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Climate



Climate Change Conference Report 4/6/06

I attended this conference, as did Joseph for part of it, but can only report on a small part of it as we broke up into workshops for most of the morning.

I went first to a session entitled 'How bad will the climate crisis get, and how quickly will it happen'. The second half of the question was not much addressed as the answers to the first part got too blood-curdling. We started with a presentation by David Wasdell of the Meridian Programme going through some tough science which - though he was allowed extra time for such important stuff - he still didn’t have long enough to develop properly. His conclusions (interim but plausible) came across clearly enough, though, and they deserve a paragraph to themselves for emphasis and clarity:

The climate is an unstable system and there are positive feedback mechanisms ready to destabilise, it leading to runaway heating or runaway cooling, but these are normally kept within limits by the energy input from the sun - as temperature rises/falls more or less heat is radiated until a balance is reached and the system falls back towards its original state. An unstable system within a stable system. But there comes a tipping point, like a watershed between two river systems, at which the system does not fall back towards its original state but tips over to a new state from which there is no recovery. The diagram here illustrates this. We are currently heading towards such a tipping point. Beyond it whatever we do climate change will be irreversible and catastrophic. We have maybe ten years to change course to stay just this side of the tipping point and keep things no worse than uncomfortable. It’s going to take a huge effort to make that change.

Second up was Dr Peter Challoner of the National Oceanographic Centre. He talked about ocean currents and how they are changing. Measurements have been taken at intervals over the last 50 years of the flow of one such deep sea current which is needed to maintain the Gulf Stream, and it has dropped by around 30%. If that is correct and the trend continues then it’s bye bye Gulf Stream and northern Europe actually gets colder. That could, I suppose, be quite good news if it’s balancing runaway global warming, keeping us more or less where we are while the rest of the world goes to hell in a handcart.

Third was Mark Lynas, author and journalist, who went into a few details of what happens with each degree rise in temperature:
1° - Biodiversity is hit; bleached coral; tropical rainforest cut back; Nebraska returns to the desert it used to be, with a serious effect on food supplies; flooding of coastal areas.
2° - Ocean pH drops to level not seen in 300 million years, with serious impact on the food chain; positive feedback effects may kick in; the Greenland ice sheet goes (6m rise in sea level); Anthropocene Extinction event starts; water supplies from the Andes and the Sierra Nevada critically impacted (bang goes Californian agriculture)
3° - Much stronger storms; the Amazon basin collapses catastrophically, leading to a further 1.5° rise; one third of species lost (and lots of humans too); desertification of Spain and much of southern Africa; food supplies in decline - a net food deficit;
4° - Permafrost meltdown - methane is released; sea level rise accelerates; Himalayan glaciers disappear, leading to almost complete lack of water in Pakistan and other surrounding countries 5° - The western Antarctic ice shelf goes; Australia uninhabitable
6° - Tropics uninhabitable. At this point we have an event known as the Anthropocene Extinction, similar to the event - probably also triggered by a 6 degree warming - at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago in which 90% of species were wiped out.


The fourth speaker was Mozaharul Alam of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, who went into some of the consequences for individual south Asian countries of climate change, though his presentation was quite tame compared to what had gone before. Some of it almost sounded survivable.

Shell-shocked by all that, the second workshop I went to was a much-needed relief by being a positive look at “Alternative energy sources and solutions”. Dr Jeremy Leggett of Solar Century described how easy it is to cut your carbon footprint - not just by using solar panels, though of course they figured. Dr Peter Foreman of Trans-Mediterranean renewable Energy Co-operation described an idea I had not heard of before, but which once pointed out seems obvious: why not just carpet the Sahara Desert (or any other desert that happens to be handy) with energy-collection devices? He described 3, all of which have been tried and tested, and pointed out that every square kilometre of desert receives as much energy in a year as you get from 1.5 million barrels of oil. With high-voltage power lines energy can be transmitted from North Africa to the UK with a loss-factor of only about 10% - considerably less than the 70% lost between conventional power stations and the consumer! Robin Oakley of Greenpeace described the merits of Combined Heat and Power systems and other decentralisations. The question and answer session largely centred around the deficiencies of government policy (or lack of it) and the blinkered outlook of civil servants and decision-makers generally.

After a hasty lunch there was a plenary session with a galaxy of stars: There was an introduction by our hostess for the day, Prof Yvonne Rydin of the LSE, Phil Thornhill, the Campaign organiser, gave out details of coming events (of which the march on Nov 4th is the climax), Michael Meacher gave an impassioned speech castigating the government for its lack of action (though he failed to say why he is still a Labour MP). Norman Baker was only slightly less impassioned, our own Caroline Lucas and Mark Lynas followed, all banging much the same drum. George Marshall of COIN (Climate Outreach and Information Network) had a different approach, working the audience with a series of questions to which the answer was usually a shouted ‘yes’. Lucy Pearce of Stop Climate Chaos and Goksen Sahin of the Turkish Campaign Against Climate Change also joined the list of impassioned speakers. A question and answer session brought the main conference to a close, though a session on Building for the Demo and the Campaign Against Climate Change AGM followed, but I did not attend either.

For podcasts of some of the workshops, click here

Useful websites:
www.meridian.org.uk
www.mng.org.uk/green_house



Published and promoted by Bill Linton for Enfield Green Party, both at 39A Fox Lane, London N13 4AJ