For the first time in human history, in 2013, the air that surrounds us on average contained 400 ppm (parts per million) CO2, and 475 ppm greenhouse gases. If we add the increased amount of water vapor due to global warming, we approach 500 ppm. 2013 was a special year in this respect. The 400 ppm mark only lasted some weeks. In 2014 the duration has been longer. The Keeling curve increases relentlessly. From 2016 onwards, the atmospheric content of CO2 will probably be permanently above the 400 ppm mark. We have now crossed a border we should not have crossed and are venturing into the unknown.
“Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Edmund Burke
We are obliged to preserve the values of previous times. And we are obliged to keep a partnership with future generations. Will you be able to look your grandchildren in their eyes and say you did what you could?
The last one hundred years the world has become + 0.8°C warmer. In spite of unusually low solar activity and long periods of La Ninas in the Pacific, the last decades have become warmer. Not so much yet maybe, but below are examples of consequences that probably are caused by anthropogenic climate change.
The summer of 2012 included the following:
- The worst heat and drought in living memory in the United States. Agriculture and food production were greatly affected in more than half the country
- Droughts in many parts of Eastern and Southern Europe, Australia and India
- More rain than ever measured in southern Norway in June and July
- Extreme rain worse than ever in Buskerud, Norway, August 2012
- The tropical storm Sandy, and others.
The summer of 2011 included the following disasters likely due to anthropogenic global warming:
- 2011 one of the warmest years measured despite the low solar radiation and a strong and cooling La Nina ocean current in the Pacific.
- Large forest fires in New Mexico, USA, dangerously close to the nuclear facility Los Alamos. 12,000 people evacuated.
- Floods in neighbouring Nebraska threatening the safety of two nuclear power plants.
- The worst flooding ever in North Dakota, USA
- Unusually early tornado season in the United States and 8 states ravaged by monster tornado. The city of Joplin partially destroyed.
- 34 million people were affected by drought in May around the Yangtze River in China, when normally there should have been rainy season. The rain arrived later and caused flooding. Over half a million people were evacuated. Food prices have risen sharply in the area.
- March to May was extremely dry and hot. Extreme drought expected in 16 European countries.
- Norwegian production of wheat for consumption decreased from self-sufficiency to 15% of the population’s needs
Otherwise, the last few years:
- Floods like the one in Pakistan in summer 2010, China and the United States in 2011.
- Heat wave in Europe in 2003 killed between 22,000 and 35,000 people. The probability of such heat waves is now twice as large as before.
- More forest fires, such as those we have seen in recent years in California, Canada, Australia, Greece and Russia
- Canada: Twice as much forest as the total of forests in Norway is attacked by the mountain pine beetle. Dead trees provide a discharge of a billion tonnes of CO2 between 2013 and 2020.
- Extreme droughts in the Amazon in 2005 damaged the forest and gave 3 billion tons of CO2 emissions.
- The area covered by sea ice in the Arctic at the end of the melt season has decreased by approx. 30% since records began in the 70’s.
- The area of Greenland where the ice melts in summer has increased by 50% over the last ten years. Greenland glaciers now decrease by more than 200 cubic kilometres per year.
- The low-lying glaciers decrease in Norway, in the Rocky Mountains, the Andes, the Alps and the Himalayas. Some of the highest glaciers may be growing in some places due to increased precipitation and still sufficiently cold weather.
- Increasing damages from extreme weather. Tornadoes are increasing in number and strength. Tornadoes now appear in areas they have not occurred before. (Nebraska Tornadoes Turn Deadly As Twisters Sweep Through State (June 2014). |
- Prerequisite for the formation of hurricanes is surface temperature of more than 26.5 degrees. This will occur more frequently.
+ 1-2 degrees warmer world. Examples of likely consequences: Well in time before the average global temperature has risen by 2°C, Europe will find that half of all summers are hotter than the summer of 2003. The extreme summers will be much warmer than the summer of 2003.
