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This post is written by our guest blogger Bill McGuire. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London. He has written a number of books, including Waking the Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis and Volcanoes; which ranked at number five in The Guardian’s Top 10 ‘eco’ books.
Its official! If we wish to prevent catastrophic, all pervasive, climate breakdown, we have just eleven years to act. In order to have any chance of keeping the global average temperature rise (since pre-industrial times) to below the critical 1.5°C guardrail, greenhouse gas emissions must be at least halved by 2030, and drop to net zero by the middle of the century. With human activities pumping out more than 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide last year, this is one heck of an ask. And even so, it may not be enough. The UK Met Office has predicted that the guardrail could be reached as soon as 2023, albeit temporarily, revealing how rapidly global heating is beginning to accelerate.
More than the average global temperature rise, however, it is extreme weather that is really ramming home the message that global heating is happening – here and now – and with a vengeance. Blistering, record-breaking heat-waves have baked Europe both last years and this. Already this year in the UK, February temperatures have topped 21°C, while the all-time record was shattered in Cambridge in July, which sweltered at a temperature of 38.7°C. It should come as no surprise, then, that London is forecast to have the climate of Barcelona in just 30 years time, causing havoc with transport infrastructure, triggering massive subsidence problems and condemning millions to live in homes not built for such levels of heat and humidity.
So far, so scary, but you ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Most of what you read or view about global heating (note: no longer global warming) and climate breakdown (no longer climate change) has its roots in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As these reports, however, are scrutinised by representatives of every nation – including a number who would prefer that global heating would just go away – they are inevitably politicised and conservative. As a consequence, a considerable body of excellent peer-reviewed research is not included. In particular, that which addresses feedback loops and tipping points capable of accelerating global heating and dramatically heightening its impact.
The IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report published in 2013 and 2014, for example, predicts a sea-level rise of around one metre by the century’s end. Studies not included, however, point to rises of at least twice this, and – in one study – as much as five meters; easily sufficient to drown every coastal town and city on the planet. In fact, such predictions are being backed-up by extraordinary hikes in the melting rates of both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Most concerning is what has been happening at the bottom of the world, where the rate of ice loss across West Antarctica tripled between 2012 and 2017, from 76 to 219 billion tonnes annually. If this rate of increase in ice melting is maintained, then by the mid 2040s, global sea level will be rising by 5cm a year – half a metre a decade!
And there is more. The IPCC 5th Assessment presumed that it was ‘very unlikely’ that the Gulf Stream will shut down as a consequence of climate change. Nonetheless, research has revealed that the current has slowed by between 15 and 20 percent since the middle of the 20th century, and is now at its weakest for at least 1600 years. Shutdown, if it does happen, could take place over just a few months, bringing frigid conditions to the UK and northern Europe.
Also omitted is the worrying likelihood of large-scale methane ‘burps’ from beneath the thawing submarine permafrost of eastern Siberia. Major releases of the greenhouse gas, which is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide, could bring forward global heating by 30 years or more.
So – to conclude – be alarmed; be very alarmed. But don’t let alarm feed inertia. Use it instead to galvanise action. For your children’s and their children’s sake, stand up and do something about it. Drastically change your life style (stop flying, switch to a renewable energy supplier, buy an electric car, cycle and walk more). Become an activist. Vote into power a government that will walk the walk on climate change, not just talk the talk. Or – preferably – do all three.
And above all, please join Christian Climate Action at Westminster on October 7th for the October Rebellion, and help to hold the Faith Bridge for as long as possible. See here for details: