This is our third FOOTPRINT Newsletter
The aim of the Crisis Coalition is to raise awareness of our
situation and to galvanise action. The basic facts are
assembled in www.planetextinction.com.
The newsletters will keep you up to date on our successes and
Glaciers are melting faster
We used to think that it would take 10,000 years for any melting
on the surface of an ice sheet to percolate down to the bottom. Now
we know it doesn't take 10,000 years, it takes 10 seconds.
This is why scientists are panicky about the sheer speed and
violence with which climate change could take hold. They are
realising that their old ideas about gradual change - the smooth
lines on graphs showing warming and sea-level rise and gradually
shifting weather patterns - are not how the world's climate system
The conventional view on glacier melt is that warming works its
way gradually from the surface through the two kilometre- and three
kilometre-thick ice sheets. It has been thought that the ice is so
thick that heat will penetrate slowly. So we have hundreds, probably
thousands, of years to make our retreat to higher ground.
Over the past couple of years it has been realised that glaciers
are riddled with crevasses. The ice on the surface is melted by the
sun and forms lakes several kilometres across. These drain into the
crevasses. In 10 seconds, the water is at the base of the ice sheet,
where it lubricates the join between ice and rock. Then the whole
ice sheet starts to slide downhill towards the ocean. Within hours
of the lakes forming the vast ice sheets rose up on their bed of
water and slid towards the ocean.
These flows completely change our understanding of the dynamics
of ice sheet destruction. It is similar in Alaska and in the
Antarctic, and in Peru and Bolivia where glaciers are receding
so fast they will have disappeared in 10 years, not in the predicted
There is a growing fear among scientists that we are about to
return to a world of climatic turbulence, where tipping points are
constantly crossed. Changes in the past have often been sudden and
violent. Jim Hansen of NASA, recent winner of the WWF award,
predicts that within a few years the Greenland and Antarctic ice
sheets will destabilise causing sea-levels to rise very quickly.
Towards the end the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago,
temperatures in the Arctic rose 16 degrees or more in a decade,
possibly within a single year. The sea level rose 20 metres. This
may have been driven by an abrupt emission of greenhouse gasses from
the rainforests and the oceans. Hundreds of billions of tonnes of
carbon dioxide have in the past burped into the atmosphere at the
flick of a switch.
Our relatively benign world has been the reason our species was
able to leave the caves and create the urban, industrial
civilisation we enjoy today. We rely on being able to plant crops
and build cities knowing that the rains will come and our cities
will not be flooded. When that certainty fails, as when Hurricane
Katrina hit New Orleans last year, even the most sophisticated
society is disabled.
futures are at risk.
We can stop being so
Permafrost is the most dangerous greenhouse
Southern Siberia is the fastest warming region on the planet,
being seven to 10 degrees warmer than normal. Animals are not
hibernating; dandelions are flowering out of season; and in the
north ice packs are failing to form.
This is causing almost one million square kilometres of
permafrost to melt. This is releasing large quantities of methane
and carbon dioxide. It is estimated that the west Siberian bog alone
contains 70 billion tonnes of methane. This is a quarter of all the
methane stored on the land surface of the world.
When we remember that methane is 24 times more potent a
greenhouse gas than CO2, the Siberian storage is equivalent to 1½
trillion tons of carbon. This vast figure is almost as much
greenhouse gas as humans have put into the atmosphere in the past
To realise that these gasses are being emitted now in
belches, called ‘burping’ is very scary.
In addition, the earth's soil is another huge sink of carbon
dioxide, and this too is now being released due to global warming.
Over the past 25 years the carbon content English and Walsh soils
has diminished by 13 million tons each year. If this situation was
the same world-wide this is another vast source to add to
permafrost. Altogether there is 300 times as much carbon trapped in
the soils as we release each year from burning fossil fuels.
On this evidence drastic action is needed. We need to cut
existing emissions by between 80% and 90% in the next 10 years to
stand a chance of preventing climate change becoming unstoppable.
This is the riskiest scenario, but under the circumstances is
anything less prudent?
Compare tis figure with the Kyoto
Protocol, to date the best effort by politicians. It hopes to cut
greenhouse gases from 34 of the developed countries by 5.2%,
excluding the world's biggest polluter, the US.
However, the agreement lasts only until 2012, during which time
total world emissions will still rise from of the growing industries
of the developing world.
How much time do we have left to solve the problem? Measurements
show that greenhouse gases take time to build up to their full
effect, largely because of the oceans take longer to heat up than
Best estimates are that there is a 25- to 30-year time lag
between greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere and
their full heat-trapping potential taking effect.
That wipes out any feeling of comfort.
It means that most of the increase of 0.8 degrees C seen so far
is not caused by current levels of carbon dioxide but by those
already in the atmosphere up to the end of the 1970s.
Still worse, the last three decades have seen the amount of
greenhouse gases increase dramatically. In this 30-year period the
earth has witnessed the largest increase in industrial activity and
traffic in history.
This great burning of fossil fuels and the mass destruction of
rainforests is coinciding with methane burping in Siberia that has
already passed its tipping point. So, on top of the extra heat we
are already experiencing there is another 30 years of
ever-accelerating warming built into the climate system.
This is why we need to cut existing emissions by between 80% and
90% in the next 10 years. Only this way will we keep control of our
WE MUST ACT, AND NOW – NOT LATER. This is what you can do.
