Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Climate Change: Critical Decade or Fumbled Future

If the world manages to achieve the kind of international agreement that is needed on global warming, it could be down to the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a physicist. According to Professor Hans Joachin Schellnhuber, she even understands some of the mathematics.

The Critical Decade, the keynote address for the FOUR DEGREES OR MORE? Australia in a Hot World conference, was not all doom and gloom but it is difficult to recall the optimistic bits.

The Professor maintains there is “something revolutionary happening in Germany”. It has taken a U-turn on nuclear power as the answer to reducing carbon emissions but “will honour its climate protection pledges” through renewable energy and other measures. He hopes this "post fossil-fuel/nuclear era" will be a step in the transition to a low carbon world.

He stressed the pressures on traditional democracy. We need to "extend or even transcend traditional democratic processes" to take into account the interests of “the generations not yet born …across space and time”.

He stressed that these processes must be “guided by insight” - in particular the insight of science but also of economics.

He presented a number of tipping point scenarios, some involving runaway greenhouse dynamics that 4+ degrees could bring:
  1. Collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet
  2. Permafrost melting
  3. Methane Hydrates release
Each of these would be irreversible in the short term. He was talking about 1000+ years.

In response to audience questions, he contended that use of natural gas is the best transition but not for the long run without capture and storage by carbon sequestration. He also sees use of biomass as part of the solution. His view on the future of nuclear energy is that it is too expensive if all the real costs are taken into consideration.

If "generational" democracy is the key to embracing real action, the preponderance of baby boomers at the address is a major concern. Gen X and Y - where are you?

For more on the The Critical Decade, please visit Climate: Taming the Unchained Goddess

Update: Professor Schellnhuber was interviewed on ABC TV's Lateline: A carbon price label is all-important: Schellnhuber:

There is also a transcript at the link.

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