Why the World Bank says we must decarbonise now
Must the World Bank now be added to the supposed list of environmentally-alarmist institutions seeking to use the perceived threat of climate change as a pretext for imposing global authoritarian government via the United Nations? This is essentially the position of all those that dispute the reality of the 97% scientific consensus - or the IPCC’s 95% confidence - that humans are the primary cause of the climate change we are now witnessing.
Unfortunately for such conspiracy theorists, the truth of the matter is much more unpleasant: Climate scientists are not engaged in a global conspiracy to provide the UN with an excuse to subvert the power of national governments. Conspiracy or not, it would be bad enough if our national governments had spent the last 25 years ignoring the warnings of climate scientists. However, the truth of the matter is even more insidious: The IPCC has spent the last 20 years or so compiling reports detailing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we face, only to have our national governments systematically neuter their reports and ignore the warnings they contained.
Similarly, it seems, our national governments appear determined to ignore warnings from professional bodies, national scientific academies, and international organisations. Anyone who asserts that humanity needs to stop burning fossil fuels as fast as possible is, it seems, immediately dismissed as an environmental ‘alarmist’.
If you stop to think about it objectively, even for a moment, the reasons for this are very obvious: Far more serious even than the USA defaulting on its debt repayments, the problem is that the share prices of the World’s fossil fuel companies are entirely dependent upon the assumption that all the Earth’s fossil fuels will be burned. This is referred to as ‘business as usual’ (BAU).
Thus, in the minds of our politicians at least, if they accept the reality that we have a problem at all, the only solution to the problem is one that allows fossil fuel companies to continue with BAU.
Unfortunately for our politicians, fossil fuel companies, and all life on Earth (human and non-human), such a solution does not exist and is, almost certainly, technologically unachievable in the timescale that it would now be required.
The solution everyone is hoping will emerge is carbon capture and storage (CCS). This is a subject about which I have written a great deal; and I do not intend to repeat myself now other than to say this: CCS will only be able to help solve our problem when the rate of removal of CO2 from our atmosphere is greater than global emissions. Getting CCS to work will take decades (as will decarbonising our economies). It is quite possible that we do not have decades of time in which to do either but, one thing is for sure, it makes no sense to delay making a serious attempt to do either.
Therefore, I believe all would do well to ponder the question as to why the World Bank published ‘Inclusive Green Growth: The Pathway to Sustainable Development’ last year. There is a big clue given in the ‘Abstract‘, which reads as follows:
Economic development during the next two decades cannot mirror the previous two: poverty reduction remains urgent but growth and equity can be pursued without relying on policies and practices that foul the air, water, and land.
The World Bank accepts that humanity cannot go on treating the Earth with contempt; treating it as if both its resources and regenerative capacity are infinite. This is because, as is becoming increasingly obvious (in the case of the latter at least), they are not infinite.
This brings us to the crux of this post, which is to refute the entirely bogus argument that we humans have nothing to be afraid of because climate change is natural; life has survived it in the past; and will therefore do so again. There are at least two problems with this line of argument:
1. Because we were already in a warm interglacial period – and atmospheric CO2 is now 40% higher than at any time in the last 1 million years – it is highly unreasonable to dispute the fact that post-Industrial warming is unnatural (i.e. all sparrows may be birds but not all birds are sparrows).
2. In the entirety of Earth history, there have been 5 mass extinction events (i.e. periods when between 50 and 95% of all species have been wiped out). These events are each associated with periods when global average temperatures were more than 5 Celsius warmer than they are now (and there is strong evidence that a sixth mass extinction is already underway).
In responding to sensible comments on my previous post, ‘A summary of the ‘Climate Departure’ research of Mora et al.‘, I found myself referring to the most recent mass extinction event in the Earth’s history, the so-called Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred 55 million years before present (MaBP). However, as the following video graphically demonstrates, what is now happening to the Earth’s climate as a result of the post-Industrial burning of fossil fuels, is looking increasingly like the Permian mass extinction event, which occurred 252 MaBP.
This video is only about 10 minutes long, so I hope people will watch it. If not, however, the main points are summarised below:
1. There have been five mass extinctions before and humans are now almost certainly causing a sixth.
2. The ongoing melting of terrestrial ice will now cause sea level to rise continuously for several centuries.
3. This is probably unstoppable but is survivable (i.e. assuming all humans can move away from coastal areas).
4. All past mass extinction events occurred when global average temperatures > 5 Celsius warmer than now.
5. Common to each event is further rapid warming triggered by methane release from permafrost and seabed.
6. We already have evidence that rates of both species extinction and methane release are now accelerating.
7. Positive feedback mechanisms (such as disappearing sea ice) will soon make methane release unstoppable.
8. If this ‘tipping point’ is passed, anthropogenic climate disruption will almost certainly be unsurvivable.
This is why the World Bank agrees that we need to decarbonise our global economies as fast as possible.