Tag Archives: CO2 levels

Signs of forests adapting to growing CO2 levels

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE LONDON, 9 August – Trees may be getting more efficient in the way they manage water. They could be exploiting the higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, growing foliage from a lower uptake of groundwater. If so, then the carbon dioxide fertilisation effect – predicted by theorists and observed in laboratory experiments – could be real. This is a provisional finding, because it is pretty difficult to measure the precise economy of a whole forest or an open wilderness. But Trevor Keenan  – of Macquarie University in Australia and at present at Harvard University in the US – and colleagues report in Nature that they used an indirect measure, called the eddy-covariance technique, to monitor the way managed forests handle two important gases: carbon dioxide and water vapour. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were once 280 parts per million; they are now 400 ppm and still rising. For more than 20 years, rigs have towered above the world’s forests recording eddy co-variance, measuring carbon uptake and water-use over areas of a square kilometre. Keenan and his fellow-researchers looked at the data from 21 temperate and boreal forests in the northern hemisphere and found a remarkably consistent trend: as the years rolled by, and carbon dioxide levels rose, forests used water more efficiently, and this was true for all 21 sites. This so-called fertilisation effect has been independently confirmed in arid zones, again by indirect research, through the work of an Australian team studying satellite data, and also seems consistent with a finding reported in Nature Climate Change that tropical forest trees are now producing more flowers, even though the observed temperature rises in the tropics have so far only been modest. The implication of the most recent research from the boreal and temperate forests is that plants could be partially closing their stomata to keep their carbon levels at a constant level. This finding, like much in science, raises as many questions as it answers. How plants “know” what to do in such circumstances, and how they do it, is still a mystery: Plants exploit atmospheric carbon dioxide so it should be no surprise that a better supply leads to more efficient growth. But more carbon dioxide also means higher temperatures, more evaporation, more precipitation and more cloud cover, so it has been difficult to observe the impact. Whether this will turn out in the long run to be a positive feedback that could, to some slight extent, slow global warming is uncertain. Plants are also sensitive to extreme heat and drought, two other unwelcome companions of climate change due to human emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, so it is too soon to suggest that forests will emerge as the winners. Other scientists still have to confirm the effect, and measure its scale more accurately. But the latest research does suggest trees are responding to change. “Our analysis suggests that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is having a direct and unexpectedly strong influence on ecosystem processes and biosphere-atmosphere interactions in temperate and boreal forests,” says one of the authors, Dave Hollinger of the US Forest Service. – Climate News Network  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE LONDON, 9 August – Trees may be getting more efficient in the way they manage water. They could be exploiting the higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, growing foliage from a lower uptake of groundwater. If so, then the carbon dioxide fertilisation effect – predicted by theorists and observed in laboratory experiments – could be real. This is a provisional finding, because it is pretty difficult to measure the precise economy of a whole forest or an open wilderness. But Trevor Keenan  – of Macquarie University in Australia and at present at Harvard University in the US – and colleagues report in Nature that they used an indirect measure, called the eddy-covariance technique, to monitor the way managed forests handle two important gases: carbon dioxide and water vapour. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were once 280 parts per million; they are now 400 ppm and still rising. For more than 20 years, rigs have towered above the world’s forests recording eddy co-variance, measuring carbon uptake and water-use over areas of a square kilometre. Keenan and his fellow-researchers looked at the data from 21 temperate and boreal forests in the northern hemisphere and found a remarkably consistent trend: as the years rolled by, and carbon dioxide levels rose, forests used water more efficiently, and this was true for all 21 sites. This so-called fertilisation effect has been independently confirmed in arid zones, again by indirect research, through the work of an Australian team studying satellite data, and also seems consistent with a finding reported in Nature Climate Change that tropical forest trees are now producing more flowers, even though the observed temperature rises in the tropics have so far only been modest. The implication of the most recent research from the boreal and temperate forests is that plants could be partially closing their stomata to keep their carbon levels at a constant level. This finding, like much in science, raises as many questions as it answers. How plants “know” what to do in such circumstances, and how they do it, is still a mystery: Plants exploit atmospheric carbon dioxide so it should be no surprise that a better supply leads to more efficient growth. But more carbon dioxide also means higher temperatures, more evaporation, more precipitation and more cloud cover, so it has been difficult to observe the impact. Whether this will turn out in the long run to be a positive feedback that could, to some slight extent, slow global warming is uncertain. Plants are also sensitive to extreme heat and drought, two other unwelcome companions of climate change due to human emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, so it is too soon to suggest that forests will emerge as the winners. Other scientists still have to confirm the effect, and measure its scale more accurately. But the latest research does suggest trees are responding to change. “Our analysis suggests that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide is having a direct and unexpectedly strong influence on ecosystem processes and biosphere-atmosphere interactions in temperate and boreal forests,” says one of the authors, Dave Hollinger of the US Forest Service. – Climate News Network  

