Global Warming

Turbulent Times, the key message

Core message from my YouTube talk  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFhNyWHv0qQ&feature=youtu.be

Let go – or be dragged – but NEVER GIVE UP

I am letting go of the notion that homo sapiens will inhabit this planet beyond 2030.

I am letting go of the notion that within a few short years, there will still be any comfortable habitat for humans anywhere.

I am letting go of the notion that we will retain even one percent of the species currently in Earth beyond 2050.

But I am not letting go of the notion of resistance, for that is what makes me human.

THEREFORE

Feel GOOD to be alive – always, every day

Don’t consume ANYTHING you don’t need

We are the most creative creatures on the planet

LETS USE IT

 

Talk about food – Empty Promise

Could scientists have got the impacts of climate change on food supply wildly wrong?
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 16th October 2012

I believe we might have made a mistake: a mistake whose consequences, if I am right, would be hard to overstate. I think the forecasts for world food production could be entirely wrong.

Food prices are rising again, partly because of the damage done to crops in the northern hemisphere by ferocious weather. In the US, Russia and Ukraine, grain crops were clobbered by remarkable droughts. In parts of northern Europe, such as the UK, they were were pummelled by endless rain.

Even so, this is not, as a report in the Guardian claimed last week, “one of the worst global harvests in years”(1). It’s one of the best. World grain production last year was the highest on record; this year’s crop is just 2.6% smaller(2). The problem is that, thanks to the combination of a rising population and the immoral diversion of so much grain into animal feed and biofuels(3), a new record must be set every year. Though 2012’s is the third biggest global harvest in history (after 2011 and 2008)(4), this is also a year of food deficit, in which we will consume some 28 million tonnes more grain than farmers produced(5). If 2013’s harvest does not establish a new world record, the poor are in serious trouble.

So the question of how climate change might alter food production could not be more significant. It is also extremely hard to resolve, and relies on such daunting instruments as “multinomial endogenous switching regression models”(6). The problem is that there are so many factors involved. Will extra rainfall be cancelled out by extra evaporation? Will the fertilising effect of carbon dioxide be more powerful than the heat damage it causes? To what extent will farmers be able to adapt? Will new varieties of crops keep up with the changing weather?

But, to put it very broadly, the consensus is that climate change will hurt farmers in the tropics and help farmers in temperate countries. A famous paper published in 2005 concluded that if we follow the most extreme trajectory for greenhouse gas production (the one we happen to be on at the moment), global warming would raise harvests in the rich nations by 3% by the 2080s, and reduce them in the poor nations by 7%(7). This gives an overall reduction in the world’s food supply (by comparison to what would have happened without manmade climate change) of 5%.

Papers published since then support this conclusion: they foresee hard times for farmers in Africa and South Asia(8,9,10), but a bonanza for farmers in the colder parts of the world(11,12,13), whose yields will rise just as developing countries become less able to feed themselves. Climate change is likely to be devastating for many of the world’s poor. If farmers in developing countries can’t compete, both their income and their food security will decline, and the number of permanently malnourished people could rise. The nations in which they live, much of whose growth was supposed to have come from food production, will have to import more of their food from abroad. But in terms of gross commodity flows the models do not predict an insuperable problem.

So here’s where the issue arises. The models used by most of these papers forecast the effects of changes in averaged conditions. They take no account of extreme weather events(14,15). Fair enough: they’re complicated enough already. But what if changes in the size of the global harvest are determined less by average conditions than by the extremes?

This is what happened in 2012. This is what seems likely to happen in subsequent years. Here’s why. A paper this year by the world’s leading climate scientist James Hansen shows that the frequency of extremely hot events (such as the droughts which hammered the US and Russia) has risen by a factor of around 50 by comparison to the decades before 1980(16). Forty years ago, extreme summer heat typically affected between 0.1 and 0.2% of the globe. Today it scorches some 10%. “We can project with a high degree of confidence,” the paper warns, “that the area covered by extremely hot anomalies will continue to increase during the next few decades and even greater extremes will occur.” Yet these extremes do not feature in the standard models predicting changes in crop production.

If the mechanism proposed by another paper is correct, it is not just extremes of heat that are likely to rise(17). I’ve explained this before, but I think it’s worth repeating. The jet stream is a current of air travelling eastwards around the upper northern hemisphere. It separates the cold wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Wobbling along this ribbon are huge meanders called Rossby waves. As the Arctic heats up, the meanders slow down and become steeper. The weather gets stuck.

