Curbing Climate Change II

Consequences of Climatic Change

Why should we care about human-induced climate change? The fact of the matter is, we should be scared, truly scared. Not so frightened that we’re paralyzed, but rather scared into action because the consequences on a business-as-usual trajectory for this planet could absolutely be dire. We are on a path of putting so much carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide into the atmosphere that the temperature increase on average on the planet could be several degrees centigrade by the end of this century. Four, five, six, eight, nine degrees centigrade, there’s no absolute precision on how big the increase could be because we can’t really say, first of all, how much greenhouse gas we will be putting in, even in a growing world economy on a business-as-usual path. And there are also undoubted uncertainties about the Earth’s processes. And our climate models do not have the precision to be able to get down to the decimal point of the likely increases of temperature. But, because we have so much evidence coming from so many different directions, the Paleoclimate, the statistical models used by climate scientists, the evidence of what’s already happening around the world, we can be pretty sure that the consequences could be very, very dire indeed unless we change course. One very useful way to view this was presented in an important report on climate change produced by Lord Stern in the United Kingdom a few years ago. And the Stern review of climate change included the picture that you’re looking at now. Now, you see across the horizontal axis, zero degrees centigrade, one degree, two degrees, three degrees, four degrees, five degrees centigrade. This is showing all of the possibilities for the increase of temperatures during the twenty-first century depending on how much greenhouse gas we end up emitting and how the Earth’s systems respond to that. Down the side axis, we have the kinds of consequences that we should expect for different temperatures. There will be consequences for the food supply. There will be consequences for water. There will be consequences for the functioning of ecosystems and the survival of other species. There will be consequences for extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, mega heat waves, mega storms, big cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes. There will be consequences and risks of very rapid, dramatic changes to key Earth systems that could cause the climate, not only to change as markedly as shown here, but even more markedly through sudden alterations of the Earth’s climate system. What this graph shows is that for any of these categories, sey food, as you look at the consequences at one degree centigrade, compare them with the consequences at two degrees centigrade. Compare them at, for the consequences that would occur at an increase of five degrees centigrade. The more change there is in the average temperature caused by bigger increases of greenhouse gasses, the bigger risks we face. If we can head off a, a lot of the greenhouse gas emissions by shifting from fossil fuels to other kinds of energy, for example, then the consequences will be smaller because the temperature increases will be smaller. If, instead, we continue just going right along our merry way with increasing oil, gas, coal, and other greenhouse gases, and so we have a big increase of temperature, the consequences could be completely disastrous. Consider food, for example. At one degree centigrade, one of the consequences is severe impacts in the Sahel region. The Sahel, remember, is the part of West Africa just below the Sahara Desert. Mali, Niger, Chad, it’s a dry region, could get dryer. The consequences for the Sahel, even at a one degree increase, which we basically already had, are quite serious. What would happen at five degrees centigrade increase? Well, according to the evidence, entire regions would experience major declines in crop yields, up to one third decline of crop yields in Africa, for example. That would be tantamount to mass hunger, even starvation in parts of the world. If we just let things rip, and the temperatures, therefore, rise by four or five degrees centigrade so that we’re at the extreme danger end of this graph, then the consequences are absolutely terrifying. With water at one degree centigrade you see that small mountain glaciers are disappearing. And this will cause threats to the water supply in places that depend on glacier melt for their water in the rivers. But go over to five degrees centigrade, and you see that sea level rise would threaten major world cities including London, Shanghai, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong. Calamitous events possible with a mega rise in sea levels even of several meters, possibly, if the big ice sheets in West Antarctica and in Greenland melt sufficiently or break up in ways that cause a mega rise in sea level. And the Earth’s history tells us absolutely possible because in earlier episodes of high CO2 concentrations in the Earth’s paleohistory, the old climate, the sea level was often many, many meters higher than it is on the planet today because much less ice was trapped in the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland and, instead, was filling the ocean basin and raising the sea level. Well, as we’ve talked about many, many times, we’ve built our big cities right on the coast. That’s where the economy is best, where trade is best, where productivity is high. And yet, those are the cities under incredible peril. Well, in case after case, if we just let her rip, the dangers for our ability to feed the planet, our ability for our cities to remain safe from extreme hazards, our abilities to maintain public health, our abilities to avoid other calamitous dramatic change of earth’s processes, for instance changes in, in the ocean circulation or irreversible disintegration of parts of the ice sheets is called into real threat. We know that certain regions of the world are extraordinarily vulnerable like the Sahel that you’re looking at here where it is already prone to massive, droughts and where the populations are already very poor. We’re seeing those dangers, not as potential threats of the future, but as already clear and present dangers, because the Sahel has lived