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Listening to Them What Knows

December 20 – The Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, has issued a very powerful issue of their periodical, Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society A, entitled “Four Degrees and Beyond.” The Royal Society A is a British organization that has been in existence for 350 years. Its website can be accessed at http://royalsociety.org/. I’d like to direct your attention to what I believe are the more important aspects of one of the articles comprising this issue. This may or may not be an educational experience, because I’m rushing in where angels fear to tread, i.e., I’m going to try to make sense of a pretty high-toned scientific paper. Because I don’t have a background in climatological science, I’d like to issue a disclaimer. While I will make every effort to simply ignore the parts I am unable to understand, it is entirely possible that unintentional errors may make an unwanted appearance. I’m not going to attempt to claim that this will be the first time, only that it is the first acknowledged time.

The article is “Beyond dangerous climate change: emission scenarios for a new world,” and it is written by Drs. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows. It begins by reminding us that the Copenhagen Accord states that global temperature increase will be held at or below 2 degrees Celsius. (What is not made clear in the Accord is where the starting point for temperature increase falls, though the assumption is pre-industrial times.) My article review will lack enormously in the area of suspense, because I’m going to tell you the conclusion at which the paper arrives: 2 degrees is too much. An increase of 2 degrees Celsius must now be regarded, in the light of ongoing research, as a dangerous temperature increase. Dangerous, of course, to humankind and all other living beings. Now let’s backtrack, and I’ll tell you about some of the information found in Anderson and Bows’s report.

The Copenhagen Accord refers to developed countries as Annex 1 countries, developing countries as non-Annex 1 countries. Two of the many distinctions between the two are “that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries,” and that “social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.” While I would agree that it is neither fair nor realistic to expect much of most non-Annex 1 countries with regard to mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, I do think it should be specified that any and all things they ARE capable of doing should be done. Bear in mind that China and India are regarded as non-Annex 1 nations. The authors then go on to tell us that there were increases in emissions during the first decade of the 21st century unlike any previously seen. These increases are attributed to developed countries making inadequate reductions in the use of GHG’s, along with the rapidly escalating use of GHG’s in China and India.

Anderson and Bows continue by explaining that, where it was once believed that a 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperature was at the extreme end of the acceptable range of increase, re-evaluation of the impacts brought on at this temperature has caused scientists to reclassify 2 degrees Celsius as falling at the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous temperature increase. Counter-intuitive as it may sound, national policymakers in the UK and elsewhere have labored under the misapprehension that temperature targets would make achievement of 2 degrees or less achievable. Cumulative emissions have not been considered, only the temperature. The fact that there is a lag between emission of GHG and the resulting impact was not taken into consideration. Neither were emissions of all known GHG’s. The result has been a dangerous disconnect between scientific input and national policy/legislation. It seems only reasonable to me to put the United States at the head of this uninformed class of political leaders.

There follows one of the most important sentences in the entire report: “In general there remains a common view that underperformance in relation to emissions now can be compensated with increased emission reductions in the future.” Translated, that means that government pins its hopes on technology getting us out of this mess. While this would place the likely reduction of temperatures very far out in the future, by which time temperatures would have risen beyond 2 degrees, governments still tow the 2 degree line. That’s what is meant by a disconnect. It’s very hard to get your head wrapped around bad news that is THIS bad, esp. when you have so many people with so many different agendas wanting so many different outcomes. The scientific community has finally returned from its too-long hiatus and is making its voice heard. Now all that has to happen is for governments to listen! This needs to happen because “the gap between the scientific [understanding of what needs to be done] and policy understanding of the challenge needs urgently to be addressed.” Yes, it does!

There’s more, but I don’t want to test your patience. If you remember one thing you’ve read here today, make it the fact that a 2 degree Celsius increase in global average temperature will be too much. Make conserving energy your new way of life. Thank you!



Anderson, K. & Bows, A. (2010). Beyond ‘dangerous climate change: emission scenarios for a new world. Retrieved December 20, 2010 from http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1934.toc.

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