Plant Growth Surges As CO2 Levels Rise

New study predicts a big jump in foliage growth in arid regions as carbon dioxide levels increase  LONDON, 2 June – Australian scientists have solved one piece of the climate puzzle. They have confirmed the long-debated fertilization effect. Plants build their tissues by using photosynthesis to take carbon from the air around them. So more carbon dioxide should mean more vigorous plant growth – though until now this has been very difficult to prove. Randall Donohue of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organisation in Canberra, Australia, and his colleagues developed a mathematical model to predict the extent of this carbon dioxide fertilization effect. Between 1982 and 2010, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased by 14%. So, their model suggested, foliage worldwide should have increased by between 5 and 10%. Measuring uncertainties It is one thing to predict an effect, quite another to prove it. Satellite observations can and successfully do measure seasonal changes in vegetation, the growth of deserts, the change from open prairie to savannah, the growth of new trees in the tundra and so on, but it’s very difficult to be sure that these changes have anything to do with carbon dioxide fertilization: changes in temperature and rainfall patterns would also have an impact. Also, some regions – tropical rainforests, for example – are already completely covered by forest canopy: orbiting satellites are unlikely to measure much change there. Donohue and his team, in a study appearing in Geophysical Research Letters, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, looked at those regions where leaf cover really would stand out, and where carbon dioxide fertilization would be the best explanation for new growth. These were the warm, dry places: while the researchers focused on changes in arid regions in North America’s south-west, Australia’s Outback, the Middle East and parts of Africa, they also had to find a technique that allowed for natural seasonal and cyclic changes, alterations in land use and so on. They calculated that in these conditions, plants would make more leaves if they had the water to do so. “A leaf can extract more carbon from the air during photosynthesis, or lose less water to the air during photosynthesis, or both, due to elevated CO2,” says Donohue. That is the CO2 fertilization effect. Calculating greenness The team averaged the greenness of each location over three year periods, and then grouped the greenness data from different locations according to known records of rainfall. They also looked at variations in foliage over a 20 year period. In the end, they teased out the carbon dioxide fertilization effect from all other influences and calculated that this could account for an 11% increase in global foliage since 1982. This is what’s called negative feedback with at least some of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed by extra plant growth. It could also be good news for biodiversity, and good news for food security: plants are the primary producers that feed all animals. Trees are likely to invade grasslands in the drier regions, and their deep roots are better equipped to tap groundwater and at the same time stabilise the soils. “Even if nothing else in the climate changes as global CO2 levels rise, we will still see significant environmental changes because of the CO2 fertilization effect,” says Dr Donohue. – Climate News Network

