11 August 2020

Canary in the coalmine: A former senior fosil fuel executive speaks out

by Ian Dunlop

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This post is the introduction, by Ian Dunlop, to the publication this week by Breakthrough of a collection of Ian's media commentary articles.  Ian is is a senior member of the Breakthrough Advisory Board and a Member of the Club of Rome. He was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is co-author of “What Lies Beneath: the understatement of existential climate risk”, and of the Club of Rome’s “Climate Emergency Plan”.

This publication brings together some of my commentaries over the last three years on the need for real action on climate change. Not the normal variety of political action, but an emergency approach, akin to a wartime level of response, which before long will have to be adopted as impacts escalate around this hot, dry and vulnerable continent, and around the world.

Climate change is now an existential risk to humanity which, unless addressed immediately as a genuine emergency, will likely destroy civilisation as we know it within decades. We are not going to let that happen. 

28 July 2020

Are worst-case climate scenarios less likely, as media reports of a new scientific paper suggest?


by David Spratt

Reading the media reporting of a new scientific paper released on 22 July, it was easy to get the impression that some “worse-case” climate warming possibilities are now off the agenda. “So this is good news?” a friend emailed. “No” was my answer.

It would be a grave mistake, and an illustration of how media reporting can get complex climate stories wrong, to find good news in this research. 

The research in question is “An assessment of Earth’s climate sensitivity using multiple lines of evidence”. Climate sensitivity is the amount of warming to be expected from a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found the range was 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (°C).

09 July 2020

As warming approaches 1.5°C, talk of a carbon budget for the Paris targets is delusional

by David Spratt

There's a lot of delusional talk about how much "carbon budget" (or new emissions) are allowable that would still keep global heating to the Paris target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C). The reality is that over the last year, global average warming was already close to 1.5°C, based on a true, pre-industrial baseline.

And the warming already in the system may well be enough to take the planet past 2°C, without any more emissions. The propositions pushed by governments, big business and many large climate movement NGOs that we have a "carbon budget" available for the Paris targets runs contrary to the evidence and suggests a world of politically convenient make-believe. 

Figure 1: Global warming July-to-June, illustrated here with a
1981-2010 baseline.  Image by CarbonBrief.

Here's why:
  • According to CopernicusECMWF, globally, the twelve-month period from July 2019 to June 2020 was 0.65°C warmer than the 1981-2010 average (see chart above).
  • Then 0.63°C should be added to these values to relate recent global temperatures to the pre-industrial level defined as a late 19th century baseline.
  • So warming for the period July 2019-June 2020 is 1.28°C, compared to the late19th  century, for which instrumental temperature records are available from 1850.  This ties with the warmest year on record.
  • But there was also warming from the start of the industrial revolution and the use of coal from the mid-eighteenth century, up to the end of the nineteenth century. That figure ranges up to 0.19°C, according to Importance of the pre-industrial baseline for likelihood of exceeding Paris goals
  • And new research published last year found that gaps with missing data in the observational temperature record are responsible for an underestimation of the global warming between 1881–1910 and 1986–2015 by 0.1°C.
  • Adding up all those components takes the warming over the last year, from a true pre-industrial base, very close to the lower end of the 1.5-2°C Paris goal, whilst recognising there is some uncertainty about warming in the pre-1850 period. 

02 July 2020

Canberra unprepared for climate upheavals that will rock the nation

By David Sprat, first published at RenewEconomy

Covid-19 should teach us the value of being fully prepared for catastrophic risks, but on climate disruption risks the Australian Government is walking blindfolded off a cliff.


Unprecedented bushfires, Covid-19 and climate warming all raise the question of the preparedness of governments to deal with catastrophic risks, and what allows nations to successfully respond to big crises.

Those lauding the Australian Government for its pandemic response overlook the fact that, early on, this nation may have been on the disastrous "herd immunity" policy path. On 15 March, the Chief Medical Officer defended keeping schools open because “if they (school children) are getting infected and they’re perfectly well, whilst they might spread it, it also creates a herd immunity”. Australia appears to have changed course due to the stronger advocacy by State premiers, and the alarming early evidence from Italy and Spain about the consequences when the virus takes hold of a population.

In his recent book, Upheaval: How nations cope with crisis and change, geographer and anthropologist Jarod Diamond concludes that the key predictors of success in facing crises are “acknowledgment rather than denial of a crisis’s reality; acceptance of responsibility to take action; and honest self-appraisal”, plus the “presence or absence of a shared national identity” which can help a nation’s people recognise shared self-interest and unite in overcoming a crisis.

06 May 2020

Covid-19 climate lessons

by David Spratt and Alia Armsitead
This post is the concluding section of a discussion paper, Covid-19 climate lessons, just published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration.
Download the discussion paper
The novel coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has striking parallels with climate disruption.

