Footprints Newsletter

 Newsletter #7 - February 2007 for the Crisis Coalition at


In this

. The risks we face are unacceptable
. Rising sea levels
. The dying seas

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

FOOTPRINT Newsletter #7 - #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 the archive

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In many scenarios based on recent research there is an approximate ten percent risk that we will pass an irreversible tipping point in the next five years. While debate circles around the costs of climate change, the risks of sudden and catastrophic change grow.

Do we dare take that risk?

Let's put this another way: if your house had a ten percent chance of being burnt down, if every time your child rode a bicycle there was a one-in-ten possibility of her being run over, or if every time you flew your plane every tenth flight crashed, what would you do? Nothing? Complain? Or start getting damn serious?

This is where we are. The wonders of human civilisation could be lost and most of us killed before our time as temperatures near 4 C, unless...

So what should be our next step? Cut down our private consumption mercilessly and instead of waiting in vain for some technological fix done by others, and start seriously looking into our own lifestyle to change it. For suggestions see here.

However, while all individual efforts to reduce emissions are laudable and should be encouraged, they unfortunately are not enough. We have to get political, for this problem cannot be tackled only on an individual level. Mandatory government policies will have to be the driving force. Harass every politican you know until they start looking after the children of us who vote for them.

Quantifying the risks from global warming

We are now entering a region of extremely high risk, nationally as well as personally. The probability of being forced into a massive lifestyle revolution is really close: certainly at the present rate less than a dozen years off.

Lord Stern's report has been confirmed by the recent IPCC figures. Greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere now stand at around 430ppm CO2-e, compared with only 280ppm before the Industrial Revolution. [See definition of terms at top of right column] In 2000 the world emitted around 42Gts total greenhouse gases were.

Calculated in a different manner, our industrial life-style has added 2,300 Bts over 200 years, each year at increasing rates. In his Figure A (below) Stern shows that, with business as usual, output in 2050 will be around 87 Bts. A simple calculation shows the total CO2-e in the atmosphere will then have accumulated to 5,300 Bts, which is over twice today's amount.

A lot earlier, well before 2020, emssion concentrations will have risen from 430ppm today to 500ppm or more. By then it will be increasing at 4ppm per year, and still accelerating. That will jettison the world to well over 800ppm by the end of the century.

At 500ppm we reach extremely high risk territory. We do not know the impact this will have, except to say it spells dark times for most of us. Potential 3 C average temperature rise means at least three times that in the Arctic, and the melt-down of Greenland ice and heat-up of the methane-rich Siberian permfrost.

All this then under way in less than 12 years from now.

How old will you be then? How old your children?

In any assessment of risk management, the potential for disaster is set against its cost. The cost is now our lives and our civilisation. Jobs, mortgages and comforts pale to insignificance compared to this.

Even if the probability were low, the risk is not worth the cost, especially when we add to these figures the growing emissions from the tipping points discussed in the last newsletter.

As developing countries will account for over three quarters of the increased energy-related emissions to 2030, it is up to us to help them achieve their goals with the most efficient and sustainable equipment, even if we have to subsidise it.

Over this period some greenhouse gasses will decompose and return to earth, particularly the short-lived gasses such as methane. This will reduce temperature. This will be offset by lessening of global dimming as we reduce pollution, by the return of carbon to the air from soil and seas, and the unreleased amounts in various sinks referred to as tipping points.

Lets not forget that up to now oceans have masked the true long-term effect by absorbing a high proportion of the greenhouse gasses. They will refund this as temperatures rise. In addition the amount of water vapour in the air will increase with heat, and in spite of the larger tropical cloud cover, will add further to the heat, especially in the Arctic.

It is narrow to protect one industry at the cost of others, and present plans to spend money on coal sequestion rather than solar and wind puts coal in charge of the honey pot.

Current policies put money before reason and survival.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well,
but the certainty that though it makes sense, it may turn out
differently to what we expect - Vaclav Havel


Sea levels are predicted to rise more than 5 metres as temperatures get over 2 C, principally from melting ice from Greenland and the western Antarctic. Carl Boggild from the University Svalbard, said that at the moment Greenland could be losing more than 80 cubic miles of ice per year, which is three times the volume of all the glaciers in the Alps.

Along relatively flat coastlines, especially those bordering fertile, highly populated river deltas, a 1 mm rise in sea level causes a shoreline retreat of about 1.5 meters. This also affects aquifers, bringing salt water intrusion into groundwater.

