We have three interviews this week, including 2 climate scientists. Andy Pitman: new science on how climate really hits us. Plus Johan Rockstrom, the Swedish leader of planetary boundaries, followed by Lynn Benander on community power in New England. Let’s go.
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DR. ANDREW PITMAN: THE SCIENCE OF WHEN AND HOW MUCH
It may get hotter where you are, sooner than you think. New science reveals many parts of the world won’t have to wait long to experience unsafe heating and disruptive changes in precipitation. Once again, we underestimate the climate threat.
Dr. Andy J. Pitman is a British atmospheric scientist. Now he’s the Director of Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney. [ARCCSS]
Dr. Andrew J. Pitman
Pitman is co-author of a new piece in the journal Nature, titled “Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets“. The lead author is Professor Sonia Seneviratne from the Swiss Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science.
You can read an article/press release from the University of New South Wales, explaining this paper, here.
The title of the press release says a lot: “How a 2°C rise means even higher temperatures where we live. Land based temperatures rise much faster than global average temperatures”.
I think one startling result in this paper is the timing of climate impacts. We are used to reports talking about things happening by 2100, after we are dead. Now science has shortened that fuse. Serious impacts are less than 15 years away, or, as Pitman points out, they are already happening.
Let’s face it, the Arctic has already warmed well beyond the two degree C danger mark. We had reports that parts of Siberia were warmer in the last week of January than Taiwan, which is right on the edge of the tropics. North-Central Siberia reported temperatures 20 degrees Celsius above normal for this time of year. That’s 36 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it should be!
According to lead author Prof Seneviratne:
“At 1.5°C we would still see temperature extremes in the Arctic rise by 4.4°C and a 2.2°C warming of extremes around the Mediterranean basin.“
In our interview, Andy Pitman says two important things about the two degree C “safe” level of warming.
First of all, two degrees C warming is demonstrably not “safe”. We are already experiencing extreme weather events, ocean acidification, coral die-off and much more. Pitman says the two degrees was accepted not because it was scientific, but because it was thought to be possible.
Secondly, the whole concept of a two degree global mean temperature as a goal is almost meaningless. We do not live in “average” climates. Their study found several parts of the world that will warm by two degrees (or more) as early as 2030. We’re talking about the Mediterranean for example. That region will dry out and heat even more. You think you’ve seen mass migration now? It’s only going to become worse, as more agriculture fails in North Africa, the Middle East, and places like Greece, Italy, and Spain.
Here is more from that University of New South Wales press release (and pay attention to the methane warning!)
“The extreme regional warming projected for Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Russia and Greenland could have global impacts, accelerating the pace of sea-level rise and increasing the likelihood of methane releases prompted by the melting of ice and permafrost regions.
‘The temperature difference between global average temperatures and regional temperature extremes over land not only has direct climate impacts, it also means we may have to reconsider the amount of carbon dioxide we can emit,’ said co-author and Director of ARCCSS Prof Andy Pitman.
‘For instance, to keep extreme temperature changes over the Mediterranean below a 2°C threshold, the cumulative emissions of CO2 would have to be restricted to 600 gigatonnes rather than the 850 gigatonnes currently estimated to keep global average temperatures increase below 2°C.’
According to the researchers, if global average temperatures warm by 2°C compared to preindustrial times this would equate to a 3°C warming of hot extremes in the Mediterranean region and between 5.5 — 8°C warming for cold extremes over land around the Arctic. Most land-masses around the world will see an extreme temperature rise greater than 2°C.“
From our Radio Ecoshock interview, Andy Pitman says:
“Two degrees isn’t safe because a two degree warming is expressed over the land surface by warming of much more than two degrees. And it’s not expressed as a regional average warming of two degrees. It’s expressed for instance by earlier spring heat waves. Or the ability of a landscape to continue growing through winter because the winter is several degrees warmer than it used to be.
Or it’s expressed by summer heat waves lasting longer. And as your listeners would know, if you have a heat wave that traditionally lasts three days, and it starts to last five days, the impacts that that has on ecosystems but also primarly on human health can be way out of proportion to only an extra day or two.“
What Pitman doesn’t say, but I know from previous interviews with scientists and doctors, is that extra day or two of extreme heat is when people can begin to die off in great numbers. It happened in Russia in 2010, in France during the great heat of 2003, where tens of thousands died, and now arrives too often in Australia during extended heat waves. We’ve been told that heat is now a greater killer in Australia than car accidents.
Talking about Canada (where some residents think they’d like to warm up a few degrees!) Pitman warns:
“If you manage to warm a region of Eastern or Western Canada by three degrees on the annual average, but all that warming happens in July, the amount it warms in July is vastly more than three degrees. You start to get serious heat wave conditions….”
It sounds attractive to have an average annual warming, but the actual impacts may be increased deaths, wrecked eco-systems, more forest fires, or perhaps a whole year’s wheat crop wiped out (again, the wheat crop in Russia was devastated).
