Newsletter #13 - June 2008 for the Crisis Coalition at


What is a Footprint?

Comparison of US and Australian ecological footprints with African. Every Australian puts 26.5 tons of CO2-e into the atmosphere every year, every American puts 23.6 tons and most Africans a lot less than 1 ton each.

FOOTPRINTS Newsletter #13 - For earlier ones see the archive.

The Crisis Coalition aims to raise awareness and to galvanise action.
For the latest information read this fully referenced report.

The important conference “Living on a Greenhouse Earth” was held in Canberra June 11-12. Though I understand the state of our planet well, it was still scary. We were addressed by some of Australia’s best climate scientists including Barry Brook, Janette Lindesay, Graeme Pearman, Barrie Pittock, Michael Raupach and Will Steffen.

They all agreed that 2+ degrees of global warming is now inevitable.

I describe the Conference at the bottom of this page.

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Climate Change, National Security and ethics - John James
This is the core research on global warming, the proof that 2 degrees is inevitable, and the enormous ethical issues that are implied. These need to be discussed now if we are to make rational decisions rather than knee-jerk reactions.

Climate chaos is inevitable. We can only avert oblivion - Mark Lynas
This article in The Guardian discusses the attempt by the Stockholm Network to study where realistic international control over global warming could go, and the consequences to the planet. This is very worth reading!

Biofuels make climate change worse, scientific study concludes - Steve Connor
From the UK Independent that has a good overview of the biofuel crisis in straightforward language.

Forests failing in carbon relief role - James Randerson
A report that trees are becoming less useful as carbon sinks. This is important as some reports now indicate that in some areas trees are actually emitting the carbon they have already stored. Poses the long-term problem with offsetting carbon by planting trees.

Ocean’s growing acidity alarms scientists - Les Blumenthal
Acidity in the oceans caused by CO2 diminishes sea life. Already the stock of most predator fish is down almost 80% in some areas. Includes maps.

Permafrost Threatened by Rapid Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice, - David Lawrence of National Center for Atmospheric Research
With maps shows impact of Arctic sea-ice melt on temperatures in Siberia, and therefore on permafrost melt. Two scientists at the conference stated in separate conversations that “I would not be surprised if there was no summer sea ice left in the Arctic this year!”


The Canberra Conference, “Imagining the Real: Life on Greenhouse Earth” - John James

Many of the great men of the Australian scientific community were there to tell us of the latest research. I understand the situation well, having researched it myself for so long. I knew much of what was presented – and it was still depressing!

I ask you, dear reader, to stay with me a little longer and follow the key information with me, for we are all going to feel the consequences quite soon, and only your actions are going to make the outcome any better.

The sad truth is that the dissolution of the atmosphere is moving faster than anticipated. The key indicators are exceeding the computer projections or just at the top of the range. Nowhere have the actions already taken made things better.

This is because 80 percent of global warming comes from burning fossil fuels, and none of the wind farms or hybrid cars has made the slightest dent in its use.

In my “Footprints” Newsletter at the end of 2006 I reported that the US Navy had calculated there would be no summer sea-ice in the Arctic by 2012, where the international IPCC study sponsored by the UN had calculated that this would not happen until the end of the century.

Last year it was reported that ice-melt was exceeding expectations by 30 percent. At the conference a number of speakers said they “would not be surprised if all sea-ice will be gone this summer.” This year! ?

The Arctic has been heating more quickly than any other part of the planet. An area the size of NSW and Victoria disappeared last year, especially on the Siberian side where most of the world’s permafrost is held.

It has been calculated by the National Centre for Atmospheric Research that with rapid sea-ice loss temperatures along the adjoining lands could rise by 2 degrees, and would affect areas 1,500 kilometres away.

The permafrost contains vast quantities of methane (a gas that is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide) and were it to release even 5 percent of what is stored there it would tip us over the edge.

The great glaciers of Greenland are supporting the sea-ice nearby, but these too are melting. Speaker after speaker produced evidence that Greenland ice was “unstable”, seriously melting around the edges and being undermined by melt water rushing through crevasses and literally putting the skids under the glaciers so they slide faster to the sea. 

One large glacier on the west coast, 3 miles wide and a mile deep, is now slipping into the sea at 2 meters an hour, when they normally flow at 80-100 meters per year.