A one-meter rise in sea level would inundate half of Bangladesh's rice land, and would seriously flood Viet Nam, China, India and Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Egypt.

As half the people in the world live within 20 kilometers of a coastline, as do many major cities, the outcome would be calamitous. The situation is made worse by population growth and the inexorable movement of people into these cities.

In the past 50 years, sea level has been rising 1.8mm a year - which is ten times the average for the past 3,000 years. In the last decade this has increased to 3.1mm. The numbers are still small, but the shape of the curve in the following graphs is worrying and clear.







The land that can support our growing population is shrinking.

Sea levels are predicted to rise more than 5 metres as temperatures move over 2C from melting ice, coming mainly from Greenland and the western Antarctic.

A one-meter rise would inundate parts of hundreds of cities, including some of the world's largest such as London, Alexandria, and Bangkok. More than a third of Shanghai, a city of 15 million people, would be under water. A one-meter rise combined with an extra-large storm surge would leave large portions of Lower Manhattan and eastern Sydney flooded with seawater.

As half the people in the world live within 15 miles of a coastline, the outcome will be calamitous. This is made worse by population growth forcing an inexorable movement of people into these cities.

Islands are already being submerged: see Lohachara discussed in the last Footnotes. Their ten thousand refugees have simply fled to dry land. Some of these islands are nations with seats in the UN, such as Tuvalu that comprises nine coral atolls with a high point that is only 5 meters above seal level. Recent flooding and saltwater intrusion is affecting their drinking water and food production.

In 2002, the country appealed to Australia and New Zealand to provide homes for their people if the country is washed away, but has not been answered.

Other threatened island nations include the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands. The low-lying islands of Micronesia have experienced a measured sea rise of 21.4 mm per year since 2001, just from warming alone without including tipping points.

When the Greenland ice sheet melts some time this century, the 7 meter sea rise will force the abandonment of thousands of coastal cities and communities. Hundreds of millions will be forced to migrate inland or to other countries, spawning conflicts over land and living space. Together, rising seas and higher populations and reduced fish stocks will present the world with considerable potential for war and civil strife.

The intelligence of the heart never solves problems,
it just dissolves the fixed beliefs that defined the problem, and
thus opens us to a new situation - Muktananda


The impact of global warming on the vast life in the oceans is little known. Life in the seas is now threatened by the vast quantities of carbon being absorbed by the oceans. [Elizabeth Kolbert, The Darkening Sea, New Yorker Nov 2006]

As CO2 is taken up by the oceans, the pH level is reduced, which causes the water to become more acid. In the past the amount being absorbed and the amount being emitted were in balance. Now the oceans are absorbing more from than they can release.

This imbalance already amounts to 120 Bts,
and has produced a 30% rise in acidity.

Because deep-ocean circulation is slow and because CO2 has a long life in the atmosphere, it is impossible to reverse the acidification that has already taken place. Nor is it possible to prevent still more occurring. Even if there were some magical way to halt our emissions tomorrow, the oceans would continue to take up carbon until the sea reached a new equilibrium with the air.

We have already set in motion irreversible changes
on the most vast geological scale.

The process has now begun that will eliminate most species and the seas will gradually revert to much earlier eras in which there is an abundance of jelly fish and not much more.

NASA has shown that whenever there is an increase in temperatures, marine plant life like phytoplankton is starved of nutrients and declines. This teeming world lives in the upper sunlit layer of the ocean where they are responsible for nearly the same amount of photosynthesis each year as all land plants put together. They affect the yield of fish, marine bird populations and more importantly on the amount of carbon dioxide the oceans remove from the atmosphere.

As plankton die out, the capacity of the oceans to absorb carbon reduces. These findings have catastrophic implications for the entire marine habitat, which ultimately relies on plankton at the base of the food chain.

Wild seafood will have disappeared from the world's menus within a few decades. As reported in Science, 29% of the world's fisheries have already collapsed, meaning that the catch has declined by 90%. It includes cod, tuna and groper.

This situation is accelerating. The total eradication of all fish stocks in the world is not far off. In Asia and the Mediterranean fish stocks off coastal waters is about 10% of what it was a century ago.

Since some billion people around the world depend on fish for their main source of protein, they are going to be hungry. This vast economic and ecological benefice is under threat.

