Monday, February 26, 2018

Preventing the worst consequences of Climate Change ahead means action now

Climate action cannot be just any action. It must be on a scale and time frame that will make a difference. Effective action depends not only on sound science, but sometimes also requires pre-emptive action on issues not yet completely understood, such as permafrost melting. Our infrastructures must be maintained and updated according to projected Climate Change findings. If actions are thought to be too expensive, that cost must be measure against inaction. Finances should be made to fit the crisis, not the other way around, as many free-market fundamentalists would like. You can have life on this planet without our present economic system, but you cannot have our present economic system without life on this planet. We need to get our priorities straight.

The following transcript by climate scientist Professor Richard Alley explains in plain words the costs of inaction on Climate Change:

“Alley: Climate change in the short term is expensive but not hugely so, and as the climate change gets bigger, as we look farther into the future, the price goes up. The damages go up. Very crudely, each degree of warming costs more than the previous degree. The first degree was almost in the noise of what we're used to. It's not very expensive, but we've used that one. And the second degree will cost a little more. It's moving outside of your experience that's starting to stress things and we've committed to that one very broadly. The third degree costs more than the second and by the fourth and the fifth now sea level rise is going to get huge. We have real problems with crops, which may be bumping up against biochemical limits and the ability to feed ourselves gets a little worrisome. By the time you start running to the third, the fourth, the fifth degree the costs of damages and dangers go way up. What we're arguing now about the third degree because we've basically warmed up almost all of the first one and we really have committed to the second one.” (Professor Richard Alley, UQx DENIAL101x From the experts: Impacts on society)

Tipping points

Added to the costs of delaying climate actions are the increasing possibility of tipping points. When thinking about possible Climate Change tipping points (and we should be thinking about them), we should gain more certainty—not wallow in uncertainty. To do this we need more scientific equipment, more scientists, and more research funding. Dismissing climate science and not funding our collective need to monitor our climate makes it more likely we’ll pass critical thresholds, or tipping points, without even knowing we’ve passed the point of no return.

Are we reaching our climate change tipping points? Imagine cutting down a tree. Initially, you chop and chop … but not much seems to change. Then suddenly, one stroke of the hatchet frees the trunk from its base and the once distant leaves come crashing down. It’s an apt metaphor for one of the most alarming aspects of climate change – the existence of “tipping elements.” These elements are components of the climate that may pass a critical threshold, or “tipping point,” after which a tiny change can completely alter the state of the system. Moving past tipping points may incite catastrophes ranging from widespread drought to overwhelming sea level rise. Which elements’ critical thresholds should we worry about passing thanks to human-induced climate change? (November 8, 2018) World Economic Forum [more on Climate Change in our area] 

We need to understand the list of potential tipping points referenced above and how we can avoid them. Or if we cannot avoid them, then when to expect them and what we can do about them. Many people tend to understand that tipping points are possible in our environment, but don’t think they’ll be around when tipping points come--or their kids will deal with them somehow. But with a tipping point, it isn’t always like pulling a trigger where past a certain point a bullet shoots out. It can be like pulling a trigger on a gun now and a bomb going off in a hundred years. 

A while ago the West Antarctic ice sheet was said to have reached a tipping point; this big (really big) glacier has become unstable and will melt and make the seas rise by 4 feet (1.2 meters), but not for a number of centuries. [See: “The "Unstable" West Antarctic Ice Sheet: A Primer” (May 12, 2014 NASA)] ‘Unstable’ means all the kings men and all the kings horses will not put that water back on Antarctica again in our children’s children’s children’s children’s lifetimes.  

Tipping points are not just theoretical threats, they are possible (some very probable) scenarios that we need to better understand. Instead of sitting around debating their significance, we should be funding major scientific research to gain as much information as possible to find out what we are up against. Some tipping points can be averted, adapted to, or may be solved with new-and-yet-to-be-conceived technology. But all that will take time, in which case we’d need a good idea of how much time we have. The remaining uncertainty (for example, experts know the Arctic will be ice-free in summer at some point relatively soon, they’re just uncertain as to the exact time) in climate science at this point is a reason to double-down on experts finding the answers. Not trying to profit from and leverage present climate uncertainly, which only wastes our precious time. The time to act in a system that is slow to respond to our inputs is running out.

The next five years will shape sea level rise for the next 300, study says The world is far off course from its goals in cutting greenhouse gas emissions — and research published Tuesday illustrates one of the most striking implications of this. Namely, it finds that for every five years in the present that we continue to put off strong action on climate change, the ocean could rise an additional eight inches by the year 2300 — a dramatic illustration of just how much decisions in the present will affect distant future generations. “One important point was to reveal that sea level [rise] is not in the far future, it’s now, and because the system is so slow, we just can’t see it at the moment,” said Matthias Mengel of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the lead author of the study, which was published in Nature Communications. “But we cause it now.” (February 20, 2018) The Washington Post)

Time passes. 

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