My friends think I’ve turned into a little bit of Chicken Little lately
I mean, I totally understand why they’d think that. Lately, my Facebook feed has turned into a horror show of climate panic headlines. My favorite topic of conversation is planning for the apocalypse. And I’m sorry. I really want to be wrong about this. But what if I’m not?
I mean I know you agree that climate change is an impending threat. You know that it’s really bad. But where we may differ is the timeline. I’m screaming that the sky is falling, now. I want to tell you why.
I’m not a scientist. This is a big topic, but I’m going to do my best to lay out what has me so alarmed.
I mean no one knows for sure, right?
It’s the future. It hasn’t happened yet. But scientists make predictions, and they can give us a general idea of the direction things are going. In fact, they can make some pretty good predictions.
So let’s start with the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change– their latest report says we have only 11 years left to make a radical change: a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030. Their estimates are based on highly complex statistical models and are highly rigorous and indisputable.
And they are very conservative. Meaning that their predictions are rock solid certainty, and don’t take into account any of the inputs, mechanisms, and feedback loops that are hard to measure or predict (such as methane released from the arctic). Therefore their report presents a best-case scenario.
And things are already worse than their initial predictions
OK, so this graph above: it shows that the Arctic sea ice is disappearing much faster than IPCC projections. This is just one example of conservative predictions vastly underestimating what’s actually unfolding.
And remember, based on their predictions they said we only have 11 years to make a radical change.
What if the IPCC has overestimated the time we have left to make a radical change?
It gets worse. Earth is already 1.1°C warmer than in pre-Industrial times.
And 1.1°C is causing a lot of problems:
- increased and immense wildfires
- sea ice melting at an increasing rate
- frequent and significant flooding
- stronger and more frequent hurricanes
Just to name a few. And yet…
We’re still adding carbon emissions to the atmosphere
Global emissions are GOING UP. Up. The wrong direction.
Faster than ever. So obviously we are going to exceed 2°C which was the goal set out in the Paris Agreement. In fact, we are on track to exceed 4°C. Current policies (those non-binding pledges -which, by the way, we’re not on track to meet) could hold us down to 3.1-3.5°C.
But it gets worse, still.
Bad things happen the more the temperature goes up. Check out these infographics from Climatenexus.org
Social unrest, famine, war. Recall the scenes from your favorite dystopian novels and imagine where we could be heading. Soon.
Most of these predictions are based on linear models, meaning they predict things to continue along a path with constant inputs. But the earth has some inputs of her own.
You’ve heard about feedback loops, right? In a system, an output can return to the system as an input and either amplify (positive loop) or decrease (negative loop) its initial effect on the system. Like how the Arctic snow reflects sunlight, cooling the earth. But when that snow melts, less heat is reflected back into space, increasing the warming?
Earth has a lot of these feedback loops. And she initiates these on her own.
There may come a point when earth’s feedback loops take over and drive warming on their own
It’s called the Hothouse Earth theory. This is the part that really terrified me. This theory basically says that at a certain point (perhaps around, say 2°C) the warming may trigger biogeophysical feedback loops that act like a runaway train heating the earth past a point where humans can survive.
Basically, there are a lot of other things that could go very wrong that aren’t even taken into consideration in that IPCC model.
If nothing else (and if my shoddy science summary hasn’t convinced you), please read the paper that opened my eyes to these possiblities Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy by University of Cambria Sustainability professor Dr. Jem Bendell.
Soon, very soon, it will be too late to do anything about it
No one wants to believe this is our path.
If you some research on the issues I’ve raised here, you can find articles dismissing the concern. They’re out there. I’ve read them, too.
I don’t know. I really don’t. As I said, I’m not a scientist. I’m just a regular person.
But what if I’m not wrong?
What if we are on a near-term collision course, and the only way to slow it is to drastically change the way we live our lives every day?
If you believe me in my urgency, what’s the worst thing that can happen?
If I’m wrong, but you decide to stand with me against the forces destroying the earth, and we were able to make a difference? What then?
I don’t think I’m wrong. I’m afraid I’m not wrong.
We need to tell the truth
The most important thing we can do right now is to tell the truth. To face reality. Our governments and media need to stop minimizing the threat. If they won’t, then we need to raise our voices louder.
These are my babies. I want them to grow up. I want them to have the world. I am going to do everything I can to fight for them.