- Increasing damage from extreme weather, floods or droughts worldwide
- Reduced agricultural yields in tropical areas (5-10% in Africa)
- Rising prices of food
- Less water (20-30%) in vulnerable regions such as southern Africa and the Mediterranean.
- More people are exposed to malaria (60 million)
- Melting of the Greenland ice sheet can no longer be stopped
+ 2 °C warmer world. May occur before 2050. Examples of likely consequences:
- Severe droughts in southern Europe.
- Hurricanes can occur around the Mediterranean Sea and other coastal areas where the water in the sea has become sufficiently warm.
- 1-4 billion people vulnerable to water shortages. 1-5 billion prone to flooding.
- The glaciers in mountain areas decrease drastically. Large parts of Asia and other areas that receive water from glaciers will experience growing water shortages and flooding periods.
- 25% of all wild species of plants and animals are exposed to high risk of extinction
- Increasing damage and high costs of extreme weather, floods or droughts worldwide
- Drought, extreme precipitation and extreme weather damage livelihoods in Africa, Asia and South America.
- 25% lower food production in China and in many other countries.
- High corn prices and other basic foods. Rising sea levels cause problems in more areas.
- More people risk starvation (150-550 million)
- Malaria is spreading to new regions
Now the great feedback effects begin in earnest.It may be possible to prevent the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees, on condition that we manage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% every year from 2015.
+ 3 degrees warmer world. Examples of likely consequences:
- 30-50% less water in southern Africa and the Mediterranean
- The Amazon Rainforest may collapse because of increased temperature and the absence of rain. This means that the world will lose 10% of its photosynthesis and huge extra emissions of CO2 are unavoidable.
- 50% of the arctic tundra melts and gives huge additional emissions of greenhouse gases.
- Accelerating glacier melting on Greenland and the Antarctica will be impossible to stop in this situation. By 2100, sea levels will have risen by a meter or more.
- Dangerous heat waves in southern Europe.
- The Asian summer monsoon is no longer stable. Food production in this area, where 60% of the world population lives, is severely hampered.
- Himalayan glaciers melting – this affects billions of people in Asia.
- Western and central parts of Africa become uninhabitable due to droughts. The east side of Africa will experience periods of immense precipitation.
- Global food production will most probably be reduced by 15-35%.
- Rising sea levels threaten small island states and low-lying areas such as Florida and cities like London, New York and Tokyo.
- Many states will be destabilized by rebellion. The world will see millions of climate refugees. In some regions, the number of climate nomads – the landless and lawless people on the move for food and water, will increase dramatically.
- Wars over water, habitats and natural resources
If global average temperature rises by more than 3 degrees it will be extremely difficult to prevent a rapid continued rise of temperatures to both 4 and 5 centigrades.
+ 6 degrees warmer world. Examples of likely consequences:
- Most natural ecosystems will break down and their production capacity substantially reduced.
- The civilized society no longer functions. Very few people manage to survive.
A +2 To +3 degrees warmer Norway. Likely consequences:
- This dramatic warming may occur as soon as 2040. The average global temperature has now increased by 1.5-2 °C above pre-industrial times.
- Increased plant growth destruction due to more rain in the west; flooding and occasional drought in eastern Norway.
- New pests and diseases harmful to plants, people and animals.
- Ski tourism is not possible except in the highest mountains.
- Norway passes 8 million inhabitants because of climate refugees.
- Apathy in the population when the “tipping points” are passed.
4 degrees warming in Norway. Likely consequences:
- May occur by 2060. The global average temperature has now risen by about 2.5-3 ° C above pre-industrial times.
- Decline in crop production due to extreme weather, too much or too little water.
- Millions will move to Norway because of the temperature rise and heat waves in southern Europe and even greater problems in Africa and Asia.
- Dramatic changes in fish populations.
- Our forests are vulnerable to forest fires and insect attacks. The forests in Norway emit more carbon by rotting, fire and breathing than it binds through photosynthesis. There are more deciduous forests and less spruce and pine.
