May 20th, 2008
Australian of the year, well-known scientist and climate change activist, Tim Flannery is sounding decidedly panicky as he suggests a technical plan to save us from climate change. The plan essentially amounts to terraforming the planet by pumping sulphur into the upper atmosphere in the hope that global dimming will counteract the effects of warming caused by greenhouse gasses. His chilling quote: “”The current burden of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is in fact more than sufficient to cause catastrophic climate change”. Let’s hope that he is wrong, or better, that in the face of impending disaster we don’t panic and multiply our problems.
The plan is no doubt intended to be a last ditch scenario to stave off massive collapse of the ecosystem and consequently civilisation as we appreciate it (at least I hope it is). I fully expect that there is some scientific thinking behind this – some, but not nearly enough. I also think that is it an unacceptable risk, but I understand why the professor and other scientists are starting to panic.
The are a number of “tipping point” scenarios that could lead to catastrophic and “irreversable” (taking millions of years to correct) failure of the global environment. This may have happened already in prehistory: the “Permian–Triassic extinction event“, is believed to have been a climate change tipping point where 70-90% of all species were wiped out (perhaps by as little as a 6 degree C change). These scenarios scare the pants off me, and hopefully you too. This is not just a matter of slapping on more sunscreen folks: the effect on our civilisations is hard to fathom, but would surely lead to the demise of millions, if not billions, of humans.
Yes, as people often mention, the climate has been hotter in the past, but they usually fail to mention (or realise) that the consequences have been dire. The current situation may be even worse – never before in history has climate changed anywhere near this rapidly, and CO2 increases do not seem to have been affected by our efforts so far. Stop second guessing it – trust in the overwhelming scientific consensus, and don’t be confused by the those seeking to muddy the facts. Work harder to pressure governments to improve their climate policy. Work harder to reduce your carbon footprint. But most of all, don’t panic!