The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change a few weeks ago was so factually wrong, it could mislead the world into thinking it is going to survive global warming.
The new report, “Global Warming of 1.5o C”, commissioned by the Paris Climate Accords group over two years ago, claims the world has time – if drastic steps are taken now – to prevent global temperatures from rising 1.5o Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. It also warns we have only 12 years to pull that off.
The report generated a lot of publicity when it came out, understandably so. It represented a ‘clarion call’ to the world and to those coming to the next major UN Climate Conference. That conference, known as COP24 and to be held December 3-14, 2018, in the coal mining town of Katowice, Poland, will presumably spend much of its “energy” figuring out how to do something about those next 12 years.
There are only two problems with that. The report is wrong, and we already ran out of time on global warming a while ago.
It is time to face reality.
In the Trillions article published in August 2018, “Can We Save Ourselves?”, we outlined the truth of our situation – as a planet and a human species – in painful detail. That truth includes that:
- Most of the major population centers around the globe have already warmed by at least 2-3o C, and the Earth has already warmed to 1.5o C overall. That’s the supposed target the IPCC says we could hold to and for which we have 12 years to go.
- Ocean temperatures have risen by about 2.2°C from 1910 to 2015. That has already caused major coral bleaching around the planet, and the oceans are hot enough – and now acid enough – that we’re already at the point where we can expect 99% of the planet’s coral reefs to die.
- If there’s any question of the ocean warming, think about this year’s disastrous hurricane strengthening events, when at least 5 major hurricanes strengthened from Category 1 to at least Category 4 over what forecasters called “unusually warm waters”. Those were Hurricanes Florence and Michael in the Atlantic, along with Super-Typhoons Jebi, Mangkhut, and now Yutu in the Pacific. Yutu, a Category 5 storm, just blasted through the Northern Marianas islands with 180 mph winds, making it the strongest storm to hit any part of the United States since 1935. Honorable mentions for same day strengthening of “storms of the century” also include Hurricane Willa (which just made landfill on the west coast of Mexico with near Category 4 winds) and Cyclone Leslie, which rammed into the coast of Portugal as the first hurricane to make landfall on that continent since 1842.
- Some regions of the globe have been much hotter than normal for some time. This year alone, temperatures along a ring high in the northern latitudes were consistently 8-10o C warmer than normal. The Arctic was also an estimated 60-70o C above normal during the last winter, something which has never happened before. The northern latitude temperatures in North America, Asia, and Europe created unheard-of droughts and forest fires which – under normal weather conditions – would take decades to recover from. The Arctic heat of this year and past years has created a pattern of ice melting so severe that even a cold winter this year, something which is extremely unlikely anyway, would never make a difference. That melting has already changed ice sheets into water which can never be recovered. It is a situation so dire that China and Russia are now planning shipping channels across the Arctic to Europe, something which would never have been feasible just a few years ago. (And no, that’s not really good news for anyone.)
- Global warming has also exposed permafrost and the vast reserves of methane they had protected for years. While this is perhaps most notable in Russia’s Siberian and Pacific Ocean coastlands, plus Greenland in the northern Atlantic, this is a process accelerating in many areas. With the methane being released capable of trapping the sun’s heat at many times the rate of carbon dioxide, that’s a far worse scenario than most are aware of.
- Antarctic ice sheets are also melting far faster than mankind had previously realized. Recent discoveries have shown that even while the top of the ice sheets may not have pulled back that much from their borders (in most areas), the underbelly of the ice sheets – which used to be frozen solid, thick, and riding deep under the sea – has melted far more than previously known. That points to certain catastrophic ice-calving and melting events we can expect within the next few years.
- The lack of ice for longer periods in Greenland and elsewhere, plus warming of the oceans is also changing weather patterns in ways most of the studies cited in the IPCC report do not even begin to consider. Cyclone Leslie, which just hit Europe, may have owed some of its supercharged strength to where the warm ocean currents were passing along Europe’s coast, and not just from warm waters alone.
- The Greenland effect listed above, plus warming ocean currents which have in turn created acidification, and the complete disappearance of ice in regions which used to be “white” (reflective to the sun) and retained water, are examples of feedback loops global warming has created and which make things far worse for the planet than “just” increased fossil fuel emissions. Even ocean water warming is going to create more water vapor in the atmosphere, which will contribute to more solar heat trapping than just from fossil fuel absorption alone. The IPCC report doesn’t consider these at all.
