Business-As-Usual Will Bring a Global Warming Tipping Point in 40 Years

By Eliza Strickland | April 30, 2009 10:44 am

smokestacksIf the human race continues on its present industrial course, by 2040 we will have added more than 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide to the air–which will have caused an average global temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the scenario described in two new studies, both published in Nature, that paint an ominous picture of global warming. A worldwide temperature rise of just a few degrees may not sound like much, but it would lead to wide-scale environmental disruptions including floods and droughts, and more than 100 nations support the goal of keeping temperature rise below 2C [BBC News].  

The studies, which used computer models, take a different approach than other research on figuring out how much carbon dioxide in the air is too much. Instead of the proportion of carbon dioxide in the air at any given time, they looked at the total amount spewed out over many decades to arrive at a tipping point of 1.1 trillion tons [AP]. As study coauthor Myles Allen explains, the analysis shows that humanity is hurtling towards that tipping point. Industrial activity since the mid-18th century has already emitted 500 billion tonnes of carbon, so we are halfway there. “But don’t let this fool you,” says Allen. “On current trends we’ll burn the next 500 billion in less than 40 years.” If we carry on regardless, we will exhaust what Allen calls the “carbon budget for the human race” by 2040 [New Scientist].

The second study examined what it would take to prevent that temperature rise, and came to the conclusion that cutting emissions means not burning as much fossil fuels, leaving about three quarters of the known reserves in the ground, the study authors said. “Not much at all of coal reserves can be burnt and still keep below” the 3.6 degrees of warming [AP], says study coauthor Bill Hare.

Both studies suggest that cutting greenhouse gas emissions earlier would be easier and cheaper than delaying action. But, says Hare, some key governments appear to favour pledging milder cuts in the near term in return for more drastic ones in decades to come. “We have a number of countries – the US, Japan, Brazil – saying ‘we will emit higher through to 2020 and then go down faster'” [BBC News]. The researchers argue that if nations fail to reduce their emissions soon, they’ll be forced to adopt expensive adaptation methods, and may eventually be compelled to clean up the mess by actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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Image: flickr/ Salim Virji

  • Michael

    All of this hysteria when global temperatures have been falling for the last 10 years, and are very likely to continue to fall for at least the next decade or so. These climate models simply don’t take into account many of the mega factors in the earth’s climate picture like sunspots and retrograde movements. These mega factors have shown a remarkably high correlation to the earth’s climate variations over many thousands of years and are virtually ignored by these politically based models. This sort of thing does great damage to the veracity of scientists and to the public’s faith in science. I remember during the early to mid 70’s the same sort of scientists were predicting an ice age and global famine.

    The consequences for humanity during another Younger Dryas type event will be far more disruptive and severe than global warming, but we continue to undermine our most abundant and reliable energy resources at the exact time that we will need them the most.

    This is what happens when scientists become political whores.

  • no need

    Michael, I do not disagree; it is possible this is sensationalism at it best. That said, I do not want another 500 billion tonnes of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. Global warming is still up in the air, but the health problems associated with pollution from car emissions and factories are indisputable. As a result, it is completely irrelevant that “…mega factors have shown a remarkably high correlation to the earth’s climate variations over many thousands of years.” I simply don’t care. I have to live on this earth for the next eighty years, so I ask that you reconsider your stance on pollution and emissions for the sake of the next generation

  • Kyle

    Michael, your information is also inaccurate. In the 70s there were only a handful of scientists that made the claim that a new global ice age was approaching, which the media really blew out of proportion. Even in the 1970s, more scientists believed that global warming would be a problem rather than “global freezing.” Also keep in mind that the technological advancements that we have made in the last 30-40 have greatly increased the ability of climate scientists to accurately measure climate activity and have increased our ability to project more reliable climate models.

  • Nick

    Thank you Kyle. The anti-global warming ‘science’ is politically motivated at best, completely non-science at worst. The scientific community is as-close to 100% as you get about anything (including gravity) on global warming.

    And believe me, the way weather in changing in my home town there are few skeptics here.

  • Clark

    I have to agree with some comments that have been made in response to your entry. I too agree that continuing to put tons upon tons of additional polution into the air is never a good idea.
    So, does CO2 add to global warming? Well based on farely good science, the anser is yes. What exactly the total impact is yet to be fully determined. There is some evidence that solar output has fluctuated downward slightly, which could in itself help trigger the next ice age. If this is true, then more CO2 could be a good thing, helping to compensate. The problem with this is having a good measurement of what solar output has been like over the last 50 thousand years or more is somewhat harder to determine.
    So, bottom line, does CO2 increase solar heat absorbtion? Yes according to science. Is this a bad thing? It all depends. Are we putting too much CO2 into the air? According to good science and measurements, absolutely.

  • Michael

    The scientific community is very far from 100% on the global warming issue. There are literally thousands of very reputable scientists who see this issue as being politically motivated and not science. I have a folder full of statements by very respected scientists, some Nobel winners, who are alarmed by the hysteria and misinformation about global warming. I did this on my own because I was getting some very conflicting information from various sources.

    The accepted model that the IPCC uses has been very wrong in it’s projections about the earth’s warming trend. From 1998 it has been a cooling trend, and 2007 and 2008 virtually wiped out all of the warming from about 1950 to now. 2009 is looking like yet another exceptionally cool year, at least as judged by the global warming standards. The model projected a warming trend, even considering that some isolated years might be cooler than others. The trend proved false. The model predicted an increase in sea levels which hasn’t happened. The model predicted glacier melts, when, in fact, northern hemisphere glaciers have been getting thicker. Antarctic ice is thickening, and the sea ice around that continent is getting larger.

