Either we disrupt the economic system following a too gradual path transitioning from fossil fuels, or we face increasing disruption by extreme weather, or most likely, we deal with a mix of both disruptions.
We are living through many trends that simply cannot continue, and while there is competition for which trend reaching a tipping point will cause the greatest disruption over the next decade, the environment and rising CO2 levels will play a key role by 2030.
While some righteous environmentalists protest for everyone to embrace austerity and simply just stop burning fossil fuels, what is required is replacement infrastructure reliant on fossil fuels. In practice we can’t switch off until positive action replaces the need for fossil fuels, which is progressing too slowly in a failing effort to avoid disrupting economies and the establishment.
Reality is both the extreme weather events that further motivate action and those actions themselves will cause disruption, which will both combine with the disruption from AI and the collapse of economic Ponzi schemes.
Synopsis: All paths lead to disruption.
It is not like humanity is going to ignore all signs of climate change and delay replacing reliance on fossil fuel industries while everything collapses, and action will increase as the symptoms increase.
The environment is going to drive a combination of two forms of disruption over the next decades:
- Disruption from extreme weather events with increasing frequency and severity.
- Disruption from political and structural changes needed to accelerate transitions.
After nearly 30 years of COP conferences, CO2 emissions not only still continue, but have risen to reach and remain at record levels. Humanity will not sit by and do nothing as the consequences of inaction continue to grow, resulting in a mix of the two forms of disruption. The climate disruption caused by inaction, and the industry disruption caused by action.
A problem is that even with a change of path there could be a several decades delay between action and results, so nothing will immediately halt the increases in extreme weather.
Climate scientist will warn that +1.5°C will be disastrous, not to mention +2.0°C. Reality is, in 2020 even I could see +1.5°C was inevitable by around 2026, and now it seems +2.0°C will be breached by around 2030 and it is unlikely to be possible to avoid +2.5°C sometime in the 2030s.
The reason that climate action has been so ineffective is because action is not as simple as just stopping using fossil fuels. In practice society can’t stop without first completing a transition to replacing systems reliant on fossil fuels.
Governments currently most want the same to drive the transitions using business community that has vested interests in fossil fuels.
Ending excess CO2emissions requires two transitions:
- Energy generation to renewables.
- Transport and heating from fossil fuels to electrical power.
Both transitions are running too slowly and have “economic problems”. Renewable energy is less expensive than fossil fuel energy over the long term, and electric cars and other electric transport is less complex and once the transition is complete, will cost less than the technology being replaced.
While “lower cost” might sound like a benefit, it actually means a reduction in economic activity and loss of revenue for the industries involved.
Without a major disruption from the current path, it is very difficult to see emissions even reaching “net zero” by 2050, doubt about anytime sooner.
The bottom line is that with a major disruption in how these transitions are managed, they are going to be very slow. Plus, there is no avoiding that completing the transitions will create major disruption and pain for two of the world’s biggest industries.
If the current trend of year by year increasing number and severity of extreme weather events continues, and we have no reason for assuming it would not continue, then there is going to be increasing call for change and increasing impact from these extreme weather events.
Even back in 2020 it was clear +1.5° would likely happen by around 2026 and all the talk of net zero by 2050 or 2060 or climate action by 2030 could not possibly achieve stated goals, and evidence of climate change at the time was not sufficient for much beyond outrage from righteous environmentalists with little to offer beyond austerity and even hardship for all.
It is very likely that over the next 2 to 5 years, extreme weather events will create increasing amounts of their own disruption, and put pressure for disruption of government, in order to disrupt the industry transitions.
This is all at a time when population pressures are threatening to disrupt the economic Ponzi schemes, and AI is threatening the very nature of society.
The natural disruption of extreme weather on current path.
Where does the current path lead for CO2?
The planet is currently on the “blue line” or “Stated Policies Scenario”, which is the future if countries manage to enforce emission reductions policies.
The “announced pledges” line is what will happen if all countries with stated targets, manage to create, then legislate and follow policies to deliver those targets. This is currently the “best possible case” scenario.
Then there are “Net Zero Emissions” scenarios or NZE scenarios. To quote the IEA:
Delivering the NZE is heavily dependent on all governments working together in an effective and mutually beneficial manner.IEA: Scenario trajectories
Just would it take to get countries like the USA, Russia, China and India all working together?
Between the building and use of weapons, warships and the like, it seems like the interaction between countries is so far creating more emissions than it is solving.
The IEA projections are attempting to cover multiple scenarios, with the “current path” as their worst case, whilst this section is focusing specifically on the current path.