SCIENTISTS ARE MISTAKEN TO BE SO CONSERVATIVE ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
Andy Pitman on Radio Ecoshock:
“We have probably erred as a science community in being a little conservative in how fast climate can change. And we have also had our eye on the averages more so than the extremes.
Now that’s a general statement. There have been some outstanding groups in North America and in Europe that have focussed on extremes. But in general the climate community has been really interested in how much will the global average warm.
I think what our paper says is: it doesn’t matter, really, what the global average warms. It matters critically how climate warms spacially, by country, and how that warming is translated into days of heat or cold or days of extreme rainfall – because those are the things that can break a drainage system, break a health system, damage an ecosystem.
Most of what our paper is about is that we have been too generous on the scale of emissions that should be permitted, but if I was going to take the science further, I would encourage the research communities to be targeting the nature and statistics of extreme events into the future, over how much the planet as a whole will
There’s lots more in the interview. For me, this backs up people like Ottawa scientist Paul Beckwith, who is studying abrupt climate change, and extreme changes, rather than statistical averages.
JOHAN ROCKSTROM: BIG WORLD, SMALL PLANET
There are limits to what humanity can do on this planet and still survive. Johan Rockstrom led a team that mapped out those Planetary Boundaries. Rockstrom is the Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. He teaches at Stockholm University, and holds many roles in the scientific community. We talk about his latest book, written wtih Mattias Klum, “Big World, Small Planet” – and many other questions we all have about climate change.
Dr. Johan Rockstrom
Here is one for example: At a TED talk, Rockstrom told an audience that climate change may actually not be our greatest challenge! I asked what he meant by that.
His answer makes sense. There are multiple crisis happening on Earth at this time. One very serious and long-lasting change is in the climate. But we are also going through a mass extinction event (assuming we make it through). We can do something about greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Rockstrom tells us, but once a species goes extinct, it’s gone. And all the species that might have interacted with it are also endangered. You can decide to drive an electric car, or travel less, or support carbon capture research – but you can’t take any action to bring back species from extinction, or really restore wrecked ecosystems.
I take issue with Rockstrom, when he wrote: “we can trigger a new wave of sustainable technological inventions” to solve our ecological crisis. On Radio Ecoshock, I just talked with another well-known Swede, Alf Hornborg. Alf says there is no technological solution to the problems of technology. We need social and ideological change instead.
Or course Rockstrom is aware of Hornborg’s work, and doesn’t suggest that a technical fix is all we need. A change in human civilization will also be required. But in general, in this interview and in their new book, Johan Rockstrom takes the positive outlook. He sees grave dangers, but apparently believes humans are smart enough to solve the crisis we create. I’m not so sure, but you decide, after listening to this interview.
Along the way, of course, you will learn more about our situation. Rockstrom is acknowledged as one of the world’s top scientists. His leadership in the concept of Planetary Boundaries is absolutely important for us all. Don’t under-estimate him.
CO-OP POWER: LYNN BENANDER
What is the answer to giant power companies with equally giant greenhouse gas emissions? Citizens doing it for themselves. One of the best examples is Co-op Power in New England. We’ll find out what it is, and how this could work in your community, from Lynn Benander. She’s the CEO of Co-op Power and Northeast Biodiesel.
My first reaction was to picture a group of middle-class white folks getting together to bypass the system and save money. But as Lynn tell us, this came up at the very first organizing meeting. Some people rent, and still want green power. That’s why community-owned power can make more sense than just well-off people installing solar on their rooftops.
Biodiesel got a terrible name as a false climate solution, when industrialized agriculture switched off growing food to make heavily subsidized gas substitutes. How is Northeast Biodiesel different from that? The company is opening a new plant this month, designed to produce over a million gallons of diesel fuel a year. The source stock is waste cooking oil! This doesn’t displace agricultural food crops. The carbon load is already in producing the cooking oil, so burning what would otherwise be waste makes green sense. As
Benander points out, for now, we still run our trucks, tractors and buses on diesel fuel. Until we can do better, green diesel, produced in the community, is a better solution.
Even the financing for this biodiesel plant came from the community. Read all about that here.
Lynn and I talk about how communities can raise money for alternative energy co-ops. I want you to hear this interview, and dig further into it. We so often have hopeless news on Radio Ecoshock, without enough solutions. Here is a group of New England communities that are not waiting for the grand scheme from the federal or state government, but doing it for themselves. It’s inspiring.
Check out this slide and photo explanation of co-op power here.
Here are some more Lynn Benander/Co-op Power links, courtesy of my friend Erik Hoffner, who suggested this story.
Post Carbon Institute Interview with Co-op Power’s Lynn Benander – “Community is Created by Filling the Cup” September 2, 2015
Center for Popular Economics – Presentation on Cooperative Paths to Fossil Fuel Freedom: Stories from Community Energy Co-ops in the Co-op Power Network with Lynn Benander and Temistoclese Blessed Ferreira from Co-op Power August 23, 2015
Grist article on Diego Angarita, “Meet the Food Justice and Clean Energy Advocate who Wants to Shake up the Nonprofit World“, noting his work at Co-op Power August 14, 2015
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