New study predicts a big jump in foliage growth in arid regions as carbon dioxide levels increase  LONDON, 2 June – Australian scientists have solved one piece of the climate puzzle. They have confirmed the long-debated fertilization effect. Plants build their tissues by using photosynthesis to take carbon from the air around them. So more carbon dioxide should mean more vigorous plant growth – though until now this has been very difficult to prove. Randall Donohue of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organisation in Canberra, Australia, and his colleagues developed a mathematical model to predict the extent of this carbon dioxide fertilization effect. Between 1982 and 2010, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increased by 14%. So, their model suggested, foliage worldwide should have increased by between 5 and 10%. Measuring uncertainties It is one thing to predict an effect, quite another to prove it. Satellite observations can and successfully do measure seasonal changes in vegetation, the growth of deserts, the change from open prairie to savannah, the growth of new trees in the tundra and so on, but it’s very difficult to be sure that these changes have anything to do with carbon dioxide fertilization: changes in temperature and rainfall patterns would also have an impact. Also, some regions – tropical rainforests, for example – are already completely covered by forest canopy: orbiting satellites are unlikely to measure much change there. Donohue and his team, in a study appearing in Geophysical Research Letters, the journal of the American Geophysical Union, looked at those regions where leaf cover really would stand out, and where carbon dioxide fertilization would be the best explanation for new growth. These were the warm, dry places: while the researchers focused on changes in arid regions in North America’s south-west, Australia’s Outback, the Middle East and parts of Africa, they also had to find a technique that allowed for natural seasonal and cyclic changes, alterations in land use and so on. They calculated that in these conditions, plants would make more leaves if they had the water to do so. “A leaf can extract more carbon from the air during photosynthesis, or lose less water to the air during photosynthesis, or both, due to elevated CO2,” says Donohue. That is the CO2 fertilization effect. Calculating greenness The team averaged the greenness of each location over three year periods, and then grouped the greenness data from different locations according to known records of rainfall. They also looked at variations in foliage over a 20 year period. In the end, they teased out the carbon dioxide fertilization effect from all other influences and calculated that this could account for an 11% increase in global foliage since 1982. This is what’s called negative feedback with at least some of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed by extra plant growth. It could also be good news for biodiversity, and good news for food security: plants are the primary producers that feed all animals. Trees are likely to invade grasslands in the drier regions, and their deep roots are better equipped to tap groundwater and at the same time stabilise the soils. “Even if nothing else in the climate changes as global CO2 levels rise, we will still see significant environmental changes because of the CO2 fertilization effect,” says Dr Donohue. – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide's climb speeds up

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Monday 11 March
A few days ago came the news that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities, had reached almost 395 parts per million, close to a significant milestone which shows how far the world is from agreeing resolute measures to tackle climate change.

The news last week (see our story of 6 March, Coal triggers carbon level rise) that there has been a significant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the last year should have caused a ripple of fear around the world. Instead, a large stride towards the milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 went almost unremarked.

Yet many scientists, environmentalists and journalists who have studied climate change, campaigned to prevent it, or spent years reporting too little action by world leaders to reduce emissions, must have inwardly shuddered.

For those who understand the implications of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, this is not a milestone to be passed in such a hurry and with so little attention.  If the science is right, then the human race is about to lose control of what happens to our civilization and our future.

There are those reading this who will disagree with this summary.  Some are simply in denial about what is happening. There are also campaigners who call themselves sceptics, who do not and will not accept the scientific consensus, through optimism, obstinacy, or because they have an alternative political agenda, sometimes encouraged and paid for by the fossil fuel lobby.

But what is surprising is the silence of the majority of rational human beings who accept the science but carry on as if nothing were happening.

There is admittedly room for argument about how quickly and fundamentally our lives will change. Are we merely approaching the cliff, standing on the edge, or have we already jumped?

Just to recap on where we are: the consensus the world (politicians and scientists) has reached on climate change is that the increase in global temperatures must be pegged to 2°C or below, otherwise climate change will literally get too hot to handle.

Chances shrink

 

Less than 10 years ago scientists came to the conclusion that to have an 80% chance of avoiding that 2°C threshold, CO2 in the atmosphere must not exceed 400 ppm.

Last week it reached 395 ppm, having risen 2.67 ppm in 2012. At that rate we will be past the 400 ppm mark in two years, with no sign at all of measures being in place to curb the rise.