Stuck weather is another way of saying extreme weather. If the jet stream is jammed to the north of where you are, the weather stays hot and dry, and the temperature builds up – and up. If it’s lodged to the south of you, the rain keeps falling, the ground becomes saturated and the rivers burst their banks. This summer the UK and the US seem to have found themselves on opposite sides of stuck meanders, and harvests in both countries were savaged by opposing extremes of weather.

This is where we stand with just 0.8 degrees of global warming and a 30% loss of summer sea ice. Picture a world with 2, 4 or 6 degrees of warming and a pole without ice, and you get some idea of what could be coming.

Farmers in the rich nations can adapt to a change in averaged conditions. It is hard to see how they can adapt to extreme events, especially if those events are different every year. Last winter, for example, I spent days drought-proofing my apple trees, as the previous spring had been so dry that – a few weeks after pollination – most of the fruit shrivelled up and died. This spring was so wet that the pollinators scarcely emerged at all: it was the unfertilised blossom that withered and died. I thanked my stars that I don’t make my living this way.

Perhaps there is no normal any more. Perhaps the smooth average warming trends the climate models predict – simultaneously terrifying and oddly reassuring – mask wild extremes for which no farmer can plan and to which no farmer can respond. Where does that leave a world which must either keep raising production or starve?

References:
1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/10/un-rising-food-costs-weather
2. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/161602/icode/
3. http://www.monbiot.com/2007/11/06/an-agricultural-crime-against-humanity/
4. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/161602/icode/
5. http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/161602/icode/
6. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2030220
7. Martin Parry, Cynthia Rosenzweig and Matthew Livermore, 2005. Climate change, global food supply and risk of hunger. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society – B, vol 360, pp 2125–2138. doi:10.1098/rstb.2005.1751 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1569580/
8. Eg Jerry Knox, Tim Hess, Andre Daccache and Tim Wheeler, 2012. Climate change impacts on crop productivity in Africa and South Asia. Environmental Research Letters 7. 034032. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/3/034032
9. Christoph Müller et al, 2012. Climate change risks for African agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1015078108
10. P. Krishnan et al, 2011. High temperature effects on rice growth, yield, and grain quality. Advances in Agronomy. Vol 111, pp87-205.
11. Jan Beck, 2012. Predicting climate change effects on agriculture from ecological niche modeling: who profits, who loses? Climatic Change – published online.
doi:10.1007/s10584-012-0481-x http://www.springerlink.com/content/p46301h961544077/
12. Tom Osborne, Gillian Rose and Tim Wheeler, 2012 (in press). Variation in the global-scale impacts of climate change on crop productivity due to climate model uncertainty and adaptation. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.agrformet.2012.07.006
13. Kyungsuk Cho et al, 2012. Winter wheat yields in the UK: uncertainties in
climate and management impacts. Climate Research. Vol. 54, pp49–68.
doi: 10.3354/cr01085
14. Eg Martin Parry, Cynthia Rosenzweig and Matthew Livermore, 2005 (as above) write: “The crop growth models embody a number of simplifications. For example, weeds, diseases and insect pests are assumed to be controlled, there are no problem soil conditions (e.g. high salinity or acidity) and there are no extreme weather events such as heavy storms.”
15. and Kyungsuk Cho et al, 2012 (as above) state: “We do not include effects caused
by negative soil conditions such as salinity, acidity and compaction, extreme weather events or pests and diseases, all of which are likely to be directly or indirectly affected by climate change and resulting changes in management practices.”
16. James Hansen, Makiko Satoa, Reto Ruedy, 2012. Perception of climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/07/30/1205276109.full.pdf+html?with-ds=yes
17. Jennifer A. Francis and Stephen J. Vavrus, 2012. Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 39, L06801, doi:10.1029/2012GL051000.

Abrupt climate change: 10C in 40 years!

During the last glacial period, Greenland experienced a sequence of very fast warmings. The temperature increased by more than 10°C within 40 years.

 Other records show that major changes in atmospheric circulation and climate were experienced all around the northern hemisphere. At this time, there was a huge ice sheet (the Laurentide) over northern North America. Freshwater delivered from the ice sheet to the North Atlantic was able periodically to disrupt the overturning of the ocean, causing the transport of tropical heat to the north to reduce and then suddenly increase again. While this mechanism cannot occur in the same way in today’s world, it does show us that the climate is capable of extraordinary changes within a human lifetime.