Australia's climate is now
permanently hotter and drier
The rainfall in parts of eastern Australia are forecast to drop
40 percent. With it will come a seven degree Celsius rise in
temperature. This is from recent government studies. It showed that
the town of Gunnedah in western NSW will have more than 100 days a
year with temperatures over 35 degrees and Walgett may have 83 days
a year above 40 degrees. Such constantly high temperatures could
turn even drought-proof green pastures into brown dustbowls.
Large swathes of the continent are becoming visibly less green,
and the leafage in the trees is thinning out. The soil, particularly
where is has a lot of clay in it, is becoming so parched-hard that
even when the rain comes it will not sink into the roots.
The trend started in the late 1990s. What makes this finding so
alarming is that if the drought does not ease then there must be a
massive death of vegetation, huge bushfires followed by the release
of vast volumes of carbon, further feeding climate change.
It is symptomatic that local ski resorts have refused to
renegotiate their 25-year leases as they doubt there will be any
snow around in 2030. This is a good year in the southern Alps, but
there is little confidence in the long-term future.
We can transform our life on this planet,
and maintain our lifestyles. We can do both - if we start
ecology of the ocean floors is ending: Fishing nations
including China and South Korea, Iceland and Russia, have blocked UN
negotiators from imposing a fully-fledged ban against drag-netting.
This is as destructive to the sea floor as it is profitable.
Scooping up everything in its path these giant nets wipe out all
creatures in their paths as well as the habitats that support them.
The proposed ban had the backing of the US, , Britain Australia, NZ
tax: Planes flying in and out of Europe will have to pay
their share of pollution. The EU is considering a carbon tax on air
travel. A single short-haul flight produces roughly the same amount
of global warming gas as three months’ worth of driving a 1.4 litre
Aviation pollution has been growing faster than any other
source of greenhouse gases. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of
people using airports in the UK rose by 120%, and the energy the
planes consumed increased by 80%. They also release hot, wet air
from the engine exhaust to form contrails, which have a warming
effect 2.7 times that of the carbon dioxide.
The end of the
flying age is upon us.
last week: "I accept that there s a weight of evidence that
we have got too many greenhouse gas emissions. We should on the good
insurance principle act in a prudent fashion in case the worst
predictions might be close to being right".
Since the worse
prediction is that we have only 5 to 8 years to knock down our
emissions by 90%, one can be sure that his "dirty energy" supporters
wont buy that, and that this is just more rhetoric.
preferred coal industry solution -Carbon storage: The US and
Australia are promoting the pumping of CO2 from coal-fired power
stations into deep chambers underground. Several pilot schemes are
already under way to test feasibility. Naturally it is
enthusiastically backed by many in the coal industry.
advantage is that profits can still be made in coal production and
large amounts will be spent on research and on installing these
chambers. Solar and wind generation on the other hand, that do not
involve such expensive and therefore profitable infra-structures,
and still being sidelined.
We still have a
long way to go: Like Australians, Europeans are
overwhelmingly convinced that human activity is contributing to
global warming, and a majority would be prepared to accept
restrictions on their lifestyle to combat it, according
However, though 68 per cent said they would
support restrictions on their behaviour and purchases to reduce the
threat, only a quarter were prepared to make significant financial
sacrifices. And even then that sacrifice amounted to only one week’s
wages. This is roughly the 2% of national income figure that Sir
Nicholas Stern suggested rich countries would need to contribute.
Also, a third said they would not pay anything at all.
typed "O.J. Simpson" into Google the first page provided links for
almost 2500 recent stories. The results for "global warming,"
however, totalled roughly 300. Thus, by media standards, O.J. is
eight times more significant than climate change.
China has slid
down the index that measures a country’s climate protection
efforts. It now sits just behind the US and ahead of Malaysia and
Saudi Arabia. The US remains the world's leading polluter in the
Climate Change Performance Index. China was 29th in 2006 but has
since dropped it to the third worst in the 2007 update.
ago the International Energy Agency estimated that Chinese emissions
would pass those of the US by 2020. Now this has been revised to
2009 because China is building three coal-fired power stations a
week. See Footnotes #2.
The Index was compiled by Germanwatch and
Climate Action Network-Europe. At the upper end of the scale they
placed seven European countries - led by Sweden, Britain and Denmark
- and a trio of developing economies - Argentina, Brazil, and India
- among the top ten. However, they lamented that even the efforts of
the top scorers were not enough to effectively curb and reverse
global warming. "There is no winner, the leader, Sweden, is only the
one-eyed king among the blind and short-sighted."
problems were US reluctance to agree to any mandatory limits and
increased stubbornness by China and India, two of the world's
icebergs moving north: A hundred or more icebergs, some 200
metres long and 50m high, were headed toward the NZ coast, being
pushed north by winds and ocean currents. The largest was about 2 by
1½ kilometres in size and more than 130 metres high
canaries: This uncomfortable term applies to people and
cultures destined to become the first victims of world climate
change. These include the three million nomadic pastoralists of
northern Kenya where consecutive droughts have decimated their
livestock in recent years; the inhabitants of the Kiribati group of
islands in the Pacific, and the Carteret atolls near New Guinea.
Already a thousand islanders have had to be evacuated. Many were
starving because rising salt water has destroyed their trees so they
could no longer grow greens and breadfruit. About 17,000 islanders
applied for residence in New Zealand in the past two years compared
with 4,000 in 2003.
Aid agencies estimate there are already 25
million climate refugees fleeing drought, water shortages, storm
surges and sea-level rise. Unexpectedly, one of the first massive
movements has been people fleeing the Gulf Coast of the US. New
Orleans’ population before Katrina struck was 463,000. After the
hurricane the population shrank to 93,000, but by July 2006, the
city still had only 214,000 residents. No one is immune from
becoming a refugee.