19 August 2012

We're Committed to Climate Chaos, Folks ... It's Simple Math

A lot of people still think that we'll be able to turn global warming and climate change around as soon as we decide we'd better. They live under the tragic (and ecologically illiterate) misconception that once we turn off the metaphorical "tap," the water will quit rising.

What these people don't realize is that we've turned on several other (figurative, of course) water spouts, as well. We can no longer control these or turn them off, and so greenhouse gases (GHGs) are starting to spill and spew over the sides of the tub.

We've already increased the global average temperature by 0.8ºC – and look what we've unleashed! And then the ocean heat lag commits us to practically a doubling of whatever the current warming is.

Our fastest possible stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gases will take so long, we're ensured another 0.4ºC before we get finished.

Then there's the loss of the cooling effect of aerosols that we'll get once we stop burning the fossil fuels that are causing the warming in the first place. (Yup, the pollution from fossil fuel energy cools the atmosphere. Weird, eh?) That could lead to another 0.5ºC (and as much as 0.8ºC, according to the IPCC).

Then there are the climate feedbacks to worry about. We're already seeing positive carbon feedbacks in the Arctic, which are leading to larger losses of Arctic summer sea ice each year as well as thawing tundra permafrost and subsea methane hydrates. These will add at least another 0.4ºC, and if you've been keeping track, we're now committed to about 3.0º of global heating.

Guess what happens at +3.0ºC? Declining crop yields in all regions, leading to price hikes. Food shortages. Social upheaval. And famines. More droughts and longer droughts. Greater heat waves. Further floods. In short, we're committed to climate chaos.

So if we don't turn off the tap yesterday and start bailing water out of the tub, then we could be well on our way to +7.0ºC, which will "make most of the planet uninhabitable due to intolerable heat stress" (Sherwood and Huber, 2009).

At what point do we declare the emergency? At what moment will we reach the tipping point? What (or who) will be the straw that breaks the camel's back? I'm on my way to San Francisco for the Climate Reality training with Al Gore. Perhaps I'll be the one to somehow find the courage – and the mathematical chutzpah – to change the world!

For more information on global warming commitment, please visit the Climate Emergency Institute.

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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?