World Climate about to Warm by 1 Degree

A Climate Change Concept Image
A Climate Change Concept Image

Editorial by Paul Kieniewicz, December 2015

According to sources at the UK Met Office, the world is officially about one degree warmer than in pre-industrial times. There is nothing magical about the one degree figure except that it is half the way to 2 degrees, regarded by many climatologists as a critical limit, beyond which any stabilization of global warming becomes extremely difficult. Also, the effects of global warming in terms of sea level rise, impact on agriculture and water availability in equatorial regions becomes serious.

According to David Wasdell of the Apollo-Gaia project, the limit of two degrees embedded in the Scientific Workgroup of the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC is set far too high. Wasdell details what he sees as methodological flaws in the IPCC report.

Current computer estimates of Climate Sensitivity are shown to be dangerously low. They are based on inadequate treatment of the amplifying feedback system that multiplies the effect of human disturbance of atmospheric composition.

Feedback systems are, for example, the change in the Earth’s reflectivity due to the melting polar caps and the disappearance of tropical forests. Those changes tend to exacerbate global warming.

If we have already passed 1 degree of warming, that Wasdell regards as the safe limit beyond which global warming becomes catastrophic, what remains for us to do now? Is there any point in holding talks in Paris about how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Not all studies are as pessimistic. A recent Antarctic study, reported on this site, suggests that we still can make a difference to global warming. The actions we take today may stabilize the melting of Antarctic ice after the year 2050. While the latter study also contains many uncertainties, we face the choice of doing nothing or possibly saving an already bad situation from getting worse such as preventing many coastal communities from becoming inundated.

There also remains our responsibility towards people and developing countries in the equatorial regions that will bear the brunt of global warming though they are least responsible for bringing it about. The developed world must recognize their plight and work out a plan to alleviate the worst effects by helping ensure supplies of clean water and food.

Climate change refugees are already the new reality. The current migration from Syria is not only driven by war but by a persistent multi-year drought. Such migrations will only increase as global warming devastates more communities. Rather than closing borders and turning inwards, we need to see the migrants as people like ourselves, doing what we would do in their situation. This requires from us as a nation a shift in consciousness, a change in xenophobic attitudes, to embrace a global consciousness.

Global warming is global. Like the air we breathe it knows no boundaries, national, political or religious. Only by transcending those same boundaries can we have what it takes to solve the present crisis.