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Ten Years To Catastrophe

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Abstract: The mathematics of “Climate Change” are much more problematic than the IPCC makes it sound. Weirdly, the IPCC ignores much of the greenhouse gases injected in the biosphere from human activity (!), and the fact that, although the main trigger, atmospheric CO2 is not the main agent of climate change (or, more generally biosphere change; the correct concept). Integrating all agents of change, direct or indirect gives ten years to catastrophe (the present essay buttresses technically the essay “Terminal Greenhouse Crisis“).

The logic may not be perfect logic to do so. However it is perfect catastrophic logic. In catastrophic logic, it is considered that all that can go wrong, will go wrong (“Murphy’s Law”). Planes fly safely, thanks to paying great attention to catastrophic logic (that’s why aircraft disaster are so important). Losing the biosphere would be the greatest catastrophe imaginable, as we would lose spaceship Earth. So, if there is one case when catastrophic logic ought to be used, that’s it.

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Here is the problem, and its name is IPCC (Does IPCC mean International Panel for Coal Catastrophe?):

Pluto & Coal Go Together Well
Pluto & Coal Go Together Well

Pluto & Coal Go Together Well

The latest IPCC (Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change) report, seven years after the preceding one, observes that adaptation is an option only if efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions are “strengthened substantially”. Without mitigation, the impacts of climate change will be devastating.

The report, under the political pressure of business-as-usual, is exaggeratingly optimistic. This best-of-possible-worlds stance has a real impact.

Notice the coal production has been augmenting exponentially recently (and that the graph above projects optimistically that this will stop magically this year, 2014!).

The coal production is reaching new height, precisely because the assessment of the climate impact of the rise in Human generated Greenhouse Gases (HGG) is not viewed as alarming.

Under the public IPCC assessment, a devastating impact of HGG will take about 40 years. How did the IPCC get there? By making “reasonable”, “most probable” assumptions. That’s perfect for business-as-usual.

Business as usual is a funny matter: a jumbo jet recently disappeared (Malaysian Airlines 370). Yet, the jet had an internet antenna, and it would have cost only one dollar per hour to keep appraised of its position, using that antenna. For years, the technology has existed to know everything about jets in difficulty, in real time, but it has not been applied, because no law exists to enforce the application of said technology.

(When the AF 447 fell to the ocean, in 2009, the plane, realizing it was losing its mind, sent 14 technical messages in 4 minutes to Airbus in Toulouse, so, even if that jet had not been found, the rough reasons for the crash were known within hours; such a system could exist for all jets; the lessons of the AF 447 crash were applied worldwide, including how pilots ought to react to such loss of lift: the old doctrine was gravely erroneous!)

Jets crashing and planet crashing have much in common, as they represent the conjunction of multiple system failures.

So the IPCC operates on a 40 year time-frame for total catastrophe, while I claim that the time scale is only ten years. The IPCC got there by being optimistic. I got to only ten years by being pessimistic. I used what I call Catastrophic Calculus.

One could say that, by using Catastrophic Calculus, I am not “objective”. But Catastrophic Calculus is what has to be applied all over the cases where failure is not an option. The obvious example is train travel, car making, and especially, aircraft flying. (Strangely, Catastrophic Calculus has been ignored for some types of very dangerous civil nuclear technologies!)

The IPCC, EPA, etc, are certainly culprit of the sin of talking about “Carbon” meaning Carbon Dioxide, CO2, sometimes meaning only the “C” inside “CO2” . I even wonder if they don’t do it deliberately, to understate the problem.

Certainly 515 billion tons of “Carbon” in 2010 the IPCC sometimes talk about, is less frightening than the 3,016 billion tons of CO2 present in the atmosphere at that time.

This is doubly unfortunate. First, it underplays the problem psychologically. Second, there is another type of “carbon” in the air: soot. When the IPCC speaks of “Carbon”, they don’t measure all the carbon in the air, but just the carbon in the CO2 that is in the air!

This is of some importance: carbon under particulate form (soot) comes in with a minus sign for the greenhouse effect! The more soot, the less the greenhouse, because soot makes the atmosphere more opaque, and less light reaches the ground, where the greenhouse effect occurs. Thus, the more the pollution by soot, the less the surface warming.

By mentioning just one type of “carbon” in the air, the IPCC underplays the impact of the greenhouse, because, if one took out the soot and micro-particles, the greenhouse effect would augment… a lot. Now one will have to remove the soot: it causes cancer, and pulmonary problems, killing millions that way. Doing so will jump up the greenhouse.

And the fact remains that the “carbon” in the air in 2010 was much more than 515 billion tons.

Another, and graver problem, that the IPCC does not insist upon: half of the CO2 goes into the ocean. The acidity has augmented 30%.

Thus the real number for the injection of CO2 of human origin injected in the biosphere is above 6,000 billion tons of CO2. Moreover, that has to be scaled up further, from the other GHGs… Including water vapor. Water vapor, the most abundant greenhouse gas is also the most important in its contribution to the terrestrial greenhouse effect, despite having a short atmospheric lifetime (around 7 days). A 10% change in stratospheric water vapor changes the change of global surface temperature by around 30%. NASA says: “Water vapor is potent enough to double the climate warming caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Now atmospheric concentration of CO2 is augmenting at 1% per year. Integrating the CO2 going into the ocean: 2%. Doubling with water vapor: 4%. Add some methane from fracking and clathrate hydrates erupting, and you sure make 5%.

Doing all the math, and expecting all sorts of non linear effect kicking in, such as release of CO2 from melting permafrost, one gets a putative doubling of the catastrophe in ten years, rather than 40 year.

This is a very different picture from the simple doubling of the catastrophe from doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere in the next 40 years the IPCC apparently expects. The IPCC is in for a rude awakening. It’s eating coal, as we speak. It has turned, indeed, into the International Panel for Coal Catastrophe.

Patrice Aymé

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