Antarctic ice cores show us that the concentration of CO2 was stable over the last millennium until the early 19th century. Concentration is now nearly 40% higher than it was before the industrial revolution. Other measurements confirm this is from fossil fuel and deforestation. Both the magnitude and rate of the recent increase are  unprecedented over the last 800,000 years.

Photo

Fig 2: CO2 and CH4 over the last 1,000 years(1-4)

The fastest large natural increase measured in older ice cores is around 20ppmv in 1000 years. In the last 11 years CO2 has increased by the same amount! Methane (CH4) also shows a huge and unprecedented increase in concentration over the last two centuries. Its concentration is now much more than double its pre-industrial level. This is mainly due to the increase in emissions from sources such as rice fields, ruminant animals and landfills, that comes on top of natural emissions from wetlands and other sources. And what of tundra.

More information here.

Whole article here.

Methane from Arctic permafrost is the most feared tipping point

These reports on thawing Siberian permafrost are signs that the tipping point may have been reached. This is when through feedback there is no stopping runaway global heating. They are chilling because methane is more than twenty times more powerful  in global warming than carbon dioxide. Also, over hundreds of millions of years spikes in global temperature have always been associated with spikes in methane release.

Methane turns into CO2. There is twice as much carbon held in permafrost than in the atmosphere.  The Arctic region is experiencing twice the global average of climate warming. Add these figures up, and ask why we are doing so little.

Carbon release in Siberia.

Less carbon being absorbed in Arctic.

Arctic warming feedback loops.

Abrupt permafrost thawing.

 

A degree by degree explanation of Global Warming

Even if greenhouse emissions stopped overnight the concentrations already in the atmosphere would still mean a global rise of between 0.5 and 1C. A shift of a single degree is barely perceptible to human skin, but it’s not human skin we’re talking about. It’s the planet; and an average increase of one degree across its entire surface means huge changes in climatic extremes.

Six thousand years ago, when the world was one degree warmer than it is now, the American agricultural heartland around Nebraska was desert.

The effect of one-degree warming, therefore, requires no great feat of imagination.

Want to read what it will be like under 2 degrees, or six? Click here.

“The western United States once again could suffer perennial droughts, far worse than the 1930s. Deserts will reappear particularly in Nebraska, but also in eastern Montana, Wyoming and Arizona, northern Texas and Oklahoma. As dust and sandstorms turn day into night across thousands of miles of former prairie, farmsteads, roads and even entire towns will be engulfed by sand.”

What’s bad for America will be worse for poorer countries closer to the equator. It has beencalculated that a one-degree increase would eliminate fresh water from a third of the world’s land surface by 2100. Again we have seen what this means. There was an incident in the summer of 2005: One tributary fell so low that miles of exposed riverbank dried out into sand dunes, with winds whipping up thick sandstorms. As desperate villagers looked out onto baking mud instead of flowing water, the army was drafted in to ferry precious drinking water up the river – by helicopter, since most of the river was too low to be navigable by boat. The river in question was not some small, insignificant trickle in Sussex. It was the Amazon.

While tropical lands teeter on the brink, the Arctic already may have passed the point of no return. Warming near the pole is much faster than the global average, with the result that Arctic icecaps and glaciers have lost 400 cubic kilometres of ice in 40 years. Permafrost – ground that has lain frozen for thousands of years – is dissolving into mud and lakes, destabilising whole areas as the ground collapses beneath buildings, roads and pipelines. As polar bears and Inuits are being pushed off the top of the planet, previous predictions are starting to look optimistic. Earlier snowmelt means more summer heat goes into the air and ground rather than into melting snow, raising temperatures in a positive feedback effect. More dark shrubs and forest on formerly bleak tundra means still more heat is absorbed by vegetation.

Out at sea the pace is even faster. Whilst snow-covered ice reflects more than 80% of the sun’s heat, the darker ocean absorbs up to 95% of solar radiation. Once sea ice begins to melt, in other words, the process becomes self-reinforcing. More ocean surface is revealed, absorbing solar heat, raising temperatures and making it unlikelier that ice will re-form next winter. The disappearance of 720,000 square kilometres of supposedly permanent ice in a single year testifies to the rapidity of planetary change. If you have ever wondered what it will feel like when the Earth crosses a tipping point, savour the moment.