    So virtually all of the projections of the model and it’s adherents have proven to be in error. We are now in the midst of a sunspot void, which has historically been the case when entering a global cooling period. The sun’s retrograde is now approaching max, which again has been the harbinger of global cooling, not warming. All signs foretell of a cooling period, perhaps as severe as the Younger Dryas event. The comparatively miniscule amount of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere will have virtually no effect on these forces.

    On the contrary, there weren’t just a few scientists predicting a new ice age in the 70’s. Do the research as I did and you will see a lot more respected scientists predicting cooling than you think, or have been told.

    I don’t allow any politicians to do my thinking for me, especially when it comes to science. In addition, concensus, and especially a false concensus, should never be the basis for good science.

  • larry kraus

    I find it amazing that there are people that believe global warming is fiction. We are approaching a tipping point and we can’t even start to talk about it because half the people that are needed to fashion a way to avert this is talking about stopping gays from marrying. This is like driving down the road with a blindfold on with the other guy telling you which way to turn the car. The problem is sometimes that guy wants to play with the shinny gold toy. Global warming is real and we are causing it. Big oil will push us down the road as far as they can by buying votes in congress. The Supreme court calls it free speech i cal it buying a politician.

  • PTownGrad

    Dear Micheal,

    Please supply a website, book, article, speech, or any reputable source for your claim:

    “From 1998 it has been a cooling trend, and 2007 and 2008 virtually wiped out all of the warming from about 1950 to now. 2009 is looking like yet another exceptionally cool year, at least as judged by the global warming standards.”

    I would be really interested in reading more about these trends that exist and why all the other scientific articles I have read in the last 5 years have said the complete contrary. Clearly someone is lying and wrong, I would just like to know if its you or the hundreds or publications around the scientific community.

  • Yamaneko

    It’s true that climatologists are not at 100% agreement; for that matter theologians are not at 100% agreement that Pope Benedict XVI is Roman Catholic. Global warming enjoys more consensus than the Pope’s Catholicism, but it’s Pope Benedict XVI’s Midnight Mass and not that of Mel Gibson’s church that gets broadcast.

    Anyway, 1998 was an extremely warm year since CO2-induced climate change is not the only factor. 1998 saw an intense El Niño, so it would be the warmest of the bunch. 2008 saw both a La Niña and a solar minimum; the two in combination would be expected to knock 0.5 to 1.2 C off global temperatures; even so 2008 was a warm year. 2009 will be interesting since we’re expecting a moderate El Niño and the Sun is becoming more active.

  • Andrew

    Dear Micheal
    In May someone asked you too supply references for your claims. I am equally puzzled by them. Especially
    “The model predicted glacier melts, when, in fact, northern hemisphere glaciers have been getting thicker. Antarctic ice is thickening, and the sea ice around that continent is getting larger.”
    How can you say that? I was under the impression and have seen photos etc showing that the ice really is melting at an alarming rate.

  • D Wolfe

    Michael is correct. There are much more than many thousands of concerned scientists and economics The intentional distortion of the scientific method in study of climate change is tantamount to not only intellectual dishonesty but downright fraud and Madoff kind of ponzi scheme. The climategate emails are just the tip of the iceberg, which by the way has not been melting since the temperature has not risen in a decade. There is a lot of solid science in studying the drivers of changing climate. However, IPCC mission directed by the UNFCCC framework is erroneous – UNFCCC directed in the early 1990s the global climate change effort to determine and ameliorate the causes of climate change… this is a blank check unguided by prudence or rational analysis of cost/benefit. This is what drove the IPCC to distort, bias and withhold data and evidence and squelch dissent that is the hallmark of good science. The models are not scientific theories they are hypotheses that cannot be tested or compared with alternative. Models have two types of errors a) data b) specification. If I make a long term forecast with my model that is geared to demonstrate forcing of temperature with GHGs and it is compared with other models with the same assumptions you get similar results. Comparison of business as usual case has always been a way of getting attention but 100% meaningless when one looks at the patterns of CO2/GDP and CO2 / primary energy use esp of developing countries and is done just to alarmingly inflate the risk. This does not suggest validation, model accuracy or confirmation of the model. GIGO garbage in garbage out. If I built a 7 billion dollar complex based on this approach the B/D would hoot me out of the board room. IPCC has lacked sound management principles. The buck stops at the top with Pachauri but moreso with UN directors and the governments that have sponsored and pushed this. Change, expansion of government controls and power base. Where is Nick Stern now silent since his Stern Review was generally trashed by right thinking climate scientists and economists as cherry picking costs and benefits and applying precautionary social discount rates to inflate the need to act.

  • JC

    This is amazing. Michael and Wolfe remind me of Aaron Eckhart’s slick liar in “Thank You for Smoking,” with the tobacco industry standing as another example of an industry who did everything they could to suppress incontrovertible science up until they couldn’t anymore. The tobacco industry’s lies cost millions and millions of lives, but the hydrocarbon industry’s lies will likely cost far more. Notice how both Michael and Wolfe repeatedly deny the existence of global warming without actually citing any data.

    Even if the methodology of the UNFCCC were wrong, Wolfe – not that you provide any evidence for this – they’re far from the only group working on this. Climate research from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, NYU and Oxford, to name a few, also shows dangerous levels of warming due to CO2 emissions. Our planet and our species can’t afford your misinformation. Are you on someone’s payroll, a religious zealot awaiting the apocalypse, or just vehemently anti-science? Beyond those three, how anyone could dispute the solid, extensive science behind climate change research is beyond me.


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