In fact coal-burning world-wide, one of the chief human contributions to CO2 emissions, reached record levels in 2012 and continues to increase.

The next milestone is 450 ppm, and it is the one politicians like to mention, probably because it still seems quite a long way away. But let us remind ourselves that 450 ppm is the point at which scientists calculate we have only a 50/50 chance of keeping below a 2°C rise, and then only if carbon dioxide emissions are on a sharply downward curve by then.

So as politicians continue to fail to act, humans race towards having only a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

One other fact that most people conveniently forget is that the atmosphere takes up to 30 years to react to the extra CO2 that has been pumped into it. The extreme weather events occurring internationally are caused by the carbon levels of the 1980s.  Weather extremes will soon be getting a whole lot worse, whatever we do now.

Outside the climate debate and these dire predictions, economists and politicians talk another language – of the need for growth and development to feed the world’s growing population.

The ostrich approach

 

The expansion of China, India, Brazil and two dozen or more states in Asia (and more recently Africa) is taken for granted. It is as if the stresses of climate change, water and food shortages, and the migration of peoples from arid and drowned lands, belong to another world.

An example of this double think comes from the UK. Government ministers are urging youngsters to save for their pensions, while at the same time putting back the retirement age. They are talking about this younger generation having a life expectancy close to 100.

If the scientists are right about climate change, then this is complete bunk. In 80 years’ time most pension funds will have collapsed, along with the rest of civilization, and this will mainly be because today’s politicians, who have their heads in the sand, have failed to act.

So why was there so little reaction to our lurch even closer to the 400 ppm milestone when so many people understand its implications?

For the scientists, part of the reason is that they have been battered into silence by the powerful and well-funded climate sceptic lobby, which has hacked into their emails, campaigned to have their grants stopped, and repeatedly questioned and obstructed their research.

Journalists have some trouble re-telling such a grim story. Each new record is incremental, and news desks do not like to depress readers too much. In the words of a (probably not apocryphal) news editor: “The punters like reading about other people’s misfortunes and not their own.”

Politicians calculate that they will be out of power before the worst of the effects happen, so why take difficult decisions that damage their chances of re-election?

Maybe many of the rest of us have a version of the same thoughts. We may not last long enough to see the worst of it, so why worry? The next generation may wonder why we were so irresponsible when the disastrous consequences were so perfectly clear. – Climate News Network

Paul Brown, one of the founders of the Climate News Network, wrote Global Warning: The Last Chance for Change in 2006. It was published in the United Kingdom by Guardian Books and A & C Black Publishers Ltd that year and in 2007 by Readers’ Digest in North America.

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Monday 11 March
A few days ago came the news that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities, had reached almost 395 parts per million, close to a significant milestone which shows how far the world is from agreeing resolute measures to tackle climate change.

The news last week (see our story of 6 March, Coal triggers carbon level rise) that there has been a significant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the last year should have caused a ripple of fear around the world. Instead, a large stride towards the milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 went almost unremarked.

Yet many scientists, environmentalists and journalists who have studied climate change, campaigned to prevent it, or spent years reporting too little action by world leaders to reduce emissions, must have inwardly shuddered.

For those who understand the implications of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, this is not a milestone to be passed in such a hurry and with so little attention.  If the science is right, then the human race is about to lose control of what happens to our civilization and our future.

There are those reading this who will disagree with this summary.  Some are simply in denial about what is happening. There are also campaigners who call themselves sceptics, who do not and will not accept the scientific consensus, through optimism, obstinacy, or because they have an alternative political agenda, sometimes encouraged and paid for by the fossil fuel lobby.

But what is surprising is the silence of the majority of rational human beings who accept the science but carry on as if nothing were happening.

There is admittedly room for argument about how quickly and fundamentally our lives will change. Are we merely approaching the cliff, standing on the edge, or have we already jumped?

