Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Unless we curtail carbon emissions, every attempt to adapt is doomed

John Gibbons in the Irish Times: In the first week of January last year I placed an €80 bet that 2013 would be among the top 10 hottest years since global records began in 1850. The odds: 1/80. This week, I collected my stake plus meagre one-euro winnings. I was right; so too were the bookies, hence the dismal odds on offer. The year 2013 has been confirmed as the 7th hottest globally on record.

Astonishingly, all 10 of the hottest years have occurred in just the past 15 years. Following – literally – hot on the heels of a tumultuous 2012, last year was again marked by weather extremes, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. “The coldest years now are actually warmer than the hottest years before 1998,” said the organisation’s secretary-general, Michel Jarraud.

... Meanwhile, the US is gripped in what is known as a polar vortex. This has led to a predictable outbreak of jeering by flat-earthers and Murdoch-owned media about the freezing temperatures “proving” global warming is some kind of hoax.

The reality, ironically, may be the precise opposite. Loss of ice cover in the Arctic is causing heat from the ocean to be released into the atmosphere, reducing the region’s temperature differential versus lower latitudes. This has the effect of weakening the powerful circular wind system known as the polar vortex, allowing it to escape southwards – with dra
matic consequences.

Former chief climate adviser Sir David King warned this week that Britain faced having to spend up to £1 billion a year by 2020 building defences against extreme weather events driven by global warming. “Storms and severe weather conditions that we might have expected to occur once in 100 years may now be happening more frequently,” he told the BBC.

....Worldwide, adaptation to rising sea levels and more weather extremes will be an ongoing battle this century. However, unless we sharply curtail the massive carbon emissions that are ratcheting up the global thermostat, every effort at adaptation is doomed to failure as climate destabilisation wrecks economies, devastates food production and risks drawing 100 centuries of human flourishing to an abrupt halt.

Francis Danby's 1829 painting, "Scene from the Apocalypse"

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