I was struck at a meeting last night where someone was talking about the possible outcomes from Paris based on the current opening bids by countries. The headline, much (mis)reported is that current scenario based on proposed commitments (if they were all delivered, if all the positive feedback loops that have been identified but are not included in the calculation do not kick in, if the effects of already baked in changes do not derail things,…etc etc etc) will create a global average temperature rise of 3.5deg Centigrade by 2100.
The trouble is…The trouble is that in itself sounds both ok, and terribly distant. Three and a half is not a big number and 2100 is a long time in the future, I’ve got more immediate things to worry about…
Remember 2 degrees average increase in global temperature has been flagged for years as dangerous for current human societies. 4 degrees is flagged as severe, not just dangerous.
And 2 degrees is not a small number. The range of temperatures at which you feel comfortable is probably about 20 degrees. Anything under 5C and we are moaning how cold it is, anything over 25C and its “phew what a scorcher” time. The difference between a 30C heatwave and a 33.5C heatwave is death for a significant number of people (but probably not you, so that’s ok). And of course the global average masks far wider local variations in extremes. 3.5 degrees in the polar regions is the difference between ice and water.
Now consider this. Average life expectancy in the UK is 81.5 years. Over one third of children born in the UK last year will (all other things being equal and assuming nothing changes – which of course it will) live to be over 100 years old.
A child born this year has a nearly evens chance of still being around in 2100. Anyone under 20 has a good chance of still being here. It is not the distant future. Effects in 2100 are here today.
Not only that, to get to 3.5 deg by 2100, and have the increase levelling off by then because we are no longer emitting any CO2 from our activities apart from breathing, we have to pass through a 2 degree rise somewhere around the middle of the century.
2 degrees remember is dangerous – right. Not so much perhaps to the young and healthy but certainly to the elderly and less robust. Now I am 63, and I have long held an ambition to die the winter after my 100th birthday in 2052. That means in my dotage I will be living in a +2 degree world. Dangerous.
With life expectancy around 80 years if you are 45 now then there is a very good chance that you will be able to come to my funeral in December 2052. Or is there? By that time you too will be in the group most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the effects will be impacting then.
It is really not about what happens in 2100. For anyone under 70 it is about what happens to you in your lifetime.
This is real. We need to get real in our responses to it.