The G8: Rudd’s Self-fulfilling Climate Prophecy

With no intermediate targets defined, no clean energy technology assistance given to developing countries, come 2050, a magic wand will be waved, carbon emissions will be cut by 80 percent, mean temperatures limited below 2 degrees C, and pigs will fly.

“The G8 made no firm commitment to help developing countries financially cope with the effects of rising seas, increased droughts and floods, or provide the technology to make their carbon-heavy economies more climate-friendly.” Nor did the G8 decide of a shorter-term target, despite warnings from a UN panel that they must cut emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent by 2020, to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C.

Having committed Australia to a failure standard of 5 percent CO2 emission cut by 2020 relative to 2000, should no global agreement be reached in Copenhagen, Rudd’s “pessimism” regarding an agreement reminds of a lagging runner shouting at those in front “I told you so.”

If Howard’s earlier rejection of the Kyoto Protocol can be attributed to ignorance, there can be little excuse for Rudd’s virtual inaction in view of his insight: “At the end of the day, the atmosphere doesn’t sit around and neutrally observe grand political agreements.” In telling the Danish PM “negotiations for an agreement were not on track and that he was quite worried about it,” little mention is made that Australia, a rich coal exporter and one of the highest per-capita carbon emitter, has committed itself to standards that are virtually guaranteed to make no difference to runaway climate change.

Nor are CCS schemes likely to eventuate on a scale sufficient to mitigate emissions in time. While at a cost of US$0.50–8.00 per sequestration of a tonne of CO2, translated to about 15 to 240 $billion for sequestration of one year’s emissions of about 30 billion tons CO2, is only a fraction of what the world is spends on wars, the reluctance of the G8 to extend clean energy technology to developing countries does not bode well in this regard. Likely a similar fate awaits the CCS as Australia’s earlier SYNROC project, designed by Professor Ted Ringwood to store RADWASTE in radiation-proof cylinders placed in drill holes, but which was never applied on a commercial scale, due to high cost. Instead, radioactive waste is stored in leaking drums, dumpted into the oceans, and in part buried in salt mines.

Even if the above effort is made, current levels of near 450 ppm CO2-equivalent (which includes methane) requires fast tracked development and application of CO2 down-draw techniques aimed at reducing levels to below 350 ppm. At current emission rates of about 2 ppm CO2/year, by 2050 CO2-equivalent levels will exceed the 500 ppm level at which the Antarctic ice sheet has formed 34 million years ago, including likely tipping points out of human control.

NGOs are trying to make the difference, including Al Gore’s inspired new think tank (Safe Climate Australia — SCA), launched at an event to be attended by almost 1000 business leaders. SCA is modeled on a similar project, Repower America, which Mr Gore co-ordinates in the US. It will produce a blueprint for Australia’s transition to net zero carbon that will cover all major sectors of the Australian economy.

Rudd must know he was given a stark choice. He can continue to appease the big polluters or, alternatively, he could assume a Churchill-like leadership regarding what he has described as the “greatest moral challenged of our generation.”

Dr Andrew Glikson is with the Research School of Earth Science & School of Archaeology & Anthropology at Australian National University in Canberra. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Andrew.

21 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on July 16th, 2009 at 1:37pm #

    Andrew it never ceases to amaze me the one problem we all face short of nuclear war and not one comment. Oh well

  2. lichen said on July 16th, 2009 at 2:17pm #

    Australia is running out of water; sooner than later it’s citizens will have to leave, and there will be no ‘rudd.’ There will also be no 2050 if truly radical measures aren’t taken NOW; which involve downscaling and switching to using only wind, solar, tidal, and geothermal energy. A policy of one child per female, taken up internationally, can bring our population back down to 1.6 billion by 2100; the forests could regenerate, we could stop making new contributions to global warming, stop destroying the oceans, stop producing plastics, stop genetically modified foods, nuclear fission, destructive agricultural processess…we could do this all, and do it NOW.

    We have little, little time, and I hope that, if the idiots go to Copenhagen and decide to do nothing, there will be worldwide popular movements ready to riot and tear those non-representatives down to save our planet and ourselves. If they leave Denmark with nothing, they should never have peace again!

