The Stabilisation Myth: Underlying All of Our Current Strategies for Keeping Global Warming within Bearable Limits Is an Assumption That If We Stabilise Carbon Emissions We Will Also Stabilise Global Temperatures. but in This Edited Extract from His Book Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton Rips Apart That Assumption to Expose the Disturbing Truth about the Science of Climate Change

By Hamilton, Clive | Geographical, August 2010 | Go to article overview

The Stabilisation Myth: Underlying All of Our Current Strategies for Keeping Global Warming within Bearable Limits Is an Assumption That If We Stabilise Carbon Emissions We Will Also Stabilise Global Temperatures. but in This Edited Extract from His Book Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton Rips Apart That Assumption to Expose the Disturbing Truth about the Science of Climate Change


Hamilton, Clive, Geographical


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The belief that we can stabilise the climate at a specified concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with an associated increase in average global temperature, has underpinned all international negotiations over global warming. The idea that greenhouse gas emissions must be limited to prevent 'dangerous' warming is embodied in the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change. The official European and Group of Eight goal of aiming to keep warming below 2[degrees]C is based on this idea, as are greenhouse gas concentration targets such as 450 parts per million (ppm) or 550 ppm advocated in the Stern report and Australia's Garnaut report.

But the belief that humans can adopt policies that stabilise the climate rests on assumptions that aren't well founded in the science. Stabilisation requires that annual emissions are eventually reduced to 'the level that balances the Earth's natural capacity to remove green house gases from the atmosphere'. The problem is that global warming is likely to trigger its own 'natural' sources of new emissions and interfere with the Earth's capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

POLICY KNOBS

The Earth's climate is not like a machine whose temperature can be regulated by turning some policy knobs; it's a highly complex system with its own regulatory mechanisms. Humans cannot regulate the climate; the climate regulates us. For several years, climate scientists have understood that some of the relationships among variables are non-linear, so that a slight increase in warming can cause a large shift in other aspects of the climate. Paleoclimatologists have known this for a long time, but it's only recently that the idea has been linked explicitly to today's global warming.

If we look at a chart showing the Earth's climate history stretching back over many millennia, we don't see smooth transitions from ice ages to 'interglacial' or warm periods (such as the one we are now in). The transitions are sometimes dramatic, with sharp changes in climate occurring over mere decades, probably due to amplifying feedback effects. So climate states can end abruptly once certain thresholds are crossed, setting off accelerated warming that is stopped only when a natural limit is reached, such as the disappearance of ice from the Earth.

There are numerous tipping points that could induce positive-feedback effects that amplify warming and its effects, including the disappearance of summer sea-ice in the Arctic, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet, the release of carbon from melting permafrost, and large-scale dieback of the Amazon rainforest. As they occur, these changes will be effectively irreversible, at least for thousands of years.

A recent paper has destroyed any idea we might have that we can take radical corrective action once things become intolerable. It reaffirms that a large proportion of the C[O.sub.2] we are putting into the atmosphere will still be there in 1,000 years, so the level at which emissions peak makes a huge difference. Both the warming and the sea-level rise associated with that peak will not decline, even if emissions fell to zero, but will stay virtually constant for more than a millennium. The authors conclude:

'It is sometimes imagined that slow processes such as climate change pose small risks, on the basis of the assumption that a choice can always be made to quickly reduce emissions and thereby reverse any harm within a few years or decades. We haw" shown that this assumption is incorrect ...'

The lag between emissions and their effects on climate and the irreversibility of those effects make global warming a uniquely dangerous and intractable problem for humanity. Among other things, these features of climate change render standard economic analysis of the problem hopelessly inappropriate. Indeed, it is positively dangerous. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Stabilisation Myth: Underlying All of Our Current Strategies for Keeping Global Warming within Bearable Limits Is an Assumption That If We Stabilise Carbon Emissions We Will Also Stabilise Global Temperatures. but in This Edited Extract from His Book Requiem for a Species, Clive Hamilton Rips Apart That Assumption to Expose the Disturbing Truth about the Science of Climate Change
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.