[Note: Our blog will continue featuring posts surrounding the unfolding climate crisis as the crisis will have, in our view, a profound impact on the future of work]
In Part 1 of this series I highlighted the very dire situation we face and how important it is for us to begin having a conversation of how we adapt to an inevitable global climate catastrophe.
There is a very thin sliver of hope that we can avert what is being described as a near term societal collapse, probable global climate catastrophe and the very likely extinction of life on earth.
That thin sliver of hope is basically pinned on three things:
Everybody on the planet, governments, businesses and private individuals get behind immediate radical decarbonization efforts. We basically need to end all fossil fuel use. This would require an entire global economic and societal system reset. (Read How Realistic Are the Global Climate Change Targets? New Research Weighs In)
We rely on yet untested technology to help us keep the planet cool (solar geoengineering)
We find a way to remove carbon from the atmosphere in sufficiently large amounts to reduce the current parts per milligram.
I would like to explore these concepts in this piece. In their 2018 Global Catastrophic Risks report, The Global Challenges Foundation, which works to incite deeper understanding of the global risks that threaten humanity and catalyse ideas to tackle them, discuss the looming climate catastrophe and how they think we can manage it.
Sliver of Hope 1 — Global Cooperation to Decarbonize the Entire System
They correctly point out that only a global coordinated response will enable us to decarbonize the world economy to prevent any further carbon pouring into the atmosphere. Maybe we have begun to see glimpses of this cooperation in the response to the fires in the Amazon? My sense is, however, that we will only see an attempt at global cooperation when there is a catastrophe of such magnitude - maybe severe food shortages or even famine that impacts a billion people or more in the northern hemisphere, in addition to the 815 million people that are already starving - that it’s impossible to ignore.
Here is how the The Global Challenges team sums it up:
“The window for staying within the Paris temperature goals [1.5°C] through emissions reduction alone has most likely closed already, so that some level of carbon removal and/or solar geoengineering deployment will likely be necessary, which comes with its own risks. Unless massive efforts on greenhouse gas reduction are urgently made, carbon removal and solar geoengineering technologies would need to be deployed on a larger scale.”
Sliver of Hope 2 —Solar Geoengineering
What is Solar Geoengineering? It’s a way to to reduce the temperature of the earth by reflecting light and heat from the sun back into space by injecting aerosols or other particles into the stratosphere. Today, solar geoengineering only exists in computer models. There is are some serious issues with this idea:
“it would affect the entire atmosphere and therefore all people – though its local impact may vary. The technology therefore poses potentially profound risks that transcend borders and raise significant ethical, socio-economic, political and governance challenges.”
This idea is untested. The consequences of this approach unknown. (Read Industry touts untested tech as climate fix)
Sliver of Hope 3 — Atmospheric Carbon Removal
What is atmospheric carbon removal? The idea here is to directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. One way to do this is to plant billions of trees. However, the amount of CO2 that needs to be removed from the atmosphere is so large that the trees won’t manage on their own. We would have to use other methods. But what? The risk report says:
“Leading contenders include “direct air capture (DAC)”, using chemical means to fix carbon dioxide and “bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)” relying on burning biomass for electricity and immediately capturing the carbon dioxide. Other technologies are also being considered, such as enhanced weathering of rocks, increasing ocean alkalinity, ocean fertilization and various means of land management increasing the carbon content of soils. All of these technologies come with substantial environment, social and economic risks which would need to be managed in relation to the risks of other interventions, or the risks of not intervening at all.”
We are running out of time. We may not have the time to figure this out. Some feel pinning our hopes on the above is irresponsible and that all our energy needs to go into how to mitigate collapse.
One thing is pretty clear - we have to stop burning fossil fuel in all its forms. If we get that right, then maybe just maybe, we can cooperate on the other issues related to adaptation.
In Part 3 of this series I will explore ideas around scenario planning. Look out for that next week.