Just to recap on where we are: the consensus the world (politicians and scientists) has reached on climate change is that the increase in global temperatures must be pegged to 2°C or below, otherwise climate change will literally get too hot to handle.

Chances shrink

 

Less than 10 years ago scientists came to the conclusion that to have an 80% chance of avoiding that 2°C threshold, CO2 in the atmosphere must not exceed 400 ppm.

Last week it reached 395 ppm, having risen 2.67 ppm in 2012. At that rate we will be past the 400 ppm mark in two years, with no sign at all of measures being in place to curb the rise.

In fact coal-burning world-wide, one of the chief human contributions to CO2 emissions, reached record levels in 2012 and continues to increase.

The next milestone is 450 ppm, and it is the one politicians like to mention, probably because it still seems quite a long way away. But let us remind ourselves that 450 ppm is the point at which scientists calculate we have only a 50/50 chance of keeping below a 2°C rise, and then only if carbon dioxide emissions are on a sharply downward curve by then.

So as politicians continue to fail to act, humans race towards having only a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

One other fact that most people conveniently forget is that the atmosphere takes up to 30 years to react to the extra CO2 that has been pumped into it. The extreme weather events occurring internationally are caused by the carbon levels of the 1980s.  Weather extremes will soon be getting a whole lot worse, whatever we do now.

Outside the climate debate and these dire predictions, economists and politicians talk another language – of the need for growth and development to feed the world’s growing population.

The ostrich approach

 

The expansion of China, India, Brazil and two dozen or more states in Asia (and more recently Africa) is taken for granted. It is as if the stresses of climate change, water and food shortages, and the migration of peoples from arid and drowned lands, belong to another world.

An example of this double think comes from the UK. Government ministers are urging youngsters to save for their pensions, while at the same time putting back the retirement age. They are talking about this younger generation having a life expectancy close to 100.

If the scientists are right about climate change, then this is complete bunk. In 80 years’ time most pension funds will have collapsed, along with the rest of civilization, and this will mainly be because today’s politicians, who have their heads in the sand, have failed to act.

So why was there so little reaction to our lurch even closer to the 400 ppm milestone when so many people understand its implications?

For the scientists, part of the reason is that they have been battered into silence by the powerful and well-funded climate sceptic lobby, which has hacked into their emails, campaigned to have their grants stopped, and repeatedly questioned and obstructed their research.

Journalists have some trouble re-telling such a grim story. Each new record is incremental, and news desks do not like to depress readers too much. In the words of a (probably not apocryphal) news editor: “The punters like reading about other people’s misfortunes and not their own.”

Politicians calculate that they will be out of power before the worst of the effects happen, so why take difficult decisions that damage their chances of re-election?

Maybe many of the rest of us have a version of the same thoughts. We may not last long enough to see the worst of it, so why worry? The next generation may wonder why we were so irresponsible when the disastrous consequences were so perfectly clear. – Climate News Network

Paul Brown, one of the founders of the Climate News Network, wrote Global Warning: The Last Chance for Change in 2006. It was published in the United Kingdom by Guardian Books and A & C Black Publishers Ltd that year and in 2007 by Readers’ Digest in North America.

Carbon dioxide’s climb speeds up

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Monday 11 March A few days ago came the news that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities, had reached almost 395 parts per million, close to a significant milestone which shows how far the world is from agreeing resolute measures to tackle climate change. The news last week (see our story of 6 March, Coal triggers carbon level rise) that there has been a significant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the last year should have caused a ripple of fear around the world. Instead, a large stride towards the milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 went almost unremarked. Yet many scientists, environmentalists and journalists who have studied climate change, campaigned to prevent it, or spent years reporting too little action by world leaders to reduce emissions, must have inwardly shuddered. For those who understand the implications of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, this is not a milestone to be passed in such a hurry and with so little attention.  If the science is right, then the human race is about to lose control of what happens to our civilization and our future. There are those reading this who will disagree with this summary.  Some are simply in denial about what is happening. There are also campaigners who call themselves sceptics, who do not and will not accept the scientific consensus, through optimism, obstinacy, or because they have an alternative political agenda, sometimes encouraged and paid for by the fossil fuel lobby. But what is surprising is the silence of the majority of rational human beings who accept the science but carry on as if nothing were happening. There is admittedly room for argument about how quickly and fundamentally our lives will change. Are we merely approaching the cliff, standing on the edge, or have we already jumped? Just to recap on where we are: the consensus the world (politicians and scientists) has reached on climate change is that the increase in global temperatures must be pegged to 2°C or below, otherwise climate change will literally get too hot to handle.