The threat was well known and catastrophic, even existential. History’s valuable lessons were ignored. Researchers were clear on what needed to be done, and how to respond. The UN had devoted a whole section to the issue, governments ran risk scenarios and national security analysts warned of the consequences. The developed world had the capacity to be ready. And to support less prosperous nations, or should have been.

When it became fatal, it was conceived by wealthy nations as a threat somewhere else, because they were insulated. Then there was the denial, the delay, wanting to avoid any economic dislocation. Modern society was good at research, solutions would appear, no need to panic. Humans had tamed nature.

16 April 2020

Fatal calculations: How bad economics encouraged climate inaction

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Pandemics and climate disruption are existential risks that require that particular emphasis be placed on the high-impact possibilities, not middle-of-the road outcomes. Released today by Breakthrough, Fatal calculations: How economics has underestimated climate damage and encouraged inaction, shows how economists  have ignored the real risks of climate change.  This is the introduction to the report.

by David Spratt and Alia Armistead

At the heart of global policymaking is a concern that mitigation should not be economically disruptive or curtail future growth in production. Perhaps as a consequence, and in order to mesh with this policy paradigm, the economic methods of analysis applied to climate change have underestimated the risks and provided reasons to delay action.

The evidence is all around us. Listen to most governments and business leaders, and especially those nations with a large carbon footprint, and the climate conversation for decades has been about taking it slowly; of incremental policy change that does not rock the economic boat, cost jobs, disturb growth or disadvantage significant national industries.  With minimal discussion about the jobs and growth that will be destroyed in a hotter world.

05 March 2020

Scott Morrison's duty is to protect the Australian people. There is no greater threat than climate disruption

Our government continues to focus on the supposedly horrendous cost of climate action without mentioning the benefits 


by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop, first published by The Guardian

The first duty of a government is to protect the people. There is no greater threat than climate disruption as the world heads to 3C or more warming, possibly by mid-century, yet the prime minister is unwilling to explain the implications.

Asked by Zali Steggall in parliament recently about the costs of 3C of warming, Scott Morrison replied that “we do understand there are costs associated with climate change”, but was incapable of saying what they were.

17 February 2020

A climate reality update at 2020 emergency summit




2000 people attended an inspiring two-day National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne on 14-15 February. Here is my contribution to the opening plenary, "The New Climate Reality Check”, a session I shared with Michael E. Mann and facilitated by Jo Chandler.

by David Spratt

Since mid-2018, understanding of the climate emergency has exploded globally. Everybody is talking about it. The Oxford Dictionary named “climate emergency” as its Word of the Year for 2019, and more than 1100 national, regional and local governments in 25 countries have declared a climate emergency.


Understanding of the emergency and the existential risks have been driven by many factors, including: the local government campaigns; Greta Thunberg’s brutally direct language and the StudentStrike4Climate movement; and the advocacy of The Climate Mobilisation in the US and Extinction Rebellion; and campaigns such as those for a Green New Deal.


02 December 2019

Leading climate researchers: we are in a climate emergency, facing existential risks

Tipping points and potential domino effects
by David Spratt

Last week a new paper in Nature caused a stir and world-wide headlines, and for good reason.

“Climate tipping points - too risky to bet against” by Lenton, Rockstrom, Gaffney, Rahmstrof, Richardson, Steffen and Schellnhuber look at the “evidence on the threat of exceeding (climate system) tipping points, and whether we still have any control over them” because this “helps to define that we are in a climate emergency.”

Now this will be familiar territory to regular readers of this blog. Philip Sutton and I used this language almost 12 years ago in the book “Climate Code Red”, and we have witnessed a recent mass engagement in this idea, including climate emergency declarations by more than 1200 councils around the world, the Oxford Dictionary naming “climate emergency” its word of the year, the resolution last week by the European Parliament, and much more.

21 November 2019

Climate emergency (2): The scientific case

by David Spratt. Second in a series

Part 1 |

Our climate is already too hot, with dangerous heatwaves and bushfires, droughts and crop failures, and coastal flooding becoming more intense and destructive.

Accelerating climate warming could result in social breakdown and global economic crisis.

But Australia’s government, held back by vested interests, is failing to protect us and the things we care about.

Like other emergencies, together we need to take every possible effort to restore a safe, healthy climate. We have the resources and knowledge to succeed.

If the government makes climate its primary focus and strives to make big changes within a decade, and the community makes a wholehearted effort, we can succeed.

Is climate an emergency?

An emergency situation is a threat to people, property and/or society that has the potential to overwhelm them. So why has climate warming now reached this emergency condition?

