In the last few posts I have been considering greenhouse gas emissions. I have cited journal and newspaper articles which reveal a growing realisation that greenhouse gas emissions are at a level which makes it very likely that there is going to be an extremely dangerous increase in the temperature of the planetary atmosphere later this century.
Despite the increasingly widespread realisation that this is so, there is still optimism that this extremely dangerous scenario can be averted if governments get together and agree to significantly reduce their emissions. One is tempted to believe that many people are blinkered into thinking that the only solution is to significantly reduce emissions. So, whilst the reality is that this isn't going to happen, people still want to believe that it can happen. People are, in the main, optimistic; so, if there is only one solution to a problem, then it is natural to keep on hoping that this solution can be attained, whatever the reality of the situation. There is clearly a gap between ambition and reality. Indeed, in the recently published Emissions Gap Report 2012, Achm Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, states that the report:
"provides a sobering assessment of the gulf between ambition and reality"
The gulf between the reality of emissions being way too high to prevent dangerous warming is accepted; this reality is completely out of kilter with the ambition to have massively lower emissions. Yet, the report still tries to be optimistic in its conclusions, stating that it is "technically possible" that emissions can be slashed and that dangerous warming can be averted.
What does it mean to be "technically possible"? This way of looking at the situation seems to simply be a case of misplaced optimism and it could be extremely dangerous; it just seems to mean not theoretically impossible (which is, of course, true). It is also "technically possible" that I could win the National Lottery Jackpot every week for a year. However, when one gets serious, one needs to leave these theoretical "technical possibilities" aside, and return to reality! The reality is that 'the force to environmental destruction' (see Is the Human Species Special?: Why human-induced global warming could be in the interests of life ) will continue to dominate; greenhouse gas emissions will not be slashed in the time-frame that is required.
Another report has just been released by the World Bank:
According to this report:
"the world is on track to a “4°C world” marked by extreme heat-waves and life-threatening sea level rise"
"As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C, there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.
The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen."
In this report there is clearly an admirable ambition to avoid the extreme danger that we face from a massive increase in temperatures triggered by an above 2°C rise (due to the associated nonlinear tipping points which are likely to result in a runaway warming effect). Yet this ambition is again out of kilter with reality. This is because there is a misplaced belief that the desired outcome can be achieved through emissions cuts.
The sooner that reality is fully accepted the better it will be. When one realises that one's proposed solution to a problem is completely out of kilter with reality, then it is usually best to seek another solution. This isn't a bad thing, a sign of failure. In this case, the realisation will simply cause one to shift one's energy and focus to a real solution to the problem; a solution which is in accordance with reality. Of course, you know what this solution is: the geoengineering of the temperature of the atmosphere.
As a final note, many people still seem to believe that if emissions were 'magically' slashed from tomorrow, that everything would be fine. However, this seems to be another case of the widespread human need to be optimistic; there are good reasons to believe that in reality even this would not make any difference; the 'damage' has already been done due to past actions whose time-lag biogeochemical perturbation effects have yet to be manifested in increasing atmospheric temperatures. For more on this see: An Evolutionary Perspective on the Relationship between Humans and their Surroundings: Geoengineering, the purpose of life & the nature of the universe .
So, the World Bank report is right that "only early, cooperative, international actions" can avoid a 4°C rise. The real question which needs to be addressed is what these actions are. When reality is accepted then the ambition to avoid such a rise can be met with a solution that can work (geoengineering), rather than with the current obsession with the completely ineffectual alternative (attempting to slash emissions). So, if reality can be widely accepted then there is still reason to be optimistic; one just needs to place one's optimism in the right solution.