2015 a 'tipping point' for climate change: experts

January 18, 2016 by Marlowe Hood
2015 was almost certainly the hottest on record for the planet as a whole
2015 was almost certainly the hottest on record for the planet as a whole

When future generations write the history of humanity's faltering quest to repair Earth's climate system, 2015 will have its own chapter.

Nature, along with the usually fractious family of nations, conspired to make it a landmark year: almost certainly the hottest on record for the planet as a whole, and a rare moment of unity when 195 states pledged to curb the carbon pollution that drives .

Whether the December 12 Paris Agreement is the key to our salvation or too-little-too-late depends on what happens starting now, experts and activists told AFP.

"The most compelling thing you can say about Paris is not that it saved the planet, but that it saved the chance of saving the planet," said Bill McKibben, founder of the grassroots organisation 350.org and an architect of the worldwide movement to divest from .

Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, was also chary: "We will only be able to judge whether it is truly a success years, perhaps decades, from now."

But whatever lies ahead, they all agree, the last year has been a "tipping point" on climate change.

Graphic showing tends in the average Earth's surface temperatures from 1880 to 2015
Trend in the average temperature of the Earth's surface 1880 - 2015 (90x68 mm)

"Paris represented a real sea change in seriousness in coming to grips with the issue," said Alden Meyer, a veteran climate analyst from the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists who has followed the UN process for nearly three decades.

Much of that seriousness was driven by a crescendo of deadly extreme weather and the growing confidence of science in connecting the dots with long-term shifts in climate.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will likely report Wednesday on record-breaking heat in 2015.

The 'golden spike'

They could point to the most powerful hurricane ever registered; freakish, above-freezing temperatures—if only for a day—at the North Pole in December; or life-threatening droughts in eastern and southern Africa.

Some of that will be chalked up to El Nino, a natural weather pattern that creates havoc along the tropical and southern Pacific Rim every five or six years. But the very fact that this El Nino is the most intense ever measured may itself be a by-product of global warming.

Bill McKibben (L) representing the grassroots organisation 350.org (USA) receives the Right Livelihood Award from Jakob von Uexk
Bill McKibben (L) representing the grassroots organisation 350.org (USA) receives the Right Livelihood Award from Jakob von Uexkull (R) during a ceremony at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm on December 1, 2014

Scientists reported last week that climate change has probably pushed back the next Ice Age by 50,000 years.

That may sound like good news, but more than anything it is a stunning testament to the extent to which human activity—mainly burning fossil fuels—has played havoc with the planet's thermostat.

Experts have also come a step closer to concluding that our impact on Earth's bio-chemical systems has been so massive as to justify the christening of a new geological era.

The "golden spike", or start date, for the Anthropocene—the "Age of Man"—will probably be the mid-20th century.

What Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka, calls a "greater planetary consciousness" on climate has shown up in business and politics as well.

In the World Economic Forum's annual survey on global risks over the coming decade, released last week, some 750 experts put "failure of and adaptation" at the top of the list for the first time.

Wildfires in Australia fanned by hot, dry conditions engulfed more than 100 homes outside Melbourne in early December 2015
Wildfires in Australia fanned by hot, dry conditions engulfed more than 100 homes outside Melbourne in early December 2015

"Mitigation" means cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and "adaptation" refers to coping with the consequences of climate change.

In third and fourth position are "water crises" and "large-scale involuntary migration".

Record clean energy investment

In the business arena, the balance of investment is shifting away from fossil fuels and towards renewables, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported recently.

Despite tumbling oil and gas prices, global investment in clean energy reached $329 billion (300 billion euros) in 2015, a new record, Bloomberg said.

US President Barack Obama has dealt the US coal industry—already reeling from bankruptcies—another body blow in announcing a freeze on new coal mine permits on federal land.

The 2015 watershed on climate change has crystallised a gradual shift from debate over the reality and extent of global warming, to a discussion on what to do about it.

"After having concentrated for years on the problems generated by , we are seeing across the globe solutions responding to the crisis," said Pascal Canfin, a former French government minister and the new head of WWF France.

But Canfin and others caution against undue optimism.

"There's a huge amount of resistance and inertia built into the system," said Huq. "Changing the global economy is not a trivial matter."

Much of that resistance will come from the fossil fuel industry, faced with the fact that 80 percent of known reserves must stay in the ground to have even a shot at holding global warming to "well below two degrees Celsius" (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above mid-19th century levels, much less the 1.5 degree target climate-vulnerable countries fought so hard to include in the Paris Agreement as an aspirational goal.

"The writing is on the wall for coal. But the oil and gas industry is much bigger and more powerful," said Meyer. "You don't want to delude yourself that they are going to go away quietly."

