Worse than Worst Case Climate Change Scenario

dirty coalA user pointed out this popular media account of a recent Science journal article that finds “the world is now on track to experience more catastrophic damages from climate change than in the worst-case scenario forecast by international experts”. The research found that between 2000 and 2004 global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels increased by three times greater than in the 1990s. The person that forwarded this to me pointed out that “we are beyond A1F1 which with carbon feedbacks [search] means we on track for over +8 degrees C in warming… Over 5.5 degrees C, at this rate of global change, would by best guess be limit of survival for humanity… Coupled with the recent news on the Antarctic Ocean means that IPCC 4 is hopelessly out dated now.” The accumulation of recent science beyond the pondering, politicalized IPCC process would seem to indicate that we have entered a period of abrupt, perhaps run-away climate change that will have severe consequences for the Earth's future habitability. Most scientists are too cautious to make such predictions — indeed the traditional scientific method seems ill-prepared to counter a once off planetary emergency that threatens the survival of existence. It is well past time for drastic measures if we are to have any chance of fighting global heating and winning. I am dismayed by the helter-skelter of schemes and projects that seek to profit from the situation without offering a vision of what must be done to survive. UPDATE: Here is more information [more2] on the finding that CO2 has been found to be rising three times faster than expected — this is an indicator that climate change is on track to be abrupt [search] and perhaps runaway [search].

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23 Responses

  1. John Atkeison says:

    Very well done– a succinct statement tht is realisitic.
    Now what?
    Start with a somewhat more detailed version of this statement to give us a sketch of talking points, or 'elevator speeches' as they are called?
    Sounding this alarm is Step One, and is important now that the folks who presided over the creation of this crisis are posing as the leaders to solve it! (Like Leiberman & McCain in the USA.)

  2. Burgundy says:

    “we on track for over +8 degrees C in warming”
    What time period? Any more details on this?

  3. ewoc says:

    You should publish a link to the National Academy of Sciences article referenced in the post several days ago. I am looking for it now…..

  4. Hubbert says:

    There is not enough carbon in the ground to cause 8 degrees Celsius om global warming. The carbon will be exhausted by mid-century. This will cause a whole lot of other problems. We'll find out that population is in overshoot, economies crumble without sufficient transportation fuels and we will destroy our habitat for ethanol and food. But that is just my interpretation. Feel free to study the next report for yourself:

  5. Gilles Fecteau says:

    There is plenty of carbon in the ground to cause 8 degrees warming is we start liquifying coal to make transportation fuel.
    I am afraid this scenario was not included in the IPCC report but cannot be left undiscussed.

  6. zephyr says:

    Is this the above-referenced National Academies article?
    May 22, 2007
    Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions

  7. ewoc says:

    Hello All,
    Perhaps someone can help me with this.
    Media reports on this NAS study stated that atmospheric CO2 levels would (with the recent increase from 1% to above 3% in annual emissions) lead to a level of 560 ppm in 2050 under a BAU scenario.
    A greater than 3% annual rise is a doubling (100% increase) in a little more than three decades. Current atmospheric levels in 2006 were measured at 382 ppm. That gives us an atmospheric level of 764 ppm in 2037 or thereabouts under a BAU scenario, a level that is well beyond what any credible scientists assert is likely to avoid irreversible changes to our climate.
    Is this a case of the media flunking 1st grade math once again, or am I missing something?

