Independent Media Centre Ireland

Podcast Interview: The Case for a Sustainable Emergency

category international | environment | other press author Friday February 22, 2008 00:06author by Terence

Climate Code Red -Emergency

This is a must listen podcast and presents the case that we are in grave danger with the climate as the effects of global warming are happening much quicker than anyone has in public admitted. According to Philip Sutton, we need to declare a Sustainability Emergency. In this report, he outlines how the existing institutes have failed.
Graph of the minimum extent reached of Arctic sea ice each summer
Graph of the minimum extent reached of Arctic sea ice each summer

The first topic up in the podcast is the dramatic news from last summer where the amount of sea ice that melted increased by a massive 22%. This was totally unexpected and has shocked climate scientists. The last IPCC report had projected that the Arctic would only become ice free in the summer in about 80 to 100 years time. Given what happened last summer this is now likely to be as only as 2013. A black ocean instead of the brilliant white ice means a huge amount of heat will be absorbed and combined with the increase of evaporation from the open Arctic Ocean, this will transport heat and moisture over Greenland and undermine the already precarious state of the Greenland ice sheet which is now poised to slip into the sea this century and raise sea levels by 5m (15ft) This rise in sea level will then undermine the West Antarctic ice sheet adding a further 5m sea level rise.

The thing is that this is happening with just a 0.8 deg Celsius temperature rise and yet with the amount of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere this will take us up to 2.0 deg Celsius increase. As James Hansen reported this past December 2007 at the congregation of the American Geophysical Union, we surpassed the dangerous temperature zone a few decades ago of 0.5 deg Celsius and that we should be aiming to reduce atmosphere carbon dixiode levels substantially below today's levels from 380ppm to around 320pm. But UN and most national governments are targeting a range of 450ppm to 550ppm thereby deciding to create an inhospitiable planet with a 3 deg to 8 deg Celsius increase in temperature . The last time Earth was that warm the oceans were 25m (75ft) higher and no glaciers existed. The scientist James Lovelock has said under such conditions ocean life would collapse and humans would be only able to inhabit the polar regions. This is because as has been observed the top layer of the ocean would warm so much it would not be able to hold sufficient oxygen for life and such a warm layer would become stable keep this layer intact.

In this situation politics and business as usual are no longer options anymore and as outlined in the report from David Spratt and Phillip Sutton called Climate Code Red makes the case for a Sustainable Emergency. This report is a jolting break from the soft-pedalling and dangerous compromises that led climate policy to accept greenhouse gas levels that lock in catastrophy. The report is empowering because only through facing reality can we face the problem and goes onto explain that humans have the technical and social capacity to go into emergency mode and design an economic and environmental turnaround in 10 or 20 years and start trying to solve this problem.

The rest of the podcast which is worth listening to, discusses the sensitivity of both the Greenland ice sheet and the Anarctic ice sheet to rapid break up as observations and knowledge in the last few years has been gained. Mention is also made of the fact that Greenland is already suffering significant ice quakes which indicate the ice sheet is under great strain and is clearly at the first stages of becoming unstable.

When they discuss last years frightening level of summer melt back, the point is made that in fact 80% of the sea ice is gone because it has lost most of it's thickness and that 1/3 of the melting has been at the surface but 2/3's of the melting has taken place on the undersides of the sea ice from the ocean and this is because the ocean currents entering the Arctic is 3 deg Celsius warmer than before. The change in thickness has been documented by Naval vessel data. Thinner ice is easier to breakup and melt, making continued catastrophic loss likely and leading us straight into the albedo flip enabling a very big energy transfer to the Greenland ice sheet and it is now in the danger zone and very vulnerable. The surface of Greenland is already dotted with lakes of water and these absorbing more water and this was is creating Moulins or holes in the ice down through which it is poring and lubricating the ice and speeding it help and helping to fracture it. In the centre of Greenland the land is depressed and actually below sea level and given what is happening now, the warmer sea water can now penetrate it and cause melting deep within the ice sheet.

They also briefly discuss the possibility with the melting of the permafrost in the tundra regions, there is a potential for a huge amount of methane to be released. Methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than CO-2, but it has a shorten lifetime in the atmosphere. Nevertheless it could lead to a rapid pulse in the increase in temperature.

Another important finding in recent years and discussed is that as temperatures rises the natural carbon sink of planet life and the soil can go into reverse and that places like the Amazon can become stressed by lack of water and is then prone to drying out which would enable bush fires to break out and quickly flip the forest to a savannah system. This could affect up to 80% of the Amazon and this tipping point is only decades away. However the massive logging of the past decades has probably already broken the water cycle and there were reports from 2 or 3 years ago showing parts of the Amazon drying out and beginning to die back. So contray to what the Podcast was saying the process may already been under way.

There are many other points raised in the podcast such as when previous inter glacial warmings which happened but are only as now but were not as warm as it will get, that in these cases the entire world was basically one big wilderness area and this enabled species to cope as it provided a big buffer. This no longer exists. And as the temperature go higher and the rate of change accelerates it will effectively tear apart the delicate ecosystem balances and result in large scale species extinction.

Interview at
Podcast MP3 at:

See also map of sea level rises for levels from 0 to 14m height.

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