Postscript: The Time is Growing Short

POSTCRIPT
I published the blog post below in 2017. It discusses a scientific analysis and climate-change warning published in the journal Nature.
The critical element of the scientists’ conclusion was the absolutely necessity to begin immediately reducing CO2 emissions. Progress was pinned to six milestones that had to be reached by 2020. Here we are in 2020. Unfortunately, global CO2 emissions increased in 2018 and 2019 and none of the six milestones was reached. Likewise, the other disasters I mentioned are continuing to accelerate. The likelihood that human civilization will continue to progress and flourish in years to come is perhaps exactly equal to the number of times “biodiversity” or “global wildlife extinction” has been mentioned in the Democratic presidential debates: Zero. But who knows? Perhaps this year’s weather will provoke a massive mobilization similar to what it took to combat the Nazis.

[Alfred E. Neuman said “What, me worry?” — perhaps he was our spokesperson after all, eh Joe?]

The 2017 Blog Post

GR [in 2017]:  An article from June, 2016 should be on everyone’s mind now. Here’s my discussion followed by a link to the article.

A group of scientists analyzed the sources of CO2 and the dynamic relationship between the quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperature to devise a global carbon budget they could use to assess the effect of timing of changes in CO2 emissions. The analysis enabled them to calculate the changes we must make to preserve a livable climate. You’ll have to read the article to see the individual sources of CO2 that must be adjusted. I wanted to mention the timing for the budget. The analysis shows that if CO2 emissions begin to fall immediately and reach zero in 30 years, we will remain within the global warming limits set by the Paris treaty. After the flat emissions of 2014, 2015, and 2016, the authors believed that the fall in emissions was ready to begin. This is good, because their budget shows that if we wait to 2020 to start tapering off CO2 production, we only get 20 years to reach zero emissions. If we wait to 2025, we get less than 10 years to reach zero. Transforming our energy use that quickly would be impossible.

SO, how are we doing. Six months after the analysis was published, we find that 2017 emissions have gone up, not down. Lot’s of positive changes have begun, but we have to wait to see what happens in 2018. If we begin to taper off CO2 emissions by 2020, we will have 20 years to reach zero emissions. I suggest you take a look at the six milestones the authors believe must be reached by 2020. Then you can monitor the world’s progress toward painful climate change (the Paris treaty) or disastrous climate change (with too many storms, fires, heat waves, and rising seas).

Climate change is just one of the approaching disasters. Human population and its impact is growing, wildlife species are going extinct at incredible rates, freshwater supplies are dropping, and toxic wastes are building up. If we can’t do much more than take our CO2 emissions to zero over the next 20 years, most of the diversity and beauty of life on Earth will disappear.

Christiana Figueres and colleagues set out a six-point plan for turning the tide of the world’s carbon dioxide by 2020. NATURE.COM

CO2 Emissions Must be Cut Now

It’s Time to Cut CO2 Emissions

Yesterday at my house we received 2.25″ of rain (with hail) in less than an hour. In arid regions, that’s a lot. The gutters clogged with hail, spilled over, and contributed to ponding in the yard that came within 1/4 inch of flowing over the patio door sills. I have a flood wall planned, and hope there’s still time to get it built before another intense storm comes along.

We can expect increasing storm size and intensity because of the amount of CO2 we have already released into the atmosphere. If we could limit emissions and subsequent temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius, the storms would continue to grow, but away from the coasts, little flood walls and rooftop solar panels would probably let most of us survive. However, limiting the storms by limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees celsius is impossible now. We might still limit the increase to 2 degrees, but we have to act fast.

The graph below shows the best scientific estimates of the cumulative effect of delays. If emissions begin to fall now, we can stay below 2 degrees of rise if we reach zero by 2040. If emissions do not begin falling until 2025, we must reach zero by 2033 to stay below 2 degrees. Eight years? Having had a strong taste of the coming catastrophe by then, we might try. But the effort itself would be so costly, we probably wouldn’t make it. Dropping to zero in 21 years if we begin now will be incredibly difficult. It will require a global switch to wartime economies dedicated to building renewable energy and making emission cuts. Emissions are still rising as we approach 2020, and reaching zero in 21 years seems unlikely.

All we can count on for sure is that nature will force human emissions to begin falling in about 20 years due to massive loss of life as heatwaves and wildfires increase, and as farms, water delivery, power delivery, and transportation fail. That’s when positive feedbacks, including the ice-free arctic, melting permafrost, soil erosion, and other sources of CO2 will begin growing without our contribution. At that point, our species could begin spiraling down toward extinction.

Christiana Figueres and colleagues published the graph below last year. I blogged about it last December. You can find a link to the original article there.

To keep all this positive, glass half full and so on, I will close by saying that the world’s scientists could be wrong about climate and we will all win the lottery next week.

Asking for More: Additional Carbon Cuts Please

GR: Moving from theoretical to practical, an article in Nature reports on the use of observed global warming to choose the best models for predicting future global warming. Future warming is normally estimated by combining several models. In the new research, the scientists found that the best models actually predict a warmer future than the combined models did. National commitments to reduce emissions have to increase.

Governments are curbing emissions, but not fast enough for 2C goal (Pic: Flickr/kris krug)

“Greater future global warming inferred from Earth’s recent energy budget”

Abstract:  “Climate models provide the principal means of projecting global warming over the remainder of the twenty-first century but modelled estimates of warming vary by a factor of approximately two even under the same radiative forcing scenarios. Across-model relationships between currently observable attributes of the climate system and the simulated magnitude of future warming have the potential to inform projections. Here we show that robust across-model relationships exist between the global spatial patterns of several fundamental attributes of Earth’s top-of-atmosphere energy budget and the magnitude of projected global warming. When we constrain the model projections with observations, we obtain greater means and narrower ranges of future global warming across the major radiative forcing scenarios, in general. In particular, we find that the observationally informed warming projection for the end of the twenty-first century for the steepest radiative forcing scenario is about 15 per cent warmer (+0.5 degrees Celsius) with a reduction of about a third in the two-standard-deviation spread (−1.2 degrees Celsius) relative to the raw model projections reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Our results suggest that achieving any given global temperature stabilization target will require steeper greenhouse gas emissions reductions than previously calculated.” –Brown and Caldeira.

Global CO2 Emissions Are Rising in 2017 After Three-Year ‘Plateau’

GR:  Cinch up your seat belts; CO2 emissions are still rising.

“Over the past three years, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have remained relatively flat. However, early estimates from the Global Carbon Project (GCP) using preliminary data suggest that this is likely to change in 2017 with global emissions set to grow by around two percent, albeit with some uncertainties.

“Hopes that global emissions had peaked during the past three years were likely premature. However, GCP researchers say that global emissions are unlikely to return to the high growth rates seen during the 2000s. They argue that it is more likely that emissions over the next few years will plateau or only grow slightly, as countries implement their commitments under the Paris agreement.

2017 emissions likely to increase

“The GCP is a group of international researchers who assess both sources and sinks of carbon. It has published an annual global carbon budget report since 2006. Its newly released global carbon budget for 2017 provides estimates of emissions by country, global emissions from land-use changes, atmospheric accumulation of CO2, and absorption of carbon from the atmosphere by the land and oceans.

“The figure below shows global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, divided into emissions from China (red shading), India (yellow), the U.S. (bright blue), EU (dark blue) and the remainder of the world (grey). After a rapid increase in global emissions of around three percent per year between 2000 and 2013, emissions only grew by 0.4 percent per year between 2013 and 2016.

Here’s an informative video on country-by-country emissions.