Chances shrink

  Less than 10 years ago scientists came to the conclusion that to have an 80% chance of avoiding that 2°C threshold, CO2 in the atmosphere must not exceed 400 ppm. Last week it reached 395 ppm, having risen 2.67 ppm in 2012. At that rate we will be past the 400 ppm mark in two years, with no sign at all of measures being in place to curb the rise. In fact coal-burning world-wide, one of the chief human contributions to CO2 emissions, reached record levels in 2012 and continues to increase. The next milestone is 450 ppm, and it is the one politicians like to mention, probably because it still seems quite a long way away. But let us remind ourselves that 450 ppm is the point at which scientists calculate we have only a 50/50 chance of keeping below a 2°C rise, and then only if carbon dioxide emissions are on a sharply downward curve by then. So as politicians continue to fail to act, humans race towards having only a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. One other fact that most people conveniently forget is that the atmosphere takes up to 30 years to react to the extra CO2 that has been pumped into it. The extreme weather events occurring internationally are caused by the carbon levels of the 1980s.  Weather extremes will soon be getting a whole lot worse, whatever we do now. Outside the climate debate and these dire predictions, economists and politicians talk another language – of the need for growth and development to feed the world’s growing population.

The ostrich approach

  The expansion of China, India, Brazil and two dozen or more states in Asia (and more recently Africa) is taken for granted. It is as if the stresses of climate change, water and food shortages, and the migration of peoples from arid and drowned lands, belong to another world. An example of this double think comes from the UK. Government ministers are urging youngsters to save for their pensions, while at the same time putting back the retirement age. They are talking about this younger generation having a life expectancy close to 100. If the scientists are right about climate change, then this is complete bunk. In 80 years’ time most pension funds will have collapsed, along with the rest of civilization, and this will mainly be because today’s politicians, who have their heads in the sand, have failed to act. So why was there so little reaction to our lurch even closer to the 400 ppm milestone when so many people understand its implications? For the scientists, part of the reason is that they have been battered into silence by the powerful and well-funded climate sceptic lobby, which has hacked into their emails, campaigned to have their grants stopped, and repeatedly questioned and obstructed their research. Journalists have some trouble re-telling such a grim story. Each new record is incremental, and news desks do not like to depress readers too much. In the words of a (probably not apocryphal) news editor: “The punters like reading about other people’s misfortunes and not their own.” Politicians calculate that they will be out of power before the worst of the effects happen, so why take difficult decisions that damage their chances of re-election? Maybe many of the rest of us have a version of the same thoughts. We may not last long enough to see the worst of it, so why worry? The next generation may wonder why we were so irresponsible when the disastrous consequences were so perfectly clear. – Climate News Network Paul Brown, one of the founders of the Climate News Network, wrote Global Warning: The Last Chance for Change in 2006. It was published in the United Kingdom by Guardian Books and A & C Black Publishers Ltd that year and in 2007 by Readers’ Digest in North America.