  3. Don Hawkins said on July 16th, 2009 at 3:15pm #

    lichen unfortunely you are right on the dot.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 17th, 2009 at 4:32pm #

    To understand Rudd I think you must understand John Howard, his predecessor, and Obama. I see Rudd as a sort of mid-point between those two, a type of amalgam. Not as charismatic as Obama, but as much a fraud, as much a ‘confidence-man’ as Obama.Rudd was lucky in that Australians seemed to have finally grown tired of Howard. In my opinion Howard was an evil man, who saw political power as a means to harm those he hated, in his case workers, Aborigines, Moslems, environmentalists, gays etc, ie those unlike Howard himself, and reward those he admired, the rich.This type is ubiquitous here, in Rightwing politics, which is about 90% of accepted political opinion. Howard seemed finally to have over-reached with his ‘Work Choices’ legislation, that, with typical Orwellian flair, actually removed all choice for workers and reduced them to the status of serfs at the total beck and call of their masters. Even the mentally obtunded and terminally self-satisfied Australian public had had enough.
    However, if anybody entertained any delusions that Rudd was going to be a breath of fresh air, they were soon dashed. Economic policy has been more or less Friedmanite in its orthodoxy, although the financial crisis has been addressed with great expenditures and outlays of public money. This has been attacked by the Opposition, the quaintly misnamed ‘Liberal’ Party, and the knuckle-dragging bone-heads of its rural partner the ‘Nationals’ as putting our children at risk from great indebtedness, although they would certainly have followed a similar course. Rudd has altered the Howardite labour laws only at the margin, betraying the labour unions who expended millions in his cause, but provoking the psychopath’s carnival of the Murdoch press into paroxysms of rage, class hatred being utterly essential to their character formation, along with racism, xenophobia, misogyny etc. Rudd makes lots of gestures, like apologising to Aborigines, then in practise, continues Howardite policy, in this case the maintenance of policies aimed at the destruction of Aboriginal society through coercive assimilation. Once again Murdoch’s press, his flag-shit ‘The Australian’ leading,has been and is to the fore with the fanatic’s enthusiasm and an unremitting and total bias in news and opinion towards the assimilationist Right. It’s what Murdoch’s Rightwing zealots posing as journalists call ‘freedom of the press’, and those evil Chinese, Iranians and Russians (name your enemy du jour) don’t have it.
    The Rudd maintenance of Howardite policy is also plain in environmental policies. Rudd signed Kyoto, another gesture, made meaningless by subsequent behaviour. At Bali and Poznan Australia was just as obstructionist as it had been under Howard, but the media sewer, as debased, lying and cynical propaganda systems will do, kept quiet about it. The lengthy investigations, White Papers etc that Rudd embarked on, produced a gnat, but that was plainly the only allowable outcome, as Rudd’s regime spent orders of magnitude more time, and at higher, ministerial, level, consulting with business and mining, than it did with scientists or environmentalists. In the end policy is identical with Howard’s. No action on reducing emissions, sabotage of renewables, and spending billions on the total sham of carbon capture and storage, for no other reason than to protect billions in fossil fuel ‘assets’. Indeed just the other day it was being proposed that the brown coal reserves in Victoria be processed to produce fuel for cars, possibly the most greenhouse intensive process possible, all with that insouciant air of inevitability that treats greenhouse gas emissions as a non-problem, something that is an ‘externality’ to business dreams of lovely, if filthy, lucre,
    Rudd is currently embroiled in an imbroglio over China. The Right have targeted him as a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ because he speaks ‘Mandarin’ Chinese. He has reacted with characteristic overcompensation (a sign, I think, of inner inauthenticity, and lack of self-confidence) by puffing out his chest and threatening the Chinese. Meanwhile the Rightwing media, its profuse Judeofascist element, particularly around ‘The Australian’, once again, to the fore, produce a steady stream of invective and black propaganda against China. At a time when international co-operation is essential, the psychopathic Right would rather play its interminable games of demonisation and denigration, hysterically proclaiming their moral perfection and
    intellectual superiority when they are dead souls in every way imaginable. If the world is relying on the likes of Rudd, a hollow man with no apparent convictions but the usual lust for eminence ( rather like Blair, who Rudd reminds me of),who will put the business interest first and last every time, to save it from climate catastrophe, then we are doomed.

