Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for April, 2013

Climate Reflections at 397ppm

Posted by jembendell on April 21, 2013

I recently wrote a piece for the Guardian entitled “Is sustainable business still possible?” Why ask such a question? Wouldn’t it be disheartening to think it’s too late to avert massive disruption? Well, I don’t think so – after the initial shock and mourning, a new type of commitment can emerge. Not everyone reacts in that way, but I think it’s important to face up to what the science is telling us and then explore the implications, rather than continuing old patterns.

Some might think I’m exaggerating. So here is a quick recap.

Carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have stayed between 180 (ice ages) and 300 (inter glacials) parts per million (ppm) for 800,000 years, possibly up to 20,000,000 years. Now it gone from 325 to 397 ppm in my lifetime. It’s increasing at 2.7 ppm a year.

The average global surface temperature is now about 0.8C above that in 1900. Current projections are a 4 degree rise by 2100; i.e. in the lifetime of babies being born today.

Global warming affects the hydrosphere (water, ice), lithosphere (the land), and atmosphere. The relationship between them is complex, but the hydrosphere has been acting as a buffer, with seas soaking up most of the excess energy trapped by the current 397ppm of CO2.

Heating is speeding up beyond the worst past projections. For instance, NASA in 2007 said that we could lose Arctic summer sea ice by 2030. Now some projections are it will be gone by 2015.

The warming of the Arctic affects those areas most efficient in feeding the world through their exports.

Sea levels have been rising by over 3 mm a year since 1993. The most fertile farmland is low-lying and much will be swamped by sea rise of a meter.

CO2 at 397ppm is probably a death sentence for billions of people, and possibly for civilisation as we know it.

Significant action now will reduce the damage. Yet we don’t have significant action. Our systems for acting together have been failing us, ever since 1987 when the UN General Assembly first recognised climate change as a major problem. Media, politics, economics, monetary systems, intergovernmental processes, religions… We need to ask why, and that doesn’t mean asking who to blame, but delving deeper into causes, and learning more about rapid change processes.

Although significant action now will reduce the damage, it won’t stop massive disruption. So, we need to consider how to help future generations get through the disruption, through the suffering. What kind of ancestors are we? Will we be despised for our stupidity and selfishness? Perhaps. But can some of us help shape ways of life, values, ideas, systems, etc, that might help?

We intend to explore some of these ideas at the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability. Which is why our launch in May at the RGS is called “Adventures in Sustainability”

Some of the speakers recently appeared on Sea Change Radio:

Posted in Academia and Research, Spirit?, Sustainable Development | 3 Comments »