It could be a disaster but it ain't necessarily one

Mayer Hillman (who he? – Ed) wants to tell us that we’re doomed, doomed ‘E tells ‘ee, to boil in the remnants of the last ice floe. No, not just on the grounds that he’s 86 and after him comes the floods. But because this is a deeply held conviction of his, that climate change is going to kill us all.

The problem here is that Mayer Hillman is remarkably ignorant of the science upon the subject. Which isn’t, when you come to think about it, a good start to a pronouncement upon a scientific matter. The insistence that disaster will happen:

“We’re doomed,” says Mayer Hillman with such a beaming smile that it takes a moment for the words to sink in. “The outcome is death, and it’s the end of most life on the planet because we’re so dependent on the burning of fossil fuels. There are no means of reversing the process which is melting the polar ice caps. And very few appear to be prepared to say so.”

Which rather brings Clarke’s First Law into play, doesn’t it?

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

The thing is, we can go on to prove that Hillman is wrong here. Our proof is in the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios. This is the foundational document of the entire climate change thing, the start of the IPCC process. Slightly superseded by the RCP models but they’re just variations upon this same theme. Please do note this very important point. This isn’t some denialist nonsense, this is the starting point for all that follows, through the IPCC, Stern Review and all.


Instead, says Hillman, the world’s population must globally move to zero emissions across agriculture, air travel, shipping, heating homes – every aspect of our economy – and reduce our human population too. Can it be done without a collapse of civilisation? “I don’t think so,” says Hillman. “Can you see everyone in a democracy volunteering to give up flying? Can you see the majority of the population becoming vegan? Can you see the majority agreeing to restrict the size of their families?”

Sorry, that’s just nonsense. Quite separately from the fact that everyone does damn well voluntarily limit the size of their families. Global fertility levels are down to 2.5 now and in rich countries well below replacement.

The reason it’s those hairy dangly bits is this chart composed from the SRES information:

It could be a disaster but it ain’t necessarily one

A1FI there is global free market capitalism with intensive use of fossil fuels. Actually, really intensive use of fossil fuels. It assumes that the oil will run out and we’ll turn back to coal to power civilisation. As does the newer RCP 8.5 in fact. It also assumes that we don’t get anywhere in making renewables cheaper. Also that we’ll not use nuclear instead of coal and so on. And sure, A1FI leads to serious problems with warming.

Yes, OK, please note, this is running with their arguments, not talking about whether there is warming or not. Stick with their own logic, please.

But look at A1T. That’s also global free market capitalism. But we, gradually enough, make the switch over to non-fossil fuel methods of powering civilisation. At which point we’ve a mild problem and nothing to worry about for the long term.

Again, note, bene, that these are the underlying models of the IPCC process itself.

And which path are we on? Well, we’re closing down coal much faster than either of those scenarios predict. We’ve made solar cheaper much faster than either predicted from their starting point in the 1990s. We’re not going to go back to coal in the manner that A1FI assumes. We’ve switched to natural gas in a manner neither assumed. A1FI simply isn’t going to happen and there’s a damn good chance that A1T is still too pessimistic.

Another way to say the same thing is that the original IPCC models said that all we need to do is make renewables cheap enough for all to use in preference to fossil fuels and we’re done, we’ve solved and cracked climate change. We pretty much have done that – some intermittentcy issues aside – and thus, by that original IPCC analysis, we’re done. We’re on A1T or better which means climate change is licked.

The interesting thing about climate change being that we’ve already solved it.