  5. Don Hawkins said on July 17th, 2009 at 6:53pm #

    Mystery mechanism drove global warming 55 million years ago
    July 13th, 2009 in Space & Earth / Earth Sciences

    A runaway spurt of global warming 55 million years ago turned Earth into a hothouse but how this happened remains worryingly unclear, scientists said on Monday.
    A runaway spurt of global warming 55 million years ago turned Earth into a hothouse but how this happened remains worryingly unclear, scientists said on Monday.
    Previous research into this period, called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, estimates the planet’s surface temperature blasted upwards by between five and nine degrees Celsius (nine and 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in just a few thousand years.
    The Arctic Ocean warmed to 23 C (73 F), or about the temperature of a lukewarm bath.
    How PETM happened is unclear but climatologists are eager to find out, as this could shed light on aspects of global warming today.
    What seems clear is that a huge amount of heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases — natural, as opposed to man-made — were disgorged in a very short time.
    The theorised sources include volcanic activity and the sudden release of methane hydrates in the ocean.
    A trio of Earth scientists, led by Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii, try to account for the carbon that was spewed out during PETM.
    They believe that levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) rose by 70 percent during PETM’s main phase to reach 1,700 parts per million (ppm), attaining a concentration of between four and five times that of today.
    But all this CO2 can only account for between one and 3.5 C (1.8-6.3 F) of PETM’s warming if the models for climate sensitivity are right, the team found.
    There must have been some other factor that stoked temperatures higher.
    Even though there are big differences between Earth’s geology and ice cover then and now, the findings are relevant as they highlight the risk of hidden mechanisms that add dramatically to warming, says the paper.
    Some of these so-called “positive feedbacks” are already known.
    For instance, when a patch of Arctic sea ice melts, this exposes the uncovered sea to sunlight, depriving it of a bright, reflective layer.
    That causes the sea to warm, which leads to the loss of more ice, which in turn helps the sea to warm, and so on.
    But these “feedbacks” are poorly understood and some scientists believe there could be others still to be identified.
    “Our results imply a fundamental gap in our understanding about the amplitude of global warming associated with large and abrupt climate perturbations,” warns Zeebe’s team.
    “This gap needs to be filled to confidently predict future climate change.”
    After the big warm-up, the planet eventually cooled around 100,000 years later, but not before there had been a mass extinction, paving the way to the biodiversity that is familiar to us today.
    Man-made global warming, driven mainly by the burning of oil, gas and coal, has amounted to around 0.8 C (1.12 F) over the past century.
    Last week in L’Aquila, Italy, the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised countries and other economies that together account for 80 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions pledged to try to limit overall warming to 2 C (3.6 F) over pre-industrial times.

    June 18th, 2009
    More Atmospheric CO2 Today Than in the Past 2.1 Millions Years
    Written by Nancy Atkinson ShareThis

    Researchers have been able to determine the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels over the past 2.1 million years in the sharpest detail yet by analyzing the shells of single–celled plankton. Their findings shed new light on CO2’s role in the earth’s cycles of cooling and warming, confirming many researchers’ suspicions that higher carbon dioxide levels coincided with warmer intervals during the study period. But it also rules out a drop in CO2 as the cause for earth’s ice ages growing longer and more intense some 850,000 years ago.

    The study, published in the June 19 issue of the journal Science shows that peak CO2 levels over the last 2.1 million years averaged only 280 parts per million; but today, CO2 is at 385 parts per million, or 38% higher. This finding means that researchers will need to look back further in time for an analog to modern day climate change.

    In the study, Bärbel Hönisch, a geochemist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, and her colleagues reconstructed CO2 levels by analyzing the shells of single-celled plankton buried under the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa. By dating the shells and measuring their ratio of boron isotopes, they were able to estimate how much CO2 was in the air when the plankton were alive. This method allowed them to see further back than the precision records preserved in cores of polar ice, which go back only 800,000 years.
    Around 850,000 years ago, the climate cycles on Earth switched from being dominated by 40,000 year cycles, to the stronger 100,000 year cycles of the more recent times. The time period from 800 – 1,000 kyr ago is called the mid-Pleistocene transition, and since the rhythms of the Earth’s orbit didn’t change, some scientists have attributed that shift to falling CO2 levels. But the study found that CO2 was flat during this transition and unlikely to have triggered the change.
    “Previous studies indicated that CO2 did not change much over the past 20 million years, but the resolution wasn’t high enough to be definitive,” said Hönisch. “This study tells us that CO2 was not the main trigger, though our data continues to suggest that greenhouse gases and global climate are intimately linked.”
    The timing of the ice ages is believed to be controlled mainly by the earth’s orbit and tilt, which determines how much sunlight falls on each hemisphere. Two million years ago, the earth underwent an ice age every 41,000 years. But some time around 850,000 years ago, the cycle grew to 100,000 years, and ice sheets reached greater extents than they had in several million years—a change too great to be explained by orbital variation alone.

