Climate Change -
A Frightening Lack Of Leadership
By Bill Henderson
20 November, 2006
The scientific consensus,
already clear and incontrovertible, is today moving towards the more
alarmed end of the spectrum. Many scientists long known for their caution
are now saying that warming has reached dire levels, generating feedback
loops that will take us perilously close to a point of no return...The
question is not whether climate change is happening, but whether, in
the face of this emergency, we ourselves can change fast enough.
is now my ninth op-ed* on runaway climate change (runaway global warming,
runaway global heating) and I've been waiting for some awareness from
the world's political and economic leaders of how desperately close
we are to possible human extinction. Increasingly probable runaway climate
change means human extinction.
I've been waiting for some
leadership in confronting the intractable problem of making impossibly
radical change in developed and developing countries, TODAY, so that
the world fifty years from now is still habitable by man and the flora
and fauna we now recognize as nature.
Scientists and journalists
have spoken out and written eloquently about feedback loops that
will take us perilously close to a point of no return. For example,
James Hansen and George Monbiot have sounded the alarm:
warming of 1 Â°C defines a critical threshold. Beyond that
we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the
one we know."
"(T)he science is
clear. We need not a 20% cut by 2020; not a 60% cut by 2050, but a 90%
cut by 2030 (1). Only then do we stand a good chance of keeping carbon
concentrations in the atmosphere below 430 parts per million, which
means that only then do we stand a good chance of preventing some of
the threatened positive feedbacks. If we let it get beyond that point
there is nothing we can do. The biosphere takes over as the primary
source of carbon. It is out of our hands." George
I wrote to educate; I wrote
in despair. I wrote trying to get out the alarm, to try and cry out
"Emergency". But escaping runaway climate change is a much
problem' than first perceived.
I tried to write to make
the case that there were these possible feedback loops, these carbon
bombs, this presently safely sequestered carbon. I remember Jeremy Rifkin
arguing back in the 80s that these feedback loops existed and could
come into play if warming from human caused greenhouse gases raised
global mean temperature and especially polar region temperatures past
a certain point. I don't understand why people in leadership positions
are doing nothing - not raising the alarm when severe climate change
in the Arctic is already releasing methane from melting permafrost.
People like Rifkin had made a logical cause and effect argument and
it is coming true.
Then I found out that carbon
bombs were just one possible set of positive feedback loops leading
to runaway climate change. David
Wasdell lists nine active positive feedback loops:
1) Increase in sea temperature
decreases CO2 absorption
2) Reduction in planktonic capacity to process CO2 with rising water
temperature and reduction in availability of rising nutrient-bearing
currents (lowered density of surface water with rising temperature)
3) Decrease in oceanic absorption
of CO2 with rising acidity of surface water
4) Acidification of oceanic surface layers reduces optimal conditions
for planktonic life and therefore further reduces plankton absorption
5) Increasing respiration of soil-based bacteria releases more CO2 with
6) Rising sea and air temperature generates higher levels of atmospheric
water-vapour, itself a powerful GHG
7) Increased temperature
generates increased cloud-cover (mixed feedback since clouds reflect
sunlight back into space, while also preventing radiation from the ground.
The domination of the positive feedback is thought to increase with
8) Thawing of permafrost
(land-based and coastal shallow seas) releases more methane
9) Decreasing snow/ice surface
decreases light/energy reflection.
I also wrote to model the
impossibility of conceiving of eminent human extinction. There is great
difficulty in individuals grasping that their actions today - driving,
consuming, flying, etc. - are cumulatively leading to a world where
their children or grandchildren will perish, to human dieoff and extinction.
You can sort of think it, say it ...but you really can't completely
think or communicate the closeness, the 'Big Picture', the horror.
I've used metaphors:
Dad, Mom and the kids
are out boating on the reservoir: little Johnny's helping Dad fish (and
the fishing is hot); Mom's enjoying a relaxing nap and the twins are
playing in the front of the boat. Everybody's having so much fun they
aren't really aware that they are drifting towards the dam and the spillway.
Even if the fishing is wonderful, reasonable people would make sure
that they stayed far away from the point of no return past which they
couldn't escape death for the whole family.
but it's not a question of
pointing out a danger to reasonable people. TEOTWAWKI
But I keep trying cause of
my granddaughter Bella and the billions of people she represents. Lead
time, the need to make changes now, TODAY, (the changes we didn't make
over the past decades) because of the multi-decade time lags in the
global warming process. The need to cut emissions substantially this
There are paths back from
the brink. Something like Lester Brown's PLAN B where individual governments
at least could formalize the danger as akin to the danger the Allies
faced in WW2 and put in place a mobilization of society and the economy
so that change of a necessary scale was possible.
We need some such governance
innovation so that we can get off the path we are on and ... but China
and India, the failure of developed countries to accept their greenhouse
gas legacy, the Kyoto failure. And Bush totally corroding and marginalizing
emerging global governance with stupid, criminal unilateralism in Iraq
- choosing the resource war path for everybody.
Nearly three-quarters of
British Columbians (the West Coast of Canada where I live) believe life
as we know it will end in another two or three generations unless drastic
and immediate action is taken to curb global warming, according to the
results of an exclusive Vancouver
Sun poll. The cause and effect of runaway climate change
may not be completely understood but citizens know enough to fear for
their children's future.
But each Canadian continues
to consume a huge footprint, emitting greenhouse gases now some 30%
above our supposed Kyoto targets. Each Canadian, like each American
or Aussie, is trapped in a car culture lifestyle that doesn't allow
any real possibility of slimming down personal emissions.
In the Canadian forward to
his new book HEAT George Monbiot nails us Canucks and our spineless
government while heretically advocating the governmental leadership
"You [Canadians] think of yourselves as a liberal and enlightened
people, and my experience seems to confirm that. But you could scarcely
do more to destroy the biosphere if you tried."
"When they (the
Conservative government) say that Canada cannot reach its Kyoto targets
for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, they mean that they do not intend
to try. ... [it's] an astonishing instance of political cowardice."
"I am sorry to say
that only regulation -- that deeply unfashionable idea -- can quell
the destruction wrought by the god we serve, the god of our own appetites."
We desperately need leaders
in government and business globally to speak out and demand massive
change right now, massive cuts in fossil fuel use and emissions, massive
change from our drawdown economy to an economy that grows but not materially,
that grows in knowledge and quality, but shrinks in energy use and material
We need leaders to free us
from the present unsustainable economy and motivate and empower us today
to make the changes necessary to save us from extinction.
And Heretics - Peak Oil And Runaway Global Warming
Darwin Award For Self-Extinction Goes To
The Road To Extinction
Global Warming - Denial
Bogs And Peak Oil - I'm Sorry For Doubting, Mr. President
a BLOCKBUSTER!!, Mr. Scorsese "
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