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Climate Change Threshold Closer than Believed

In the photo: Creative visualization of Climate change / Photo by: geralt via Pixabay

Lately, it has grown increasingly commonplace to discuss global warming in the context of a sort of countdown to disaster like the eventual detonation of a timed bomb.Human civilization worldwide emits more carbon dioxide every year, which continually diminishes the window of opportunity to fix the issue of climate change.Other common conversations on the subject tend to address what can be done in the small amount of time that remains to curtail the effects of climate change before a dangerous threshold is crossed.

The Washington Post reported Monday, “This outlook has allowed, at least for some, for the preservation of a form of climate optimism in which big changes, someday soon, will still make the difference." Christiana Figueres, the former head of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, recently joined a group of climate scientists and policy wonks to state there are three years left to get emissions moving sharply downward.

“If, that is, we’re holding out hope of limiting the warming of the globe to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures, often cited as the threshold where ‘dangerous’ warming begins (although in truth, that’s a matter of interpretation),” says The Post’s Chris Mooney.Loads of recent studies, however, challenge the optimism of the already grim outlook Figueres and other pundits have established.

Just last week, a research team published a study that strongly asserts that climate change has been an evolving problem for longer than initially thought as a result of human influences not previously taken into consideration.This essentially rolls the hypothesized “preindustrial” threshold for global warming back in time and thrusts the present day further ahead than originally believed.Basically, the rationale is: If global warming has already progressed further than believed due to human activity, then the amount of carbon dioxide human civilization can emit in the next three years to avoid crossing the aforementioned threshold is smaller than anyone thought.

The Post reports, “Two new studies published Monday, meanwhile, go further towards advancing this pessimistic view, which asserts that there’s little chance of the world will [sic] stay within prescribed climate limits.The first new study calculates the statistical likelihood of various amounts of warming by the year 2100, based on three trends that matter most for how much carbon we put in the air.Those are the global population, countries’ GDP (on a per capita basis), and carbon intensity, or the volume of emissions for a given level of economic activity.”

The findings of the first new study include a likelihood of median warming equaling 3.2ºC, and it goes further to say that the chance of the world limiting the warming to 2ºC is only five percent.Additionally, the study says that there is only a 1 percent chance the 1.5º milestone could possibly be met.This is particularly bad news for small island nations, who are distinctly vulnerable and have been hoping with bated breaths for the 1.5º milestone much like so many other nations.

“There is a lot of uncertainty about the future, our analysis does reflect that, but it also does reflect that the more optimistic scenarios that have been used in targets seem quite unlikely to occur,” Adrian Raftery, a University of Washington, Seattle statistician, said.Raftery was the lead author on the study his team published in Nature Climate Change, which was co-authored by colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara as well as from Upstart Networks.

The research outlined in the study is critical because 2ºC has long been proclaimed by many climate experts as the end-all-be-all threshold for what has been suggested by the data of so many studies to be “dangerous” manifestations of climate change.Figueres personally articulated the problem in a CBS News interview: “Science has established for quite a while that we need to respect a threshold of 2 degrees, that being the limit of the temperature increase that we can afford from a human, economic and infrastructure point of view.”

The second of the two new studies mentioned before approached globing warming quite differently, analyzing how much it has already progressed in light of the amount of warming that has yet to observably manifest due to emissions that haven’t yet arrived.It is clear in the study conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology’s Thorsten Mauritsen in Germany and University of Colorado, Boulder professor Robert Pincus that global warming is not only inevitable, especially in light of the planet’s theorized energy imbalance, but also closer by several fractions of a degree.

“The upshot,” according to the Post article, “is that we may already have firmly committed to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming even if emissions were to stop immediately and entirely (which is not going to happen).One scenario presented in the study finds a 13 percent chance that 1.5 degrees is already baked in; another finds a 32 percent chance.And again, the margin for avoiding 2 degrees C narrows accordingly.”