    A global drawdown in CO2 is just one theory proposed for the transition. A second theory suggests that advancing glaciers in North America stripped away soil in Canada, causing thicker, longer lasting ice to build up on the remaining bedrock. A third theory challenges how the cycles are counted, and questions whether a transition happened at all.
    The low carbon dioxide levels outlined by the study through the last 2.1 million years make modern day levels, caused by industrialization, seem even more anomalous, says Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University, who was not involved in the research.
    “We know from looking at much older climate records that large and rapid increase in C02 in the past, (about 55 million years ago) caused large extinction in bottom-dwelling ocean creatures, and dissolved a lot of shells as the ocean became acidic,” he said. “We’re heading in that direction now.”

  6. lichen said on July 17th, 2009 at 9:22pm #

    Yes, Mulga, you are right about Rudd’s overall policies being quite terrible, about him being a PR stunt and political figure like blair/obama/howard (one typical of former english crown properties, one could say). Perhaps Arhundati Roy is right, that the sort of representative (fake/non) “democracy” that we have now will be the end of us all.

    Don, good articles; what scares me the most are the positive feedbacks mentioned; they, indeed, make it the most imperative that we choose the most extreme measures imaginable to cut back co2 levels NOW, because, in fact, we don’t even yet know what now is; we won’t for many years of cycles of interacting processes that can when things reach to a certain point play on to a very dangerous place even without our further input; the time to stop is not when we can all undeniable see horrendous turmoil and instability, but now, so we have a chance of saving ourselves in relative calm.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 18th, 2009 at 1:35am #

    Arundhati Roy is certainly correct. Democracy, real rule by, of and for the people, and market capitalism, ie rule by money, are absolute antitheses. Moreover the sham democracy we currently suffer allows an equal vote for the saint and the psychopath, for the informed and humane and the brainwashed dross of religious fundamentalist mediocrity. Talk about the lowest common denominator. You end up with political power in the hands of dead souls who hate life and other people so much that they see climate disaster as ‘God’s work’ that will induce the ‘End Times’ which will see a paroxysm of murder to put Hitler and Stalin to shame. As the grip of market neo-feudalism tightens, as the ‘losers’ see their earthly dreams vanish while the plutocrats wax ever fatter, they are diverted from thinking rationally about their circumstances, by the type of vulgar and banal religious cretinism that the ‘Religious Right’ parties peddle, and become the most dangerous and obdurate of the Right’s footsoldiers, whether in anthropogenic climate change denialism, support for Israel and all its barbarity or mindless hatred for a succession of enemies, the latest, undoubtedly, being China.

  8. lichen said on July 18th, 2009 at 10:17pm #

    Well, I think the biggest issue is that money and corporate media get about 80% of the available votes, and the people, whether right wing scum or not…fall prey to what is an entirely co-opted, celebrity/advertising-based system. I think if everyone had one vote and media fairness was legislated, and people voted directly on the decisions affecting them (never on people, never any ‘representatives,’) we’d be in a vastly different place; and not one driven by the far-right.

  9. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2009 at 6:25am #

    A comment from Daily Kos

    …Spaceship Earth is having an Apollo 13 moment.

    And there is no Mission Control.

  10. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2009 at 6:33am #

    One more comment from Daily Kos.
    at our own hands, before our time. I see no way to prevent another thermal maximum-type event. There is no will among the elites to give up even a smidge of their presumed entitlement to comfort. The psychopathic leeches that have been riding on the back of civilization figured out a way to take control of the golden goose, and are now killing her. Why they think they will survive while the rest of us die is due to their smugness, and expertise at denial.

  11. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2009 at 6:53am #

    Well somebody went and did it. If you read this there is still time just not on this path.