  8. Joe says:

    Dear Glen,
    A couple of things: first, each time I visit one of your Ecological
    Internet web sites, I see (understandably) “Noting you regularly use
    this site, I want to ask you in particular to please donate…” Y'know,
    I'd love to, your energetic work is awesome. I live on a $700 a month
    disability allowance, so don't have much to spare for donations, in fact
    my single indulgence is a high-speed internet connection, otherwise I
    live a subsistence existence (and have an ecological footprint close to 1).
    If 'information is power' then anyone reading your work should feel
    empowered. However, the opposite can happen; in my case, having an
    extensive background in sociology of a kind I think allows me to see the
    hidden mechanisms behind major human social trends, I more often than
    not come away from my reading of your stuff with a painful sense of
    futility. It is not because you relentlessly uncover the full picture of
    the horror facing humanity under current practices, that is an essential
    piece of understanding.
    So, I have also read over your blog, which I truly appreciate for your
    unflinching honesty and passion. All the while, somewhere in the back of
    my mind is something like 'okay, this is how bad it really is, and how
    phony and ineffectual most government and elite/entertainer initiatives
    are.' In the blog you lament “Horrendous imbalances in income
    distribution lead to much of the world living in miserable conditions
    while the relatively few consume and pollute excessively — this is
    unacceptable. As conditions worsen and if these fundamental steps listed
    here are not taken, having a child may become a privilege, not a right.”
    and “What is clear is there is no future for the Hollywood, super-sized
    American lifestyle. These fundamental changes must be made now or being
    as we know it is over.” and lastly “The ecological imperative to cut
    emissions is so immense, and the costs of failure so dire, that if
    political and economic resistance and gridlock continues, there may be
    no alternative but global political revolution — overthrowing the whole
    rotten polluting economic and political system in order to save the
    climate, humanity, global ecological system and all creatures with whom
    we share Gaia.”
    I couldn't agree with you more; the trouble is, how do we get there from
    here? You seem to vacillate between the possibility of reform and the
    need to overthrow the extant system. Your own relentless documentation
    seems to lead to the conclusion that reform efforts are for the most
    part too compromised to be of any real effect, yet except for that one
    passage on overthrowing the system, your arguments seem to hinge on the
    possibilities of reform, which by your own implicit admission, are
    unlikely to be enough.
    There have to be some preconditions for reform to happen: an informed
    polity and genuine democratic governance, neither of which your country
    or mine presently have. I think that most even mildly aware people are
    beginning to understand that the old verities of that 'worst of all
    systems but better than the alternatives' [I think a quote from
    Churchill on democracy] have gone past a point of no-return (witness the
    timid Democratic majority in Congress in the US, the juggernaut of a
    minority government in Canada, the petty ineffectualness of the European
    Community [all capitalist]). In globalism, the interests of the state
    and corporatocracy are essentially fused. The enforcement of this fusion
    is military, in the larger sense that includes 'security' agencies and
    unaccountable treaties and bodies that govern world trade in the service
    of the boundless appetites of the ruling class. Oh, oh, when you see a
    phrase like 'ruling class' you may think me 'just another Marxist' —
    not entirely, I am greatly informed by Marx and equally dismayed at what
    has followed from his work; it is a class situation though, for sure,
    and any revolt such as you suggest will be a class war, there's no
    getting around it.
    Whatever hope the US and like countries ever had for democratic
    governance with capitalism has been dashed in the military metaphysic.
    Here's a no-mincing of words quote from a classic sociologist, a Pole
    who wasn't particularly Marxian:
    from Stanislav Andreski's _Military Organization and Society_:
    “The technico-military circumstances make world hegemony fully possible.
    The improvements in transport and communication and the increasing
    preponderance of organized armed forces over the unarmed population . .
    . render the task of keeping down the population of the world fairly
    easy. . . Let us suppose that a state like the U.S.A., where liberalism
    and democracy are deeply rooted in the tradition, establishes world
    hegemony. Would it be likely to continue to adhere to these traditions?
    It does not seem so.” And so it has in fact become, with certain dire
    consequences for Gaia and humanity.
    So, where am I going here? I don't think all is lost, but future chances
    for humanity are slim indeed. I think the place to concentrate is on
    those who will suffer most grievously as a result of the accelerating
    trends to doom, that is, the people born after about 1975. They are the
    ones who are almost guaranteed not to have any prospect of living a
    normal life span, and what life experience they have will become
    increasingly grim and miserable, *but only if they drift along with the
    status quo*. Somehow, it is the 'young' that need to get the message
    that the game is up, they have *no* chance of living a 'normal' life
    such as their parents and their only possibility is how to respond to
    the situation while they have the energy, anger and personal resources
    to fight it. It seems to me there are 3 possible outcomes: (1) do
    nothing and die early following a short lifetime of misery, with final
    days a testament to a life betrayed and wasted (2) do whatever it takes
    to turn things around, though that means forfeiting short term 'normal'
    life stages such as seeing through a career, having a family, etc., and
    even then the results might be the same, except that one would die
    knowing they put up the good fight, or (3) if in opposing the master
    trends enough become inspired and work together, these people may
    actually do something unprecedented and heroic in advancing the
    evolution of the human species and the planet that gives them life, and
    some may actually survive the ordeal and come out of the other end of it
    and live both meaningful, full lives encompassing a normal span.
    Admittedly the 3rd option is the most difficult and probably least
    likely, but either (2) or (3) allow for a life lived with dignity and
    I think people like you need to be more clear on what is unworkable, and
    by this I mean the capitalist system and the way it brings out the worst
    in the repertoire of human nature. Basically, the attributes of human
    nature can be classified as “atavistic” — those that once served a
    small and vulnerable species to gain a foothold on an evolving planet,
    such as territoriality, predation, in-group/out-group enmity, hoarding,
    impulse gratification of drives, etc.; there is a whole set of more
    recently acquired attributes that I call “nascent” in that they have not
    been around as long, and crucially, they depend on human knowledge and
    morality for their fostering, since they are a result of the symbolic
    thought processes that are not passed on through natural selection in
    genes but by knowledge, such that humans have become the volitional
    agents of their own selection. Yes, I know that is Lamarckian, but it is
    true, just look at all the actions that humans have taken in 10,000
    years to go from scattered hunter-gatherer tribes to the dominant
    species so elaborated that the activities have accumulated to the point
    of destruction of everything; that isn't the gradualism of all other
    life forms. Humans have been unconscious agents of their continued
    evolution, time they became conscious agents instead. This requires
    junking capitalism or any form of the hoarding of riches, large forms of
    private property, and all superstitious belief systems like religions
    (save a reverent attitude towards nature). This can't be done half-way,
    any more than one can be 'a little pregnant'. You, Glen, have been
    implying as much. I hope you can frame your work to appeal more to the
    young, tell it like it is, and what they must do not just to survive,
    but survive with self-respect and as part of the long unfolding of the
    I'm too old too do much more than sign petitions, etc., Glen, I'm 63 and
    in chronic pain. But you are 41, you have the energy and the
    sensibilities, and an evolving vision — I think what you are doing is
    great, and I'd like you to consider being more explicitly oriented to
    challenging the young while they still have a chance to fight back. As
    soon as they realize how badly they've been 'had', that in the current
    game they are slated for premature and miserable death, they will figure
    out a way to fight back.
    RESPONSE: Dear Joe,
    Donations are entirely voluntary and not required to participate in other ways in the network.
    Unfortunately, soliciting two times a year is the way I fund the operation. So do not worry about
    it. I am committed to speaking truth, not necessarily knowing where to go from here — my main
    policy prescriptions that I deem essential are at http://www.ecoearth.info/ssi/ and if we don't get
    going on this soon there may be no option to save the Earth but revolutionary action which I am
    not espousing, just discussing. Yes, we must focus on the young and do a million other things
    to see us through this hard time. Thank you for sharing and continue your own efforts.
    Dr. Glen Barry