On that current path at least the level of emissions is not increasing, but projected emissions are still higher than at any time prior to 2020, which means CO2 levels could be expected to rise at a rate higher than any time prior to 2020.
If CO2 levels continue to rise at 2020 rates, they would reach 440 ppm by 2030, and 490 ppm by 2050.
Where does the current path lead for temperature increases?
Where the path is headed can be predicted, but the end of the path is far more uncertain.
The temperature on Earth is stable when the energy arriving from the Sun is balanced by the energy radiated by the Earth. Energy only arrives on the side of the Earth facing the Sun, but is radiated by the entire globe, with radiation from any one point on the Earth dependant on serval factors including the temperature at that point, with more heat at any one point increasing the radiation of energy from that point. The result is daily and seasonal temperature fluctuations of well over +10°C, which makes seeing an underlying trend, of for example+1.5°C, by 2026 by 2026This daily makes
Rising CO2 impedes energy being radiated from the Earth and upsets the balance due to the greenhouse effect, which means the temperature rises until that increases radiation from the Earth to restore the balance. We have observed how temperatures rise as CO2 levels increase, but it would take increasing levels and then waiting until the temperature stabilises to be sure how many years it takes to establish the new normal, so until human emissions stop increasing CO2 levels, it is difficult to be sure how far temperatures in response to even current CO2 levels.
Plus, the Earth is such a complex system that it is difficult to be sure all tipping points have been accounted for in any modelling.
How could the path change.
How long are we stuck even with a change of path?
The transition to EVs is underway, with the latest EVs now offering similar value at purchase to ICE vehicles, but still any transition to EVs will take over 20 years and is going to cause major disruption to the automobile industry.
Then it comes to power generation, and nothing will accelerate that transition without global agreement, which would be reflected in a COP summit. In 2023 the COP28 will be held in Dubai and one of the largest oil producers being the host of a summit to work to ending reliance on oil will be interesting.
The disruption of a changing economic path.
In almost every country in the world, the government played a dominant role in the establishment of the electrical grid and power generation. But at this time when a rethink and reboot of the approach to power is required, deregulation and privatisation have been in the ascendency, and the thinking has been that these industries are mature, and on the basis that these industries are mature and the role of government can be decreased.
Realistically, anywhere where the goal is not to use a transition to renewables to create new oligarchs at the expense of the people, this may need a rethink.
What to expect: Hasn’t the planet been here before?
Go back billions of years ago and there were CO2 levels hundreds of times higher, but the Sun was much cooler, so comparisons are not very useful. A key fact to remember is that the Sun gradually increasing the energy it sends us, which currently requires a drop in CO2 levels by 3-4 parts per million every million years to compensate. So, to go back 100 million years, to achieve similar warmth would require CO2 levels 300-400 parts per million higher than today.
However, in the Pliocene era, CO2 levels were similar to those of today, and being only around 3 million years ago, this was sufficiently recent that a reduction in CO2 of only 10 to 12 parts per million is required to compensate for the increased heat from the Sun since that time. What was it like?
However, the global average temperature in the mid-Pliocene (3.3 Ma–3 Ma) was 2–3 °C higher than today, global sea level 25 meters higher, and the northern hemisphere ice sheet was ephemeral before the onset of extensive glaciation over Greenland that occurred in the late Pliocene around 3 Ma.Pliocene climate.
This suggests that the CO2 levels already reached could be sufficient to lift global temperatures by even +3.0°C and raise sea levels by as much as 25 metres.
Other sources suggest it is necessary to go back further in time ~14.1 Ma to the Middle Eocene Climatic Optimum to match CO2 levels now projected as inevitable, but the combination of continental drift and changes in the Sun over that timeframe makes comparison even more questionable.
The alarming data of 2023: What type of tipping point?
Now in 2023, even more alarming than 2023 being on track to become the hottest year ever recorded, is the fact that, ocean surface temperatures are at the highest level ever recorded in August, despite ocean surface temperatures normally being higher in March-April.
It is clear that in August 2023 the temperature shows near double the increase from the 1982-2011 average of the previous record.
It seems undeniable that some tipping point has been reached, but no one has identified the exact nature of that tipping point. Whilst climate alarms have become a little like just another warning about the wolf, another reason we have not heard more of this ocean warming is that it is difficult to digest the data.
The hope is that whatever tipping point has been reached, the result is an amazing but mostly temporary lift in ocean surface temperatures has reached its peak, and this rise in temperatures is neither permanent nor that beginning of a new trend.