vote? Alarmist or alarming? Remember that it's only alarmist if it's not true. And if we're not sure (and there's still perhaps time for miracles), then surely for the sake of our children and grandchildren, the precautionary principle — rather than our pocketbooks — should be what motivates our actions and choices.


You see, we're already experiencing catastrophic climate changes and we've only reached +0.78ºC. This seemingly small temperature increase could tip us into runaway global heating any time now. Why in heaven's name would we want to "wait and see" and not alarm people when the situation is downright alarming? Be afraid! This is scary!

We need to cut our emissions to virtually zero FAST if we want to ensure a future for life on Earth. Let's have no more talk of 2ºC and 4ºC and 2050 and 2100. Let's get to ZERO as quickly as possible, because life depends on it.

Zero carbon emissions is a legacy worth leaving.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?