I’ve long wondered why the Obama administration threw climate-change negotiations under the bus at the United Nations Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen (COP15) in 2009. Evidence generally available at the time did not suggest near-term human extinction as a result of climate change. In fact, the scientific community had reported none of the following self-reinforcing feedback loops (i.e., positive feedbacks, the term that implies the opposite of its meaning):
- Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean (Science, March 2010)
- Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic as it shoots through the Fram Strait (Science, January 2011)
- Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011)
- Drought in the Amazon triggered the release of more carbon than the United States in 2010 (Science, February 2011)
- Peat in the world’s boreal forests is decomposing at an astonishing rate (Nature Communications, November 2011)
- Methane is being released from the Antarctic, too (Nature, August 2012)
- Russian forest and bog fires are growing (NASA, August 2012)
- Cracking of glaciers accelerates in the presence of increased carbon dioxide (Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, October 2012)
- Arctic drilling was fast-tracked by the Obama administration during the summer of 2012
And the band plays on
As nearly as I can distinguish, only the latter feedback process is reversible. Once you pull the tab on the can of beer, there’s no keeping the carbon dioxide from bubbling up and out. Because we’ve entered the era of expensive oil, I can’t imagine we’ll voluntarily terminate the process of drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic (or anywhere else).
None of the major large-scale assessments included any major self-reinforcing feedback loops. To date, the following assessments have failed to include relevant feedbacks:
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (late 2007): 1 C by 2100
- Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (late 2008): 2 C by 2100
- United Nations Environment Programme (mid 2009): 3.5 C by 2100
- Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (October 2009): 4 C by 2060
- Global Carbon Project, Copenhagen Diagnosis (November 2009): 6 C, 7 C by 2100
- United Nations Environment Programme (December 2010): up to 5 C by 2050
- The IPCC’s vaunted Fifth Assessment will continue the trend as it, too, ignores important feedbacks.
Fecklessness on display
Finally, after considerable reflection and the accumulation of evidence, the Obama administration’s rationale became apparent. The following two factors doubtless go a long way toward explaining why the civilized world gave up on its children:
1. As pointed out by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1990, “Beyond 1 degree C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.” In 2009, planetary instruments indicated Earth had warmed about 1 C since the beginning of the industrial revolution.
2. Much more importantly, however, are the results of a single briefing in Copenhagen. A footnote on that long-forgotten briefing contains this statement: “The long term sea level that corresponds to current CO2 concentrations is about 23 meters above today’s level, and the temperatures will be 6 degrees C or more higher. These estimates are based upon real long term climate records, not on models.”
Apparently, the Obama administration knew in 2009 what we all know today. The jig is up because of the feedbacks we’ve triggered.
Say goodnight, Gracie
An overwhelming number of scientists agree that warming of 4 to 6 C causes a dead planet. And, they go on to say, we’ll be there by 2060. The ultra-conservative International Energy Agency concludes that,
Coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 … without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.
And, too little, too late. Climate scientist Paul Beckwith indicates Earth could warm by 6 C within a decade at the 11:20 mark of this video.
–Guy McPherson, Transition Voice