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ipcc-understates-threat understatement

by 20 Apr 2019Climate mobilisation, Moratorium on population0 comments

Energy and population pathway chart, 2017

Charting a Potentially Survivable Trajectory: With its unshakeable, it’s-the-economy-stupid faith in growth, humanity has already precipitated the Sixth Great Extinction. What may stand to be salvaged, in addition to a percentage of the species otherwise condemned, is a survivable Earth, and only a grassroots population moratorium has the power mobilise at the wholly unprecedented scale and speed needed. The dotted line is the un 2017 forecast at which population is currently tracking. energy chart Boston Globe | Mahurangi Magazine data 1965–2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy;
1900–1965 Department of Energy Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Center |
extinctions adapted from Scott, JM (2008) 

Bulletins proclaiming that the ipcc 1.5° report understates climate threat are literally understatements of epochal proportions.

Self-reinforcing climate feedbacks already irreversibly underway signal civilization’s ever-growing greenhouse-gas emissions have ensured that, within years, the only way to stand at the North Pole in summer will be aboard a boat, or a nearby oil rig. Rapid loss of that brilliant, heat-reflecting sea-ice shield is the epitome of an accelerating, self-reinforcing climate feedback loop. Even radical, last-ditch climate action cannot prevent the planet becoming increasingly uninhabitable.

With luck, the fire will burn itself out, but that process will take centuries to millennia. It is not sufficient to stop the rate of increase; emissions must be slashed, and the opportunity provided for the accumulated level to fall, if feedback loops permit that to happen. Meantime, petrol is still being thrown on the fire. Humankind’s current actions are analogous to a bucket brigade passing containers of petrol from the pumps of a filling station to a nearby bonfire. Clearly, the first action is to hang up the nozzle.

Least-advocated, by climate-action advocates, is voluntary strategic population reduction. While reasons for this reticence are understandable, the immutable truth is that for every additional birth, many times more will suffer and many times more will perish. How many times more will perish is impossible to quantify without making assumptions as to how rapidly self-reinforcing climate feedbacks compound and accelerate, and how intelligently and humanely humanity responds at scale, to protect the vulnerable.

Hothouse Earth threshold

Terrible Trajectory: Only global mobilisation—humankind, shoulder to shoulder—offers any prospect of preventing Planet Earth rolling directly over the threshold into a climate that would soon become unsurvivable—possibly for even the richest and most resolutely armed survivalist enclave, for very long. Only in hindsight will it be known whether Earth is already too near the rim of the threshold to be shouldered onto a new, biospherically survivable trajectory. graphic Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

But while there is increasing appreciation that reducing population is the most urgent and most effective way to slash greenhouse-gas emissions, it is this action’s potential to catalyse global climate-action mobilisation that the world has yet to wake up to. For humanity to mobilise, power must quickly shift into the hands of the one cohort with the potential to seize it: Women of child-bearing age. If those young women, in developed, high-consuming countries first, go on reproductive strike, the growth-dependent economy will suddenly become very attentive to their climate-mobilisation message. And if that message is that governments must immediately commission the decarbonisation of energy at scale—including, the electrification-of-everything—those contracts are what business will instantly retool to undertake. The task of adapting, including growing the forests for the timber to fabricate the carbon-sequestering factory-built accommodation desperately needed by the young and the climate-displaced, is more than big enough to provide the liveable, ethical employment needed to maintain a stable economy. Currently, democracy is bought and paid for by the finance and fossil fuel oligarchy. Young women, using their own—not Zuckerberg’s—social media platform, could swiftly be in a position to elect a new generation of politicians prepared to put planet and people ahead of party.

