Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Climate Emergency - Introduction

Spratt & Sutton report an excerpt they received from a polar researcher based in the US as part of a discussion they were having about how rapidly Greenland might melt. ‘I can’t end this email without acknowledging that we are in a lot more climate trouble than we thought.’  Spratt & Sutton say this is not the way climate scientists usually report their work, but it was the way the scientists they spoke to while gathering information for their book spoke, they were disturbed by the tone of urgency that expressed a level of anxiety and honesty that climate scientists used when talking about their work.

Spratt & Sutton suggest the frankness of such responses was possibly a reflection of the fact that they were not climate scientists, and so were not asking the questions as one scientist to another, rather they were policy researchers. During their enquiries they spoke with, and drew on the work of many, climate scientists who were pleased to be answering questions, as they were welcomed enquires concerning the results of their research. Spratt & Sutton say it is critical for non-scientists to engage with scientists if we are to find a way to a safe climate.

Generally climate scientists publish their work, as all scientists do, incorporating assessments of risks, probabilities, and uncertainties, and avoid commenting publically on the broader aspects of impacts of global warming. Readers outside the research community have difficulty assessing for themselves the full implications of what the climate scientists are saying, in part because there is so much research that has been published on the subject of climate change. Also, even though some might be able to read and understand the individual published papers it would be difficult for non-scientists to perceive the sense of anxiety and urgency felt by the authors of the climate science work that has been published.  As the papers written by scientists are generally reports on their work, the papers give no hint of the emotions of the authors of those papers. There are several non-scientist authors mentioned by Spratt & Sutton who have written on that subject of global warming who have produced some of the most compelling writing, such as George Monbiot, Fred Pierce, Mark Lynas and Elizabeth Colbert.

Climate Code Red has explored the meaning of ‘a lot more climate trouble’, and why it is different from the story presented to the public and how new solutions to the global emergency are needed. Spratt & Sutton suggest climate policies that are doomed to fail must be abandoned and action must be taken with foresight and courage, as the global climate emergency needs urgent action.

The evidence gathered by Spratt & Sutton has convinced them there is only one chance to solve the problem of global warming.

According to Spratt & Sutton the climate change debate took an incredible new turn when in 2007 research data revealed that in the Arctic Ocean the floating sea-ice was disintegrating at an alarming speed, in the words of Richard Alley, a climate scientist from Penn State University, who said ‘one hundred years ahead of schedule’. As 8 million km2 Arctic sea-ice was breaking up, which showed that a new impact of global warming needed to be studied, as well as what was necessary to return the global climate to a safe state.

The global climate is moving to a hot state that the world hasn’t experienced for a million years as a result of industrial activity. Spratt & Sutton say that if the tipping point to a perilous world is crossed life on Earth will face changes that will make the world unrecognisable and no doubt not conducive to life as it is known at present.

This is the sober view of many of the leading climate scientists of the world, including Jay Zwally, a NASA scientist. He told a gathering of fellow climate experts at the end of 2007: ‘The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming … and now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines.’

Most think that climate change is a gradual process in which there is a smooth relationship between increasing levels of greenhouse gasses and temperatures that are increasing. But that is not the way climate works.

In fact, in the world we live is one in which the climate is one of chaotic, non-linear transitions, where a small greenhouse gas level increase, or the climate system energy imbalance, can make a huge difference. There can be a flip from one state of the climate system to another that occurs rapidly and unpredictably. Spratt & Sutton say this is occurring at the present at the North Pole, where a tipping point or critical threshold has already been crossed, in which an area of summer sea-ice that was previously as large as Australia is rapidly disintegrating. If the climate further to the south were to change to produce drought for 4 or 5 consecutive years in the Amazon, it might become dry enough for wildfires to destroy much of the rainforest and for burning carbon to pour into the sky. Further reductions in the rainfall would result from this change of the regional climate pattern, and the drying and dead forest would produce very large amounts of greenhouse gasses. Further threshold events would be caused by these impacts, like many others.

According to Spratt & Sutton a point of no return will be crossed if this kind of momentum builds sufficiently, with the crossing of enough tipping points being crossed. Spratt & Sutton say that once the evidence had convinced them that the world climate had already crossed into the era of dangerous climate change they felt a need to write this book.

Spratt & Sutton say that the conclusion of the Stern Report in that UK was that the global temperature maximum that should be aimed at was 3oC above pre-industrial levels, because the 2oC that would be preferable would be made unachievable by the strength of the opposition to it. They say that a 3oC limit would probably destroy most ecosystems and take global warming past the point of no return.

Over one northern summer it was demonstrated dramatically by events in the Arctic that dangerous climate change was already here. Spratt & Sutton say that an emergency response is now required, in which innovation has to be directed towards ‘stopping a slide to catastrophe’.

Sources & Further reading

  1. Spratt, David & Sutton, Philip, 2008, Climate Code Red, the case for emergency action, Scribe, Melbourne.


Author: M. H. Monroe
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