Mountains, too, are starting to come apart. In the Alps, most ground above 3,000 metres is stabilised by permafrost. In the summer of 2003, however, the melt zone climbed right up to 4,600 metres, higher than the summit of the Matterhorn and nearly as high as Mont Blanc. With the glue of millennia melting away, rocks showered down and 50 climbers died. As temperatures go on edging upwards, it won’t just be mountaineers who flee. Whole towns and villages will be at risk. Some towns, like Pontresina in eastern Switzerland, have already begun building bulwarks against landslides.

At the opposite end of the scale, low-lying atoll countries such as the Maldives will be preparing for extinction as sea levels rise, and mainland coasts – in particular the eastern US and Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and Pacific islands and the Bay of Bengal – will be hit by stronger and stronger hurricanes as the water warms. Hurricane Katrina, which in 2005 hit New Orleans with the combined impacts of earthquake and flood, was a nightmare precursor of what the future holds.

Most striking of all was seeing how people behaved once the veneer of civilisation had been torn away. Most victims were poor and black, left to fend for themselves as the police either joined in the looting or deserted the area. Four days into the crisis, survivors were packed into the city’s Superdome, living next to overflowing toilets and rotting bodies as gangs of young men with guns seized the only food and water available. Perhaps the most memorable scene was a single military helicopter landing for just a few minutes, its crew flinging food parcels and water bottles out onto the ground before hurriedly taking off again as if from a war zone. In scenes more like a Third World refugee camp than an American urban centre, young men fought for the water as pregnant women and the elderly looked on with nothing. Don’t blame them for behaving like this, I thought. It’s what happens when people are desperate.

Chance of avoiding one degree of global warming: zero.

Want to read what it will be like under 2 degrees, or six? Click here.

Humans have reversed the cooling trend of the past 2,000 years.

On tree rings, 400 ppm CO2 and the Pliocene

In a recent paper “Orbital forcing of tree-ring data” by Esper et al. (May, 2012), the authors state “large-scale near-surface air-temperature reconstructions relying on tree ring data may underestimate pre-instrumental temperatures including warmth during Medieval and Roman times”. According to the paper at AD 21–50 temperatures were +1.05°C higher than the 1951–1980 mean.

Thus “Lead author Professor Dr Jan Esper of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz said: ‘We found that previous estimates of historical temperatures during the Roman era and the Middle Ages were too low. ‘This figure we calculated may not seem particularly significant, however it is not negligible when compared to global warming, which up to now has been less than 1 deg C.”

This provided some people with an argument as if current warming is not related to anthropogenic carbon emission .

The extent to which the regional high latitude summer tree ring temperature reconstructions by Esper et al. (2012) reflect past mean global temperatures is debated. Michael Mann (director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University) argues that Esper’s tree-ring measurements come from high latitudes and reflect only summer temperatures, stating “The implications of this study are vastly overstated by the authors”. But, are they??

According to the IPCC 2007 late Holocene reconstructions of maximum temperatures during Medieval Warming Period (MWP) in some areas reached about 0.9C higher than mean global pre-industrial temperatures namely not all that different from Esper et al.’s 2012 estimates.

What implications do these regional high latitude temperature reconstructions have regarding the role of insolation vs greenhouse gases for post 18th century climate change?

During the first half of the 20th century, a rise in insolation levels was responsible for a temperature anomaly of approximately 0.3C and has stabilized since the mid-20th century.  Solanki states: “Hence the Sun cannot be the dominant source of this latest temperature increase, with man-made greenhouse gases being the likely dominant alternative. “.

Since the onset of the industrial age total Anthropogenic carbon release between 1750 to 2010 of about 540 GtC (billion ton carbon) (from both industrial emission and land clearing)  raised atmospheric carbon from ~590 to 820 GtC and CO2 levels from 275 to 395.7- 400 ppm. Current CO2 rise trends in ppm/year (2005 – 2.52; 2006 – 1.76; 2007 – 2.22; 2008 – 1.59; 2009 – 1.89; 2010 – 2.42; 2011 – 1.88 ppm/year) are the highest recorded in the Cainozoic (from 65 Ma) to the present.

Recent June 2012 measurements of at Mouna Loa at 395.77 ppm CO2 and over the Arctic of 400 ppm define new milestone in the rise of greenhouse gases (GHG) at levels not experienced since the Pliocene, (5.3 to 2.6 million years ago), a period during which
mean global temperatures were 2 to 3C and sea levels 25+/-12 meters higher than in the 18th century.