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Monday 11 March A few days ago came the news that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities, had reached almost 395 parts per million, close to a significant milestone which shows how far the world is from agreeing resolute measures to tackle climate change. The news last week (see our story of 6 March, Coal triggers carbon level rise) that there has been a significant increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the last year should have caused a ripple of fear around the world. Instead, a large stride towards the milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 went almost unremarked. Yet many scientists, environmentalists and journalists who have studied climate change, campaigned to prevent it, or spent years reporting too little action by world leaders to reduce emissions, must have inwardly shuddered. For those who understand the implications of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, this is not a milestone to be passed in such a hurry and with so little attention.  If the science is right, then the human race is about to lose control of what happens to our civilization and our future. There are those reading this who will disagree with this summary.  Some are simply in denial about what is happening. There are also campaigners who call themselves sceptics, who do not and will not accept the scientific consensus, through optimism, obstinacy, or because they have an alternative political agenda, sometimes encouraged and paid for by the fossil fuel lobby. But what is surprising is the silence of the majority of rational human beings who accept the science but carry on as if nothing were happening. There is admittedly room for argument about how quickly and fundamentally our lives will change. Are we merely approaching the cliff, standing on the edge, or have we already jumped? Just to recap on where we are: the consensus the world (politicians and scientists) has reached on climate change is that the increase in global temperatures must be pegged to 2°C or below, otherwise climate change will literally get too hot to handle.

Chances shrink

  Less than 10 years ago scientists came to the conclusion that to have an 80% chance of avoiding that 2°C threshold, CO2 in the atmosphere must not exceed 400 ppm. Last week it reached 395 ppm, having risen 2.67 ppm in 2012. At that rate we will be past the 400 ppm mark in two years, with no sign at all of measures being in place to curb the rise. In fact coal-burning world-wide, one of the chief human contributions to CO2 emissions, reached record levels in 2012 and continues to increase. The next milestone is 450 ppm, and it is the one politicians like to mention, probably because it still seems quite a long way away. But let us remind ourselves that 450 ppm is the point at which scientists calculate we have only a 50/50 chance of keeping below a 2°C rise, and then only if carbon dioxide emissions are on a sharply downward curve by then. So as politicians continue to fail to act, humans race towards having only a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. One other fact that most people conveniently forget is that the atmosphere takes up to 30 years to react to the extra CO2 that has been pumped into it. The extreme weather events occurring internationally are caused by the carbon levels of the 1980s.  Weather extremes will soon be getting a whole lot worse, whatever we do now. Outside the climate debate and these dire predictions, economists and politicians talk another language – of the need for growth and development to feed the world’s growing population.

The ostrich approach

  The expansion of China, India, Brazil and two dozen or more states in Asia (and more recently Africa) is taken for granted. It is as if the stresses of climate change, water and food shortages, and the migration of peoples from arid and drowned lands, belong to another world. An example of this double think comes from the UK. Government ministers are urging youngsters to save for their pensions, while at the same time putting back the retirement age. They are talking about this younger generation having a life expectancy close to 100. If the scientists are right about climate change, then this is complete bunk. In 80 years’ time most pension funds will have collapsed, along with the rest of civilization, and this will mainly be because today’s politicians, who have their heads in the sand, have failed to act. So why was there so little reaction to our lurch even closer to the 400 ppm milestone when so many people understand its implications? For the scientists, part of the reason is that they have been battered into silence by the powerful and well-funded climate sceptic lobby, which has hacked into their emails, campaigned to have their grants stopped, and repeatedly questioned and obstructed their research. Journalists have some trouble re-telling such a grim story. Each new record is incremental, and news desks do not like to depress readers too much. In the words of a (probably not apocryphal) news editor: “The punters like reading about other people’s misfortunes and not their own.” Politicians calculate that they will be out of power before the worst of the effects happen, so why take difficult decisions that damage their chances of re-election? Maybe many of the rest of us have a version of the same thoughts. We may not last long enough to see the worst of it, so why worry? The next generation may wonder why we were so irresponsible when the disastrous consequences were so perfectly clear. – Climate News Network Paul Brown, one of the founders of the Climate News Network, wrote Global Warning: The Last Chance for Change in 2006. It was published in the United Kingdom by Guardian Books and A & C Black Publishers Ltd that year and in 2007 by Readers’ Digest in North America.