As I journey up the steep learning curve of climate change, using the tools of rationality, logic and scientific fact to guide me, I become more and more uncomfortable with my findings. Yesterday was a long day of research, hence the lack of posts online. I managed to get a few tweets posted but mainly I was learning, sorting my thoughts and contemplating where I was going to go next with my upcoming posts.
Before we start, allow me to review the modus operandi of Paradigms Bend. As I research I wish to share what I learn with others, so long as it falls under the header of being useful, relevant and enlightening information, whether I do so by posting other people's articles or by writing my own posts which I have researched and tested with critical questioning. My constant view is that while the Internet and media are both wonderful resources in and of themselves, they tend to come at a price. They grant vast knowledge and awareness, while at the same time with one or two misclicks, the promising path followed can rapidly confuse the seeker with poorly researched information that should be labelled as deceptive, misleading or even downright nonsense. This blog focusses on distilling balanced, straight forward information and posting the best and clearest information gleaned from the Internet, science journals and government papers.
Today's blog is a little like taking a step back. I want to have a post on PB that benchmarks climate change in a realistic and measurable way. In a way that impacts on humans personally. Something that can be referred back to in future posts. That is where SRES comes in. Until recently I hadn't heard about SRES, it's not discussed much in the media but it should be. In my humble opinion, this shouldn't be the fodder of only the policy makers, little kids should be taught this in school. It should be ingrained into our lives and made part of our cultural consciousness. Soon you will see why.
What is SRES? Well, besides being an acronym for Special Report for Emissions Scenarios, it is the definitive research and benchmark document that policy makers are using to work towards their goals of controlling CO2 emissions. What this report does is extrapolate into the future - to 2100 - what our world will be like if we follow various different paths regarding growth, consumption and changing human landscapes. The agency that is responsible for this massive document is called the IPCC which in long form reads Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All this might seem dull and boring, but with this clarified, let's get onto the interesting part.
Within SRES there are six families of scenarios. Each of them with their own unique tag. They are A1FI, A1B, A1T, A2, B1, and B2. Each come with their own storyline and possible result. The bottom line is how much the world warms up within each scenario. I have more to say on that later, but first, here's the accepted possible scenarios as posited by IPCC and used as benchmarks by our policymakers.
The A1 scenarios are of a more integrated world. The A1 family of scenarios is characterized by:
- Rapid economic growth.
- A global population that reaches 9 billion in 2050 and then gradually declines.
- The quick spread of new and efficient technologies.
A convergent world - income and way of life converge between regions. Extensive social and cultural interactions worldwide.
There are subsets to the A1 family based on their technological emphasis:
A1FI - An emphasis on fossil-fuels (Fossil Intensive).
A1B - A balanced emphasis on all energy sources.
A1T - Emphasis on non-fossil energy sources.
verage surface warming until 2100 for any of the above families... 1.4 - 6.4°C
The A2 scenarios are of a more divided world. The A2 family of scenarios is characterized by:
- A world of independently operating, self-reliant nations.
- Continuously increasing population.
- Regionally oriented economic development.
- Slower and more fragmented technological changes and improvements to per capita income.
A2 Global average surface warming until 2100... 2.0 - 5.4°C
The B1 scenarios are of a world more integrated, and more ecologically friendly. The B1 scenarios are characterized by:
- Rapid economic growth as in A1, but with rapid changes towards a service and information economy.
- Population rising to 9 billion in 2050 and then declining as in A1.
- Reductions in material intensity and the introduction of clean and resource efficient technologies.
- An emphasis on global solutions to economic, social and environmental stability.
B1 Global average surface warming until 2100... 1.1 - 2.9°C
The B2 scenarios are of a world more divided, but more ecologically friendly. The B2 scenarios are characterized by:
- Continuously increasing population, but at a slower rate than in A2.
- Emphasis on local rather than global solutions to economic, social and environmental stability.
- Intermediate levels of economic development.
- Less rapid and more fragmented technological change than in A1 and B1.
B2 Global average surface warming until 2100... 1.4 - 3.8°C
What I like about the SRES is that it is clear, simple information based on tons of research by many leading experts in their respective fields. This is as close as we will ever get to knowing what our future may be like as far as best guesses are concerned. SRES has come under heavy criticism for various aspects of its economic formulae, which IPCC have rebutted. If you would like to know more about the criticisms, please click here Reasonably, one must accept that predicting a future in a rapidly changing world must be considered from the viewpoint of there being potential flaws in the scenarios, so I prefer to take all of this as a guideline, not a prophecy. What is important is that it makes one think about the future and our impact on it. Without SRES we don't think about this, it's not real, it's not happening. SRES forces us to at least acknowledge that something is going on, incrementally day by day.
