The central problem which the world faces in its attempts to avoid catastrophic climate change is a contrast of time scales. In order to save human civilization and the biosphere from the most catastrophic effects of climate change we need to act immediately. Fossil fuels must be left in the ground. Forests must be saved from destruction by beef or palm oil production.
These vitally necessary actions are opposed by powerful economic interests, by powerful fossil fuel corporations desperate to monetize their underground “assets,” and by corrupt politicians receiving money the beef or palm oil industries.
However, although some disastrous effects climate change are already visible, the worst of these calamities lie in the distant future. Therefore it is difficult to mobilize the political will for quick action. We need to act immediately, because of the danger of passing tipping points beyond which climate change will become irreversible despite human efforts to control it.
Tipping points are associated with feedback loops, such as the albedo effect and the methane hydrate feedback loop. The albedo effect is important in connection with whether the sunlight falling on polar seas is reflected or absorbed. While ice remains, most of the sunlight is reflected, but as areas of sea surface become ice-free, more sunlight is absorbed, leading to rising temperatures and further melting of sea ice, and so on, in a loop.
The methane hydrate feedback loop involves vast quantities of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, CH4, frozen in a crystalline form surrounded by water molecules. 10,000 gigatons of methane hydrates are at present locked in Arctic tundra or the continental shelves of the world’s oceans. Although oceans warm very slowly because of thermal inertia, the long-term dangers from the initiation of a methane-hydrate feedback loop are very great. There is a danger that a very large-scale anthropogenic extinction event could be initiated unless immediate steps are taken to drastically reduce the release of greenhouse cases.
Only immediate climate action can save the future
Immediate action to halt the extraction of fossil fuels and greatly reduce the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses is needed to save the long-term future of human civilization and the biosphere.
At the opening ceremony of United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Katowice, Poland, Sir David Attenborough said “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years. Climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. The world’s people have spoken. Their message is clear. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now.”
Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said climate change was already “a matter of life and death” for many countries. He added that the world is “nowhere near where it needs to be” on the transition to a low-carbon economy.
The world is burning!
Although the worst threats from catastrophic climate change lie in the long-term future, we are starting to see the effects of climate change today.
California is burning! Together, blazes in California, Oregon and Washington have burned more than 5.8 million acres, a spokesman and a report from the NIFC say. California Gov. Gavin Newsom says climate change is to blame.
The Arctic is burning! A northeastern Siberian town, north of the Arctic Circle, is likely to have set a record for the highest temperature documented in the Arctic, with a reading of 100.4 degrees (38 Celsius) recorded in June, 2020. The dangerous greenhouse gas methane is bubbling up from melting permafrost in the Arctic and from the shallow seas north of Siberia. Furthermore, wildfires in the Arctic are emitting an unprecedented amount of CO2.
The 2020 hurricane season has started early, notably with Laura, and it is predicted to be unusually severe. Greenland’s ice sheet is melting. Ice shelves are collapsing in the Antarctic. But despite these obvious signs of danger, the climate emergency is hardly mentioned in the 2020 political campaigns, or in U.S. mass media. It ought to be a central issue.
Greta Thunberg’s 2019 speech at Davos
Here are some quotations from the speech of world-famous teenage climate activist Greta:
“Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire. According to the IPCC, we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes. In that time, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50%…
“Here in Davos—just like everywhere else—everyone is talking about money.
It seems money and growth are our only main concerns.
“And since the climate crisis has never once been treated as a crisis, people are simply not aware of the full consequences on our everyday life. People are not aware that there is such a thing as a carbon budget, and just how incredibly small that remaining carbon budget is. That needs to change today.
“No other current challenge can match the importance of establishing a wide, public awareness and understanding of our rapidly disappearing carbon budget, that should and must become our new global currency and the very heart of our future and present economics.
“We are at a time in history where everyone with any insight of the climate crisis that threatens our civilization—and the entire biosphere—must speak out in clear language, no matter how uncomfortable and unprofitable that may be.
“We must change almost everything in our current societies. The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility.”
A new freely downloadable book
I would like to announce the publication of a new book, which discusses the ecological crisis that we face today. The book may be downloaded free of charge and freely circulated.
John Scales Avery is a theoretical chemist at the University of Copenhagen. He is noted for his books and research publications in quantum chemistry, thermodynamics, evolution, and history of science. His 2003 book Information Theory and Evolution set forth the view that the phenomenon of life, including its origin, evolution, as well as human cultural evolution, has its background situated in the fields of thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and information theory. Since 1990 he has been the Chairman of the Danish National Group of Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Between 2004 and 2015 he also served as Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy. He founded the Journal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes, and was for many years its Managing Editor. He also served as Technical Advisor to the World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988-1997).