Saturday, 6 April 2013

Global warming will change the world by 2100

by Zeeshan Hasan

What will the world look like in the year 2100? Climate scientists are now able to answer a substantial part of this question, and the projections they have for us are unsettling. Yet few people are aware of the findings of climate science due to an immense smokescreen of doubt which the fossil fuel lobby has raised around global warming research. These issues are dealt with in Global Warming and Political Intimidation: How Politicians Cracked Down on Scientists as The Earth Heated Up by Raymond S. Bradley (published by University of Massachusetts Press in 2010). Bradley is Distinguished Professor of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the United States.

Our modern world runs mainly on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas; burning these produces carbon dioxide, which traps heat from the sun and causes global warming. But whether or not human carbon dioxide emissions had actually produced real man-made global warming was a matter of debate among scientists for decades. In 1998, Bradley and his co-researchers published their 'hockey-stick graph' which depicted a 1,000-year decrease in average world temperatures, which was suddenly reversed in the 20th century. The only explanation for the sudden warming shown in the hockey stick was post-Industrial Revolution global warming. The 'hockey-stick graph' effectively proved that burning of coal, oil and gas has already changed the planet, and is changing it further as you read this article.

The publication of the 'hockey-stick graph' set off a tsunami of activity among the lobbyists of the fossil fuel industry. In the US, Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, who was on record as having received over half a million dollars from the fossil fuel industry during his 2004 Congressional race, launched a government-led witch-hunt, accusing Bradley and his co-researchers of fraud. Fortunately, other members of the US Congress opposed this blatantly political attack on science. However, attempts to discredit Bradley and his research continued; in 2009, hackers stole e-mails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the UK in an incident dubbed 'Climate-gate' by the press. An army of right-wing bloggers, journalists and other supporters of the fossil-fuel industry claimed that in one of the emails, another climate scientist had admitted that Bradley and his co-researchers had used a 'trick' to 'hide the decline' in world temperature, and that the research was therefore false. Numerous academic enquiries were launched against Bradley and his co-researchers; ultimately none found any wrongdoing on their part or mistakes in their work. However, widespread coverage of the Climate-gate email hacking had already served to discredit climate science and global warming in the public eye. Though based entirely on false accusations, Climate-gate contributed to the failure of international climate talks on carbon emissions.

What are the findings of climate scientists that the fossil fuel industry has tried so hard to discredit? The original 1997 'hockey-stick graph' only analysed historical temperatures over the previous 1000 years. In his book, Bradley gives an extended 'hockey-stick graph' to predict world temperatures until the year 2100, given below.

As visible from the graph, at projected carbon dioxide emissions, the world can be expected to heat up by about 3.0 degrees C by 2100. This is probably enough to melt the Greenland ice cap, raising sea levels by about 80 feet (25 metres). Such sea level rise would submerge Bangladesh and most coastal cities in the world, including New York, Los Angeles, London, Sydney, Mumbai, Kolkata and Shanghai. Food will be more expensive and famines more common as parts of Asia and Africa will become too hot for farming.

How likely is this quantity of carbon dioxide to be emitted? Bradley gives details:
"The projected temperatures are from the future scenario... which envisions carbon dioxide emissions rising to 16 billion metric tons by 2050... then declining to 13 billion by 2100... This is a ¨middle of the road¨ estimate compared to the range of scenarios considered by the IPCC." — Global Warming and Political Intimidation: How Politicians Cracked Down on Scientists as The Earth Heated Up (Page 139)
'Middle of the road' actually means that the above is an optimistic projection; it assumes that sizable reductions will be made in carbon dioxide emissions over the next few decades. So far, none of these reductions has been made, and emissions are still going up. Unless real action is taken quickly, the above projection may well be a best-case scenario. The only way to improve on this outcome is to quickly replace coal, oil and gas with solar, wind and nuclear power. Anyone who wishes to see a better future for his/her children and grandchildren needs to pressure the government to that end.

(First published on 7th April 2013 in the Financial Express in Bangladesh)