Blog Action Day 2009

In recognition of Blog Action Day 2009, herewith readings and resources for learning more about this complicated subject called “climate change,” one that is full of ramifications and interdependencies.

At Climate Interactive, you will find links to several simplified policy simulations: via animated graphics, you can see the effect of increased afforestation, decreased CO2 emissions by developed countries, and so on. Also find there an overview of C-ROADS (Climate Rapid Overview and Decision-support Simulator), which is designed to be used by policy-makers (not modellers) and runs on a laptop.

Read Johan Rockström et al.’s recent paper for Nature, “A safe operating space for humanity,” along with expert commentary. The paper’s thesis is that global climate change (as measured by radiative forcing [the rate of energy change per unit area of the globe as measured at the top of the atmosphere] as well as atmospheric carbon dioxide) is just one of ten parameters, all of which must be managed into safe operating levels, that are important for the survival of life on the planet.

We propose that human changes to atmospheric CO2 concentrations should not exceed 350 parts per million by volume, and that radiative forcing should not exceed 1 watt per square metre above pre-industrial levels. Transgressing these boundaries will increase the risk of irreversible climate change, such as the loss of major ice sheets, accelerated sea-level rise and abrupt shifts in forest and agricultural systems. Current CO2 concentration stands at 387 p.p.m.v. and the change in radiative forcing is 1.5 W m-2.

By comparison, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, pre-Industrial Revolution, was 280 ppm by volume, and the rate of radiative forcing at the beginning of what is now being called the Anthropocene Epoch was zero. The other parameters (keep in mind that most of these are rates of change rather than values) are:

  • rate of biodiversity loss;
  • nitrogen and phosphorus cycles;
  • stratospheric ozone depletion;
  • ocean acidification;
  • global freshwater use;
  • change in land use;
  • atmospheric aerosol loading;
  • chemical pollution.

The authors find biodiversity loss (as measured by species extinction rate) and N2 removals from the atmosphere for human use running at the most troubling rates. While the pre-industrial era extinction rate was 0.1-1 species per million species per year, the current rate is something like 100, and order of magnitude more than their proposed redline value of 10. The nitrogen situation may be even worse: pre-industrial man removed no net nitrogen from the air. Rockström et al. propose a limit of 35 million tons per year; the current rate is 121 million tons annually.

A recent leader by The Economist explores the political landscape, and in particular the problem of effective transnational agreements to lower carbon emissions. The U.S. Senate must ratify any international treaty that the President enters into. Arguing that the Kyoto protocol failed because it could not get approval of these 100 Americans, nor did excessive emissions by Kyoto signatories actually lead to sanctions, the editorialist writes:

There is an alternative: moving the negotiations onto a different diplomatic track…. Australia has proposed another route. All countries would come up with a “national schedule” of programmes, such as cap-and-trade and low-carbon regulations. Developed countries would also specify an amount by which they mean to reduce their emissions. These commitments would have the force of domestic law, but would not be subject to international sanctions.

Finally, at the softer end of the spectrum, for inspiration and exhortation, take a look at this anthology assembled by the Union of Concerned Scientists: Thoreau’s Legacy: American Stories about Global Warming, 67 pieces of writing and art “drawn from nearly 1,000 submissions about beloved places, animals, plants, people, and activities at risk from a changing climate and the efforts that individuals are making to save what they love,” available both in print and as a handsomely designed Flash-based interactive.

Blog Action Day 2009

My Blog Action Day 2008 post.