Sunday 23 August 2015

Climate change: is it humanity's greatest 'existential risk'?

The University of Cambridge Centre for the Study of Existential Risk puts climate change pretty high in terms of how it endangers not just the planet, but the future of humanity:
Extreme Climate Change | CSER

The risks are real:
Climate Change Poses Existential Water Risks | National Geographic (blogs)
Futures Forum: "The real-life Mad Max will be about water"

This is a view shared by celebrities in the run-up to the Paris UN meeting in December:

Arnold Schwarzenegger: climate change is not science fiction

Terminator star calls global warming a ‘battle in the real world’ that’s bigger than any movie, at the first summit of conscience for the climate in Paris

John Vidal Tuesday 21 July 2015

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been chosen by the French government to join Nobel prizewinners, philosophers, UN secretary generals, spiritual leaders and theologians to make the moral case for the world to act urgently on climate change.

Talking at the world’s first summit of conscience for the climate on Tuesday – ahead of the crucial UN climate change meeting in the city in December – the Terminator star and former California governor declared the science debate over, saying planetary catastrophe could only be avoided with ethical action:

“I’ve starred in a lot of science fiction movies and, let me tell you something, climate change is not science fiction, this is a battle in the real world, it is impacting us right now.

“I believe the science is in. The debate is over and the time for action is now,” he told an invited audience of intellectuals and spiritual leaders from all faiths. “This is bigger than any movie, this is the challenge of our time. And it is our responsibility to leave this world a better place than we found it, but right now we are failing future generations.”

“This year alone we will dump 40bn tonnes of carbon emissions into our atmosphere. The World Health Organization says that air pollution causes over 7 million premature deaths every year and all over the world we can see flooding, monster storms, droughts and wild-fires that are completely out of control.”

The meeting, called by French president Fran├žois Hollande ahead of the Paris political summit, was intended to put pressure on governments to act by mobilising millions of people to declare publicly that they “cared” for earth.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, chair of the Elders group of former world leaders, echoed a phrase attributed to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchevtalking about nuclear war in 1979, saying “climate change would leave the living envying the dead”.

“If action is not taken immediately my grandson will live in a world suffering heat waves, severe droughts and floods. Cities like new York and Venice will drown. We are on the brink of catastrophe but the solution to the climate crisis cannot be left to governments alone ... People are taking the lead and demanding change. We must not fail them.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger: climate change is not science fiction | Environment | The Guardian

And it is a view shared by UK ministers:
UK Minister: Climate change must be taken as seriously as nuclear war - Business Insider

Climate change is as serious a threat as nuclear war - so why has the Government broken its green promises?

LEE WILLIAMS Wednesday 15 July 2015

The signs are unmistakable – last year was the hottest on record and the ten warmest years have all occurred since 1998

Climate change is as serious a threat to humanity as nuclear war, according to a report on climate change commissioned by the Foreign Office. Which begs the obvious question – why isn’t the Government listening?

The report, led by the UK’s climate change envoy Professor Sir David King, spelled out some of the indirect threats posed by global warming such as a tripling of food prices, unmanageable levels of migration and an increased risk of terrorism caused by failing states.

This is on top of the direct risks normally associated with climate change such as floods, lethal heat and extreme weather events. The report also stated that current efforts to cut carbon emissions would go no way towards stopping the climate passing crucial tipping points that could send global warming spiralling out of control.

It’s nice to have all this in a shiny new official government report but of course none of this is news. The scientific community have been warning about the existential threat posed by climate change for years. Professor King stated last year, when he was the Government’s chief scientific advisor, that climate change was a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.

But George Osborne has just issued a budget in which climate change was brushed under the carpet and in which the only environmental measures were negative – removing subsidies to renewable energy and going ahead with planned tax breaks for North Sea oil and gas. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same chancellor who in March’s budget brazenly just came out and said it: “We back oil and gas.”

In pictures: Climate Change Protests Around the World: 1 of 6

So much for George Osborne. Maybe David Cameron is listening? After all he is the man who promised that this would be the “greenest government ever”. Actually Cameron did mention an existential threat to the West recently. Sadly he was referring to Isis – a typical, but unfortunately misplaced, piece of scaremongering. Of course Isis are despicable, but several thousand people with guns and some military hardware do not constitute an existential threat. The entire eco-system of the planet going haywire does.

If ever we needed this kind of rhetoric from our prime minister about the real threat to humankind, that time is now. The UN climate change conference is in Paris this December. It could constitute our last chance to do something meaningful to halt the terrible trajectory we are on. The signs are unmistakable – last year was the hottest on record and the ten warmest years have all occurred since 1998.

Even more worryingly, some of the tipping points mentioned in the report may already be upon us. Researchers in the Arctic Ocean have found dozens of plumes of methane gas, some of them a kilometre wide, bubbling up from the ocean floor. Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 and this massive release could hugely accelerate climate change, perhaps even send it spiralling beyond our control.

The evidence is overwhelming – from the statistics, from the scientists, from the climate itself, and from the government’s own report. Now is the time to do something. Perhaps the only time and perhaps the last chance. We just need the Government to fulfil its own broken promise, to actually be the greenest government ever and do something about climate change before it’s too late.

Sadly, there is equally strong evidence to suggest they won’t.

Climate change is as serious a threat as nuclear war - so why has the Government broken its green promises? - Comment - Voices - The Independent

Indeed, the general opinion is that it will not be 'natural disasters' which will wipe us out - but 'anthropogenic':

A global catastrophic risk is a hypothetical future event with the potential to seriously damage human well-being on a global scale.[2] Some events could destroy or cripple modern civilization. Other, even more severe events could cause human extinction,[3]any of which can be referred to as anexistential risk.

Natural disasters, such as supervolcanoes and asteroids, pose such risks if sufficiently powerful.Events caused by humans could also threaten the survival of intelligent life on Earth. Such anthropogenic events could include catastrophic global warming,[4] nuclear war, or bioterrorism. The Future of Humanity Institute believes that human extinction is more likely to result from anthropogenic causes than natural causes.[5][6]

Global catastrophic risk - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Here is a very prescient video on the subject:
Toby Ord on the likelihood of natural and anthropogenic existential risks | Future of Humanity Institute
Future of Humanity Institute - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nick Bostrom is a leading scientist on the subject:
existential risks: threats to humanity's survival
Nick Bostrom's Home Page

More of him later...
What Happens When Machines Surpass Human Intelligence?

See also:
Futures Forum: Climate change: Entering the Anthropocene

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