Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Surviving Climate Chaos: Death spirals and deadlines

Julian Caldecott

Arctic data suggest an ice-free future and runaway climate change from mid-century, making the early 2020s a deadline for us to get a grip or lose it forever

Surviving Climate Chaos is being published into a new world of lethal fires, floods and record-breaking temperatures, as well as frantic international negotiations before CoP 26 in Glasgow. This is while the IPCC warns us that we are in the last decade before Arctic, oceanic and equatorial tipping points take all choices out of human hands. This emergency calls for far greater focus and impact in our climate change response, and for the strengthening of communities and ecosystems everywhere against climate chaos.

Arctic Death Spiral.
Perhaps the most obviously dangerous tipping point lies in the Arctic, where trillions of tonnes of carbon lie in melting permafrosts and warming sea-beds. Here, faster heating is inevitable because the lost ice reflected light and heat more than dark sea and land. Worse, ice absorbs eighty times more heat before it melts than liquid water takes to warm up afterwards, so dramatic changes can be expected when the last ice melts. My book contains in full colour an image that might be the most important you’ll ever see. It shows sea ice volume declining in the Arctic Ocean, neatly displayed by Andy Lee Robinson as a month-by-month spiral since 1979. First we lost the multi-year ice that stabilised the coasts and permafrosts, then the maximum extent of the sea ice became smaller and smaller until year-round shipping routes opened up. Now the last ice looks set to vanish in the 2030s and, with other tipping points wobbling as well, a complete system breakdown seems likely around the middle of this century.

The final decade of human choice.
This sense of multiple approaching tipping points is the heart of the idea that global heating could become a ‘runaway’ process in mid-century, beyond any possibility of human control. It is what climate scientists and ecologists mean when they say that this now is the ‘final decade’ of human choice. It is why the next two or three conferences of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change are so vital. And it is why the next one, the 26th in Glasgow, must raise ambitions dramatically, starting with the ambition to survive. In practice, the world’s governments must commit to true ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050 and closing down the use of coal, while the richer ones will need to agree to spend much more, with greater purpose and impact, on trying to slow global heating, while helping people cope with its consequences. In short, they and we must now define, and accelerate along, a pathway towards a liveable world.

Surviving Climate Chaos by Julian Caldecott
Surviving Climate Chaos by Julian Caldecott

Title: Surviving Climate Chaos by Strengthening Communities and Ecosystems

Author: Julian Caldecott

Paperback ISBN: 9781108793780

Hardback ISBN: 9781108840125

About The Author

Julian Caldecott

Julian Caldecott is Director of Creatura Ltd, an environmental consultancy, and has a background in wildlife research and conservation in tropical rainforests. Since 2000 he has le...

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