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Dr Gideon Polya
Dr Gideon Polya

Book Review: "Climate Code Red - the case for emergency action"

6 months ago on Green Blog I reviewed "Climate Code Red – the case for a sustainability emergency" by David Spratt and Phillip Sutton (Friends of the Earth, Melbourne). This important, well-referenced, spiral bound book had helped launch the Australian Climate Emergency Network (CEN) by using the latest scientific evidence to make out a case for a Climate Emergency and a Sustainability Emergency.

Now a second, extensively edited and revised version of this book has been published in Melbourne: "Climate Code Red- the case for emergency action" by David Spratt and Phillip Sutton (Scribe, Melbourne, 2008). This revised version is very readable and accordingly ideal for getting this extremely serious message across to the general public.

I must confess that as a scientist I preferred the first version for scientific cultural reasons because of the detailed scientific literature documentation provided and in particular for a 2 page colour insert that summarized the core data in a series of Figures. Indeed, when I reviewed the first version it was very convenient to base the bulk of my review on this 2 page data review. However as a lover of poetry, plays and novels as well as of dispassionately presented scientific rigour, I readily concede the Two Cultures argument to the extremely well written second version of Climate Code Red. Further, a selection of key references are provided for each chapter and a key photograph, a key Figure and a key Table are provided to complement the argument.

The hard, scientific case for emergency action presented in “Climate Code Red†is best summarized in the following quotation from a scientific article by top US climate scientist Dr James Hansen (Head, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies) and his American, British and French colleagues:

“Paleoclimate data show that climate sensitivity is ~3 deg-C for doubled CO2 [carbon dioxide; atmospheric CO2 280 ppm pre-industrial], including only fast feedback processes. Equilibrium sensitivity, including slower surface albedo feedbacks, is ~6 deg-C for doubled CO2 for the range of climate states between glacial conditions and ice-free Antarctica. Decreasing CO2 was the main cause of a cooling trend that began 50 million years ago, large scale glaciation occurring when CO2 fell to 450 +/- 100 ppm [parts per million], a level that will be exceeded within decades, barring prompt policy changes.
If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current
The largest uncertainty in the target arises from possible changes of non-CO2 forcings. An initial 350 ppm CO2 target may be achievable by phasing out coal use except where CO2 is captured and adopting agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon. If the present overshoot of this target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effectsâ€.

In the last analysis, while cognizant of the need for sensible open-mindedness, rational risk management means we must take very seriously the advice of top scientific experts at the cutting edge of climate change research – just as we would take very seriously the advice of top specialist medical experts in relation to a life threatening medical condition. Top US and World expert on climate change, Dr Hansen, commented thus on “Climate Code Redâ€: “A compelling case … we face a climate emergencyâ€.

Eminent medical scientist and Governor of the State of Victoria, Australia, Professor David de Kretser launched “Climate Code Red –the case for emergency action†in the Victorian State Parliament House in Melbourne recently and used the following unambiguous words:

“The book draws on a vast array of information to build a cogent and compelling case that we do have a genuine emergency on our hands if we are to limit the rise of greenhouse gas emissions to a level at which we can limit the degradation of our planet to manageable levels … There is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest problem confronting mankind at this time and that it has reached the level of a state of emergencyâ€.

Outstanding Australian scientist and Nobel Laureate Professor Peter Doherty has recently published a related book entitled “A Light History of Hot Air†(Melbourne University Publishing, 2007) in which he states : “We are consuming the future and it’s up to us to develop and use renewable resourcesâ€. In an interview about this Professor Doherty summarized the dilemma thus: “Everything is about hot air. Political and in the atmosphere. We are in real danger. The recent CSIRO report suggests that temperatures could rise as much as five degrees by 2070. The ice is melting much more quickly than anyone expected. The Himalayas are melting very fast. We are now talking about the Arctic being ice-free by 2030â€.

David Spratt (climate policy analyst and founder of Carbon Equity) and Phillip Sutton (convenor of the environmental strategy-based Greenleap Strategic Institute) are economic analysts and not scientists, but were driven, in part, to write “Climate Code Red†by the apparent silence (with notable exceptions ) of the scientific community. This problem of academic and institutional timidity has been perceived by no less than outstanding UK and World climate change scientist Dr James Lovelock FRS (2008): “I hate academia. Most of the scientists who work there are not free men any more and they can't speak out. That's no way to do scienceâ€.

