Some sobering information: the time to act is now!

ARRCC Committee member Jonathan Keren-Black reflects on some sobering news around climate change predictions.

Jonathan Keren-Black is Rabbi at the Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism in East Kew, Victoria, a founder member of the Jewish Ecological Coalition and GreenFaith/ARRCC.

Last week, I attended a monthly update session organised by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE). BZE, a serious and professional group based at Melbourne University, gave a presentation to ARRCC supporters last year on their plan to power Australian with 100% renewables by 2050.

On this occasion they had organised David Spratt to be the speaker. David was co-author of 'Climate Code Red'. He also distributes a regular and informative e-newsletter. I had actually had a guest from Germany over the previous weekend, and he told me that there they have stopped talking about a 2 degree rise and have accepted that the world is now on track for at least a 4 degree rise. David was saying the same. Since the World Bank made its warning late last year, it is being commonly acknowledged that the predictions are between 4 and 6.1 degrees by the end of the century (IPCC) – and we could be facing 4 degrees much earlier - perhaps as soon as 2060. Whilst people don't really appreciate more days in the year being a few degrees hotter as a problem, the severity and destruction of Superstorm Sandy in the US and the incidence of extreme weather, such as the January 'Dome of Heat' in 2013 and huge bushfires, followed by severe flooding once more in Queensland, make it clear that the predicted changes are already a reality.

This is very sobering news, and the change from denial or ignoring the concerns, to learning that we might be facing a 2 degree rise, to now accepting the indications are 4 degrees and perhaps even 6, are profound shifts with worrying implications. One of the predicted factors rapidly being proved by facts on the ground is that these figures are global averages – that in some places, and particularly the Arctic, the warming will be – already is – far greater. An average two degree rise will melt the ice sheets, and that will lead to massive sea level rises. Forget the 0.9 metres that Australia is planning for, or even the 2 metres that the US military say could happen. The complete melting of the Arctic ice sheets will lead to a rise of at least 15 metres. We don't know how fast it will melt, though the minimum amount of ice measured in 2012 was only half the area that it was in 1984 – and even less in volume. Think about what just a few metres rise will mean for your city – even your own home. Think about how many cities are built on coasts and river estuaries (a large majority!).

David Spratt recommended reading Paul Giding's book 'The Great Disruption'. Bringing all the predictions together, some consider that an average four degree global temperature rise is not compatible with the organised world community on which we rely.

China is the biggest problem (but also potentially a significant part of possible solutions). China, with its Australian coal-powered industry and aspirational millions, is currently responsible for 28% of the world's emissions, almost twice as much as the second largest, the US at 16% (though with four times as many people). And whilst Australia, the US and Europe have stabilised per capita emissions and even started to see them decline a little due to awareness, energy efficiency measures, and pricing structures etc, China's has been shooting up, and has already reached European levels. Of course we have to recognise that much of these emissions in China are really ours – because we have sent so much production offshore! (Ironically, China is not saddled with a democratic system that seems only interested in short-term popularity and re-election or is prone to powerful lobby groups and intentional confusion of what is essentially a simple and urgent message. China's ruling party might well be able to respond quicker, and to make difficult economic decisions such as closing quite new power stations as soon as they have alternative renewable supplies in place - and as China is the world's largest investor in renewable technology this may happen sooner rather than later!)

The problems, and the huge inertia of the system which is now well under way, mean there will be no single, simple solution. But working together as a world, we already have the technology, if we have the will. Investing as fast as possible in wind and solar power, as well as further developing biomass, hydro, geo-thermal and wave, to stop burning oil, coal and gas as soon as we possibly can, will certainly help to reduce the rate and the amount of warming. With China's production skills, solar hot water and power systems have been rapidly reducing in price, and wind turbines and batteries are going the same direction. And there may well be technological breakthroughs – one exciting prospect is the artificial leaf, made of nano-particles, which uses the sun to turn water into oxygen and hydrogen, which can be used to create energy. Can't we invent a similar technology that can turn CO2 back into carbon and oxygen on a massive scale as quickly as the power station chimneys can produce it? A breakthrough like that, with the Chinese talent for making it cost-effective, could make all the difference. But we need it now!

Another of the hopeful signs is the grass-roots concern, and the various organisations developing around the world of which ARRCC is a part, such as GreenpeaceGreenFaith and Interfaith Light and Power (in the US), GreenFaith Australia, The Jewish Ecological CoalitionEarthSong, the Muslim 'Zamzam' project etc – and practical responses such as Beyond Zero Emissions. The people need to know the truth – and be heard!

For more information, see www.BeyondZeroEmissions.org and become a supporter: they are doing great stuff! The monthly discussions are webcast, and if you're in Melbourne, you're encouraged to attend in person at Melbourne Uni. 

Watch David's presentation:

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