04 February 2008

Reactions to Climate Code Red

Senator Christine Milne blogs on her reaction to Climate Code Red:
With Climate Code Red, David Spratt and Philip Sutton have provided a valuable and sobering contribution to the policy challenge of climate change at a pivotal moment.
Over recent months it has become ever clearer to many of us working in the field that global warming, accelerating faster than scientists had predicted, is leaving policy so far behind it is outdated as it is released. The current ambitious policies of the Australian Greens, developed on the basis of science 12-18 months ago, are now too conservative. Where, then, does that leave our new Federal Government, elected on a platform of climate action far weaker than the Greens’?
Spratt and Sutton persuasively call on us to put aside politics as usual. My great fear, however, is that none of the people now charged with setting Australia’s emissions targets – Professor Garnaut, Ministers Wong, Swan and Garrett, and Prime Minister Rudd – have grasped that this is a state of emergency and none are ready to set aside politics as usual.
Spratt and Sutton have provided a vital example for Professor Garnaut on the work that is needed to set emissions targets – not by “plucking figures out of the air because they are politically convenient or someone else said they might be OK”, and not by economic analysis of what now seems achievable.
And this from a respondee in Canada:
...your Section 3 is so timely, and sec 3.3 an accurate description of what is going on in the enviro movement fairly generally in Canada...
We have been exposed to (Canadian PR) research that indicates that if you want the public to pressure the government about policy response to climate change, the ENGO's can't be the source of the heavy message, too many people discount it. However they will listen to scientists giving out serious messages. But they don't like scientists talking science - it is too often interpreted as disagreement. However, ENGO's with science based ideas for solutions are heard. There is obviously useful material in these studies but for the moment the [many climate groups] and others are avoiding the hard message.

I am also aware of 'operational psychosis' among several climate scientists, who are in total surrender in their labs and speaking optimistically in public. It remains to be seen how an otherwise forward looking Climate Action Team of 22 'experts' influences the BC Premier's Climate Action Secretariat in the formulation of emission targets for 2012, 2016, 2020 and 2050. We have legislation in BC for a 33% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels (10% below 1990) - but no penalties for failure! Other than the big penalty of course.
Sound familiar?


  1. Where to start? Just how do you mandate emissions reductions? When does the party in power start rationing as the only means to curb rising consumption?

  2. wow i am massively disappointed that there has not been more public posting on this blog. let me know how i can contribute to promoting this excellent report in any way - i have already written a letter to my local member of parliament. i almost never get this serious about something.