Mean global temperatures continued to rise notably in polar and sub-polar latitudes and Greenland May-2012 temperature reached an all-time high of 24.8C. The rise in temperature of about 0.8C since 1880 is compounded by latent rise of approximately 1.1C currently masked by industrially emitted sulphur oxide aerosols and sulphuric acid.

In accord with theoretical, laboratory experimental, paleoclimate proxies and direct measurements the rising levels of greenhouse gases are shifting the energy state of the atmosphere beyond that which allowed the relatively stable climate conditions from about 10,000 years ago, which allowed the development of agriculture and civilization and minimizing the disruptive
effect of extreme weather events such as have increased about the outset of the 21st century, as confirmed by Hadley, NOAA, CSIRO, BOM and other climate research organizations

To summarize, whereas both insolation and atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) levels constitute major climate drivers, during post-industrial times the measured and latent rise in GHG (3.1 Watt/m2) has superseded the rise in insolation (<0.4 Watt/m2) by at least a factor of 6, about half of which is masked by short-lived industrially emitted sulphur aerosols.

Andrew Glikson
Earth and paleoclimate science
Australian National University

Projections of global warming by 2100 doubled to 5.1C.

For the no policy scenario, the researchers concluded that there is now a nine percent chance (about one in 11 odds) that the global average surface temperature would increase by more than 7°C (12.6°F) by the end of this century, compared with only a less than one percent chance (one in 100 odds) that warming would be limited to below 3°C (5.4°F).

mit-wheels.gif

On our current emissions path, we have a 9% chance of an incomprehensibly catastrophic warming of 7°C by century’s end, but less than a 1% chance of under 3°C warming.

“The take home message from the new greenhouse gamble wheels is that if we do little or nothing about lowering greenhouse gas emissions that the dangers are much greater than we thought three or four years ago,” said Ronald G. Prinn, professor of atmospheric chemistry at MIT. “It is making the impetus for serious policy much more urgent than we previously thought.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change has joined the climate realists. The realists are the growing group of scientists who understand that the business as usual emissions path leads to unmitigated catastrophe (see, for instance, “Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path” and below).

The Program issued a remarkable, though little-remarked-on, report in January, “Probabilistic Forecast for 21st Century Climate Based on Uncertainties in Emissions (without Policy) and Climate Parameters,” by over a dozen leading experts.

For whole text click here

Extreme weather isn’t that extreme any more

May was the second warmest ever recorded worldwide and the warmest on record for the northern hemisphere. The link between a warming atmosphere and individual climatic events is unclear but no one should doubt the physical turmoil. In the last few weeks we have seen the Arctic sea ice melting at a record pace, the Amazon reaching its highest level on record, massive forest fires in Siberia and the Russian east, temperatures climbing to a barely imaginable 48C in northern India, and an abnormally strong monsoon which has so far left many hundreds dead and nearly 7 million people homeless from floods in Assam and southern Bangladesh.

Interesting, an an important summary

This is a most dangerous period. We still have a very good chance of avoiding the worst of climate change but the collective will to try to do anything appears to be weakening and confidence in politicians is at rock bottom. Unless the climate of opinion changes, the present economic storms may seem as nothing.

100° temperatures span the US – and Alan Jones says GW is a Hoax (?)

100F warming across entire US

The U.S. surface temperature map from Unisys at 4 pm, June 29, 2012, shows 100° temperatures stretching almost continuously from California eastward to the Carolinas.

While Colorado burns, Washington fiddles
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/29/while-colorado-burns-washington-fiddles
Bill McKibben, Guardian, 29 June 2012
Drought, wildfires, storms, floods – climate change is happening, but the real disaster is our Big Energy-owned politicians’ inaction
AND
US wildfires are what global warming really looks like, scientists warn
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/29/us-wildfires-global-warming-scientists
Reuters/Guardian, 29 June 2012
The Colorado fires are being driven by extreme temperatures, which are consistent with IPCC projections
AND
Massive ‘Debilitating’ Heat Wave Expands Eastward
http://www.climatecentral.org/news/debilitating-heat-wave-expands-eastward
AND
NBC Meteorologist On Record Heat Wave: “If We Did Not Have Global Warming, We Wouldn’t See This.”
http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/06/30/509246/nbc-meteorologist-on-record-heat-wave-if-we-didnt-have-global-warming-we-wouldnt-see-this

All from Code Red.

 

We have missed the chance of preventing two degrees of global warming – Forever.