We all know that were all the ice on Greenland to melt sea levels would rise over 7 meters. The question is how long may this take? Some repeated the IPCC figure of hundreds of years, but this is being contradicted by studies of past glaciations. Andrew Glickson and Bradley Opdyke showed that when ice ages have ended the glaciers have collapsed suddenly, perhaps within a decade.

We all saw the speed at which this can happen in 2002 when 2,600 square kilometres on the Larsen B ice shelf in the Antarctic disintegrated and disappeared in less than five weeks.

This could happen with Greenland.

We are already feeling the consequences in Australia. The day before the conference it was reported that the hardest hit would be all low-lying coastal areas like Cairns and Narrabeen. There will be the double impact of coastal erosion and flooding from storm surges.

We worry about food prices, yet Australia’s movement into a permanent state of drought has been projected by all climate models. In spite of the heavy rains this year the flow in the Murray Darling Area has dropped 24 percent in the past 8 years. Vineyards and orchards are being bulldozed, as there is no water to nourish the trees.

As one of the few countries in the world with surplus food how do we continue to feed people as drought threatens to becomes permanent. What makes this worse is the shift to more extreme weather events, as Barry Brook described in his talk on what the world would be like at different temperatures.

We now know that two degrees will be inevitable from the pollution we have already put into the atmosphere, though it may take us until 2025 to get there.

And following two degrees coral reefs will be dying along with most wild fish in an acid sea, at least a quarter of all species will be extinct, the great forests will be dying, drought in Australia will be permanent with serious impact on our own food supplies, and the seas will rise over 10 meters.

As the water rises trade and travel will cease as docks and airports become submerged. Every community on the globe will have to survive on their own.

But we also know that we are throwing more stuff into the air than ever before. The tonnage of pollution is thirty percent more than it was 20 years ago.

Just look at the amount of coal we are exporting, the phenomenal number of power houses being built in China every month, the relentless increase in motor traffic and so on. Just consider how hard it is to slow this down and we know that at this rate we will within a couple of years reach the point where it will be impossible to avoid three degrees.

At three degrees there will be little ice left, the Amazon Basin would collapse from drought, permafrost will be melting in a serious way, the great rivers that irrigate the agriculture of the world will no longer be supplied with summer water from glacier-melt, over a third of all species will be extinct, and wars for food and water will destabilize communities everywhere.

One degree more than this and most agriculture would collapse.

He went on to say “it is a damning indictment of our collective vacillation, inaction and deliberate stalling that in not fronting up to the situation we are now facing the stark choice between a bad situation, a catastrophic situation and a civilization-terminating situation.”

In other words, the time when we could have found ways to keep our high standard of living has now irretrievably passed. We can still save a great deal if we act really fast, and do so now – this was the story from the Conference reiterated again and again. We were told that “we are taking the earth back to Venus!”

In Collapse Jared Diamond describes how every culture that has reached a peak of prosperity (as we have) has collapsed because population outgrew food sources and expansion destroyed its forests. We think of Easter Island, the Mayans, the Tang Dynasty in China and the Khmer Empire of Cambodia.

In every case the population was, within a generation, reduced by war and starvation and, in some cases, resorted to cannibalism trying to survive.

We cannot afford to be complacent. There have been mass extinctions of species many times in earth’s history, and all have been associated with rapid heating. We are pushing up the earth’s temperature from fossil fuels more quickly than any other tine in earth’s history.

To avoid the looming catastrophe to civilization and the huge loss of life, especially in Asia and Africa, we have to cut fossil fuel use, and the material consumerism that pushes it on. James Hansen and others warn that we have to reduce emissions by 10 percent a year, every year for the next decade.

Maybe, if we are lucky, the current economic downturn will do that for us.

Yet even this government is placing business before survival by promising that living standards will continue to rise, by building more highways and pandering to Big Coal. None of this is meaningful in our Greenhouse World.

Yet we will be dependant on government to provide leadership. They will not do so unless we push them into it. The voice of the people has to be heard over the din from the fuel lobby. So, this is what you do:

Personally visit your local members, state and federal, and tell them what you want them to do. It is confronting, even for a politician, to be faced with your strong opinions, your real worries for the future and your determination to have government act in our interests.

Do it! And do it today, please.