    friends of the earth

  3. ICE CRISIS: WHY WE MUST RESTORE THE POLAR ICE CAP (unpublished article, for review)

    For the many of us who have been rightly concerned for the fate of our Polar Ice Cap, which experienced a catastrophic melt last summer, there is encouraging news from NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen. In late April I met with him in Washington, DC, where he was speaking at the Student Conservation Association Earth Vision Summit. He now states unequivocally that it is possible to refreeze the polar ice.
    Dr. Hansen, who prefers to be called Jim Hansen, has been referred to as the World’s leading climatologist. He is a plain‐spoken American mid‐westerner best described as a “one of the good guys,” a brilliant scientist who finds himself in the unlikely position of playing the role of hero to us all. He knows better than most the danger runaway climate change poses for our species and the life on our planet, and he is finding ways to lay out climate data and scenarios in terms non‐scientists can readily understand.
    To begin with, there have certainly been times in geologic history when the Earth’s temperature has been abruptly forced down, whether by the impact of a large meteorite or a very large volcanic eruption. Never, however, has our planet’s temperature and carbon dioxide level been forced upward at the rate that has occurred since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The rate of CO2 increase is 14,000 times anything ever recorded. The level of CO2 in atmospheric parts per million is now at 387, higher than 350,000 years ago, and this increasing at 3 ppm annually. As temperature and CO2 are directly linked, any concentration above 400 ppm could push our climate system past a point of no return.
    For those who take comfort in the cool spring weather we have been experiencing in the Pacific Northwest, it is important to note that elsewhere on our planet, notably in West Antarctica, the Polar North and the vast expanse of tundra in Siberia, we see huge temperature increases taking place. In the Arctic, the ice melt is predicted to exceed its record‐breaking extent of last summer. Our planet, put simply, is already too hot.
    The Polar Ice Cap is crucial for the protection of Greenland’s glaciers. Its dissolution will speed the melting of these glaciers to such a degree that we will see in this century millions of people displaced by sea level rise.
    According to Hansen, if we allow the Earth’s land‐based glaciers and ice sheets to melt, it will take many thousands of years for them to refreeze. However, to refreeze the floating polar ice would take only a fraction of that time. Whereas we have seen the stability of the polar ice decay in less than 60 years, it could refreeze again in less than a century ‐‐ but only if we cause the CO2 level in our atmosphere to return to a level where this could take place. This level should be a 350 ppm or lower, preferable below 325 ppm. Put another way, we should bring the Earth’s temperature back down to where it was in the early 1950’s.
    This would not only stabilize our climate, which has been remarkably benign for the last 10,000 years, it would also protect the vast ice sheets and glaciers on our planet and prevent the huge
    sea level rise that will occur if they melt. The tragedy unfolding in Myanmar represents just a fraction of the cost in human lives future storms and higher water levels will bring.
    So what can we do? The answer is everything we can; it will take more than one effort to save our biosphere. If we must continue to burn coal until more ecologically efficient means of generating power are developed, then the carbon must be captured and sequestered, no matter what the expense. The technology to do this safely will be developed, because it must be. “Scrubbers” to capture carbon from the air are even now being developed by Dr. Klaus Lackner of Columbia University. See the Guardian story, “Could US scientist’s ‘CO2 catcher’ help to slow global warming?”
    All captured, compressed carbon must be stored safely, preferably beneath the sediment on the ocean floor, where there will be little danger of its release.
    Our existing carbon sinks, such as our peat bogs and forests, must be protected. Global farming practices must change to capture and restore carbon to the soil. The deep burial of waste wood and trees should be considered to prevent carbon release.
    Exploration and development of petroleum sources, including the Alberta tar sands, must soon be brought to a halt. All modes of transportation must become carbon neutral, again because this is crucial to our survival. Energy must be supplied to the electrical grid from carbon‐free sources, such as concentrated solar and various types of geothermal energy, including deep or hot rock energy. These technologies are already being developed and are becoming more affordable.
    This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bother changing our light bulbs. Every action to reduce the carbon in our atmosphere should be taken, whether the price tag is $2.00 or $2,000,000,000. But we should be constantly aware of the fact that we have to decrease the level of CO2; allowing our atmosphere to stay at its present level is far too dangerous. Not to act, and not to do so immediately, is simply unacceptable in biological and geological terms.
    Jim Hansen states that given the present high level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, our climate system may have passed a tipping point, but that it has not yet passed a point of no return. He says to restore CO2 to a level that will preserve our biosphere is “doable.” But we must begin doing the doable, now.
    Please contact me at dcutting@yahoo.com for references and more information. I will be glad to send links to Jim Hansen’s talks, interviews and power point presentations, many of which can be found at his website at Columbia University: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/. I have been reenergized and inspired by his optimism, and it is my hope that others will feel the same.
    Dorothy Cutting
    307 Price Road
    Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2E9

  4. Biomass combustion plus carbon capture and sequestration can start moving carbon out of the biosphere and back underground:


    The above Scientific American article outlines how this might be done, although its emphasis is on converting coal fired power plants to carbon neutrality.

    The probability of a coming methane catastrophe via the "clathrate gun" or "methane burp" hypotheses convinces me that we need to sieze the coal fired power plants in the U.S. and convert them to biomass combustion with carbon capture and sequestration.

    Nothing in the world has the ability to move carbon that the coal fired power plants do. Right now, that carbon is being moved out of the ground and into the biosphere.

    We need to reverse that flow, and move carbon from the biosphere back underground.

    Biomass can be dewatered and carbonized locally, and then shipped in the form of charcoal to the coal fired power plants, in a higher density form.


    Moving this one energy sector from a positive carbon balance to a negative one could make a huge difference, especially if some of the electricity produced was used to run electric cars.