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THE CLIMATE HORIZON: A LECTURE BY GWYNNE DYER
When you talk to the people at the sharp end of the climate business, there is an air of suppressed panic in many of the conversations. We are not going to get through this without taking a lot of casualties, if we get through it at all.
Every country in the world has pledged never to allow the rise in the average global temperature to exceed two degrees Celsius, but we are probably going to pass right through the two-degree limit. 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will give us +2C, and we are already at 400 ppm.
Plus 2 degrees is the point of no return, because that will trigger the “feedbacks”, irreversible natural processes that will also cause global warming: an ice-free Arctic Ocean, the melting of the permafrost, and immense releases of carbon dioxide from the warming oceans. After that, we could cut our own greenhouse gas emissions to zero and find that the warming was still heading for plus five or six degrees Celsius. That would mean mass death.
The professional military everywhere have grasped that the first and biggest impact of global warming, for human beings, is on the food supply, and that countries in the tropics and the sub-tropics will suffer more and earlier than others. Even before +2C, that will generate huge numbers of refugees, of “failed states”, and of wars between countries that must share river systems. There will be lots of jobs for the military.
But there may be a way to cheat. Scientists have proposed various geo-engineering techniques that would artificially hold the temperature below +2 degrees even if we go through 450 ppm. They are only stop-gap measures, but if they worked they might win us enough extra time to get our emissions down without triggering the feedbacks.
This is the biggest crisis human beings have ever faced, and overcoming it will require an unprecedented level of global cooperation. But there may be a way through it.
Moderated by Charlie Smith, editor of The Georgia Straight.