With the present level of warming — 1.1°C higher than the late-nineteenth century — the Earth is already too hot and unsafe: we are in danger now, not just in the future. Catastrophic heatwaves and bushfires, droughts and crop failures, and cyclones and coastal flooding are reaching around the globe: from the Mediterranean to Mozambique, from south Asia to the Philippines, in the Pacific and across the United States.

18 November 2019

Climate emergency (1): “Something has shifted”

Welcome to this “rough guide” blog series on the climate emergency and climate emergency campaigning. This series looks at some of the questions frequently asked about the topic: what does the science say, what is an emergency, does the climate crisis fit the bill, what can councils do, how can we talk about it, what needs to be done, what about business, can the political system deal with an issue this big? And many more. Climate emergency campaigning is relatively new. There are not too many recent precedents about how to achieve a change in society’s normal functioning to solve an overwhelming threat.
by David Spratt. First in a series.

Contemporary culture is fast-moving and unsettled. From constant digital disruption and precarious employment to insecurity about nations’ and peoples’ places in a globalised world, and changing expressions of identity, we live in a world that is restless.

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes of a “self-propelling, self-intensifying, compulsive and obsessive ‘modernisation’, as a result of which, like liquid, none of the consecutive forms of social life is able to maintain its shape for long.”

Twenty-first century consumerist culture is fashioned to fit individual freedom of choice, and to ensure that responsibility for choice and its consequences are on the shoulders of the individual, rather than society.

Bauman describes a world of hyper-consumption: “Culture today is engaged in laying down temptations, luring and seducing, sowing and planting new needs and desires, a demand for constant change, serving the turnover-oriented consumer market.” Culture manifests itself as “a repository of goods, competing for the unbearably fleeting and distracted attention of potential clients”.
It is difficult to try and keep up. For many people, it is unsatisfying and seems out of control.

“Staying alive in  the future”

Add in the darkening clouds of climate disruption, the degradation of Earth’s natural systems, and the proximity of the sixth mass extinction event in history, and it is not difficult to understand why people are disturbed about the future. Mental health issues are projected to be the biggest epidemic in the West this century. Deep concern about environmental and social crises are affecting more and more people.

15 October 2019

“We would never board a plane if we only arrive in half the cases, but this is the method in international climate policymaking”


Introduction: The energy transformation in Germany, widely known as the Energiewende, is the country’s planned transition to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy.  It is a national government strategy and implementation process, and an associated magazine Energiewende Magazin. The following interview for Energiewende is online. Below is a translation. The interview will appear in the next issue of Energiewende Magazin.  The content relates to the Breakthrough What Lies Beneath report and the recent three-degree security, risk and climate scenario papers. They will be the cover story.  It is a sign of a changing perceptions that a primary communication tool of the German government’s climate/energy transition strategy is featuring a strong critique of UN climate policy-making processes, existential risk and IPCC reticence.

18 August 2019

At 4°C of warming, would a billion people survive? What scientists say.

Courtesy: The Guardian
by David Spratt

In a way it’s an obscene question: if the planet warms by 4 degrees Celsius (°C), would only a billion
people survive and many billions perish?  Obscene in the sense of the obscenity of arguing about the exact body count from a genocide. In the end it’s about the immorality, the crime, the responsibility, not the precise numbers.

But it’s a relevant question, in that Earth is heading towards 4°C  of warming, based on emission reduction commitments so far. The Paris commitments are a path of warming of around 3.3°C, but that does not include some carbon cycle feedbacks that have already become active (e.g. permafrost, Amazon, other declines in carbon store efficiency) which would push that warming towards 5°C. So saying we are presently on a 4°C path is about right.

10 August 2019

Australia’s climate stance is inflicting criminal damage on humanity

Courtesy: The Guardian
 by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt, first published at The Guardian

The top priority of government is security of the people. Yet on the greatest threat of all, most governments are failing abysmally.

As the global influence of western democracies wanes with the ascendancy of China, India and other emerging countries, the resulting power struggle is diverting attention from the great issues the world faces, to their symptoms.

The neoliberal market economy, with its unregulated consumption and rapacious short-term outlook, is destroying modern civilisation. The warning signs are obvious, not least burgeoning high-consuming populations, massive biodiversity loss and multiple resource scarcities. Yet rather than reform an unsustainable system, political leaders scramble to prop it up and compound the problem. The result is Brexit, Trump’s Mexican wall, escalating Middle East tension, the US-China trade standoff, a global arms and space race, Amazon deforestation and much more.