  9. The leaders of my self-centered generation of elders do not to see, hear or speak of potentially profound implications of global warming. They and their minions in the mass media have chosen instead to remain willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute.
    Once this vital discussion of global warming and climate change that is occurring here and now, thanks to Earth Blog, is on the front page day after day in every newspaper on the planet, in the same way we see news coverage of not-nearly-so-vital discussions of the status and accumulating wealth of the global economy, then we will begin to see real forward movement to protect biodiversity, to conserve rather than dissipate limited natural resources, to preserve the integrity of Earth and its ecosystems, and to maintain the planetary home in which we live as a fit place for human habitation by our children and coming generations. Once Earth's ECOLOGY receives the attention and financial support paid to the world's human ECONOMY, we can be certain that necessary change is in the offing.

  10. Paul Kimble says:

    Hi Glen
    I am an human caused global warming skeptic. Can you point me to anywhere that can explain why if the earth has warmed and cooled before, long before man came on the scene, that it is now my fault? I live in the fertile Mississippi river valley that I was taught was caused by a receding glacier. Where did it go and why?

  11. Flabob says:

    Paul, check RealClimate.org.
    Joe, you are the first person I have ever read who has an outlook similar to mine. I am a retired environmental educator (25 years at the higher education level) and I never had the courage to voice in class what I really feel.
    As someone with a good overall knowledge of the earth's human-caused environmental problems, my view of the future is focussed by the incessant pressure of population. Just plain sheer numbers.
    The best estimate I've seen yet of the earth's carrying capacity is between one-half and one billion humans. We are now about 6.5 billion, and will continue to increase to maybe 10-11 billion.
    I can see the precursors now. Darfur, the Sahel in general, violence in the megacities of the world (we did not evolve to live in close consort with several millions of our kind), global warming and so on.
    I dared not voice these concerns in class, for fear I would turn my students totally off to the prospect of perhaps being able to solve these problems in future.
    Yet I remain pessimistic about the survival of anything like today's civilization 200 years from now. And my grandchildren, now in their 20s, will get to reap the whirlwind.

