I took a rather shallow look at the heavily nuanced “what about RCP8.5” debate a couple of days ago, based on a Chris Mooney article. Not until I read a wonderfully coherent analysis from Michael Mann on his website did it become clear why I felt dissatisfied. Attacks on RCP8.5 aren’t just attacks on a particular scenario. They open a window for politicking, for cavilling from the required urgency.
As Mann puts it, this latest kinda-optimistic burst “doesn’t account for non-linearities and, most importantly of all, doesn’t include so-called ‘carbon cycle feedbacks’, that is to say, the feedback mechanism by which global warming can actually release more CO2 (or e.g. methane), adding further to the warming. Indeed, this deficiency applies to all studies that are based on specifying CO2 concentrations rather than emissions, and it applies to the current commentary by Hausfather & Peters.”
Putting it more bluntly:
There is some good news here. The numbers show that escalating efforts around the world to decarbonize our economy are starting to pay dividends. We’re starting to bend that emissions curve downward. But we need to reduce emissions by a factor of two over the next decade and bring them down to zero in a matter of a few decades if we are to avert catastrophic climate change impacts. We have to get off fossil fuels far more quickly than we’re on track to do under current policies. This latest commentary doesn’t change that at all.
Chris Mooney of the Washington Post is one of our wisest journalists. A terrific tweet thread yesterday contrasts recent news and opinions from opposite ends of the pessimism spectrum. On the one hand, one of the most worrying scenarios in the recent IPCC work, known as RCP8.5, might be too pessimistic. The endless stream of ideological and scientific positioning around RCP8.5 can be boring but it’s also important, so this debate makes for fascinating purview. Against what might be labelled “good news” (it isn’t really, just one scenario that needs tweaking for future projections), scientists have dug over half a kilometer through one of Antarctica’s biggest glaciers and found that the glacier might be melting from underneath.
Quite how the ice up north and south responds to Earth’s increasing temperatures is of crucial importance to predicting the future. We know how worrying the concept of amplification is. For example, we can see that a degree of warming has burnt huge swathes of Australia to the ground, releasing even more carbon, amplifying the temperature hikes even more. If ice melting (be it on sea or on glaciers or on rock) amplifies warming or further melting, we could be in trouble.
In other words, as Mooney points out: “So in sum: The plausibility of RCP8.5 as an energy scenario for this century has been seriously challenged. But the potential severity of climate change really has not.”
Another arrow-swift para of prose from “This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook,” this time from Gail Bradbrook, one of the Extinction Rebellion founders:
Our challenge now is to look beyond our island nation and see with fresh eyes the rest of our family, spread across the world. To open our hearts. When we are able to fully feel the losses among us, then we will be able to do what these times truly require from us. All the children are our children. We can protect those closest to us only when we remember our love for those furthest away. This is an international rebellion, aligned with all peoples living with struggles to protect life on Earth. This is sacred
Remember, the job of Extinction Rebellion is to get global emissions to zero by 2025. That includes the emissions of China, Russia, and Turkmenistan. International is the only way forward, utopian though it may sound.
Observing the sly deflections of world leaders and Australia’s leaders (both political parties), and in particular the orchestrated muck campaigns against those urging for climate action (let’s start with the obvious: close coal plants and dig it up no more) that must occur, today I got the blues. You know the blues, don’t you? Of course there are many kinds of downers one can sink into, but these blues are the unwanted existential anxieties one imagined one had built a carapace against. A sudden loss of heart.
So I sought heart by watching Greta Thunberg’s 4:44 Davos speech. Her concluding words? “Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.” I do, I do, I do.
Staring down at my hiking boots. Thoughts whirling, always unsure of myself these days. In “This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook,” Rowan Williams, ex-archbishop of Canterbury, writes:
Change the narrative, and who knows what is possible? Accept the diseased imagination of the culture we have created and the death count begins now. Anger, love and joy may sound like odd bedfellows, but these are the seeds of a future that will offer life – not success, but life.
Those odd-bedfellow emotions seem to reside in me. Permanently. Conjoined.
A climate scientist at the University of Reading, Ed Hawkins is an IPCC AR6 Lead Author. He tweeted a couple of days ago:
Months of work by 15 authors with 56 contributing authors, writing 60,000 words (+ 885 references) = 1 finished draft of a single @IPCC_CH Assessment Report chapter. Now over to the hundreds of reviewers. Then we start to edit it all over again…
It stirs my blood to hear about such work. The concerted IPCC work over decades must surely dwarf the feted Manhattan Project in terms of scientific firepower and global criticality. As always, heroes labour hard, extremely hard.
Yesterday’s keynote Guardian article “Terror, hope, anger, kindness: the complexity of life as we face the new normal” is a vivid exploration of what James Bradley calls the “new normal” arising from the bushfires (which, of course, are ongoing and will continue to be so for the best part of the next three months). His journey is the existential and emotional journey we all need to undertake in wrestling with the Anthropocene, the galloping emergence of a new geologic era, the only such juncture point we’ll ever face. You’ll note that I use the word “wrestle.” You don’t “master” the Anthropocene. The scale of the coming changes is too great. Your mind and heart lurch in loops similar to Bradley’s “terror, hope, anger, and kindness.”
Bradley is one of Australia’s finest authors and and this article is compulsory reading. Honest, nuanced, and wise. “We should be angry, of course. Incandescently angry. Because where we are is not an accident. … Faced with this reality we can sink into depression and despair. Or we can go further, admit the old world has gone, and begin to fight to make things better. … if we are to find a way forward we will need kindness as well as anger, empathy as well as rage, humility as well as righteousness.” I believe Extinction Rebellion hears this message. United, we non-violently disrupt our failing political order. One of our most potent messages, a greeting really, is “with love and rage,” exactly what Bradley seeks.
Christmas approaches, with its joys of children and grandchildren. In the Guardian, Rebecca Solnit argues that “we are on the brink,” a brink that requires moving beyond what she calls an “adolescence” of humankind to a new maturity, “What is striking,” she writes with her characteristic clarity and eloquence, “is that such maturity is largely the property of the young.” As she also puts it, “they are the people who have never experienced a below-average temperature on Earth…”
I agree and have for years. “We see the children are mature and too many old people are juvenile…” My generation must be removed.
In a recent Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article, three experts blast the fossil fuel companies’ attempts to gloss over their continued disregard for the climate emergency. The writers point out that in ExxonMobil’s September Outlook for Energy, it includes a formal projection of global energy-related submissions out to 2040 and guess what? Not only are such emissions not almost eliminated by then, as science dictates, they’ve not begun to decline at all! I’ve clipped the salient chart from page 38 of that report. So … even as the machinists of emitting say soothing words, never forget: they are the enemy. We are nonviolent but they are the enemy.
A standout book this year was Jon Gertner’s brilliant “The Ice at the End of the World: An Epic Journey Into Greenland’s Buried Past and Our Perilous Future.” Read my review to see why I rate it as 10/10.
No sooner than I’ve absorbed Gertner, Chris Mooney chimes in with a Washington Post article reporting that 89 scientists now find concordance between 26 different satellite measurement data sets and conclude that the ice shelves of Greenland are melting down at astonishing rates. What used to be an extreme melting scenario (and was taken presumably into IPCC projections) is now the mid-range projection.
Gertner’s book had my heart pounding. What am I to make of this new data? I sit and try to meditate.