GUEST POST BY SOU AT HOTWHOPPER
It’s not just deniers who have sunk to a new low. Scientific American has too. The magazine made something of a mockery of a collection of in-depth articles about climate change by including an article from science disinformer Matt Ridley.
I’m told Matt’s article is only in the online edition, not the print edition, but it shouldn’t have been in either. Matt claimed (despite all evidence that already we are seeing extreme weather disasters from global warming) that ‘Climate Change Will Not Be Dangerous for a Long Time’. The publication is timed to coincide with the COP21 conference currently taking place in Paris.
The misleading headline is really bad and something I’d never expected to see at the once admired magazine. Matt Ridley’s article is full of the sort of nonsense you’d expect to read on climate conspiracy blogs. It starts with:
“The climate change debate has been polarized into a simple dichotomy. Either global warming is ‘real, man-made and dangerous,’ as Pres. Barack Obama thinks, or it’s a ‘hoax,’ as Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe thinks. But there is a third possibility: that it is real, man-made and not dangerous, at least not for a long time.”
Matt then elaborates on why he thinks that there won’t be any danger for a long time, despite the fact that it’s already dangerous.
He wrote: “If sensitivity is low and climate change continues at the same rate as it has over the past 50 years, then dangerous warming—usually defined as starting at 2 degrees C above preindustrial levels—is about a century away.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR MATT ‘KING COAL‘ RIDLEY INVESTIGATION
“So we do not need to rush into subsidizing inefficient and land-hungry technologies, such as wind and solar or risk depriving poor people access to the beneficial effects of cheap electricity via fossil fuels.”
Given that Matt already acknowledged that CO2 alone, without any feedbacks, will raise surface temperature by 1 °C when doubled, then his “low sensitivity” is likely to be in excess of 1.5 °C. It’s more likely to be between 2 °C and 4.5 °C, with 2 °C as the “low sensitivity”.
If that’s the case, then without action to reduce emissions and depending on how much CO2 is left in the atmosphere, the global mean surface temperature will be 2 °C above the pre-industrial before the end of this century.
If sensitivity is 2.6 °C or more, then with no action other than the pledges in Paris, the global mean surface temperature will be around 3.5 °C above pre-industrial by 2100, and rising.
That’s not all. Climate change depends on the amount of CO2 in the air, and it’s continuing to accumulate. It’s already hit 400 ppmv. If Matt wants climate change to “continue at the same rate as it has over the past 50 years” then he’ll have to reduce the rate of emissions sufficient to keep it at that rate. But Matt doesn’t want to do that. He wants to increase emissions.
Matt wants to give “poor people access to the beneficial effects of cheap electricity via fossil fuels”. That means that he wants to increase emissions a whole lot more.
Here’s an “if” for Matt Ridley. What happens if he is so successful in getting people all over to take up (or switch) to fossil fuels that by 2050 everyone in the world emits the same amount of CO2 as the average currently emitted by each person in the USA?
What if the population of the world increased to the expected 9.7 billion people by 2050 and by 2050, everyone consumed the same amount of fossil fuel energy as is currently consumed by people living in the USA?
Here are the assumptions, some being very conservative*:
- World population increases as projected in the UN 2015 World Population Projections to reach 9.7 billion people in 2050
- By 2015, on average, every person on earth emits the same as the average per capita in the USA at present – 17 tonnes of CO2 (via World Bank)
- The annual total emissions would rise from 32 gigatonnes of CO2 in 2014 to an annual amount of 164.9 gigatonnes in 2050, an increase of 515%
- *Approximately half the CO2 emissions continue to be taken up at the surface by oceans, inland waterways, plants and micro-organisms, and this proportion doesn’t decline (conservative assumption)
- *Atmospheric CO2 therefore increases by the same proportion, 515%, by 2050, going from 400 ppm to 2061 ppm (conservative assumption)
- *There is no massive increase in other greenhouse gases such as methane from melting permafrost or other sources (conservative assumption)
- *Climate sensitivity is low – there is only a 2 °C rise in temperature from a doubling of CO2 (conservative assumption)
- There is no lag in the rise in surface temperature.
Even at Matt’s “low sensitivity” of, say, 2 °C rise in temperature from a doubling of CO2, this increase would result in an increase of about 6 °C over pre-industrial. Here’s a crude chart showing what will happen if Matt Ridley is successful in getting everyone in the world to emit the same amount of CO2 as is currently emitted per capita in the USA.
Here’s a crude chart showing what will happen if Matt Ridley is successful in getting everyone in the world to emit the same amount of CO2 as is currently emitted per capita in the USA.
A 6 °C rise in global mean surface temperature means that much of the land surface becomes uninhabitable, because it’s too hot and humid for homeotherms like mammals (including humans.
Sea level will continue to rise as the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica collapse. Because so much of the planet is uninhabitable, society disintegrates. In fact, civilisation disintegrates. Therefore there won’t be much more burning of fossil fuels.
There may be pockets of functioning or partly functioning societies, but they cannot easily communicate with each other because of general societal breakdown plus the collapse of communications infrastructure. That’s not to say that some bright sparks won’t try to geo-engineer their way out of the catastrophe.
These efforts will have unknown consequences. It could be that they are too successful and plunge the world into a premature ice age, hastening the demise of humanity.
Is that what you want, Matt Ridley?