- Major damages from extreme weather must be expected.
- Life conditions in Norway depend mainly on what happens in other countries.
The large feedback links. These large natural processes all contribute to higher emissions of greenhouse gases or directly increase the average temperature of the globe.
- There will be increasing amounts of water vapour in the atmosphere at elevated temperature. Water vapour is the main greenhouse gas and have the greatest effect on the temperature.
- There will be large emissions of the greenhouse gases methane and CO2 from the melting tundra.
- There will be additional rapid heating due to surfaces of ice and snow that are replaced by darker, heat-absorbing surfaces.
- There is an increased and accelerating release of CO2 from soil and organic matter at elevated temperatures.
- There is a lower uptake of CO2 in the oceans by increased temperatures, which will lead to that an increasing proportion of our emissions of CO2 will remain in the atmosphere. The sea has until now taken up half of all CO2 emissions emitted from the burning of fossil fuels.
- There will be accelerating emissions from the collapse of major habitats such as the Amazon rainforest or large forest areas elsewhere as a result of reduced precipitation and increased temperatures or pests, diseases and forest fires.
This article is written with the help of Thomas Cottis and Svein Tveitdal in the Climate Election campaign 2013 in collaboration with climate scientist Steffen Kalbekken at Cicero
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- Keeling curve update
- 400 ppm – now what?
- Climate change in facts and figures
- CICERO climate change fact sheets
- Lecture on U-tube
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- What Happens if We Don’t Prevent Average Global Temperatures from Rising?
- World Bank, 2012, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C World Must Be Avoided
- NOAA climate
- It’s just a natural variation, isn’t it?
- CO2 emissions – graphic presentation
- Global carbon emissions set for a record in 2013
- Emissions and sinks
- Climate change and ethics
- Climate change threatening future life
- AAAS: Climate change is putting world at risk of irreversible changes, scientists warn (March 2014)
- 400 ppm – a tipping point?
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- Hansen et al (2013) ‘Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required
- Unburnable fuel and mispricing (Economist 2013)
- What Will It Take for Us to Recognize That the Way We Live Could Be Destroying Life as We Know It?
- England’s floods – everything you need to know (Feb 2014)
- UK weather in pictures: floods in Britain as torrential rain sweeps in (Daily telegraph Feb 2014)
- David Cameron right to link floods and global warming, say climate scientists (Jan 2014)
- UK floods: Alert issued as River Thames breaks banks (Feb 2014)
- Worst flooding in years swamps Zimbabwe (Feb 2014)
- Floods in Zimbabwe (Feb 2014)
- Did Climate Change Worsen the Colorado Floods?
- Floods have halved Pakistan’s economic growth
- Flooding threatens one in four London properties
- Flooding due to rising seas could cost $1 trillion by 2050
- Deadly 1,000-year floods strike Colorado
- Colorado floods: 3 dead, 1 missing, rescue efforts continue amid rain
- Colorado Flooding: Did Climate Change Play A Role In Recent Disaster?
