Wednesday 5 May 2021

Global warming thought of the day

To take my mind off the worries of Covid-19 pandemics, potential stock market bubbles bursting, and rampant economic stimulus measures leading to high inflation, I though I'd just grab the latest public data on carbon emissions, average global surface air temperature and atmospheric CO2 concentration to see for myself what the data currently shows.

1. Global warming is currently underway, and the obvious culprit is carbon emissions.

Yes, you can make up alternate explanations involving solar activity, interstellar dust clouds, or little green men, but when combined with other effects (such as increasing oceanic acidity) it seems obvious that the driver for the observed rise in global average temperature is the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

2. We all have to do our bit, but China ain't helping much

The world's scientist were well aware of the potential for rising carbon emissions to cause global warming due to the 'greenhouse effect' back in the 1980s (I actually studied this as part of an environmental chemistry elective I took for my BAppSc (Applied Chemistry) degree at UTS back in the early 1980's). And by 2000 the world's governments were getting serious about starting to tackle the issue. Hasn't been very effective so far, but at least most developed countries pledged to reduce the total CO2 emissions, and many are now aiming to stop net emissions entirely within the next decade or two (i.e. become 'carbon neutral'). Except that in the Paris Agreements China only agreed to stop increasing its emissions by 2030. Given the fact that China only produced 8% of global emissions in 1980, 14% by 2000, and is currently producing around 28% of global CO2 emissions this really is a bigger problem that whether or not Australia gets to 'carbon neutral' by 2040, 2050 or whenever. What China does (or doesn't) do about its carbon emissions will determine whether our great-grandchildren are living in a world that has a less hospitable environment that today, or one that is facing an existential climate crisis.

Unfortunately China seems more interested in 'reunifying' by invading Taiwan that it is in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Hopefully in 2030 China hasn't invaded Taiwan and has started to reduce its carbon emissions (not just promise a per GDP emission reduction).

3. How bad is it really?

A simple projection of the rate of atmospheric CO2 concentration and global average surface air temperature shows that we are likely to hit 500 ppm CO2 by 2060, and for the global average surface air temperature to have risen another 1 degree Celcius by around 2070. So the amount of change that has happened since I was born will have doubled (roughly) by 2060-70. That will have some significant impacts (mostly bad, but a few good, and varying a lot by geographic location), but its what will happen by 2100 and beyond that is the real cause for concern (unless you don't give a rat's about what happens to the planet once you are dead).

It also seems that there is a bit of a 'lag' between rising CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and rising temperatures and sea levels (currently rising about 3mm pa). So temperature rise could continue long after we've achieved global 'carbon neutrality'. Never mention possible (theoretical) 'tipping points' about run-away greenhouse effects coming into play (such as release of greenhouse gases if the Siberian perma frost or seafloor icy methan hydrates are released due to rising temperatures), or the eventual melting of the Antarctic continental ice sheets.

All in all not very cheerful news. I'll go back to worrying about whether or not to get the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccination or wait until the Pfizer vaccine becomes available to those over 50...

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