A study reported in Science investigated the historical records of 64 large marine regions, accounting for more than 80% of global seafood production. Biodiversity - the richness of marine life - emerged as the single most important factor in the overall survival of an ecosystem. In losing species we lose the productivity and stability of entire ecosystems.

The study found that there was more algal growths and other diseases, and that the seas were becoming less resistant to the effects of climate change and pollution.

This is not a prediction, this is happening now.

If biodiversity continues to decline, the marine environment will not be able to sustain our way of life; indeed it may not be able to sustain our lives at all.

The good news is that it is still not too late to reverse the crisis. The latest scientific evidence suggests that action now, using methods and approaches that have already proven successful in some areas, could help most of the threatened eco-systems to partly recover. It is even conceivable that in 10 years, catches would begin to increase. But for this to happen fishing everywhere has to be brought down to a sustainable level - now.

A sustainable global fishing industry is vital to protect the food of some of the world's poorest people, as well as to preserve fishing fleets in developed countries. Without it, the world's oceans and one of man's most important food sources are at risk - and with it the capacity of the oceans to continue protecting us from further heat.


This is what you can do personally.

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What is a Footprint?

CO2 is carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas after water vapour.
CO2-e is the equivalent in CO2 of all greenhouse gasses including methane and flurocarbons.
Bts is the weight of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere as billion tonnes metric.
ppm counts the molecules of CO2 in the atmosphere as parts per million.
IPCC is the UN International Panel on Climate Change.

Correction to FOOTNOTES #6
The figure of 42 Bts CO2-e was sourced from the Stern report.

The recent IPCC report states that annual increase is now 1.9 ppm/a. Probably 2 ppm by now. Taking the 435 ppm for CO2-e as today's figure, and allowing for this rate to rise, we would reach the dreaded 500 ppm well before 2020. This does not allow for any of the tipping points discussed in "How much time do we have?"

At the end of the lead article in Footnotes #6 I stated "Since current emissions of 42 Bts per year CO2-e have already increased the average world temperature by 0.78 degrees C and the oceans by 0.45 degrees, a doubling of that rate over just a few years would have the most profound impact. Another way of putting it, for every ten Bts of CO2-e released, the number of ppm in the atmosphere increase by 30."

This should have read "atmosphere increase by 0.5". To this I could have explained "When we add together all the potential emissions from soils and permafrost, forest fires and logging we have to realistically expect an increase of up to 90 Bts, maybe as soon as 2010. This would increase the particles in the atmosphere by 9 times 0.5 times 3 or 4 years. Releasing even a conservative 230 Bts extra over the next 3 years would shoot us up from 430 ppm (includes methane etc) to well over 450 ppm."

In addition, dont forget that we will get to 600+ ppm from the time we cross any of a dozen tipping points.

France pursues world action: "We are coming to realise that the health, safety and very survival of humankind hangs in the balance" says Jacques Chirac. "We have caused irreparable damage, and have reached a point of no return".

Chirac seeks the creation of a UN Environment Organisation to fight threats such as global warming, water shortages and loss of species.

The proposed agency would be modelled on the WHO, which has considerable clout, and could help co-ordinate government action and promote funding, research and ways to spread new technologies.

46 nations have called for the creation of a more powerful UN environment agency, saying the survival of humanity was at risk. But the US, China, Russia and India - the top four emitters of greenhouse gases - absented themselves.

US advances since the Congress elections in November, from Patrice Newell, candidate for the NSW Climate Coalition: "While Australia talks, the US acts. We're used to seeing the US as the major problem in climate change - but let's give credit where it's due!"

"California's governor Arnie Schwarzenegger has embarrassed the Bush administration by setting the pace with progressive legislation and lower emission targets, and now Pennsylvania is upping the ante with a program that Australia could be emulating - urgently!

"Called the Energy Independence Strategy, it starts with a $US240 million subsidy for energy efficient appliances for home use - air-conditioners and refrigerators that guzzle less fuel - and for solar panels on the roof. They'll subsidize solar panels by up to 50% and install 'smart metres' to reduce energy use during peak periods.

"Pennsylvania wants 25% of their five million homes on solar or wind power within 10 years.

"Much of the budget will be raised by increasing domestic power bills by just 45 cents a month! Small businesses will pay around 50 cents extra"

"This is being energetic on energy! And it comes from a rust-belt state with a long history of pumping out pollution. If they can do it, so can NSW - and the other Australian states."

