Dead forest being submerged, Sri Lanka
Only a ‘narrow window’ exists to hold global warming at safe levels – new report. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Time we came to our senses

To borrow heavily from my favourite poet, Charles Bukowski: ‘My beerdrunk soul is sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world’.

The enzyme stimulating my sadness is the continuing attitude of politicians to the planet-threatening implications of climate change, and their callous indifference to the truth: that we are running out of time!

Maybe T.S. Eliot was right: This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

The latest scientific analysis of our chances of holding global warming at ‘safe’ levels is not encouraging. Having studied millions of possible climate futures scenarios, the report’s conclusion is that only ‘a narrow window’ exists.

Deadly heatwaves

Out of 5.2 million possible climate futures, carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world if we are to stay at less than 2 deg of warming by 2100, the report says. (That’s the target set by the UN to avoid the worst impacts of climate change from rising seas and deadly heat waves.)

By comparison, under the 2015 Paris climate agreement (the one Australia has hung its emissions reduction hat on), even if countries meet their pledges, emissions will continue to grow and peak by 2030 – putting the world on a path to global warming of 3.0 to 3.5 C.

Global emissions exceed 40 billion tonnes a year and have increased for the last two years.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future,” the study group says.

Plantation of Douglas fir trees in New Zealand
Afforestation offers a tangible large scale carbon capture option. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Negative emissions

Glen Peters, research director at Norway’s Centre for International Climate Change, told National Geographic that these findings echoed the IPCC Special Report. It found the only way to keep global warming to 1.5 deg C was the use of large-scale carbon removal, either from engineered technologies like direct air capture or biomass energy with carbon capture and sequestration, or from natural climate solutions such as afforestation. (Meanwhile, under new Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro’s watch, Amazon forest destruction is back at record levels.)

Large-scale carbon removal, also known as negative emissions, may be unfeasible, but is reducing global emissions to zero by 2030 any more feasible, Peters asked. “We need to explore all options, then society can decide if one or another pathway is more attractive than another.”

Solar geo-engineering

One possible solution is ‘solar geo-engineering’ – involving high-flying aircraft spraying sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, thereby mimicking gas from volcanoes and reflecting the sun’s heat.

The paper’s conclusion is that solar geo-engineering could halve global temperature increases without making climate change worse.

It is to be hoped, for generations unborn, that we come to our senses soon enough.

Natural Images, 2019

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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