We are constantly told that if we want to avoid “serious” climate change then we have to stick to below two degrees. Have you ever wondered though where this mysterious 2 degree figure came from or who came up with it? In the next couple of weeks at Copenhagen anyone with any grasp on climate change will be trying to beg, borrow and steal their way to an agreement that would result in us (humans) limiting the average global temperatures to below 2 degrees from 1990 levels. Anything above this and we are doomed! It is thus slightly important to explain why even this target is wholly inadequate.
In 2001 the IPCC (Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change) came up with the 2 degrees figure using a very sensible method. Simply, they looked at the bad stuff that was likely to happen because of climate change (species extinction through to run-away climate change – this is when tipping points cause further tipping points (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkUaAltxUpg) and worked out how likely at different temperatures it was to happen. At 2 degrees they figured there was very little chance of runaway climate change occurring. There was however still a significant chance of species extinction (there were then events in between that varied in their likelihood of occurring). They considered this to be a “safe” level to aim for.
This all seems very sensible (what’s a few species in the grand scheme of things?). In the run-up to Copenhagen however, the University of Copenhagen produced a report (http://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/press-releases/files/synthesis-report-web.pdf) authored by many of the original IPCC authors highlighting why, in the light of the latest science since 2001, this 2 degree guardrail is wholly insufficient. Essentially they were saying that they had underestimated the temperature at which these reactions to temperature rise would occur. This is hugely problematic.
According to their latest estimates, sticking to 2 degrees would leave us with a moderate chance of experiencing run-away climate change. I cannot emphasize how scary this is. A moderate chance of plunging our entire species into starvation, mass migration, probable war and potential extinction! Why are we not in a state of emergency? Why have I been blogging about the death of the local pub, when soon we will not be able to grow the crops needed for brewing (let alone to feed ourselves)?
This is IF we meet our 2 degree target. What do you think…will our leaders unite together to make the sort of agreement that is needed to make lasting cuts in carbon emissions? I suggest not. Will our leaders buckle to economic and political pressure rather than scientific reality? I suspect so. What does this mean for us as a species…as a civilized society…a community…a family or even as an individuals?
It means that we are facing very very tough times ahead. How tough depends on how we (as a species) act now! How prepared we are for these tough times depends more on how we act as a community, family and individuals. To tackle this issue we need a collective effort like never before (think WW2 and multiply it…the enemy we face now is far scarier than the threat fascism ever posed to humanity…the millions that Hitler wiped out might look like small numbers if we do not act on climate change).
Think of climate change though not as something that is either happening or not happening but as something that is on a scale. I have no doubt that we will witness the extinction of many more species, but how far down this scale towards run-away climate change we slip is really up to us.
British Green MEP Caroline Lucas recently summed the situation up by stating that if we meet the EU’s most ambitious targets then we will leave ourselves a 50:50 chance of experiencing the worst consequences of climate change. These are odds I am not willing to accept.
We can act now to limit to the consequences of climate change or we can go down in history as the only species that monitored itself into extinction.