It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue “sustained growth”, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses(1).

This is by George Monbiot of The Guardian.

The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before.

The thought that it might be the wrong machine, pursuing the wrong task, cannot even be voiced in mainstream politics. The machine greatly enriches the economic elite, while insulating the political elite from the mass movements it might otherwise confront. We have our bread; now we are wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses.

We have used our unprecedented freedoms, secured at such cost by our forebears, not to agitate for justice, for redistribution, for the defence of our common interests, but to pursue the dopamine hits triggered by the purchase of products we do not need. The world’s most inventive minds are deployed not to improve the lot of humankind but to devise ever more effective means of stimulation, to counteract the diminishing satisfactions of consumption. The mutual dependencies of consumer capitalism ensure that we all unwittingly conspire in the trashing of what may be the only living planet. The failure at Rio de Janeiro belongs to us all.

It marks, more or less, the end of the multilateral effort to protect the biosphere. The only successful global instrument – the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer – was agreed and implemented years before the first Earth Summit in 1992(2). It was one of the last fruits of a different political era, in which intervention in the market for the sake of the greater good was not considered anathema, even by the Thatcher and Reagan governments. Everything of value discussed since then has led to weak, unenforceable agreements, or to no agreements at all.

This is not to suggest that the global system and its increasingly pointless annual meetings will disappear or even change. The governments which allowed the Earth Summit and all such meetings to fail evince no sense of responsibility for this outcome, and appear untroubled by the thought that if a system hasn’t worked for 20 years there’s something wrong with the system. They walk away, aware that there are no political penalties; that the media is as absorbed in consumerist trivia as the rest of us; that, when future generations have to struggle with the mess they have left behind, their contribution will have been forgotton. (And then they lecture the rest of us on responsibility).

Nor is it to suggest that multilateralism should be abandoned. Agreements on biodiversity, the oceans and the trade in endangered species may achieve some marginal mitigation of the full-spectrum assault on the biosphere that the consumption machine has unleashed. But that’s about it.

The action – if action there is – will mostly be elsewhere. Those governments which retain an interest in planet Earth will have to work alone, or in agreement with likeminded nations. There will be no means of restraining free riders, no means of persuading voters that their actions will be matched by those of other countries.

That we have missed the chance of preventing two degrees of global warming now seems obvious. That most of the other planetary boundaries will be crossed, equally so. So what do we do now?

Some people will respond by giving up, or at least withdrawing from political action. Why, they will ask, should we bother, if the inevitable destination is the loss of so much of what we hold dear: the forests, the brooks, the wetlands, the coral reefs, the sea ice, the glaciers, the birdsong and the night chorus, the soft and steady climate which has treated us kindly for so long? It seems to me that there are at least three reasons.

The first is to draw out the losses over as long a period as possible, in order to allow our children and grandchildren to experience something of the wonder and delight in the natural world and of the peaceful, unharried lives with which we have been blessed. Is that not a worthy aim, even if there were no other?

The second is to preserve what we can in the hope that conditions might change. I do not believe that the planet-eating machine, maintained by an army of mechanics, oiled by constant injections of public money, will collapse before the living systems on which it feeds. But I might be wrong. Would it not be a terrible waste to allow the tiger, the rhinoceros, the bluefin tuna, the queen’s executioner beetle and the scabious cuckoo bee, the hotlips fungus and the fountain anenome(3) to disappear without a fight if this period of intense exploitation turns out to be a brief one?

The third is that, while we may possess no influence over decisions made elsewhere, there is plenty that can be done within our own borders. Rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – offers the best hope we have of creating refuges for the natural world, which is why I’ve decided to spend much of the next few years promoting it here and abroad.

Giving up on global agreements or, more accurately, on the prospect that they will substantially alter our relationship with the natural world, is almost a relief. It means walking away from decades of anger and frustration. It means turning away from a place in which we have no agency to one in which we have, at least, a chance of being heard. But it also invokes a great sadness, as it means giving up on so much else.

Was it too much to have asked of the world’s governments, which performed such miracles in developing stealth bombers and drone warfare, global markets and trillion dollar bail-outs, that they might spend a tenth of the energy and resources they devoted to these projects on defending our living planet? It seems, sadly, that it was.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.slideshare.net/uncsd2012/the-future-we-want-rio20-outcome-document

2. http://ozone.unep.org/pdfs/Montreal-Protocol2000.pdf

3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/series/name-a-species