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September 24, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Change We Can Believe In

Understanding The Time-Frames Of Climate Change

Our planet has been here for a long time. A rather long time. Approximately 13.75 billion years in fact. In comparison, the amount of time we anatomically modern humans have been waddling about is rather small, a mere 200,000 years. Even if you prefer to go by when Adam and Eve were created, you’re still looking at over 6000 years of humans bumbling their way around the world. Yet in the space of 262 years, we have managed to do some pretty crazy things to this planet.

We got a little freakay, and started to make things hot. Because we figured out that we could burn fossilised sunlight. The industrial revolution was to greenhouse gas emissions what Viagra is to the mature man. It sent everything skywards. There is no turning back, and if we are to survive this ride, a peak must be reached.

We’ve known about climate change for a while. Joseph Fourier figured out the greenhouse effect in 1824, and by 1895 a Swiss chap by the  name Svante Arrhenius had twigged that humans could enhance it. We started measuring the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in 1958, modelling it in the ’60s and by the end of the ’80s it had become pretty clear that if we didn’t stop burning fossilised sunlight it might change the way that the planet functions. Even Her Royal Majesty had heard something was happening, giving it a mention in her 1989 Christmas Broadcast. But tick, tock, tick, tock goes the Poodlwaddles’ ‘World Clock’.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are generally considered to know where it’s at. Their Assessment Report 4, issued in 2007 is home to the latest, cheeriest facts. Unfortunately, scientists can’t know for sure what will happen, because the amount of variables is ridiculous. There are a lot of unknowns, but basically we really need to limit warming to 22C.

This is our time frame:

To do this would require at least a 50 per cent reduction in 2000 level emission by 2040, with emissions peaking by 2015. Yet it is predicted that emissions will increase by 25-80 per cent by 2030, for it looks like it could take humanity a while to shake this off.

Most scenarios projected the increase in global temperature over the next two decades is 0.22C per decade. If emissions continue to rise at the present rate, temperatures could increase by 42C by 2100. And if we don’t manage to peak our emissions until 2090, we could be looking at 6.12C temperature increase with an accompanying sea level rise of up to 3.7 metres (although this is in the major long- term).

Unfortunately for those left to inherit this—or in fact the 2,500 people of the Carteret Islands who were declared Climate Refugees in 2005—the time to take action on climate change was yesterday.  By 2020 it is predicted that in Africa 75-250 million may experience increased water stress and a 50 per cent decline in rain fed agricultural yields.page26image39216

Depending on who you talk to, by 2050 it is estimated that there will be between 200 million and one billion climate refugees. In our life time, things could start to look shitty. Very shitty, especially in Asia, where amongst other things, “Endemic morbidity and mortality due to diarrhoeal disease primarily associated with floods and droughts are expected to rise”—as the IPCC put it.

All in the space of 300 years. Yet we’ve known how to solve this for a while, the technology is there.
We just need politicians and people like us to realise its high time we started to invest in a low carbon future. ▲

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