The Day After 2050
In Wednesday’s blog I wrote of my concern that climate change has passed an irreversible tipping point, meaning that nature is taking a course which is likely to swamp the benefits of human endeavours to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Today, in The Independent I read under the headline ‘Is the climate crisis pushing the world to a point of no return?’ some evidence to support my view. It reports ‘A new study, published today in the journal Scientific Reports, makes the bold claim that, hypothetically speaking, we could “already [be] past a point of no return for global warming”. Using a simplistic mathematical model, it simulates what would happen in a hypothetical world where greenhouse gas emissions were stopped in 2020. It finds that, in the simulations, the world continues to heat up for hundreds of years as a result of positive feedback loops such as permafrost thaw.’ The news story then goes on to report countervailing views from other scientists, who suggest in effect that the study’s modelling isn’t up to scratch and needs further development. It is my fear that that critique might be of the sort that suggests it’s best to have 100% information before a watertight conclusion can be drawn. I’m not criticising any of the scientists involved—they’re all dealing with incomplete information after all. What does bother me is that when I was more closely involved in climate change fifteen or more years ago, a range of modelling outcomes were shown to be possible. Now we are finding that the outcomes being found in practice are likely to be at the top end of the modelling range. We now hear the phrase ‘worse than expected’ in relation to e.g. polar ice melt, ocean warming, permafrost melt, forest fires, etc., etc., etc. with alarming frequency. So called 100-year events happen routinely, overwhelming infrastructure regularly.
One of the study’s critics is ‘Prof Richard Betts MBE, chair of climate impacts of the University of Exeter and the Met Office, [who] told The Independent: “Having talked to various colleagues, we don’t think there’s any credibility in the model. “Feedbacks are important. The possibility of eventually becoming committed to long-term climate change is important. But there is no real evidence that this has already happened.”’ I recall a dispute between Aubrey Meyer of the Global Commons Institute and the Met Office over whether the Met Office had actually given due consideration to feedbacks quite some time ago, and I’m not convinced that now, it is correct merely to say that they are ‘important’ and can be contextualised in the sense of long-term climate change. We’re in the here and now.
It is my opinion that climate scientists, forced into a corner first by the deniers (now thankfully fewer in number but nowhere extinct least of all in politics) and the need to draw the backdrop to politically acceptable solutions are still hesitant, and naturally look for scientific consensus in their modelling, so debunking outliers. I think this strategy is well passed its sell by date. It gives politicians the elbow room they need to delay and delay and delay. After all, 2050 is 30 years away.
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