One respected Australian scientist, Sir Edgeworth David of the University of Sydney, warned us of climate change 75 years ago. When published in 1932 his warnings made headlines in The New York Times "Next great deluge forecast by science: Melting polar ice caps to raise the level of seas and flood the continents".

He was deeply worried because he couldn't think of what we could do to prevent salt water from sweeping over the continents, leaving the Sahara a great inland sea. He used his scientific understanding of geography to argue that this inundation would change geography, be accompanied by a rise in temperature and the climate would return to what it was when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

Weather would change from day to day. No one can tell what would happen in a new carboniferous era.

His 85 year-old daughter reported that "All he could do was say to watch out for global warming. What he said back then is worth repeating today."

As the air warms, it raises the heat in the oceans. Researchers at Southampton and Plymouth universities have found that the upper 1500 metres of the Atlantic Ocean have warmed by 0.015 degrees in seven years. Small as this is, it is highly significant.

The capacity of the oceans to store heat is so great that this temperature rise is enough to warm the atmosphere in contact with it by almost 9 degrees.

The thermal mixing of water and nutrients shuts down when the upper layer of the ocean reaches about 12 degrees. This means that the teeming masses of plankton etc cant exist there. That is why the tropical waters are clear blue and the water in the Arctic looks muddy with life. Warmng the oceans creates seas that are dead.

Methane is now bubbling up from the Beaufort Sea. Warm waters have flooded over cold permafrost areas of the Arctic Shelf, bringing more than 10C additional heat into the submerged sediment.

Remotely operated vehicle observations on the Beaufort Sea Shelf revealed streams of methane-rich gas bubbles coming from the crests of pingo-like features. These enigmatic features are low hills on the floor of the ocean. They can grow up to 40 meters tall and several hundred meters across, and have puzzled scientists ever since they were first discovered.

It is believed they are formed as methane hydrate (a frozen mixture of gas and seawater) decomposes beneath the seafloor, which releases gas that squeezes deep sediments up onto the seafloor like toothpaste from a tube.

This shows that the warmer water is now decomposing gas hydrate as well as permafrost, and adding to the large quantities already in the atmosphere.

Nuclear power?? In the Switkowski Report supporting a nuclear energy option for Australia it states: "Deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required to avoid dangerous climate change. No single technology can achieve this - a portfolio of actions and low-emission technologies is needed".

In marked contrast to the meat of this report, Dr Mark Diesendorf of the Institute of Environmental Studies says that renewable energy could provide more than half of Australia's electricity by 2040, if the Federal and State Governments took firm action.

As importantly, Australia has huge reserves of geothermal heat that could power all the country's needs for 800 years. The cost would be less than nuclear, the input time much shorter.

I am personally skeptical about nuclear as it takes at least 15 years (if you have an experienced construction industry) to plan, build and commission a nuke - as in the Finnish plant that opened last year

For Australia we would have to build 25 or more to replace coal, and even that would reduce our contribution to global warming by only 17%.

If this were done instantly I would not be questioning the idea, but because it will take so long& to replace coal with nukes, it will by then be too late.

The calculations in this newsletter indicate that the catastrophe is already on us. We don't have time for nukes. Let's not waste energy on such a divisive question.

The big questions are around ending fossil fuel use, healing the oceans, preparing for inevitable sea rise and the survival of our culture.

ExxonMobil is spending millions to discredit climate change for its own profits. It is amazing that the world's richest company should be putting all its power behind a deliberate and scurrilous policy to discredit climate change.

A think tank partly funded by Exxon [The American Enterprise Institute] sent letters to scientists offering them up to $10,000, plus travel and other expenses, to highlight the shortcomings in the recent report from the IPCC. Yet this was the most authoritative assessment of climate change science ever prepared.

According to Exxon's web site, the company contributed $240,000 to this institute in 2005 and a similar amount in 2004.

To insert doubt into people's mind has become a major strategy of Exxon's over the years, as it was with Big Tobacco before them.

A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists said Exxon spent $16 million between 1998 and 2005 funding 43 organizations that sought to confuse the public on global warming science.

But Exxon has recently acknowledged that global warming is happening. The oil giant conceded that humans are partly to blame for the phenomenon, and pledged to stop funding what many consider to be fringe groups that downplay human's role in global warming.

We will see, won't we? After all, more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush Administration.

ExxonMobil announced a $50 billion annual profit, the biggest ever by a US company. How many solar panels could this pay for?

We can transform our life on this planet and maintain
our lifestyles

We can do both
- ONLY if we start NOW-

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