How much time do we have left?

According to the influential Meinshausen paper, published in Nature in April 2009, the world can, after 2000, burn no more than 1437 billion tons of carbon if it is to have a 50% chance of avoiding climate catastrophe. To have an 80% chance we can burn no more than 886 billion tons.   Meinshausen calculated that by 2006 we had used up a quarter of that budget, and by 2010 scientists calculated we had used up still more, leaving at most another 565 that can be safely burnt. On average, since 2000 the world has burnt about 30 billion tons per annum. That gives us about twenty years to halt the rise in carbon emissions. Recent calculations have revised these figures. The scientists are now saying that to have a 66% chance of avoiding catastrophe we can afford to burn 1000 gt after 2011. But on the pledges made at Paris we will have used up 723 gt of that by 2030 and annual global emissions will have risen to 40 gt. That would give us another fourteen years. It would be impossible to bring down temperatures from the peak they will have then reached to zero in fourteen years. Before 2040 we will be facing a 2.7 temperature rise, runaway global warming taking hold and global catastrophe.

In the last five years the situation has worsened dramatically.

Even as late as 2010 it was not unreasonable to think that climate change could be contained without too much difficulty. According to the Hubbert Curve, oil production would peak between 2008 and 2014, its price would rise and renewables would come into their own. But Hubbert has turned out to be completely misleading. Since 2010 astonishing amounts of oil have been discovered, more in the Permian Basin in Texas alone than there is in Saudi Arabia. The London based Carbon Tracker Initiative – a body of accountants who advise companies about future financial trends – have calculated that the oil companies already have nearly 3000 billion tons in proven reserves, with more being discovered the whole time.   In other words, the oil companies already have enough oil in reserve to roast the world five or six times over. Tracker calculated that if all that oil is left in the ground the oil companies would lose 60% of their share value. Even worse, much of it has already been sold on the futures markets.   Serious action to prevent global warming would mean huge sums of money being lost, and, since oil is its basis, the world’s whole financial system becoming destabilized. You can see why the politicians are reluctant to take that serious action.

What could happen?

The scientists are solemnly warning us that 2 degree of temperature increase, and even more 4, could mean far more violent and frequent hurricanes, floods and droughts; whole countries going under water; hundreds of millions homeless and short of food and water, especially in South-east Asia and Africa; and, what they fear most, vicious resource wars that could well go nuclear and acts of terrorism using WMD in the cities of the developed world, as desperate people seek to force the haves to share what they have.   Even a hundred thousand asylum seekers have reduced Europe to desperation. What will it be like when there are hundreds of millions? We must avert this total breakdown of the world at all costs.