    …Spaceship Earth is having an Apollo 13 moment.

    And there is no Mission Control.

  12. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2009 at 12:39pm #

    I just watched the Movie “Knowing” I get it and was well done.

  13. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2009 at 3:10pm #

    Don’t listen to James Hansen or most scientists on climate change they are trying to brainwash you. There are some people who are not like James Inhofe, Mitch McConnell, many people from Exxon and Chevron big coal and big gas just big people in general they know best for you and me and tell the truth as best they can with all these dumb scientists and there science. Ok yes the Earth does revolve around the Sun so anybody can get lucky once in awhile. Listen to your leaders and watch your parking meters. If you still have a job and some extra cash invest in one of the big companies and go shopping.

    Glenn Beck is good and Fox News as they are fair and balanced. Are very freedom is under attack and just maybe the lady from Alaska will be our next President. Stay strong the best minds we have are working on this and we will win. USA USA USA drill baby drill drill baby drill. The GOP will be back and the World will go back to normal. Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah……… Hallelujah.

  14. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2009 at 4:08pm #

    And why did I write that last comment because:

    …Spaceship Earth is having an Apollo 13 moment.

    And there is no Mission Control and we keep hearing crap pure unadulterated crap.

  15. bozh said on July 19th, 2009 at 4:12pm #

    don hawkins,
    they did not listen to copernicus, giordano bruno, galileo, marie currie, bozh, or hawkins either so why listen to modern mad scientists?
    and since they are all poor or middle class, it shows they can’t even make money, let alone know anything ab. whether.
    damn the regress, full ‘progress’ ahead! After u and i become multimillionaires, ‘progress’ shld stop!

  16. Don Hawkins said on July 19th, 2009 at 4:52pm #

    So money makes the World go around. Wait it makes human’s go around the World, Earth another force at play, Whether

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain said on July 20th, 2009 at 8:25pm #

    There, there Don-it looks like you’re a little stressed. In the end the destruction of humanity, which is now, and, I’ve always believed, has been for millenia, inevitable, and soon, has one pitiful but not totally inconsequential positive side. The disappearance of human evil, what we quaintly euphemise as ‘the Right’, ‘political conservatism’, ‘market fundamentalism’ etc, from the Universe, before it had the time to escape and pollute the cosmos is no tragedy. It’s a shame Bach, Beethoven, Shakespeare et al now appear to have lived in vain, but the disappearance of the George Bushes, John Howards and Rupert Murdochs and their legions of poisonous minions, is surely cause for rejoicing. What a pity the causes for lamentation, the lost chance for humanity to have become something spiritually and intellectually beautiful above all, are so profound.

  18. Don Hawkins said on July 21st, 2009 at 4:06am #

    On Earth – when there had been an Earth, before it was demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass – the problem had been with cars. The disadvantages involved in pulling lots of black sticky slime from out of the ground where it had been safely hidden out of harm’s way, turning it into tar to cover the land with, smoke to fill the air with and pouring the rest into the sea, all seemed to outweigh the advantages of being able to get more quickly from one place to another – particularly when the place you arrived at had probably become, as a result of this, very similar to the place you had left, i.e. covered with tar, full of smoke and short of fish.
    Douglas Adams

  19. Don Hawkins said on July 21st, 2009 at 4:16am #

    By all means let’s go to the moon and then Mars. We learned how to live so well here on Earth it’s time to take our knowledge to Mars. I wonder if they will take a golf ball and club to see how far they can hit the ball? Knowing

  20. Don Hawkins said on July 21st, 2009 at 5:22am #

    Sent this to CNBC this morning

    Oh boy,

    Trust in government and Obama is headed South and the business sector is headed North. Oh goodie. Dick Morris was on Hannity last night and said Obama is down in the polls and now policy makers who have to get reelected are moving away from this administration. Yep things will be back to normal very soon. I think we all knew that Capitalism and the free market is the only answer. Don’t think of the problems as being to big. From the East coast to the West coast in the valleys and the mountains in the towns and cities the board rooms of free market Capitalism are this very second hard at work using the wisdom they only have to bring us back to normal. Go for it people go for it we are depending on you and we KNOW you can do it.


  21. Don Hawkins said on July 21st, 2009 at 5:44am #

    Another good one.