Explore further: Planned UN climate deal blow to fossil fuels: green groups

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plasmasrevenge
1.7 / 5 (17) Jan 18, 2016
"Because they internalize both the paradigms and their employers' priorities and values, scientists, at least in their own eyes, are completely nonpartisan in their work: They don't 'get political.' They don't think about, let alone challenge, the ideology built into their techniques. Contrary to popular images of scientists as challengers of established beliefs (like Galileo or Einstein), the vast majority of scientists never seek to test their paradigms and do not participate in paradigm disputes. They don't waste their employers' coin by getting caught up in efforts to overthrow existing worldviews or to establish new ones. Instead, they tend to treat the accepted models of reality as reality itself."

- Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-battering System That Shapes Their Lives, p82
axemaster
4.3 / 5 (16) Jan 18, 2016
Well plasma, if you can point out the "political bias" in the partial differential equations used for climate modeling, I'd be happy to listen. Because right now, the only soul-battering I'm having to endure is coming from reading your comment.
mememine69
1.7 / 5 (12) Jan 18, 2016
No matter how hard you eager "believers"; "believe" and abuse science and hate conservatives and fear monger our children, a climate change crisis can't be "99% real". It can only be as real as smoking causing cancer is "real" otherwise it's not "real".
35 more years of debate and denial is certain and unstoppable.
leetennant
4.6 / 5 (11) Jan 18, 2016
Thanks plasmarevenge. "Scientists stuck in reductionist paradigm" will go down in history as most informative headline since "men in big red truck put out fire". And about as relevant to the science of climate change.

Meanwhile, we're fucked. We didn't have to be fucked. We could have acted on what we knew would happen by 2015. But we didn't. And now we're fucked. Thanks, fruitcakes.
malapropism
4.6 / 5 (9) Jan 18, 2016
@plasmasrevenge
Well if you object so strenuously to current methodologies and paradigms, instead of just pushing out sound-bites of diatribe that have no discernable rationale nor logical reasoning behind them why don't you apply your obvious intellectual brilliance (well, obvious to you anyway) and propose other sensible ways for scientists to "get political" and to "think about... challenge, the ideology built into their techniques" so as to "test their paradigms ... overthrow existing worldviews ... [and not] treat accepted models of reality as reality itself"? We would all benefit from the knowledge of your new methods and paradigms, and scientists' application of them in their various disciplines to learn the (supposed) real truth.
malapropism
4.5 / 5 (8) Jan 18, 2016
No matter how hard you eager "believers"; "believe" and abuse science and hate conservatives and fear monger our children, a climate change crisis can't be "99% real". It can only be as real as smoking causing cancer is "real" otherwise it's not "real".
35 more years of debate and denial is certain and unstoppable.

So you don't think that smoking causes some cancers? This despite the rather substantive body of evidence that it does. Is it Philip Morris or British American Tobacco that you work for?

And the argument that you use as your logic for the claim that climate change is not real is that, in your opinion, smoking doesn't cause cancer. Ever heard of the term "non sequitur"?
howhot2
4.2 / 5 (5) Jan 19, 2016
In response to Mr. @plasma; "The most important thing about global warming is this. Whether humans are responsible for the bulk of climate change is going to be left to the scientists, but it's all of our responsibility to leave this planet in better shape for the future generations than we found it." Mike Huckabee.
"Some scientists believe climate change is the cause of unprecedented melting of the North Pole, and that effects these very uncertain weather patterns. I think we should listen to those scientists and experts." Dalai Lama.
"Even those who don't believe in climate change believe we should develop renewable energy. Americans get it: it's time. This is not controversial. It's actually right in the wheelhouse of American business." Marshall Herskovitz.
"It's the poorer people in tropical zones who will get really hit by climate change - as well as some ecosystems, which nobody wants to see disappear." Bill Gates.

geokstr
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2016
Wow, a RINO, the pope of Buddhism, a freakin' Hollywood producer, and a crony capitalist.

I am so totally convinced now to give up all my freedoms and treasure to the Worldwide Collective based on their omnipotent computer programs and appropriately adjusted data. I nominate The Won as our Imperial Potentate, since he's done a magnificent job of bringing the evil United States to its knees.
howhot2
not rated yet Jan 25, 2016
Wow, a RINO, the pope of Buddhism, a freakin' Hollywood producer, and a crony capitalist.

I am so totally convinced now to give up all my freedoms and treasure to the Worldwide Collective based on their omnipotent computer programs and appropriately adjusted data. I nominate The Won as our Imperial Potentate, since he's done a magnificent job of bringing the evil United States to its knees.

Haha. You have to find some humor some where with all of this depressing crap. Or not.

According to some very wise people we all need a Kentucky Ark to guide us some were. And at the same time we need to burn Kentucky coal to generate electricity. If you step back and realistically look at both, both are fallacies entrenched in mankind's self delusion of supremacy over nature. One with a naive religious motive, the other with greed.

In the mean time we will slowly bake to extinction.

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