- Even if the world were to get greenhouse gas emissions in check, global warming will continue to increase for years later.
- Finally, atmospheric CO2 levels have surged from 280 ppm to around 410 ppm since industrialization. That’s bad because of what it means for global warming increases. It is perhaps even more shocking when one realizes that, according to the American Meteorological Society, in 2017 the globe experienced the highest levels of CO2 since at least 800,000 years ago.
The IPCC report, which seems to have done some sort of “report averaging” over thousands of reports, gets this totally wrong. It claims, for example, that the planet is only 1.0o Centigrade warmer than the baseline. Besides that they have that number wrong anyway, the report authors deliberately changed the reference point for the goal of keeping warming to below 1.5o C. The Paris agreement accords referenced temperatures in pre-Industrial times (c. 1750) as the right reference point. The IPCC numbers compare their warming calculations instead to the 1850-1900 period, which is when the Industrial Revolution and its pollution were already well under way.
With its grossly distorted data and questionable analytical approaches as backup, the IPCC group claims there are a group of options to keep global warming in check. Those include solutions which allow – of all things -- fossil fuel prospecting to continue at relatively high levels for the near future. There are proposals involving carbon emissions credits and carbon capture techniques which they claim are both feasible (the first is not) and which we have time for (carbon capture would require investments and full-scale construction immediately to make a dent, and that will never happen).
As reported here in the article August 2018, we as a species and a planet are way out of time. Without paying much attention to the steady rise in temperatures, coastal water level increases and related flooding, increasing droughts and more powerful storms than ever, many people and the politicians who oversee their countries keep ignoring the truth of a hotter and hotter planet. As in the United States, where worship of the dollar and the fossil fuel barons has rolled back emissions standards in everything from drilling to methane monitoring and, soon, automobiles, many countries are remaining stuck in time, fossil fuel subsidies, expanding where drilling can take place, plus believing coal-fired power plants are a real option and that encouraging even more tar sand mining and fracking is a good thing. Multiple areas are also allowing continued destruction of one of the last remaining carbon dioxide traps on the planet, its rainforests. (If the right-wing Brazilian candidate which is in this Sunday’s Presidential runoff election wins, for example, remember when that happens that he has pledged to allow even more rainforest deforestation – for development, mining, and other resource pilfering.)
What is going to happen is far more than just heat and drought, however. Many of our conventional crops are less nutritious when grown in high-carbon-dioxide environments, and leaves thicken as well, decreasing the efficiency of photosynthesis. The loss of forests and decreased photosynthesis, plus acidification of the oceans, will mean less oxygen in the atmosphere, too. Lacking enough food, fresh water, and oxygen, all the world’s species are going to suffer. Mass extinctions of entire species are a certainty. Large portions of the globe's human populations will also likely die as a direct or indirect result of global warming.
The suffering will trigger wars over all those resources. Power will be diverted to keeping cool those who can afford to pay for it. And that’s the best news.
What we argued in that August 2018 article is that there is no way to stop the current pace of global warming before it begins to hurt all of us. What is instead critical, assuming we care, is to take even more drastic steps than anything the IPCC group is recommending – now – to attempt some truly radical experiments on geo-engineering and carbon capture. It is also paramount to take steps to find a way for at least part of the planet to stay alive and thrive in the face of the drastic heat which will come.
The IPCC article hurts us all with its distorted data and harmfully simplistic conclusions about the planet. What they’ve written may look dire to those who have not been paying attention, but their warnings are as dangerous as what happens when a region faces a low-intensity Category 1 Hurricane – and then comes face-to-face with the vicious strength of a Category 5 one. The soft warnings of this report – like the relatively low impact of the Category 1 storm – will lull many into thinking things are not that bad and they do not need to take action and take cover.
The truth may be frightening but it is all we have. It is time for drastic actions that are far more sweeping and more urgent than anything the IPCC considered. We need to re-engineer our future and understand that simple answers are no longer available and that we must now work to save all we can from the destruction we have put into motion and can't stop.