  12. ? ?
    Is it possible that a great majority of the human community today, including many of our best and brightest, are holding fast to illusory ideas about the way in which we live works and about the “placement” of the human species within the natural order of living things?
    Are the not-so-great leaders of my generation of elders holding onto a preposterous worldview, one that disregards practical requirements of biophysical reality as well as denies approaching global challenges even as they loom menacingly before before humanity on the far horizon?

  13. Kurt says:

    This article stresses the rapid rate of growth of CO2 in the atmosphere. Is anyone measuring the rate of growth of methane in the atmosphere?
    I think when one considers both these factors it looks like we are cooked. Prehaps all we can do is start sending out an SOS and hope that some more advanced civilization out there somewhere takes pity on us. I am interested in doing something to change my life style to help prevent global warming but I do not want to live like a hermit trying to achieve sainthood. How much economic activity can I conduct? If the earth reaches 10 billion people will the mere act of breathing cause the earth to overheat?
    I know people who have absolutly no intrest in changing their life style because they think that we are on the Titantic so their only intrest is to go down with the ship in the first class section.
    It is hard to argue against that because even if the 700 or so million people living in Industrialized societies reduce their CO2 emmissions by 50% by reducing their standard of living and becoming more efficient if the other close to 6 billion people increase thier emmisions just a bit per capita all of the savings by the wealthy would be wiped out.
    So fatalism seems to be justified.

  14. ewoc says:

    Sorry to disabuse you of your fatalism, Kurt, but the Chinese have already committed to more significant energy conservation standards than the United States. While they will indeed pass us in total emissions very soon, their per capita emissions will lag ours for decades to come.
    As to what is possible, there are major advances in thin-film PV (photovoltaics) right around the corner – cost reductions on the order of 80% or more per watt produced in the next 3-5 years. Ditto for cellulosic ethanol, which according to some models can actually cut emissions from the transport sector significantly if combined with high mileage vehicles. While I am not generally a technological optimist, it's clear that much is possible if we combine a massive commitment to energy conservation (starting with so-called “low hanging fruit” that could yield immediate energy savings of 30% or more, then moving on to more challenging areas of the economy) with serious incentives to reducing carbon we can begin making the necessary changes now. But that takes political leadership, which is lacking in the US at the moment. See Bush's subterfuge at the summit in Germany over the last few days if you doubt my point here – it was designed to derail a major effort by Merkel to do exactly what I have described. The EU is already moving in this direction across the board. But the Chinese will only do so if they are dragged into international negotiations that they cannot say no to. We're not going to get that out of the Shrub, to say the least. And fatalism may seem smart, but I believe it is the ultimate cop-out, an excuse for doing nothing, or perhaps fiddling while Rome burns would be a more apt description.

  15. Kurt says:

    For ewoc,
    I was stunned to read a “Global Warming is a Big Bussiness Conspiracy” article on Counter Punch today. I had of course figured big business would try to take advantage of the situation to screw with the masses but I did not know that there were leftists that doubted global warming was a man made phenomenon. You have to escuse me I am living in a Kloster in Germany and my only conntact with the outside world is through this old computer. In any case I will continue to believe that a Global Warming catasrophy is comming but hoping that somehow it gets diverted in the last seconds so that I can live long enough to strangle the worlds corruupt politicians with my bare hands.
    ewoc, your post gives me some hope that even if things look really bad right now maybe the world can avert catasrophy.
    In memory of Haji Mirza Siyyid Ali

  16. justine smith says:

    i think what you've done is great hope you keep up the good work i think if you was to get more done this would be even greater thanks for the great work you've done i am using this for my debating team for climate change.

  17. Kurt says:

    Also who is addressing the increase of methane? In case you did not know it Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse agent than CO2. It is being released now from the worlds artic areas as the permafrost unthaws. As this methane and our own CO2 make the world even warmer methane will be released from the ocean floor. Will we then be cooked? Perhaps millions of us will drown first.

  18. ewoc says:

    You are correct, Kurt – methane is 20X as potent as CO2 as a GHG. It is possible that the contribution from methane from the Arctic (Alaska, Canada, and Siberia) and ultimately from ocean deposits will cause a feedback loop that will take many of our species by surprise.
    However, if you use that possible future as a reason to be hopeless, fatalistic, and nihilistic, then you are little better than the sceptics who doubt that we have a problem at all. It pains me to say this, because you obviously realize the extent of our dilemma, but we all need to do what we can to change this possible future. Otherwise what are you doing on this site in the first place? We already know why sceptics have visited here – they are engaging in ideological warfare as Rush and his ilk have activated the chips in their brains and fed them the line that climate change is a liberal conspiracy led by Grandmaster Flash Al Gore.
    If you understand the extent of the problem, get busy – don't get depressed.

