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Climate change tipping point

Another day, another set of warnings that runaway climate change is pushing the planet to a tipping point beyond which serious impacts cannot be avoided. Climate change researchers have found the Arctic region is warming faster than the rest of the world, and that this is happening much sooner than expected.

They have told the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union  (AGU) that air temperatures are higher than normal for autumn, because the sea ice melted in the summer, building up heat in the oceans. As the air cools in autumn, the sea releases this heat, which the scientists have been able to measure. 

It seems the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) worked with figures suggesting this “Arctic Amplification”, would not happen for decade at the earliest. The new figures show it has been happening for the last five years. 

This matters because if the sea ice covers less of the total area in winter and disappears altogether in summer, the climate will be profoundly affected. Some possible impacts are a permanent drought in the south-western United States, more storms and a shift in the Arctic Conveyor – the sea current that makes Europe and America habitable for humans and other animals. The meeting AGU heard that the IPCC model underestimates rising sea levels. They were looking at a predicted rise of between 28cm and 42cm by the end of the century. The new estimate is as much as 150cm by the end of the century. 

Of course we shouldn’t worry too much, because global capitalism and their supporting governments are on the case. Or are they? The  International Energy Authority this week helpfully published a report which shows how an increase in demand for fossil fuel up to 2030 can be met by dragging every last dirty ounce out of the ground as quickly as possible. 

And the German government caved in to heavy industry and energy corporations to doom the already inadequate European emissions reduction plan. Finally, the international climate change meeting in Poznan decided – well, it decided not to decide anything. Instead they are waiting for the glorious day when President Obama rides to the planet’s rescue with – well, with exactly the same policies that have failed to cut emissions since Kyoto 12 years ago, actually. 

The problem we face is that in a whole number of areas millions of us know what to do – it is simply that we lack the power to do it. For example, everyone knows that the answer to mortgage default is not to evict people from their homes, but to create a shared way forward where they can stay put and pay a fair rent. But still the banks go on with the evictions and the government won’t stop them even after the state bail-outs. 

On climate change, the action plan put forward by A World to Win in our book Running a Temperature is only one of many that show how to transform energy, transport, housing etc. before it is too late. The difference is that only our plan states clearly that without a transformation of democracy and power, we cannot even begin. 

And so as you watch the ice cube melting in your drink this holiday (and by the way, cheers!) make it a symbol of your decision to start next year by signing up to join A World to Win, becoming a local advocate and campaigner for the new People’s Charter for Democracy, and creating a movement to take our fate into our own hands in 2009. 

Penny Cole
Environment editor
18 December 2008

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