Book Review: Climate Code Red - the case for a sustainability emergency
In February 2008 Australian Friends of the Earth published a very important book entitled â€œBook Review: Climate Code Red â€“ the case for a sustainability emergencyâ€ by David Spratt (a policy analyst with Carbon Equity) and Philip Sutton (director of the Greenleap Strategic Institute Inc), both authors being located in Melbourne, Australia. This book can be downloaded from the Web. The book was launched at an Australian Climate Change Convergence in Melbourne on February 8 2008 (see GreenBlog).
â€œClimate Code Red is a very important and timely book. It adduces the latest scientific evidence that we have already passed a key environmental â€œtipping pointâ€ , argues for a national and global Declaration of a Climate State of Emergency and urges rapid implementation of the â€œnegative CO2 emissions policyâ€ advocated by NASAâ€™s Dr James Hansen i.e. rapid replacement of fossil fuel burning with renewables and rapid installation of mechanisms to reduce atmospheric CO2.
â€œClimate Code Redâ€ argues the case for a Climate Emergency and Sustainability Emergency. In short, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (2007) was out of date when it was published (for a Summary of the Summary of the 2007 IPCC AR4 Synthesis report on GreenBlog see: http://green-blog.org/2007/11/21/summary-of-the-summary-of-the-2007-ipcc-ar4-synthesis-report/). The IPCC had a literature cut-off date of 2005 and since then scientific perception of the state of the world has changed dramatically. In particular it has been found that the rate of melting of Arctic sea ice and of Greenland glaciers is much faster than predicted. The top US climate scientist Dr James Hansen (Goddard Space Research Center, NASA) declares that we have already reached a â€œtipping pointâ€ such that Arctic summer ice may be completely gone in several years i.e. the CURRENT atmospheric CO2 concentration of 385 ppm means catastrophic ecosystem change ALREADY and that accordingly we must have NEGATIVE CO2 emissions to bring it back to a safe and sustainable 300-350 ppm (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7143567.stm ). That necessary reversal of 2 centuries of profligate CO2 pollution can be achieved by a massive shift to renewable power sources, immediate cessation of fossil fuel burning and measures such as re-afforestation, return of pyrolytically-charred biomass (biochar) to soil and, if need be, generation of global dimming SO2 aerosols (see: http://www.thebulletin.org/columns/james-hansen/20080124.html).
â€œClimate Code Redâ€ is an acutely timely book that declares that â€œCO2 emissions targetsâ€ and even â€œzero CO2 emissionsâ€ are simply not good enough â€“ that we must follow the advice of Dr James Hansen and his colleagues and urgently REVERSE the current dangerous CO2 pollution of our atmosphere. In social actuality this will involve urgently educating the people, media and politicians to what the science is saying in order to achieve a Declaration of a Climate State of Emergency and urgent actions such as those outlined by NASAâ€™s Dr James Hansen.
Part 1 of the book reviews the latest evidence about climate change. It is illustrated by 2 colour pages of figures that make extremely sobering reading as summarized below.
Figure 1 shows a roughly constant rate of various IPCC PREDICTIONS of a constant rate of loss of Arctic summer sea ice from 2000 (about 90% of the mean 1979-1990 extent) to 2100 (only about 10% left). However what will ALARM you is the ACTUAL, precipitous decline of Arctic summer ice in recent years to about 70% of the 1979-1990 mean, indicating that ALL the Arctic summer ice will be gone in several YEARS rather than in 9 decades. This is a massive ecosystem change that is happening NOW with huge implications for polar warming, Greenland ice sheet melting, tundra thawing and further positive feedbacks to accelerate global warming e.g. the albedo flip (change from light-reflecting white ice to light-absorbing dark sea); lubrication of glacier movement by melt water; and methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) from thawing tundra in North America and Siberia.
Figure 2 plots sea level (in metres) versus global mean temperature (oC). There is a remarkably linear relationship as you go from the last glacial maximum 20,000 years ago (sea level minus 120 metres relative to todayâ€™s sea level, global mean temperature 9.5oC), to TODAY (15 oC), to the Pliocene 3 million years ago (sea level plus 20 metres, mean temperature 18oC) and the Eocene 40 million years ago (sea level plus 80 metres, mean temperature 19oC). The IPCC projection for sea level rise is less than 1 metre rise by about 18oC (clearly a big underestimate) and a temperature rise predicted to be 3oC on a â€œbusiness as usualâ€ scenario means a 20 metre rise in sea level.
â€œClimate Code Redâ€ quotes the following dire comment by Dr James Hansen: â€œThere is strong evidence that the Earth is within 1oC of its highest temperature in the past million years. Oxygen isotopes in the deep sea foraminifera reveal that the earth was last 2oC to 3oC warmer [relative to 2000] around 3 million years ago, with carbon dioxide levels of perhaps 350 to 450 parts per million. It was a dramatically different planet then, with no Arctic sea ice in the warm seasons and sea levels about 25 metres higher, give or take 10 metres.â€
The atmosphere is ALREADY at 385 ppm CO2 and CO2 is increasing at about 2.5 ppm per year; global average temperature is about 1oC above the pre-industrial and increasing at about 0.25 oC per decade.
Figure 3 plots â€œwarming per decade in oCâ€ versus time for various scenarios of fossil fuel use identified by past IPCC reports. Thus the worst scenario involving intensive fossil fuel use shows â€œwarming per decadeâ€ peaking at a catastrophic 0.65 oC per decade in about 2060. However the ACTUAL data indicate that the world greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is already well above the worst scenario.
