This is a brief posting about the greatest challenge our species has ever faced – climate change.
Yes, my title is deliberately provocative, but this is important.
To be clear, it is not a certainty, but instead is just the most probable current outcome
I have a bit of data to share with you, but first, let’s cover a few basics. I’m making a few assumptions here. Keeping it very simple and specific …
- I’m assuming that you do accept that man-made climate change is quite real
- It is our emissions of Greenhouse gases that are causing it
- We either reduce our Greenhouse gases or we reap the consequences of not doing that
If you disagree, then it’s probably best you stop reading.
I was Optimistic, but then COP26 happened
I should have been more realistic, but my optimism was misplaced and blinded me.
To try and sum it up, I just don’t see the required political will needed to execute the truly significant meaningful change needed.
Yes, most nation-states are taking steps. The problem is that they are paying lip service to the upswell of demand for action, and so they are chipping away at the edges, a little here, a little there.
Yes, it helps.
Individuals are also doing their best. The problem is that none of it is the radical change needed.
Let me put it another way with a set of questions for you to ponder over:
- Do you drive, and if so, is it an EV (Electric Vehicle)?
- When it comes to your next car, will it be an EV or is that simply too expensive?
Many hold fire on this because the EV is deemed to be too expensive.
Rinse and repeat this response for a lot of climate action.
We know what is right, we can see what needs to happen, but actually taking the step is perceived to cost too much, so we stick with what we have.
But wait, what is the total cost of ownership of an EV vs a gas-driven car?
- Electric vehicles cost far less to run and to maintain, so while the initial cost is higher, the total cost over time is actually lower. It is that initial cost that fools us.
This is not about EVs, I’m just using that to illustrate why we often pause on much needed change.
Why am I now so pessamistic?
Let’s look at some measurements.
Sitting out in the middle of the Pacific is the Mauna Loa Observatory on the island of Hawaii. It is the ideal location because it is far from the industrial centers of activity. There, since 1958, a continuous daily record of CO2 in our atmosphere is taken.
The measurement below is known as the Keeling curve. It is named after scientist Charles David Keeling who spent his entire career supervising it until he passed away in 2005. Responsibility for it all was then transferred to Keeling’s son, Ralph Keeling.
Here is the full record …
There rests the crux of the problem.
Our CO2 emissions are still increasing up and up.
To be brutally blunt, unless we bend that curve downwards, we are well and truly fucked.
The Bigger Context
We can go beyond 1958.
Ice core samples enable us to do this. Tiny bubbles frozen in ice cores capture the ancient atmosphere, and so there is a record of CO2 measurements going back over the last 800,000 years. Below is an illustration of the above in that bigger context …
The regular cycles you see are due to orbital variations bumping us in and out of ice ages. If curious about this, NASA have a page that explains it titled “Milankovitch (Orbital) Cycles and Their Role in Earth’s Climate“.
On the right, is a huge spike in CO2 emissions. That’s us.
How bad might it get?
There are some very obviously dire outcomes.
As the climate changes, crop production will be impacted. A NASA study published in Nov 2021 revealed that this will start impact in the 2030s – “Global Climate Change Impact on Crops Expected Within 10 Years, NASA Study Finds”
This is down to increases in temperature and shifts in rainfall patterns.
Over time after the 2030s it will only get worse, a greal deal worse.
The inevitable rise in sea level threatens coastal cities. Major cities will potentially be inundated on a timescale that we can’t adapt to.
Rising temperatures – Study: Projections of tropical heat stress constrained by atmospheric dynamics
That paper was published in Nature last March (2021) just a few months ago. By running climate models the researchers were able to do some very revealing projections.
limiting global warming to 1.5 °C will prevent most of the tropics from reaching a TW [Web Bulb Temperature] of 35 °C, the limit of human adaptation.
The do-nothing option means most of the tropics will reach temperatures that are beyond the ability of humans to survive in without access to air conditioning.
To be clear, a wet Bulb temperature of above 35C means you will overheat and die. Today, nowhere really reaches that high a web-bulb temperature. Yes, you have areas with far higher temperatures, but that’s a dry heat, and so via evaporation, we can cope. However, when the moisture in the air is high enough and also hot enough, humans die.
If we don’t take meaningful decisive actions then the consequences will be dire.
If you think handling 100,000 immigrants is hard, how about 100 million humans displaced by climate impacts.
Regardless of what you might believe, doing nothing meaningful about climate is not an option.
We might indeed subconsciously strive as a species to pay lip service to climate, but then carry on increasing our CO2 emissions. This is currently what is going on. The ever-increasing climb of the Keeling curve demonstrates this to be a fact and not simply a worry or an opinion.
The argument that we can continue to do so without facing dire consequences is not a political argument, but instead is an argument with the laws of physics. That’s not an argument anybody can win.
In the long run, what will unfold is the inevitable displacement of hundreds of millions of humans. People crossing borders, not looking for a better life, but simply somewhere they can survive.
The political will to act now is simply not there. As outcomes ramp-up year after year, the importance of taking action will increase. It is distinctly now probable that we will do too little far too late to avoid some very dire consequences.
Questions For Commenters
- Am I being too pessamistic or do you think that I’m being realistic about this?
- Do you see things playing out differently?
- If so, what leads you to hold that different view and consider it to be the most probable outcome?
I’m OK with being wrong about this.
I really do want to be wrong. I’d be honestly delighted if somebody could tell me, “Nope, sorry, you have forgotten about X, and/or have not considered Y”.