“Climate Code Red†is divided into 3 parts, specifically Part One, “The Big Melt†(the threat to the biosphere due to global warming and the ice melting in the polar regions), Part Two “Targetsâ€( where we are headed in terms of temperature increase of over 2 degrees Centigrade, massive sea level rise and huge loss of ecosystems and human sustainability - and where we have to aim for to avoid catastrophe), and Part Three “The Climate Emergency†(how to achieve a safe climate economy and deal effectively with the Climate Emergency).

Part One “The Big Meltâ€deals with the accelerating loss of Arctic sea ice (if you want to be shocked see the latest images and data on the official US National Snow and Ice Data Center, NSIDC), the thawing of Greenland, the Himalayan glaciers, the tundra and the Antarctic and the threat from rising sea levels. Chapter 6 deals with the current mass species extinction phenomena and the threat to ecosystems across the world. Chapter 7 “The Price of Reticence†deals with the institutional scientific conservatism (and cowardice) that has been dishonestly exploited by “dirty energy†big business and the climate sceptics.

Part Two, “Targetsâ€, begins with the sentence “Something is wrong and we must make it rightâ€. Successive chapters explore what is a safe climate zone (less than a 2 degree C rise above pre-industrial; we are already 0.8 degrees C and on track for a 3-6 degrees C increase above the 1750 value as indicated in the quote from Dr Hansen given above). How we can get to a safe zone will require mechanisms for a draw-down on atmospheric CO2 to less than 350 ppm (renewable energy use, cessation of carbon burning, re-afforestation, return of carbon as biochar to soils).

Part Three, “The Climate Emergencyâ€, gets into the economic systems management area of professional expertise of the authors. Successive chapters deal with how we must deal with the Climate Emergency. Chapter 26 “In the End†draws upon the experience of World War 2 and the dramatic increase in military outlays as a percentage of national income in the US, UK, Germany and Japan i.e. we have already an extraordinary precedent for extraordinary, short term societal effort.

The 2008 current market collapse has already provided an example of the rapid global action currently being taken at enormous expense to protect the vested interests of the very people (Top Capitalists) primarily responsible for the Climate Emergency. Earlier this year Nobel Laureate Al Gore urged dramatic requisite action to save the planet : “Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years … So I ask you to join with me to call on every candidate, at every level, to accept this challenge - for America to be running on 100 percent zero-carbon electricity in 10 years. It's time for us to move beyond empty rhetoric. We need to act nowâ€.

Dramatic changes in technology mean that Al Gore’s vision is achievable NOW - the energy cost cross-over point has finally been reached and the best renewable and geothermal power options now cost essentially the same as the (heavily subsidized) “market cost†of coal power (see “One Day Pathétique†Symphony Painting. HOPE – Best Renewables Now Cost Same as Coal Powerâ€).

“Climate Code Red†is a powerful statement of the case for emergency action to deal with the Climate Emergency and Sustainability Emergency. Most importantly, “Climate Code Red†is a very well written and eminently readable book directed at sensible citizens in general. Inevitably one can make criticisms such as those made above at the beginning of this review – but more Tables, Figures and Scientific References would have been to the detriment of readability and hence of public education. In some ways “Climate Code Red†did not go far enough. Thus matters that could have been raised include the “true cost†of coal burning-based power (4-5 times the heavily subsidizedâ€market price) and the avoidable death of 0.2 million people each year world-wide from the effects of coal burning pollutants (see Yarra Valley Climate Action Group). Also absent was the likely death of over 6 billion people this century due to unaddressed climate change (according to Dr James Lovelock FRS).

“Climate Code Red†was condemnatory of both scientific reticence and climate sceptic ignorance, and indeed represents a major step towards reversing public ignorance about the Climate Emergency. However “Climate Code Red†could have gone even further in exposing and condemning the core of the problem that lies in a culture of ignoring, of wishful thinking and of “looking away†that is actively promoted by a dominant political and media culture committed to carbon-based economic growth.

Indeed Dr James Hansen recently advocated criminal prosecution of climate criminal corporate heads involved in self-interested misinforming of the public to the detriment of public safety (see James Hansen: Try Fossil Fuel CEOs for “High Crimes Against Humanityâ€) . In my own modest way I have acted by exposing the extraordinary Culture of Ignoring in Australia’s media, political and academic Establishment over the Climate Emergency and other very serious matters (see “Climate Emergency, Exceptionalism & Ignoring Downunder. Letter to Eminent Australians over Public Honestyâ€).

There is zero tolerance for lying in science and this now needs to be made a general rule in a world facing a Climate Emergency. “Climate Code Red – the case for emergency action†sets an important baseline for climate reality and public responsibility. This important book should be in every school and institutional library. “Climate Code Red – the case for emergency action†is a cogently argued blueprint for the survival of Humanity and the Biosphere.

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