“Electric word life – It means forever and that’s a mighty long time”. Eighties music aficionados will probably recognise this line, from Prince’s Purple Rain.
It came to mind when reading a report from the US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Put plainly, we have crossed the climate Rubicon. To a large extent, there’s probably no going back.
The new study, by NOAA scientist Susan Solomon, shows how changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for upwards of 1,000 years, even if all CO2 emissions were somehow to completely stop. The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Our study convinced us that current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet,” said Solomon.
The study examines the effects of allowing CO2 to build up to several different peak levels beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million and then completely halting the emissions after the peak. The authors found that evidence supports some irreversible climate impacts, including rainfall changes in certain key regions, and global sea level rise.
If CO2 is allowed to peak at 450-600 parts per million, the results would include persistent decreases in dry-season rainfall that are comparable to the 1930s North American Dust Bowl in zones including southern Europe, northern Africa, southwestern North America, southern Africa and western Australia. This would have devastating effects on global food production.
The study notes that decreases in rainfall that last not just for decades but centuries are expected to have severe impacts. Such regional impacts include decreasing human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts. Dry-season wheat and maize agriculture in regions of rain-fed farming, such as Africa, would also be affected.
Climate impacts were less severe at lower peak levels. But at all levels added carbon dioxide and its climate effects linger because of the ocean. The study appears not to have factored in sudden climate shifts and ‘surprises’ that can occur as invisible tipping points are crossed.
In that sense, you’d have to say the folks at the NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, are in fact optimists.
“In the long run, both CO2 loss and heat transfer depend on the same physics of deep-ocean mixing. The two work against each other to keep temperatures almost constant for more than a thousand years, and that makes CO2 unique among the major climate gases,” said Solomon.
Increases in CO2 that occur this century “lock in” sea level rise that would slowly follow in the next millennium. Just looking at the expansion of warming ocean waters – without taking into account melting glaciers and ice sheets – the authors find that the irreversible global average sea level rise by the year 3000 would be at least 1.3–3.2 feet (0.4–1.0 meter) if CO2 peaks at 600 parts per million, and double that amount if CO2 peaks at 1,000 parts per million.
“It has long been known that some of the CO2 emitted by human activities stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years, but the new study advances the understanding of how this affects the climate system, says the aptly named Solomon.
So much for the experts. What have the idiots got to say about all this? And before you ask: who cares? The answer is, apparently, RTÉ, and more specifically, the Late Late Show. Last Friday night the once-respected scientist once again disgraced himself with a pack of utter lies and nonsense that host Pat Kenny did almost nothing to counter.
Temperature drives CO2, and not the other way round, said Bellamy. What he neglected to mention is that this is a two-way process, unless perhaps the laws of physics have been repealed since the 1890s, when Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius calculated that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 would lead to global temperature increases of 5-6 degrees.
Bellamy, with his training in science, knows this, so his contribution is based on mendacity, not ignorance. “If we actually wanted to double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, we’d have to burn all the known gas, all the known oil and one third of all the known coal reserves – we couldn’t actually do it…and that would put the temperature up by at most two degrees centigrade” Bellamy thundered.
As any scientist with a shred of professional integrity will confirm, all we in fact have to do to achieve a doubling of pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 is continue on our current business-as-usual path for another two, three or perhaps four decades. As for temperature magically stopping at 2 degrees C, total bull.
More Bellamy bullshit: “Over the last decade the temperature has not gone up, despite the fact we are pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere…in the last two years the whole of that (0.7 degree) rise in temperature has disappeared – gone!” There then follows some standard garbage about the key role of sun spots.
Of course this isn’t just his theory, it’s the view of “around 34,000 damn good scientists”, bleated Bellamy. Pat Kenny then waved a single sheet of paper at his guest, describing it as data from the IPCC showing the irrefutable link between carbon-driven anthropogenic warming and climate change.
Oddly, none of the thousands of ‘damn good scientists’ Bellamy quotes have published any papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals in the last decade in support of CO2 not being a driver of global temperature increases. Lots of them have, on the other hand, contributed to right wing pro-energy industry publications and think tanks.
Like Bellamy himself, this group (probably running to the low hundreds worldwide, rather than thousands) are disgraced and discredited within the scientific community. And no, it’s not because they’re “rebels”, it’s simply that they use pseudo-scientific sophistry to spread dangerous misinformation via a gullible mainstream media that feeds on controversy, real or manufactured.
Having opened with a clip from Purple Rain, it’s only fair to leave the last word to Prince:
“We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ’cause
We’re all gonna die…”