Professor Kevin Anderson explains in 58 minutes the challenges we face with combatting climate change. The future is looking pretty bleak, but unless we do a realistic assessment we are not going to be successful in resolving the challenge of climate change. The stakes are high with human civilisation and human survival in the balance.
It is looking decidedly unlikely we will limit global warming to 2 degrees of warming, while 4 degrees is still possible and quite achieveable, but due to climate feedback mechanisms and tipping points may prove to be just a pathway to 6 degrees, 8 degrees and beyond. And real questions need to be asked about whether our civilisation could survive a four degree warmer world, let alone temperatures much higher.
In this talk he delivers the Cabot Institute Annual Lecture 2012 at the University of Bristol in the UK on 6th November 2012. It was published on youtube on 22 Nov 2012. Quite an animated talk with lots of graphs well worthwhile watching.
Many scientists and policy-makers continue to claim it is possible, albeit challenging, to contain the global increase in mean surface temperature at or below 2°C relative to preindustrial levels. However, despite the increasingly vociferous rhetoric around ‘transitioning to a low carbon economy’, current emissions growth is much more aligned with temperature rises of 4°C or higher, and possibly within just a few decades. Disturbingly, against the backdrop of unprecedented emissions growth, even a 4°C future now demands significant levels of mitigation.
This framing of climate change represents a radical departure from the more incremental mitigation proposed by many policy makers and scientific reports. Whilst orthodox expertise maintains “2°C is not only possible but achievable without sacrificing the benefits of economic growth and rising prosperity”, this paper argues “it is difficult to envisage anything other than a planned economic recession being compatible with 2°C, 3°C and increasingly 4°C futures”.
Consequently, whether in terms of mitigation or adaptation, we face a profound paradigm shift, triggered ostensibly by climate change, but with repercussions across all facets of contemporary society. Such a fundamental transition leaves society with three clear choices. To continue the delusion that climate change can be addressed adequately through rhetoric, financial fine-tuning and piecemeal incrementalism; to interpret such conclusions as a message of despair and futility; or to acknowledge that “at every level the greatest obstacle to transforming the world is that we lack the clarity and imagination to conceive that it could be different”, and that through immediate harnessing of human will and ingenuity we can yet deliver relatively low-carbon and climate-resilient communities.
This is not climate alarmism by one scientist. The climate catastrophe we are facing has been warned by the World Bank in a new report by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research - Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided (see my review). The International Energy Agency has also been warning in recent World Energy Outlook reports that we are on a 4-6 degree Celsius trajectory and that 80 percent of carbon emissions infrastructure has already been built and is in operation. A recent report by global accounting firm Price WaterhouseCoopers warned that Business as usual Carbon emissions heading towards 6°C (10.8°F) of global warming this century. The World Bank, International Energy Agency and PriceWaterhouseCoopers are not known for their environmental alarmism.
We cannot afford to add any new carbon intensive infrastructure that will continue to pollute for 30-50 years, yet the World Resources Institute reveals nearly 1,200 Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants, the majority in India and China.
We are facing a great disruption at the very least and some scientists are warning of human civilisation facing extinction this century as a result of a Spreading Atmospheric Arctic Methane Heat wave and Surface Firestorm. Already another climate feedback mechanism, the Arctic permafrost thaw, is starting but will not ramp up for perhaps another 20-30 years.
In December 2011 I featured a webinar: Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous - a frank presentation by Professor Kevin Anderson which provides an earlier account of Anderson's warnings on inaction and poor assessment of the challenge we face.
Further Information from Bristol University
- Powerpoint presentation [PDF, 1.6 MB]
- Transcript [PDF, 125.8 KB]
- Responses from attendees [PDF, 270 KB]
- Bristol University Cabot Institute Annual Lecture 2012 - Real clothes for the Emperor: Facing the challenges of climate change