  19. Kurt says:

    You are right. Furthermore
    even if I did think that the situation was hopeless I should not say so. Shame on me. So as long as we are here in cyberspace having a discussion I have a couple questions for you.
    First have you heard the report that the German government says it is biulding a coal powered electrical power plant that is not suppossed to produce any CO2?
    Second has anyone who is working on the problem of global warming thought of this characteristic of human nature that when people invest in energy saving devices they make their lives more productive as step number 1 but then as step number 2 they go out do something with the extra money that they now have in their pocket as a result of thier new energy saving lightbulbs or windows or cars. The end result is that demand for energy, or food, or clothing does not drop in the long run. (well as it gets more expensive poor countries will just be forced to return to a pre industrial
    type of society as these countries are unable to afford the oil it takes to run their economies, which will create a temporary surplus and lower price which will then get soaked up by wealthier countries pushing the price back up)
    So it seems to me mankinds whole outlook of economic consumption has to change.
    Is this issue being addressed in global warming circles?
    I am sorry if I seem so new to the global warming issue but my passion for the past couple years has been the war for the liberation of the middle east.

  20. Paul says:

    Kurt, don't suppress your fatalism. We are indeed screwed, irrevocably. By “we” I mean all living things. In 100 or so years, the earth will exist in a toxic inhabitable state not seen since, oh, about 50 million years ago. We should indeed prepare the apocalypse, and if that reality frightens or depresses the good guys like ewoc, tough shit. Let them work even harder to save their imaginary grandchildren. We are all doomed.

  21. Anonymous says:

    i need to do a school report and i need to find out when the worst change in the earth happened

  22. Ronnie says:

    I believe that that the earth has a self cleaning mechanism. All of these pollutants we are now filling our habitat with will do no more than to make this planet uninhabitable for us but not for other species/potential species. I am so frustrated with what I see to be our prevailing 13th century attitude of “the sun orbits the earth.” When will people wake up and realize that our existence on this planet is not a given?!! Many other species have died out and we are no exception from natural selection, Jesus or no Jesus, Mohammad or no Mohammad. God, I'm so frustrated with the antiquated ways of thinking that are leading us to certain destruction. I have come across a certain theme in the responses to this article that I agree with 100% – political change. Until this happens, until we free ourselves from the vampire corporations and their puppets in the world capitals nothing will change and the majority of us will be doomed. Of course the super rich may one day end up having their earth orbiting biospheres or whatever while the rest of humanity fights for the last scraps of inhabitable land down on earth but maybe that's the plan…

  23. Tristan Sykes says:

    Hi people. The last entry I've read suggests everyone's been a tad quiet since October. Nevermind. I'll tap something in anyway. Yeah, I guess, I've been running the fatalistic model as being the most reasonable scenario for some time now (15 yrs or so). I really enjoyed some of the other contributions on this page and felt inspired to contribute. As a veteran of action groups, movements, etc blah, I've always thought that when the media came on board the chance of a positive outcome was greatly increased. Now it seems they are. Unfortunately, the predictave modellling for climate change has so many holes it looks like a fishnet stocking and thereby effective reporting becomes impossible as the endless rationalisation of the scientific process runs down the little time we may have left. Scientific modelling requires controlled variables which are difficult to pin down in a dynamic system, the Archimedian point upon which their predictions rest, is thus constrained. Hypothesizing as to what the impact of certain forms of behaviour MAY be, is now a moot point. The real question is wether or not we have effective systems in place to deal with the inevitable impact? The answer is a most resounding NO. The IPCC is a great step forward of course, but 20 years too late. The world requires GENUINE multinational co-ordination, planning and strategy. Having not established such institutions earlier means we run the risk of escalating global conflict which will slow the pace of reform. Furthermore, we have the nightmare of peak oil upon us. It's hard to see how we can reform the energy sector with an industrial base beholden upon an increasingly expensive and diminishing resource. Finally, (how could we forget) Capitalism; both philosophically and materially inadequate for resolving this impending global catastrophe. Keynsian ideals of a self-regulating market are an abstraction. The Global Marketplace will definitely not save us. We need only look to the ridiculous carbon pricing to see that the writing for liberal economic theory is well and truly on the wall. So… all in all, of we go in a handbasket to a very warm place. Yes I do have kids. No I don't think anything can be done (for all the reasons stated above). Of course I'd love to have this dark vision shattered by a person of greater understanding…. When we do finally realise that we've burnt the bridge then people will start to swim the river. After that things get nasty.
    Love Tristan.

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