29 July 2019

Climate emergency new update

Period ending 29 July 2019

DECLARATIONS UPDATE
bit.ly/ce-councils
No of councils/states to declare/recognise climate emergency: 888
No of countries covered: 18
Population covered by councils:  205.8 million people

QUEENSLAND
Why this south-east Queensland council declared a ‘climate emergency'
https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/why-this-south-east-queensland-council-declared-a-climate-emergency-20190724-p52acd.html

MELBOURNE
Melbourne Declares Climate Emergency, Vows To Listen To The Rightfully Pissed-Off Youth
https://www.pedestrian.tv/news/climate-emergency-melbourne-council-extinction-rebellion/

24 July 2019

Giving climate impacts the third degree

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The following is the introduction to a new discussion paper, The third degree: Supporting evidence & Implications for Australia of  existential climate-related security risk, released today by Breakthrough.
by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop

 Since the Paris climate conference in 2015, much time has been devoted to scenarios for 1.5°C to 2°C of climate warming. That’s not surprising, because limiting warming to the range of 1.5–2°C was the Paris goal, and there has since been the 2018 special IPCC report on 1.5°C.

What hasn’t been spelt out clearly is that 1.5°C is not a good outcome: it would mean coral systems reduced to fragments, a multi-metre sea-level rise on the way, Pacific nations drowned, more lethal extreme weather, and glaciers in Antarctica passed their tipping points, just for starters.

17 June 2019

Is humanity dying?

The recent release of the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration policy paper on "Existential climate-related security risk" attracted a lot of media coverage: from the Guardian, Independent, New Scientist and Al-Jazeera to CNN,  CNS and ABC in the USA, amongst others. And there was a lot of coverage in northern Europe, especially Germany, from where this story comes. It was one of the most thoughtful pieces of journalism on the report. It appeared in KlimaReporter as Stirbt die Menschheit aus? Translation thanks to Dr Google.

Download the policy paper
Is humanity dying?
by  Christian Mihatsch, Climate reporter, 9 June 2019

The climate crisis is becoming increasingly apocalyptic. It is unlikely that our civilization will end soon — but possible. And this possibility is still receiving too little attention.

The perception of the climate problem is currently changing rapidly. The term "climate change" is increasingly being replaced by "climate crisis", and instead of "warming", what will probably prevail is "climate overheating" or a similar term. But is it appropriate to speak of the end of our civilization or even the extinction of humanity?

Some of the most important climate movements are doing just that. Extinction Rebellion is already carrying extinction in its name and the movement's first call is: Tell the truth and explain the state of emergency.

14 June 2019

Climate Emergency: What is safe, the 1.5º target, and is the end nigh?



Recently I did a talk for Extinction Rebellion Melbourne with the title “Climate Emergency: What is safe, the 1.5º target, and is the end nigh?”? (Answer to last bit: no!)

A video of the talk is now available at youtu.be/KyLgCr3Drh4

The talk is around 25 minutes, followed by Q and A. 

- David Spratt

03 June 2019

We must mobilise for the climate emergency like we do in wartime. Where is the climate minister?

Canberra, February 2009
by Ian Dunlop and David Spratt, first published at The Guardian

The second Morrison ministry contains no one with nominal responsibility for “climate” in any sense, despite the fact that it is the greatest threat facing the country. Angus Taylor, who spent much of his pre-parliamentary career fighting windfarms, claiming repeatedly that there is “too much wind and solar” in the system, is now minister for energy and emissions reduction. No mention of climate here, despite the fact that climate is what it is all about, or should be.

Sussan Ley has been made the environment minister but more intriguing, David Littleproud is minister for water resources, drought, rural finance, natural disaster and emergency management. Let’s take another look at this: water (or lack thereof) … drought … disaster … emergency management.

30 May 2019

Can we think in new ways about the existential human security risks driven by the climate crisis?

Note: This post is the foreword to a policy paper on existential climate and security risks released today by Breakthrough. It is written by Retired Admiral Chris Barrie, who was Chief of the Australian Defence Force from 1998 to 2002.
by Admiral Chris Barrie, AC RAN Retired

In 2017-18, the Australian Senate inquired into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security. The Inquiry found that climate change is “a current and existential national security risk”, one that “threatens the premature extinction of Earth- originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development”.

I told the Inquiry that, after nuclear war, human- induced global warming is the greatest threat to human life on the planet. Today’s 7.5 billion human beings are already the most predatory species that ever existed, yet the global population has yet to peak and may reach 10 billion people, with dire implications absent a fundamental change in human behaviour.

This policy paper looks at the existential climate-related security risk through a scenario set thirty years into the future. David Spratt and Ian Dunlop have laid bare the unvarnished truth about the desperate situation humans, and our planet, are in, painting a disturbing picture of the real possibility that human life on earth may be on the way to extinction, in the most horrible way.