Climate report: “Almost no chance” of less than 3½°F (2°C) rise; 50-50 chance of 5½°F (3°C); headed for 9°F

Housekeeping note: I’m on vacation at the moment. Posting will be intermittent (or worse) for the next week or so. I’ll return to regular writing next week.

UPDATE: A complete list of climate series pieces is available here:
The Climate series: a reference post.
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This is an update on the global warming “floor,” currently sits at 1½°C — 3°F.

Just to remind you:

  • Current global warming is .8°C — 1½°F. It plays out differently in different places.

  • There’s more in the pipeline that can’t be stopped. This gives us a current “floor” of 1½°C — 3°F. (When does that arrive? I’m working to find out; stay tuned.)
  • If we keep dumping carbon — and lining the pockets of the carbon CEOs — that floor will be the magic 2°C — 3½°F. World leaders, minus Barack Obama, would like to stop there.
  • At some point the new floor will be James Hansen’s “game over” 3°C — 5½°F. That will be a different world, the start of mass extinctions.
  • If the warming runs to its natural end, by whatever means, we get 7°C — 12½°F — assuming there’s a “we” to get anything by that time.

Keep your eye on that “floor” — it’s moving as we speak.

Which brings me to this news via Channel 4 in the U.K. (my emphasis and paragraphing):

The planet could be facing a catastrophic 5 degree [centigrade; 9°F] temperature rise, and we are losing time to address the threat of climate change, one of the government’s leading scientists tells Channel 4 News.

Speaking before he steps down as chief scientist at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Sir Bob Watson also warned that governments couldn’t afford to do nothing about greenhouse gas emissions despite the economic downturn, writes Channel 4 News Science Editor Tom Clarke [the interviewer in the video below].

At global climate summits like in Copenhagen in 2009 it was agreed to try and limit global warming to two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial temperatures [note again that 1800 is the standard baseline].

“There is really almost no chance now of meeting that [2°C] political target,” said Dr Watson, who also served chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“If we continue the way we are we’ve got a 50-50 shot of a 3 degree [warmer] world and I would not rule out a 5 degree world.”

Here’s the video; he says more than noted above:

Watch this not just for the scientist’s replies, but also for the questioner’s positioning. For example, at :30 he frames a question about countries not wanting to act as “understandable, given the fact that they’re trying to get their economies back off the floor…”

And again at 1:32 he asks if “some of the alarmism” and “extreme viewpoints” and the message about “making people feel guilty about their behavior” is the wrong approach.

As he spoke, I thought, “Ah, conventional wisdom. All the reasons for not acting, and not telling people they should act soon.”

I also caught his assumption that changing people’s behavior was the answer. Ah, no — my neighbors aren’t digging up carbon to put into the air; they’re not the ones whose behavior needs to change.

Still, Mr. Clarke hosted the interview, it’s a good one, and I thank him for that.

For the record, the “how to stimulate the economy” problem is for me not a valid offset to “how to keep the planet from going mainly pre-industrial” (6:10 in the clip).

In my mind, we may not get all good things into balance; we may have to choose between (ahem) greater evils and lesser ones. The lesser evil may just be the deprivation now that forestalls devastation later. I clearly don’t think he’s being aggressive enough in his list of solutions — asking isn’t going to get results as I see it.

And besides, if you really want to do both, save the economy and save the planet … well, there’s plenty of money amongst the people who are the real perps. The carbon companies and CEOs are loaded, bathing in it. Just saying.

I’ll have more on that moving floor, including some timelines if I can find them.

If I read this chart correctly, “game over” 3°C — 5½°F — arrives as early as the 2030s. That means it’s “in the pipeline” a whole lot sooner. (Figure 21 in this pdf; zoom to 100%.)

GP

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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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