Climactically Fucked

Global warming is fast becoming an urgent concern. However, although parliamentary debate surrounds implementation of Kyoto, and the 2006 G8 summit revolved heavily around global energy solutions, there is (not surprisingly) no attitude change within corporate and bureaucratic circles—their idea of “sustainability” revolves more around manipulating the current energy crisis to benefit their bottom lines and political interests than it does around the actual future of the environment.

The current state of global warming, as summarized by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that “the global average surface temperature has risen 0.6 ± 0.2°C since the late 19th century, and 0.17°C per decade in the last 30 years”, and that “if greenhouse gas emissions continue, the warming will continue and indeed accelerate, with temperatures increasing by 1.4°C to 5.8°C between 1990 and 2100”. Those are few degrees for so many years, but overall, if the Earth’s temperature rises more than 2°C on average, we will be what I would like to term “climatically fucked”.

There is, meanwhile, the slightest reason to hope that all is not lost: the sun may yet come to our rescue. As most popularly reported in the Sep 16-22 edition of New Scientist magazine by UK science journalist Stuart Clark, and backed up by studies in various scholarly journals, there is the chance of a sunspot crash in the near future. Top environmental scientists say that sunspot activity has reached an all-time high for the past 150 years, and that the expected crash of sun activity will result in a temperature drop of 0.2°C, a figure equivalent to the most optimistic Kyoto results. Climate change can be directly linked to sun activity, at least up until the past 30 years, at which point sun activity is likely only responsible for less than 30% of global warming, with the rest being attributable to greenhouse gas emissions. Still, it might just be the window we need…

This argument is both blessing and curse. As reported in the National Post by Terrence Corcoran on Sep 16, 2006, this news could easily be manipulated into an excuse for backing away from Kyoto policies and further discussion surrounding climate change. Corcoran completely ignored the central argument made by Leif Svalgaard of Stanford University: that “if the Earth does cool during the next sunspot crash and we do nothing [about man-made global warming], when the sun’s magnetic activity returns, global warming will return with a vengeance.” Instead he fell right into the article’s warning conclusion that “industrial polluters and reluctant nations could use [this argument] as a justification for turning their backs on pollution controls altogether, making matter worse in the long run.” We cannot afford to let corporate and governmental decision-makers believe that any temperature drop relating to the sun’s activity is somehow to do with their inadequate policies, lest they abandon the global warming discourse altogether.

So what do we need to do? “Sustainability” should not be about sustaining our current lifestyle; according to José Etcheverry, the climate change research and policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, it is through changing our cultural behaviour that we will be able to balance, and if we’re lucky, eventually reverse climate change. From simple acts such as turning off water when it’s not in use, to advocating local energy production, it is through reducing our dependency on fuel and oil-based technologies that we will be able to “help change the world in a revolutionary way”.

And if we’re smart, we’ll start making those changes before it’s too late.