through serious droughts in recent years with very serious consequences for loss of life and for the onset of conflict. The Mediterranean Basin, which includes the countries of southern Europe Spain Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, and the countries of North Africa Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, this is a region where the climate science tells us that a relatively dry region that produces some of the, the world’s most beloved products, whether it’s the olive oils or the great wines of this region, could be devastated by drying. And so, these are three of many regions that have been identified as facing profound threats. Mm, and this is not simply in the imagination of the climatologists or, or even in the traces of their mathematical models. This is what we’re already observing even with the limited human-induced climate change that we’ve experienced now, which could be a small fraction of what’s to come. Have a look at the changes of of, of rainfall experienced in the Mediterranean Basin over the last century. The whole Mediterranean Basin has experienced a significant trend of drying. And the record shows if we continue with business as usual, that it could experience further dramatic drying with quite devastating consequences to the economies, to the nature, to the ecosystems, to food security even in this region. The evidence from the mathematical models is that the trends that we’ve been experiencing till now, for example, the drying in the Sahel or the drying in the Mediterranean, foreshadow what would happen if we continue as we’re going, but with consequences far more severe than what we’ve seen to date. You’re looking now at a map recently produced by a climate science group that studies the propensity to drought on the planet. And the map that you’re looking at shows you in the red areas, places likely to experience significant declines of rainfall and significant increases of drought intensity and frequency. It’s an ugly picture because you see red everywhere. A tremendous amount of the world’s areas would likely experience significant declines of soil moisture that they need to grow food and would experience a significant increase of intensity of drought at the same time. Now we know that another consequence that could be devastating is the rise of sea levels as ice sheets melt or just break apart pushing ice or water into the open ocean and raising sea levels. In the northeast of the United States where I live, the estimate is that, over the last century, the sea level has already increased by about one foot or one third of a meter. I, you might think that we’d get a uniform rise of sea level in all parts of the world, but topography and other geologic features mean that the rise of sea levels will differ in differ, different parts of the world. A one foot increase, what has already been experienced, played a major role in the havoc of the massive floods that hit New York City, that we’ve already looked at, and the whole Eastern Seaboard during superstorm Sandy. Storm surges eh, coastal erosion are already occurring as sea levels are rising. But the new evidence suggests that by the end of the century on a business-as-usual path, sea levels could be a meter higher than they are right now, three or four feet higher. And if the worst case happened, which is a catastrophic loss of part of the West Antarctic ice sheet, for example, the rise of sea level could even be several meters. You put this together. The consequences for urban areas, hugging the oceans, for our food supplies around the world are, are absolutely extraordinary, potentially devastating. The map that you’re looking at now attempts to ask what would happen to food production if this combination of warmer temperatures and more drying were to take place. And what you see here is South Asia and tropical Africa in the absolute red zones, or red and pink zones meaning major loss of agricultural production, so too the Southern part of the United States and much of Latin America, much of Australia. What are we doing? We’re putting the world’s food supplies at great risk. And again, it’s not hypothetical because we’ve already had a serious derangement of production in many places in the world as droughts have hit in recent years and as higher temperatures have undermined crop yield, sometimes killing crops or dramatically reducing the crop yields. A final point that I would like to stress is that, even if one put aside all of the climate-induced changes coming from this human-induced rise of carbon dioxide concentrations, all of the major storm events, the rising sea levels, the rising temperatures the increased floods and droughts, the loss of soil moisture needed to grow food, it’s a big, long, very threatening list. Put all of that aside. The basic physical fact that a higher CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will lead to more carbon dioxide dissolving in the oceans causing acidity in the ocean, by itself is frightening enough because, as I’ve discussed, as the oceans become more acidic, and there’s a lot more acidification on the way, major parts of the marine ecosystems, the shellfish, the animals with exoskeletons, the plankton with the calcareous exteriors, but part of the major food chains in the world, the Coral Reefs, which are so vital for the marine ecosystems, could experience, and are likely to experience, a massive dying. We’re playing with threats beyond our easy imagination. We’re in a kind of denial that is added to by, unfortunately, propaganda by major vested interest groups, like big oil companies.  We are playing with the survival of millions of other species, adding to this tremendous risk of the sixth great extinction on the planet that we’ve looked at before; the other five caused by nature itself, this one by humanity in it’s thoughtlessness if we continue on this course. We can see that we have every reason to change the game, every reason to play for a control of these forces, every reason to mitigate the human-induced climate change for our own safety, for the safety of the planet, and for future generations. How can these forces be reduced? How can we mitigate human-induced climate change? That’s our next topic.

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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