Superimposed on Figure 3 are graphical indications how all ecosystems and also forests in particular cope with various rates of climate change. Thus in the PRESENT circumstances of about 0.25 oC warming per decade, the poleward isotherm shift is about 75 kilometers per decade and only about 40% of all ecosystems and only about 20% of forests adapt to the rate of temperature change â€“ an extremely serious situation ALREADY. However we are evidently on track to achieve a 0.4 oC increase per decade within 2 decades, at which point very few ecosystems or forests are able to adapt â€“ a catastrophic situation for a world already suffering serious resource depletion.
Figure 4 plots the â€œWest Equatorial Pacific sea temperatureâ€ over the last 1.35 million years. The temperature fluctuates between a minimum of about 25 oC and a maximum of 30 oC, this reflecting successive ice ages and periods of warming and with most of the data lying between 26 oC and 29 oC. From a pre-industrial temperature of about 28.7 oC (about 3 oC warmer than in the prior ice age situation of about 15,000 years ago) the temperature has steadily climbed in a mere 2 centuries to a current 29.7 oC, the hottest it has been for about 0.1 million years. The earth is on track to exceed in a mere several decades the highest temperatures for millions of years.
Figure 5 plots â€œglobal carbon emissions in gigatonnes/yearâ€ (billions of tonnes/year) from 1950 value of 2 to the present 9.5 gigatonnes carbon /year and thence projections for (a) â€œbusiness as usualâ€ (rising to a maximum of 16 gigatonnes per year in about 2050 and thence declining in a devastated world) and ( various scenarios for capping temperature increase to about 2 oC (with carbon emissions declining about 80% from current levels by 2050, noting that much greater cuts now appear to be necessary to achieve this). However we are ALREADY on track to exceed the worst case scenario leading to a catastrophic temperature increase of 5 oC or greater.
This sobering information in a nutshell tells us that we are on track for a â€œworst case scenarioâ€ global biosphere catastrophe with rapid temperature rise in a few decades to take us beyond what the earth has experienced for millions of years.
However the possible scenario advanced by Dr James Hansen is that loss of Arctic summer sea-ice will speed up the ongoing loss of the Greenland ice sheet and a rise of sea levels by as much as 5 metres this century.
A key problem identified in â€œClimate Code Redâ€ is the short-term global mean temperature increase expected in the next decade. We are already 0.8 oC above the pre-industrial temperature but there is an â€œin-builtâ€ â€œthermal inertiaâ€ capacity due to existing GHG pollution of the atmosphere for a further 0.6 oC increase over and above a baseline current increase of about 0.3 oC per decade and positive feedback elements (e.g. the albedo flip and GHG gas release from thawing tundra) may give a further 0.3 oC. Thus it can be argued that even if we stop GHG pollution NOW we have an inbuilt capacity ALREADY to achieve a 2 oC increase in global temperature over the pre-industrial in the coming decades.
Part 2 of â€œClimate Code Redâ€ is entitled â€œTarget Practiceâ€ and discusses what temperature and GHG pollution targets are realistic or safe. Their essential and important conclusion is that â€œwe suggest the goal is a climate safe for all people and all species over â€œall generationsâ€. It is quite clear from massive species extinctions so far and to major damage to forests, soil, fisheries and other ecosystems (e.g. the complete loss of Arctic summer ice in several yearsâ€™ time) that at 385 ppm atmospheric CO2 we have ALREADY passed a â€œsafe pointâ€ and that a combination of GHG pollution cessation and â€œHansen coolingâ€ is required to return us to a safe and sustainable state.
Part 3 of Climate Code Red is entitled â€œfacing up to the challengeâ€ and deals with what has to be done in practice and how urgent action can be achieved. What has to be achieved is urgent cessation of GHG pollution through a rapid shift to already available renewable technologies plus mechanisms for reducing the existing CO2 in the atmosphere (re-afforestation, putting biomass-derived biochar back in the soil and further mechanisms for global cooling e.g. SO2 aerosols if need be as suggested by Dr Hansen).
Politically such rapid implementation requires global Declaration of a Climate State of Emergency and a successful analogy given is the extraordinary civilian-to-military turnaround of the US economy in World War 2 after Pearl Harbor.
The book concludes with the following assessment: â€œMany of us â€“ in business and at work, in climate action groups, in NGOs and in political parties â€“ know in our hearts that on climate the world is going backwards very rapidly and the sorts of solutions that currently dominate national and global forums are simply too little, too late because of the continuing pre-occupation with â€œpolitics as usualâ€ and â€œbusiness as usualâ€. But sometimes we dare to imagine that there could be a really rapid transition, a great national and international mobilisation, to a safe-climate, post-carbon sustainable way of living. We now need to â€œthink the unthinkableâ€, because the sustainability emergency is not so much a radical idea as now simply a necessary mode of action.â€
I would urge you to read â€œClimate Code Redâ€, suggest this book to your friends and to libraries and to join with other citizens in demanding a national and global Declaration of a Climate State of Emergency and rapid implementation of a â€œnegative CO2 emissions policyâ€ involving rapid installation of renewable energy sources, cessation of fossil fuel burning and reduction of atmospheric CO2 back to a safe and sustainable level.