Climate doomsayer Guy McPherson was in Auckland last week, talking about Runaway Abrupt Climate Change.
I do not call him a doomsayer to belittle him or what he has to say. For he is saying things that need to be said, things that too few want to acknowledge, let alone take action on.
When McPherson says “the situation (climate change) is far worse than it was (in 2014)”, the scientific evidence proves him right. Atmospheric carbon levels have now exceeded 400 ppm and 2016 is projected to be the hottest year on record.
But then he goes on to say, “There’s no point trying to fight climate change … there’s nothing we can do to stop it”. His denial of our will to survive is beyond defeatist.
For sure, the task of bringing atmospheric carbon back to levels the earth can sustain is ginormous. But not even worth trying for?
As Yoda said in the future, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
And do two things we must, if McPherson’s non-future is to be avoided.
One is to eliminate burning fossil fuels. As unlikely as that is, it will not avoid catastrophic climate change as the carbon already in the atmosphere will continue to drive warming for decades yet.
Second is to take carbon out of the atmosphere.
High tech Carbon Capture and Storage processes are seen by many as the way to save the world. But they either do not work yet, or are too expensive. While politicians wait for technologic fixes, the risks become ever more dire.
There are two low tech means to sequestering atmospheric carbon that could be implemented from tomorrow if there was the political nous.
First is planting trees. We can and should do that, but it will have only a small impact in the time scale McPherson talks about.
Second is to make biochar and bury it in agricultural soils.
Making biochar from forestry and municipal waste would give us the win-win-win of renewable biofuels, improved soils and less atmospheric carbon.
This sounds an easy do but the scale of the challenge before us is daunting.
To hold global warming to under 2°C, atmospheric carbon needs to be under 350 ppm. If emissions reductions had begun in 2005, a reduction rate of only 3.5% per year may have sufficed. Starting today, the required reduction rate is 6% and if delayed until 2020, then it is 15%. Biochar sequestration can achieve a 12% rate. So doable it is if we start now.
As discussed last week, it is our perception of the risks that determines whether we take precautions or not. If we assess a low risk to catastrophic climate change, Guy McPherson will be proved right.