It’s a truly bad news day for the global climate. Scientists in the US have found that the Earth is warming faster than at any time since the last Ice Age 11,300 years ago and maybe even further back. They found that most of that warming has happened in the last 100 years and cannot be explained by ‘natural temperature variation’. That puts human activities squarely in the frame.
Global average temperatures increased by about 0.6 degrees Celsius from 11,300 to 9,500 years ago. then remained relatively constant for about 4,000 years. From about 4,500 years ago to roughly 100 years ago, global average temperatures cooled by 0.7 degrees Celsius. But over just the past century, the climate has recovered that warmth – thanks to rising carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation.
Although it is true that temperatures have been higher in the past, the speed at which they are rising is unprecedented. That has huge implications for our capacity to adapt and change. The Earth had a relatively stable and benign climate for 10,000 years which allowed the emergence of agriculture, and the development of great civilisations. Temperature changes during that period were almost certainly slow, giving plants and animals time to adjust and change. The current rapid spike could threaten the survival of many species and create severe stresses for human civilisations.
And the bad news doesn’t stop there. Scientists have this week reported that 2012 saw the second greatest jump in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since record keeping began in 1959. The rise in CO2 reflects the world's economy revving up and burning more fossil fuels. More coal-burning power plants, especially in the developing world, are the main reason emissions keep going up.
Current atmospheric carbon is now at 395.09 ppm, far above the 350 ppm climate scientists like NASA’s James Hansen say is a safe limit. Scientists have long recommended that the world needs to stay below a global average temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius in order to avoid catastrophic climate change and the world’s governments agree. This double whammy of bad news shows that we are rapidly reducing our chances of achieving that.
In spite of the accumulating evidence of the dangers climate change poses and the speed at which it is happening, the fossil fuel industry and the governments that support and enable it are planning 14 massive coal, oil and gas projects that would produce as much new CO2 emissions in 2020 as the entire US and delay action on climate change for more than a decade.
A new Greenpeace International report, Point of No Return, shows how burning the coal, oil and gas from these projects would significantly push emissions over what climate scientists have identified as the "carbon budget", the amount of additional CO2 that must not be exceeded in order to keep climate change from spiralling out of control.
The global renewal energy scenario developed by Greenpeace – the Energy [R]evolution – shows how to deliver the power and mobility these dirty projects are promising without the emissions and the destruction ... not only faster, but also at a lower cost. The clean energy future made possible by the development of renewable energy will only become a reality if governments rein in investments in dirty fossil fuels and support renewable energy.