I have just read another chilling piece of climate change news and it makes my stomach turn. The Australian Climate Institute has just released an independent review of the climate science post 2006 and subsequent to IPCC considerations. The IPCC report which will be coming out later this week only uses material published up to mid-2006. According to the Climate Institute research, many new important observations have been published since which were not considered for the IPCC report. The upshot of this report is:
- The IPCC assessment understimates the effects of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than the worst case scenario considered by the IPCC. In addition, the IPCC has not taken into consideration some scenarios with "low probability, high consequence events" such as "rapid collapse of ice sheets or climate-ecosystem feedbacks".
- The report also highlights the massive acceleration in global temperatures and a massive increase in the use of fossil fuels which exceeds the highest emissions scenarios considered by the IPCC.
- Of particular concern is what has been happening in the Arctic. The rapid melting of the Arctic ice cap is happening thirty years ahead of what the models have been predicting.
- The IPCC assumed that there would be limited effect of melting Antarctic ice sheets on ocean sea levels but newer studies now say that sea level rises could be "several metres per century with eventual rise of tens of meters, enough to transform global coastlines".
- The capacity of the land and the oceans to absorb CO2 is declining. As a result, oceans (which are currently considered as "sinks") may release CO2 back into the atmosphere, causing a "positive" (i.e. reinforcing) feedback loop.
The sad thing is that we have known about global warming for at least thirty years. We also have many technologies readily available that could make a big difference such as wind, solar, geothermal. We know how to build energy efficient and solar passive houses. We could have supported and expanded public transport instead of our massive investment in private automobiles and road infrastructure. We know that take off and landing are the two most energy-intensive periods in air travel, making short flights particularly bad, yet I don't know of any government that actively undertakes to reduce the ever expanding number of short flights and the growth of regional airports. We have wasted all that time doing what? And has all our consumption, our expansion, our economic growth made us happier?
Now we are in a situation where we not only have to reduce our emissions, we have to stop our emissions altogether and take CO2 out of the atmosphere. As George Monbiot said in a recent speech: "[R]ich nations must cut the emissions much further than anybody else, you realize that we are talking at a minimum of a 100% cut, and it looks like it might have to go to 110% or 115%. You laugh but we're talking about sequestration and we're talking about such things for example, as growing biofuel and burying it, simply for growing as much bio mass as we can and sticking it back on the ground....something.....anything to stave off this catastrophe." (a full transcript can be found at the beyondzeroemissions website).
And what are we doing? Australian Prime Minister John Howard only recently found that climate change is real (mostly a result of opinion polls that showed that the Australian public is increasingly unimpressed with his stand on the issue) but still calls Labor's modest 60 per cent emissions reduction target by 2050 "radical" and "extremist". On October 20, 2007, the Australian newspaper reported that New South Wales Farmers Association (NFA) executive councillors Howard Crozier and Ian McClintock still deny that there is any "possible link between this drought and man-made climate change." Mark Vale, the leader of the National Party, last month said that "there was "conflicting evidence" on the concept of climate change but later clarified his position, saying it did in fact exist." (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 November 2007).
I can only hope that the opinion polls in the lead-up to this election are right and we will get a change in our national leadership, and that we will finally do our part in taking all the real, necessary and urgent steps we need to take to tackle this challenge.