Citizen Action Monitor

Is Humanity Inherently Unsustainable? Pt 3/13: Heading towards a 4°C world

No 20, Posted by fw, June 13, 2010

The following selected excerpts from Professor Rees address to a World Federalists’ Meeting in Vancouver on April 15, 2010, are from Parts 1 and 2 of videos posted on You Tube.  Part 1 is accessible on You Tube at UBC Ecologist Bill Rees Part 1. Watch Part 2 below at the end if this post. Alternatively, watch it on You Tube here.

Stabilization of emissions below 650 ppm is “improbable”

Picking up where we left off in Pt 2, Professor Rees’ evidence supports the conclusion that the total aggregate human ecological footprint is greater than the bio-capacity of the planet. Moreover, a 2008 scientific paper titled, Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends concludes:

“It is increasingly unlikely that an early and explicit global climate change agreement or ad hoc national mitigation policies will deliver the urgent and dramatic reversal in emission trends necessary for stabilization at 450 ppmv CO2e. Similarly, the mainstream climate change agenda is far removed from the rates of mitigation necessary to stabilize at 550 ppmv CO2e. Given the reluctance, at virtually all levels, to openly engage with the unprecedented scale of both current emissions and their associated growth rates, even an optimistic interpretation of the current framing of climate change implies that stabilization much below 650 ppmv CO2e is improbable.”

To which Rees adds:

“The pre-industrial level was 280 ppm. We’re already at 390 ppm and the trajectory is an accelerating one. The rate of increase is increasing every year. At 650 ppm we can anticipate a global temperature increase on average of about 4°C by the end of this century. To avoid this, they argued, that unless we can reconcile economic growth with unprecedented rates of decline of carbonization, we need to be reducing by about 6% per year our use of fossil fuels. The only way to do this in the present structure of the economy with current technologies is to talk about a planned economic recession.

<At this point Part 1 of Rees’ You Tube video ends. So from this point on my selected transcribed excerpts of Rees’ talk are drawn from Part 2, which you can watch below at the end of this post, or on You Tube at UBC Ecologist Bill Rees Part 2.>

A 4 degree Celsius world

What would a 4°C world look like?

“You can see from this [Map: a world of +4 degree Celsius, or if you prefer, an interactive map] that China, India, much of South America, Africa, areas where 3 to 4 billion people live will become virtually uninhabitable. This means massive trans-locations of people, migrations of tens or hundreds of millions of people from their homes by the end of this century. We’re by no means prepared to even discuss this kind of  possibility in polite company. Certainly it’s not something that the Harper government in Ottawa would even be allowed to be brought for a point of discussion.”

Think Australia at 48°C

“But I bring it to your attention because it is serious science and just a year ago Australia looked pretty much like this. The southern part of the country which had never reached 40°C before was seeing temperatures of 47°C and 48°C, for example, in the Melbourne region. Eight of the ten hottest days in the instrumental record occurred in the same ten-day period in Tasmania. So every now and then we see a portent of the future occurring locally and the problem is that if we see a 4°C world, the kind of situation that happened in Australia a year ago, will become more or less normal if the science is correct. And believe it or not, despite the enormous efforts and hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Big Coal and Big Oil to deny the correctness of the basic science, there’s no reason to doubt that the basic science – particularly the greenhouse effect, which has been under study clearly since the middle part of the 19th century – there’s no reason to hold it in doubt.”

“I have seen the enemy and the enemy is us.” Pogo

“Incidentally, in just the last 50 years, the area that we call the Tropics has expanded by about 275 kilometers on each margin toward the poles. So as the earth warms up we’re seeing in the migration of species, in the shift of climate belts the effects today. It’s not a question ‘Is global warming occurring?’ It is occurring. Full stop. Period. You can dispute a little bit, perhaps, how much human effect there is in that observation but I think the only what we call forcing mechanism sufficiently strong to explain the climate change observations to date, is the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial age. There are lots of other factors, but none of them has changed nearly so much as that single factor for which humans are responsible.”

If we’re so smart, how come we’re so dumb?

“Now I started out in my introductory remarks by asking this question: In the face of the evidence, and our non-response to it, how can we claim to be intelligent? We have this unique capacity for logical reasoning, for forward planning, for compassion toward other species and other human beings. And yet we don’t seem to exercise that very much. No corporate entity, no national government, no major international organization has begun to take seriously, or at least to act in a way that reflects the seriousness of the scientific data that suggests human beings are changing the nature of the ecosphere in ways that may not be amenable to the future of human civilization. That’s simply the facts of the matter as I see them.”

March 7, 2011 UPDATE: I have recently discovered that a full transcript and mp3 audio recording of Rees’ lecture is available on The Radio Ecoshock ShowClick here to access these free downloads.


End of Part 3

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