- 5 Things You Should Know About Colorado’s ‘1,000 Year Flood’
- Flooding in Europe June 2013
- Flooding in Hungary 2013
- Flooding in Hungary and Central Europe 2010
- Floods in Pakistan
- Floods in India 2013
- Floods in Canada 2013
- Floods in Canada 2011
- 2013 Alberta Floods Were Costliest Natural Disaster In Canadian History, Insurers Estimate
- Deadly floods in Sri Lanka 2012
- Deadly floods in Sri Lanka 2011 (BBC)
- Floods in Sri Lanka 2013
- Floods in Mexico 2013
- Floods in Russia 2013
- Floods in China 2013
- CT, NY, NJ Should Expect Unprecedented Flooding by Mid-Century, Scientists Predict
- The where and when of wetter and drier: disappearing Arctic sea ice plays a role (Feb 2014)
- California’s Devastating Drought Takes a Significant Turn for the Worse (Aug 2014)
- Iran’s energy minister: Condition of country’s water resources extremely critical (Feb 2014)
- California Drought Impact Seen Spreading From Fires to Food Cost (Feb 2014)
- Europe to Suffer from More Severe and Persistent Droughts (Science Daily Jan 2014)
- Australian heatwaves getting hotter and longer, says Climate Council (Guardian Jan 2014)
- California Has Driest Year Ever — And It May Get Worse (Jan 2014)
- California drought: Water officials look to rules of ’70s
- Australia Heat Wave Sets Records Across Continent (Jan 2014)
- Check out this shocking map of California’s drought (Jan 2014)
- The Pyromaniacs Arrive with Blowtorches on Planet Earth (Jan 2014)
- White House smacks down climate deniers in new video (Jan 2014)
- Severe drought has US West fearing worst (NYT Feb 2014)
- Lake Mead is shrinking — and with it Las Vegas’ water supply (CBS Jan 2014)
Rising sea levels
- Italian Island Hit By ‘Apocalyptic’ Storm As 17 Inches Of Rain Fall In 90 Minutes
- Study: Arctic Sea Ice Loss Shifts Jet Stream, Driving Deluges In NW Europe, Drought In Mediterranean
- Hurricanes batter Northern Europe CNN Oct 2013
- 2013 in review: a year of increasing extreme weather events. John Vidal looks back at a year of record heatwaves, floods, rainstorms and cyclones (The Guardian, Dec 2013)
- Mexico to revise 2014 budget after storms
- The effects of climate change: Storm damage in Europe on the rise (Swiss re)
- Typhoon in China 2013
- Deadly storm and tidal surge batter northern Europe (BBC, Dec.,2013)
- 2013 in review: a year of increasing extreme weather events. John Vidal looks back at a year of record heatwaves, floods, rainstorms and cyclones (The Guardian, Dec 2013)
- Typhoon Fitow Hits China: Half A Million People Forced To Evacuate
- Super-Typhoon Haiyan is almost like Katrina and Sandy combined (Nov 2013)
- Philippine Typhoon Death Toll Feared in Thousands
- Typhoon Haiyan – Was That Huge Storm Caused by Climate Change?
- Extreme Weather Events in Europe: preparing for climate change adaptation
- El Nino Patterns Could Become Twice As Likely In A Warming World
- Extreme heat forecasted for the USA June 2013
- Deadly Heat Wave in the West Brings Fires and Travel Delays (NYT, June 2013)
- Record heat over Alaska 2013
- Dust bowl blues – the US South West drying out
- Extreme heat waves to quadruple by 2040, study says
- Heat waves in China 2013
- The Amazon Rain Forest Is Drying Out, Probably Because Of Climate Change
- Climate Change Report Predicts Warming Will Only Make Human Ills Worse
- The Jet Stream: How Its Response To Enhanced Arctic Warming Is Driving More Extreme Weather
- Stand by for another DECADE of wet summers, say Met Office meteorologists
- Climate change: warm words and cool waters. A pause in the warming?
- Wildfires and climate change
- A Closer Look at Climate Panel’s Findings on Global Warming Impacts
- IPCC (2007) Global climate projections
- Extreme weather patterns and the possible role of climate change (Face the nation)
- Top 20 cities with billions at risk from climate change
- Arctic Warming and Increased Weather Extremes: The National Research Council Speaks
- Arctic sea ice melts at alarming rate
- Arctic sea ice loss (video)
- Vast costs of Arctic change (Nature)
- Seeking Clarity on Terrible Tornadoes in a Changing Climate
- Is monster Oklahoma twister linked to climate change
- Violent Tornadoes Kill 7 in US Midwest, Dozens Injured (Nov 2013)
Climate change and agriculture
- Almost Too Horrible to Contemplate: Global Warming Could Destroy the Lives of 750 Million People in the Short Future
- Alaska on the edge. USAs first climate refugees
- Which is more likely to drive people from their homes — floods or heat waves? Climate migration in Pakistan (Feb 2014)