Earth 2100

In 2100 my son will be the same age my father is now. When my father was born the world was emitting just under a billion tonnes of carbon per year. When my son was born we were emitting almost 9 billion tonnes a year and global CO2 levels had increased by about 30%.

Questions:

  1. How old is my son?
  2. How old is my father?
  3. What will the world be like in 2100?

The first part of the IPCC report came out last Friday. It said:

Increase of global mean surface temperatures for 2081–2100 relative to 1986–2005 is projected to likely be in the ranges derived from the concentration driven CMIP5 model simulations, that is, 0.3°C to 1.7°C (RCP2.6), 1.1°C to 2.6°C (RCP4.5), 1.4°C to 3.1°C (RCP6.0), 2.6°C to 4.8°C (RCP8.5).

What does that mean? This is in their summary for policymakers document, but they’re not exactly spelling it out for policymakers in that sentence. I would quite like some document that just tells me what things are going to be like for someone living in 2100 in plain and simple language, none of these complex scenarios and projections and degrees of confidence. But I suppose that’s the way it is. How things are going to be in 2100 depends on what we do over the coming years as well as on certain things beyond our control.

Those RCPs are the Representative Concentration Pathways, projections of emissions relating to various scenarios. So RCP 2.6 would be where we drastically cut emissions whereas RCP 8.5 is a pretty much business as usual, carry on burning the fossil fuels until they run out kind of world.

For some light relief, but still hoping to find out the answer to question 3 (have you worked out the answers to 1 and 2 yet?) I watched the ABC documentary Earth 2100. That’s what came up when I did a search, and I was a bit tentative but it came across as quite plausable, intercutting talking head experts with a cartoon strip following a fictional character, Lucy, born in 2009.

They said it was a worst case scenario, but it’s what the course we’re currently on is leading us to as far as I can tell, the RCP8.5 one. Deniers would say no, RCP my arse! It’ll be nothing like that. That’s just scaremongering. Even if this few degrees of warming happens it’s not going to make much difference, or it’ll make things better.

But the documentary suggested that the changes that would come about as a result of a few degrees of global warming would be significant, and there’s plenty of science that backs up that view.

The Anderson & Bows paper “Beyond Dangerous Climate Change” says:

The analysis suggests that despite high-level statements to the contrary, there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature at or below 2◦C. Moreover, the impacts associated with 2◦C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2◦C now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change

dangerous climate change

So all this talk we get from our governments about how they’re committed to keep temperatures below this 2 degree threshold because that’s what the scientists have told them is the danger point, beyond which you really don’t want to go – there’s no way we’re going to hit that target, but even if we did, given what we now know things would still get pretty dire.

But what does pretty dire mean? And would it just be pretty dire for other people, people in other countries where things are already pretty dire anyway, or would it get pretty dire for us as well? Perhaps one of the troubles with getting action on climate change is that the ones causing it are largely living in places where a climate that’s a few degrees warmer wouldn’t be unwelcome, where cold is seen as a bigger threat.

In the ABC documentary Lucy starts her life living in Florida, so she does feel some of the early effects of climate change. Her family then moves to San Diego, also pretty warm. I would’ve thought they’d head north rather than west, but then what was happening in Florida at the time (only a couple of years from now in the story) was not obviously to do with global warming.

Out west, the problems are of water shortages and illegal immigration from Mexico, both things that are already happening and each could be dismissed as having nothing to do with global warming. More so when the problems become more human, when there’s fighting over dwindling resources, the price of food is rising, then our attention tends to focus on rights or wrongs of the human response and we’re blinded to what it is people are responding to. Or we choose not to see.

When it becomes clear, then it’s too late and the nations of the world resort to desperate measures.

I felt one of the flaws of the programme was the ineptness of the attempted geo-engineering. This, the programme’s fictional scenario suggested, happened in around 2070, planes spraying the atmosphere with sulphur in a last ditch effort to bring down temperatures. I’d have thought they’d have been working seriously on geo-engineering for a while prior to 2070 and would have come up with some better methods than that. Even if the public were in denial up to that point, scientists and many in the government and industry would have been aware of what was happening and would have been looking for solutions, as some are now. What’s more, if Moore’s Law continues and computers get cleverer and cleverer then by then computers (if they’d still be called computers) would have surpassed us in intelligence and we’d have just handed over the running of our planet to them.

Or perhaps humans would jealously hang onto control and would just use the intelligent machines for advice, perhaps sometimes ignoring their advice and making a mess of things.

But would the intelligent machines then step in like a parent and say, well OK, we understand you want your independence but you’ve proven you’re not capable of running your own planet so we’re going to do it for you, whether you like it or not. It’s for your own good.

Guardian-lifetime-temperatures