The world is headed for irreversible climate change in five years, IEA warns, and if fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will ‘lose for ever’ the opportunity to avoid dangerous climate change
Worst ever carbon emissions- Record rise, despite recession, means 2C target would be exceeded
Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. “These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the IPCC projections, such a path … would mean a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100 ,”
For scenarios at each degree average global temperature increase, read this.
Business as usual with more than 7 billion people is horrible.
3C has become increasingly likely: Extracts from this report are:
“After a 3C global temperature rise, global warming may run out of control and efforts to mitigate it may be in vain. Millions of square kilometres of Amazon rainforest could burn down, releasing carbon from the wood, leaves and soil and thus making the warming even worse, perhaps by another 1.5C. In southern Africa, Australia and the western US, deserts take over. Billions of people are forced to move from their traditional agricultural lands, in search of scarcer food and water. Around 30-50% less water is available in Africa and around the Mediterranean. In the UK, summers of droughts are followed by winter floods. Sea levels rise to engulf small islands and low-lying areas such as Florida, New York and London. “
Why does it take the old men, men like Frank Fenner, James Lovelock, King Hubbert and yours truly, to be prepared to use the E word – EXTINCTION?
Its a serious question, and is all to do with tipping points – check them out
Look at this graphic of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon
It shows that once a certain point is reached extinction is likely. Remember the interesting observation that apparently all (original) Western DNA can be traced back to 7 females. This is known as the Near Extinction Bottleneck.
We have been there once as a species, and can again
Having said that I refer you to Frank Fenner. The answer offered is “revolutionary changes” and who in this cosmopolitan consumerist society surfeited on coal profits is interested in revolution?
The end of the human race
Debora MacKenzie, consultant
To say Frank Fenner is no fool is without doubt an understatement. He is an accomplished scientist, and that rarity in modern science, a polymath. As a virologist he helped lead the eradication of smallpox, while as a human ecologist he set up the respected Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University.
So how worried should we be that Fenner told an Australian newspaper that humanity will be extinct within a century because of our failure to deal with global warming?
All is not necessarily lost, at least according to Stephen Boyden, Fenner’s colleague at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, ANU, who told the same paper there is still time to prevent our extinction. The problem, he says, is to do it we will need to pull off “revolutionary changes necessary to achieve ecological sustainability”. Still hardly an optimistic view.
And it’s not just Fenner and Boyden who are gloomy about the future of our species.
More and more people who study the prospects for human well-being in coming decades agree that food will be the key limiting factor Demand will skyrocket, fuelled, as Fenner says, by both population growth and “unbridled consumption” . Meanwhile climate change will make it harder to produce more food.
As New Scientist readers know, scientists agree the drivers of climate change are already in place They disagree only over the extent of the impacts. Fenner used the word “extinction”, perhaps knowing that doing so would attract attention. Indeed it did. Others say social and economic collapse with some human die-off.
However, the complexity of our civilisation means nobody can predict with certainty what the consequences of its collapse will be. Extinction of a species numbering nearly 7 billion may seem unlikely. But if biology teaches us anything it is that complexity contains tipping points that can be terrifyingly quick. In the 1800s, anyone watching a single flock of 2 billion passenger pigeons go by would have laughed if you said the bird would be extinct in a century
Boyden is right: there are still things we can do But so is Fenner: if we don’t do some of them, we’re in trouble. How much trouble? Well, how lucky do you feel?