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The Risks Of Climate Change
Are Unacceptable

By John James

24 February, 2007

In many scenarios based on recent research there is an approximate ten percent risk that we will pass an irreversible tipping point in the next five years. While debate circles around the costs of climate change, the risks of sudden and catastrophic change grow.

Do we dare take that risk?

Let's put this another way: if your house had a ten percent chance of being burnt down, if every time your child rode a bicycle there was a one-in-ten possibility of her being run over, or if every time you flew your plane every tenth flight crashed, what would you do? Nothing? Complain? Or start getting damn serious?

This is where we are. The wonders of human civilisation could be lost and most of us killed before our time as temperatures near 4 C, unless...

So what should be our next step? Cut down our private consumption mercilessly and instead of waiting in vain for some technological fix done by others, and start seriously looking into our own lifestyle to change it. For suggestions see here.

However, while all individual efforts to reduce emissions are laudable and should be encouraged, they unfortunately are not enough. We have to get political, for this problem cannot be tackled only on an individual level. Mandatory government policies will have to be the driving force. Harass every politician you know until they start looking after the children of us who vote for them.

Quantifying the risks from global warming

We are now entering a region of extremely high risk, nationally as well as personally. The probability of being forced into a massive lifestyle revolution is really close: certainly at the present rate less than a dozen years off.

Lord Stern's report has been confirmed by the recent IPCC figures. Greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere now stand at around 430ppm CO2-e, compared with only 280ppm before the Industrial Revolution. In 2000 the world emitted around 42Gts total greenhouse gases were.

Calculated in a different manner, our industrial life-style has added 2,300 Bts over 200 years, each year at increasing rates. The Stern rep[ort shows that, with business as usual, output in 2050 will be around 87 Bts (billion tons). A simple calculation shows the total CO2-e in the atmosphere will then have accumulated to 5,300± Bts, which is over twice today's amount.

A lot earlier, around 2020, emission concentrations will have risen from 430ppm today to almost 500ppm. By then it will be increasing at almost 4ppm per year, and still accelerating. That will jettison the world to well over 800ppm by the end of the century.

At 500ppm we reach extremely high risk territory. We do not know the impact this will have, except to say it spells dark times for most of us. Potential 3 C average temperature rise means at least three times that in the Arctic, and the melt-down of Greenland ice and heat-up of the methane-rich Siberian permafrost.

All this then under way in less than 12 years from now.

How old will you be then? How old your children?

In any assessment of risk management, the potential for disaster is set against its cost. The cost is now our lives and our civilisation. Jobs, mortgages and comforts pale to insignificance compared to this.

Even if the probability were low, the risk is not worth the cost, especially when we add to these figures the growing emissions from the tipping points discussed in the last newsletter.

As developing countries will account for over three quarters of the increased energy-related emissions to 2030, it is up to us to help them achieve their goals with the most efficient and sustainable equipment, even if we have to subsidise it.

Over this period some greenhouse gasses will decompose and return to earth, particularly the short-lived gasses such as methane. This will reduce temperature. This will be offset by lessening of global dimming as we reduce pollution, by the return of carbon to the air from soil and seas, and the unreleased amounts in various sinks referred to as tipping points.

Lets not forget that up to now oceans have masked the true long-term effect by absorbing a high proportion of the greenhouse gasses. They will refund this as temperatures rise. In addition the amount of water vapour in the air will increase with heat, and in spite of the larger tropical cloud cover, will add further to the heat, especially in the Arctic.

It is narrow to protect one industry at the cost of others, and present plans to spend money on coal sequestion rather than solar and wind puts coal in charge of the honey pot.

Current policies put money before reason and survival. For more infromation refer to and monthly Footprint newsletters.


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