Friday, 21 March 2008

Declaration of Climate Emergency!

We need a global Declaration of Climate Emergency!

(shortened from original article posted on, 11 Feb 2008)

Climate scientists have discovered that the rate of polar ice loss is accelerating unexpectedly and current atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has reached a tipping point for complete loss of Arctic sea ice in as little as 5 years.

Positive feedback elements mean that the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets are threatened and the world faces the real possibility of huge sea level rises in the coming decades (6 meters by 2100) and catastrophe for ecosystems, species survival, sustainability and humanity. This is a climate emergency that warrants an immediate world Declaration of Climate Emergency.

In December 2007 the Bali Climate Change Conference attempted to set targets for reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution by developed countries. However the Bali Conference was wrecked by the United States, with the assistance of its allies Canada and Australia. These three climate criminal countries lead the developed world in per capita greenhouse gas pollution but were selfishly and irresponsibly insistent that there should be no greenhouse reduction targets for them.

Recent developments in climatology have made the whole idea of “greenhouse gas emission reduction targets” (e.g. 20% by 2020, 80% by 2050) proposed in the much publicised 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as quite irrelevant.

Just as the melting of polar ice sheets and sea ice is proceeding at an accelerating rate, so is the scientific identification of the acute danger to the planet. According to top US and UK scientists it is no longer a matter even of “zero emissions” but of “negative CO2 emissions” to return the earth to a sustainable and safe atmospheric CO2 concentration of 300-350 ppm (parts per million).

In the last few years scientists have discovered that the rate of melting of the Arctic sea ice and of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets has been much greater than predicted. But this research was not factored into the IPCC’s 2007 report (which many governments, including NZ, are basing their climate change policies on) because the “cut off point” for scientific literature was 2005. This fact, combined with intense pressure from Bush administration meant that the report and its predictions were much too conservative.

Climate scientists such as Dr James Hansen from NASA have found that water from melted ice is lubricating and speeding up the movement of glaciers to the sea. While the so-called “albedo flip” involving converting light-reflecting white ice to light-absorbing dark sea is increasing the temperature in the Arctic and providing a positive feedback to further increase the melting of sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet.

Thus Dr Hansen says that the “tipping point” for the melting of Arctic ice has already been reached at the current 385 ppm atmospheric CO2 and it is apparent that the present atmospheric CO2 concentration is sufficient to completely remove summer-time Arctic sea ice (some scientists say this may be completely gone by as early as 2013, a mere 5 years away).

However most alarming is the potential instability of large ice sheets, especially those of West Antarctica and Greenland. Hansen says: “If disintegration of these ice sheets passes their tipping points, dynamical collapse could proceed out of our control. If it melts completely, West Antarctica alone contains enough water to cause about 20 feet (6 meters) of sea-level rise.”
This expert declaration of a climate emergency means that the December 2007 Bali-wrecking Australian, US and Canadian position of “no 2020 targets” was a gross insult to humanity. However the harsh reality is that even the strongest Bali CO2 emission reduction targets (80% by 2050) won’t be enough.

Unaddressed CO2 pollution and global warming will have a devastating effect on global malnutrition and poverty. Already 16 million people die avoidably each year due to deprivation and deprivation exacerbated disease. However a combination of climate change, decreased agricultural yields in the tropics, peak oil and the US biofuel perversion and competition for global food by India and China have dramatically increased global grain prices. This is already contributing to global avoidable mortality.

Asia and Africa are facing a huge immediate threat from increases in the price of grain, a result of the diversion of grain production into biofuel in response to peak oil, the perception of peak oil and global warming considerations. The horrible actuality is that scientists have recently found that biofuel is not CO2 neutral. According to a study, co-authored by Dr Joe Fargione, “converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a biofuel carbon debt by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels they replace".

The good news is that (a) the solar energy incident upon the Earth is about 10,000 times the amount of energy man presently uses and (b) the latest technologies – concentrated solar, silicon photovoltaics, non-silicon thin-film photovoltaics, wind, wave, tidal power and geothermal technologies – are able to exploit this huge resource.

The politicians refuse to lead - so the people must lead.

Dr Gideon Polya has published some 130 works in a four decade scientific career.

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