Arctic sea ice graph

Record Self-Reinforcing Climate Feedback in Action: The Arctic’s simultaneously rapidly shrinking, thinning and less reflective sea-ice shield is the unambiguous self-reinforcing-climate-feedbacks’ evidence that climate-action mobilisation must be immediate. Arctic sea-ice extent as at 21 April 2019. chart National Snow and Ice Data Center

While a vestige of democracy survives, and the online tools remain in the hands of the people, democracy can be regained and government-by-the-people could ensure that the hundreds-of-years climate wars are fought for humanity and what can be saved of the natural world, rather than tribe-against-tribe. The young women leading this ultimate climate action, if the likes of BirthStrike take hold, will put themselves in great personal danger, not least of all from religious and white extremists—becoming the rock stars of global climate-action mobilisation will threaten monied interests intent on exploiting the present, profoundly dysfunctional world order. But human encroachment has already set in train the Sixth Great Extinction and far exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity, even without having precipitated self-reinforcing climate feedbacks.

Genus Homo has, so far, survived ~2 million years, including 26 glaciations. Shortly after it began, the Industrial Revolution was put on steroids by fossil fuels. The unintended, self-inflicted consequence was that an abrupt end was put to the benign 11 650-year-long Holocene epoch that allowed modern civilisation to develop and for a third of the planet’s coastlines to develop sandy beaches.

Steel and concrete of energy generation options

Steel Show-Stopper: Although steel and concrete currently only account for a combined ~12% of greenhouse-gas emissions, scaling up the 0.7% of primary energy production that is solar photovoltaic to replace the 85.2% that is fossil-fuelled would not only tax global steel-making capacity, the energy demand, from mine to rolling mill, is patently beyond the puny capabilities of renewables to deliver. chart Mahurangi Magazine | reformatted from Forbes

The key question now is whether the current child-bearing generation is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, by having radically fewer children, and maximising the opportunity to salvage the biosphere’s last billion habitable years. And richly nurturing the children who are born, to help equip them for the demanding legacy of biosphere-restoring obligation bequeathed to them, and their children’s children.

One small, nimble country, known for punching above its weight—Aotearoa—could quickly showcase what needs to be done. A snapshot:

BirthStrike led by social-media-owning young women to radically turn down the heat—lead time: 40 weeks

Plant forests and fabricate zero-carbon, engineered-timber factory-build accommodation for New Zealanders and the world

Commit to fourth-generation  nuclear power and, with this about-turn, shock the international community into understanding the unprecedented magnitude of the zero-carbon challenge.

Comparative greenhouse-gas emissions avoidance actions

Best in the West: Although reducing population growth in developed countries will do more to dampen fossil-fuel demand than similar action in developing countries, the long tail of such demand will fuel energy demand far beyond the capability of solar and wind to supply. (Air-flight carbon-dioxide-equivalent values based on premium economy direct return flights, Carbon Footprint.) graphic Mahurangi Magazine, adapted from the Guardian |
Wynes & Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters, IOPscience

After 30 years of pussyfooting, the ipcc produced a wake-up-call report that, by continuing to fail to account for self-reinforcing climate feedbacks, was an invitation to press snooze. Likewise, the much-lauded 125-page Environment Aotearoa 2019, released Maundy Thursday, mentions climate feedback but once:

There are significant gaps in our knowledge around global tipping points, particularly in situations where levels of carbon dioxide above a threshold precipitate feedback with even faster rates of emissions and warming (Steffen et al, 2018).

Meanwhile, the asinine—and plutocratically convenient—notion prevails that the future can’t be predicted and therefore governments should not direct climate action. Planning is not predicting. Mobilisation is not predicting. Planning and mobilisation are about ensuring the best prospects for salvaging a survivable climate whilst simultaneously ensuring the best possible prospects for the survival of the balance of Homo sapiens sapiensas opposed to Homo sapiens, to acknowledge Homo sapiens idaltu, and to avoid the more cumbersome alternative of ‘anatomically modern human being’, and for sheer cussedness’ drastically diminishing fellow species.

By pressing pause on procreation, young women worldwide could democratically regain the power appropriated by the international plutocracy, and mobilise to radically improve the prospects for a survivable planet.