2100 may seem far away, but here's a sobering thought for those of you having babies this year... it is not impossible to consider that your child born in 2011 could still be alive by then, at the age of 89... while thinking about baby names it might not be a bad idea to stop and consider what kind of world they will be inhabiting a mere twenty years from now. At the speed the planet is currently warming up, it almost doesn't even bear thinking about what 2100 will be like. There is no sound reason to dismiss the possibility that our world could be a post-apocalyptic nightmare by then.
But let's put it into even more perspective, let's take a 40 year old today (year 2011) with a 15 year old child. That child has a baby at the age of 30 (year 2026). That child grows up and has their own baby at the age of 29 (year 2055). This means that if you are the 40 year old right now, reading this, then your great-grandchild (which you will likely live long enough to see born as you will be 84) will be a mere 45 years old when the date 2100 arrives. 5 years older than you are now. Is it starting to feel personal now? I hope so. This is real, what is happening to our planet. And even more worrying, there are profound doubts as to the veracity of the assumptions that SRES made back in 2000. Why is that? Because since 2000 global emissions have been recorded at 3% and SRES scenarios for this period ranged from 1.4 -3.4%, meaning that their assumptions may be too conservative and over time this deficiency will increase as the gap between growth and the IPCC's assumptions widen.
Bearing all of this in mind, let's take a quick look at what the global average surface warming numbers mean in real terms to us as humanity. The benchmark is a global mean of 13.9°C which amalgamates the combined temperatures of land, sea and air. Below you will see a chart that tracks the increase of global surface temperature from 1900 (records began in 1880). It indicates three possible scenarios from SRES that begin in 2000.
Getting back to our 40 year old and his 15 year old child let's chart what will happen to our planet in the years 2011, 2026, 2055 and 2100 according to the A1B scenario above, which is the commonly accepted scenario based on our world's activity, growth and consumption.
40 year old with 15 year old child
2011 - Since 2000, the global surface temperature has risen by 0.4°C. The world is experiencing severe winters with extremely heavy snowfall in USA and EU; a warmer Arctic, with polar ice melting from both Greenland and Antarctica. Floods in Australia, Brazil, Southern Africa and Sri Lanka, caused by La Nina (and other causes yet to be assessed). Drought in northern China; floods in southern China and Philippines. Freezing temperatures in Vietnam cause mass livestock deaths. Birds, fish, crabs and livestock die all over the world in mass die-offs (no hard proof yet this is climate related, however, until it is disproved let us assume that climate change may be one of the potential causes). Wheat, sugar and rice crops substantially damaged or destroyed in Australia and Philippines by flooding and landslides. Australia supplies 35% of the world's wheat with Queensland being the major contributor. The entire harvest was lost due to flooding, anything salvaged went for animal feed. Expectations of food price hikes in the near future.
55 year old with 30 year old child and new born grandchild
2026 - The global surface temperature has risen by 0.9°C since year 2000. Continued melting of the polar caps has increased the amount of snow and rainfall globally causing extreme flooding and submerging parts of coastlines and low lying islands. Agriculture continues to be challenged and food shortages are common. Taxes are increased to combat costs of natural disasters. EU and US experience extreme weather conditions. Infrastructures take heavy damage.
84 year old with 59 year old child, 29 year old grandchild and new born great-grandchild
2055 - The global surface temperature has risen by 1.5°C since year 2000. Food shortages and hunger are part of everyday life for much of humanity, only the wealthy being able to afford to buy the basic food supplies. Cost of living extremely expensive due to high taxation needed to cover continuous shortages of food and adequate housing for displaced coastal inhabitants. Entire lowlying countries and cities submerged by rising sea waters. Massive human displacement, economic collapse of some nations.
Deceased. Child deceased. 74 year old grandchild and 45 year old great-grandchild
2100 - The global surface temperature has risen by 2.6°C since year 2000. Killer heatwaves in northern climates eg. London average temperature 41°C. Mass migration of humanity from poorer countries into perceived 'wealthier' ones. Continued economic collapse. Infrastructure collapse. Continued rising of sea waters and devastation of polar ice. London, New York, Paris and many other waterside cities permanently partially submerged in places. Illness and water borne diseases spread. Malaria comes to North America and EU. Animal husbandry and agriculture unable to cope with demands. Reduced arable farming land. Riots, homelessness and starvation. Unstable and sporadic power supply in 'wealthiest' countries, none at all in poorer ones. Survival of the fittest mentality.
Let me conclude this blog with this disclaimer. I am not a prophet, I am an observer and a researcher. The figures above are merely estimates, one hopes that the worst will not happen as suggested by the above timeline; that humanity will take responsibility for our share of the climate change contribution and reduce our C02 emissions dramatically within the next few decades. Even so, we cannot control what mother nature chooses to do. Even with all our best efforts, we may still die from global warming by her hand. But still, I do believe we must try. We must try for all the babies being born this year. They deserve a better future than this. We all do.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend Jan 26 2011