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A Conference Without Compassion: A Guarantee Of Mutually Assured Suicide

By John James

20 December, 2009

The following was extracted from a report on the Copenhagen Summit by George Monbiot in The Guardian.

Any deal would do, as long as the negotiators could pretend they have achieved something. A clearer and less destructive treaty than the text that emerged would be a sheaf of blank paper, which every negotiating party solemnly sits down to sign.

The final Accord was the chaotic, disastrous denouement of a chaotic and disastrous summit. The event has been attended by historic levels of incompetence when the world's governments tried to decide how to carve up the atmosphere, and asserted their right to draw lines across the global commons.

This is a scramble for the atmosphere. Most of the rich and rapidly developing states have sought through these talks to seize as great a chunk of the atmosphere for themselves as they can, to grab bigger rights to pollute than their competitors. The process couldn't have been better designed to produce the wrong results.

A few rich individuals and great corporations have abrogated the right to do as they will with the air that we all breathe. They have usurped the commons!

In the Copenhagen Accord there are no deadlines, no assurances, and talk of keeping below 2C makes no link between science and the reality of continued pollution. Nothing at Copenhagen gets even near what is needed if a meaningful attempt is to be made to avert runaway climate change. The IPCC states that this Accord guarantees that global temperature will in reality reach over 3 degrees.

Even at 2 degrees the IPCC forecasts a 9m seal-level rise, and that could be in much less than the next 80 years. To get what this means I repeat what I wrote in the August FOOTPRINTS:

Lets assume that rising temperature follows a regular trajectory, and lets assume that there is a one-to-one correlation between temperature rise and its consequences. Such a regular trajectory is unlikely as the combination of growing C02-e, carbon and ice-melt feedbacks, solar cycles and stronger El Niño may join with extreme weather events and global tipping points to alter the trajectory of this process.

Though we don't understand many of the complexities, the simplicity of this calculation has a lot to recommend it.

With continued steady linear growth the earth will be heated to 1C by 2012, and to 2C by 2030.

Paleoclimatic evidence shows that for every 1C rise we should expect a minimum 4-metre rise in sea levels. We have just calculated that by 2030 the conditions will be in place to guarantee a minimal 8-metre sea level rise. With the usual inertial delays of thirty years or so built into the earth's system, and applying a regular trajectory for sea levels as we did with temperature, we could be looking at

A sea-level rise of 500mm within a decade and a full metre during the next (ie. before 2030).

During this time large areas of agricultural land will be gradually flooded, in Egypt , Bangladesh , northern China and the Philippines . Florida , Boston and London will be badly affected, as will Melbourne and much of our coastline. Food production will be lessened as the Himalayan glaciers melt, there will be a lot less to fish and land will be lost to drought and sea. In the same period global population will rise by one billion, most living in cities. We are fully aware of the refugee crisis that would follow such sea-level rise, and the likelihood that there would be war. This is a recipe for catastrophe if we dont prepare.

However we vary the parameters, this process shows we have run out of time and should prepare now for what cannot be prevented if we wish to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed and to which life on earth is adapted.

But Copenhagen has side-stepped that. George Monbiot again: We have now lost 17 precious years, possibly the only years in which climate breakdown could have been prevented. This has not happened by accident: it is the result of a systematic campaign of sabotage by certain states, driven and promoted by the energy industries. This idiocy has been aided and abetted by the nations we have characterised, until now, as the good guys: those that have made firm commitments, only to invalidate them with loopholes, false accounting and outsourcing. In all cases immediate self-interest has trumped the long-term welfare of humankind. Corporate profits and political expediency have proved more urgent than either the natural world or human civilisation.

Our political systems are incapable of discharging the main function of government: to protect us from each other. Goodbye Africa , goodbye south Asia ; goodbye glaciers and sea ice, coral reefs and rainforest. It was nice knowing you. Not that we really cared. The governments which moved so swiftly to save the banks have bickered and filibustered while the biosphere burns.

These governments raised many trillions to keep the stock exchanges open. They could do the same to buy the support of the great polluters, on any terms, to stop this crisis. They could, but wont. Governments could do it without recourse to any elected body. They (Obama, Rudd, Brown etc) just did it through the Federal Banks. Why not again?

Do the frogs have to wait until the water is boiling?

Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho , Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries said on behalf of over a hundred countries "1.5 degrees is nonnegotiable - more than that means death to Africa . It will cause unmanageable consequences - it will leave millions of people suffering from hunger, diseases, floods and water shortages …. How can it be realistic to condemn half of humanity?"

I paraphrase Andrew Glikson: The atmosphere is tracking into critical levels. An examination of the geological record indicates that, with the exception of major volcanic and asteroid impact events that triggered mass extinctions of species, never has atmospheric CO2 risen at a rate as fast as at present: 2 parts per million/year, the earlier highest record being about 0.4 ppm/year about 55 million years ago.

Early humans survived a rise of +3C about 2.8 million years ago. Homo sapiens survived abrupt temperature rise of about +5C during the two last glacial terminations 130 thousand and 14–11 thousand years ago, in part through migration. The species will survive.

It is less clear how civilization itself can survive a rise of over 2C, for the lives of 7 billion people are totally dependent on

1) mountain snow-fed river systems for agriculture in deltas that are prone to sea level rise,

2) on extensive cultivation of marginal desert regions such as in Australia and Africa that will turn into desert,

3) on regular monsoons as in India and east Africa that will change course, and

4) on coastal centres and port cities that are needed for the transport of food, and will be drowned under the sea. Little of our wealth and learning will survive such changes.

According to James Hansen, at 2C “Science reveals that climate is close to tipping points. It is a dead certainty that continued high emissions will create a chaotic dynamic situation for young people, with deteriorating climate conditions out of their control."

Enjoy your Christmas!





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