Rhein on Energy and Climate

This is the message that nine internationally renowned climate scientists address to the world after a thorough analysis of palaeo-climate data.
The C02 content in the atmosphere has increased from 280 ppm in pre-industrial times to 385 ppm today. A quarter of the C02 emitted stays in the atmosphere for several centuries, cumulating with any new emissions!
It is bound to rise to more than 900 ppm in 2100 if we continue to burn fossil energy.

The increasing concentration of C02 in the atmosphere will provoke a chain reaction for the earth’s climate:

  • The average temperature will go up, and it will do so by more than the two centigrade threshold that the EU has fixed as the maximum tolerable.
  • It will progressively melt the earth’s ice sheet: This will reduce the reflection of the solar radiation (“albedo effect”) and further heat up the planet’s temperature.
  • Permafrost in the Siberian and Alaskan tundra will melt and free huge quantities of methane.
  • Ocean temperatures will rise and be less and less able to absorb additional C02.

Combined, these effects will make it impossible, in due time, to reverse global warming, however hard humanity may try. We shall have reached so-called “tipping points”.

The precautionary principle therefore commands humanity to stop burning fossil fuels without waiting for their ultimate depletion expected say by 2100. We can do this by

  • Enhancing energy efficiency through better thermal insulation, improved engines, machines etc.
  • accelerating the transition to renewable energies like wind or solar;
  • sequestrating C02 in coal-fired power plants;
  • generating more power through nuclear fission or fusion, if ever feasible.
  • preserving forests.

By anticipating the inevitable depletion of fossil resources and accelerating the transition towards a “no-carbon society” humanity would be able to escape the ravages of climate change, in particular a fatal increase of droughts, a depletion of marine life, above all fish stocks, and a dangerous loss of biodiversity.

The extra effort required by humanity would be peanuts compared to large-scale destruction of human civilisation.
Heads of government would only have to decide, at their forthcoming Climate Summit Meeting in December 2009 (Copenhagen), to phase out oil, gas and coal by 2050, instead of only halving its consumption. That is feasible by focusing on the challenge and accepting a doubling of energy prices in the coming years.

Our Heads of government must explain to world’s citizens what is at stake and act! If they do this in simple terms citizens will be ready to accept temporary “sacrifices” in the interest of their grandchildren, instead of taking to the streets and protesting rising against petrol prices.

Time is of the essence! Indulgence must stop. Humanity has already lost 20 precious years through inaction.

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