Hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting Declan Ganley of Libertas until yesterday. Well, Declan is of course a stickler for accuracy, so perhaps ‘encountering’ would be a more accurate term. The brief encounter occurred around noon yesterday, as I was entering the Newstalk studio. Ganley, Prionsias de Rossa and Richard Boyd Barrett were just finishing up what had been a heated discussion on Lisbon when the air began to turn blue with expletives.
Presenter Karen Coleman thought two of her guests, Ganley and de Rossa were actually going to trade blows. Here’s how Karen describes what ensued as the interview ended:
“The finger pointing between the two campaigners was enough to indicate a serious battle was underway. Ganley started accusing De Rossa of having an agenda and that he knew what it was all about. He called De Rossa a F****** traitor. De Rossa returned fire with an equally unmentionable expletive…The two warring parties left the studio and went out into the main Newstalk offices where it seems things got even more fiery. Eye witnesses described how the two men continued their verbal altercation. De Rossa questioned Ganley’s patriotism and he drew attention to his English accent. The word P**** was bandied about at one stage”.
As an eye witness to the above kerfuffle, I can certainly attest to the incident, though, while I have my theories, wouldn’t like to have to swear on a stack of bibles as to who was the chief villain in the piece.
The actual purpose of my being on Newstalk was to discuss the publication last Thursday in the online version of Nature of a major study based on new satellite information that shows both western Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets far more susceptible to melting than scientific models to date have indicated.
The new study is based on 50 million laser readings from a NASA satellite; they confirm what some pessimistic scientists thought: melting along the edges of the two major ice sheets is accelerating and is in what they describe as a self-feeding loop. The more the ice melts, the more water surrounds and eats away at the remaining ice.
“To some extent it’s a runaway effect. The question is how far will it run?” the study’s lead author, Hamish Pritchard of the British Antarctic Survey was quoted as saying. “It’s more widespread than we previously thought.”
In Greenland, 81 of 111 glaciers surveyed are thinning at an accellerating, self-perpetuating rated. Heat in the air is not the major culprit. Instead, sharp increases in surface water temperatures is wreaking havoc with ice stability. In Antarctica, this is translating into some ice sheets losing 30 feet in thickness every year.
What this study does confirm is that any complacent view that global sea level rises this century will be less than a metre is entirely misplaced. What is clear is that, even if all anthropogenic CO2 production could somehow be magically stopped tomorrow, both polar regions are likely to continue melting for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
Assuming humanity survives the 21st century, the map of the world in 2109 will look radically different to today’s edition, and areas that are today home to upwards of a billion people will be either be underwater or so frequently flooded as to render them uninhabitable. And yes, that includes significant chunks of coastal Ireland.
Moving away from the poles, the situation looks equally grim. The UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre has predicted a devastating 4 degree C surge in global average temperatures by 2060, just fifty years hence.
Dr Mark New of the Oxford University School of Geography told a conference earlier today that: “The eventual temperature we reach is a result of the carbon we put in the atmosphere so if we do not reduce emissions faster, the timing is much sooner. The faster the rate of change in getting to four degrees, the less time we have to adapt.”
Adapting to 4 degrees C by 2100 is a monumental task, far and away the greatest humanity has yet faced. However, having to adapt to 4C by the 2050s “gives us half as much time to adapt to a new climate and that must have massive implications.”
He’s not kidding. There isn’t a snowball’s chance of adaptation on that level being achieved in 40 years or less, even if the world could actually immediately agree to do so. That’s why, no matter how dire these scientific forecasts sound, we have to stay focused on massive, immediate decarbonisation.
It’s no longer about “stopping” climate change. Now it’s about buying a few decades to try to cope with the worst. There’s a thought to concentrate the mind ahead of the Lisbon referendum this Friday. Whatever chance we have with the EU fully engaged in getting a serious deal in Copenhagen in December will be pretty much scuttled if Ireland deliver the coup de grace to European integration this week.