global warming/ six degrees/ Mark Lynas

Published online 21 January 2007.

This diary will be a dramatization of the IPCC’s forthcoming report, as well as a short discussion of Mark Lynas’ (2004) ethnography of global warming titled HIGH TIDE.  No, I’m not a scientist; but I do try my best to put two and two together on the global warming issue, and I would heartily invite climate scientists reading this diary to contribute to the comments section.

As many of you already know, preliminary drafts of the IPCC’s new report have been leaked to the press.  I discussed it briefly in my diary on the subsistence perspective, and it was also discussed in greater detail in a later diary.  Actually, there’s been plenty on global warming in DailyKos of recent, including:

DWG’s diary on the latest exploits of the greenwash industry

DarkSyde on the media coverup

Terry Pinder on climate models

Retrograde on temperatures

A Siegel on the Washington Post

JDawg1077 on the Weather Channel

sfluke with a diary on current global temperatures (much recommended for the pictures!)

Devilstower on Baffin Island

jhsu on carbon offsets

robert green on a recent Al Gore sighting

and that’s just in the past couple of days!  (Did I miss anyone?) (Full credit and kudos to A Siegel for reporting most of this list.)

At any rate, the pertinent portion of the discussion about the forthcoming IPCC report bears repeating:

Drafts of the report project a most likely warming of 4 to 8 degrees if the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises to twice the 280 parts per million that it averaged for many centuries before the Industrial Revolution.

The carbon dioxide concentration is now roughly 380 parts per million, and many climate experts say it will be extremely difficult to avoid hitting levels of 450 or 550 parts per million, or higher, later this century, given growth in populations and fuel use and the lack of nonpolluting alternatives that can be exploited at a sufficient scale to replace fossil fuels.

(BTW, if there is still anyone here in denial about the idea of global warming being human-caused, they should be sentenced to read every link on Gristmill’s global warming page.)

At any rate, back to the IPCC report discussion.  The “climate experts say” paragraph is basically a question of “if this goes on.”  The “climate experts” here are predicting that tomorrow will be pretty much the same as today, another 85 million barrels out the holes and into the air same as usual.  The first paragraph is what we can expect as a result.  Pay close attention to that prediction of “a most likely warming of 4 to 8 degrees.”

The average of “4 to 8 degrees” is six degrees, right?  Now, Mark Lynas will have a book out, month after next, titled “Six Degrees,” in which he depicts the future world where the average temperature is six degrees higher than it is today.  The results aren’t pretty.  Lynas’ blog has a preview of what this is supposed to look like: global chaos looks pretty likely with only three degrees, so what is six supposed to look like?  At any rate, you should all petition your local college library to purchase a copy of Six Degrees.

But, while you’re waiting, you should check out Mark Lynas’ earlier book, High Tide.  High Tide fits in a genre that should be burgeoning pretty darn soon: global warming ethnography.  Written in 2004 (Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York NY 10010), Lynas’ book is a travel report of the effects of global warming (as it stands so far) upon various places in the world.  In 2000, Great Britain experienced flooding which created a “new inland sea (complete with large white-capped waves) which had obliterated fields for miles on both sides of the raised track.” (7)  Alaska’s lakes are disappearing right and left as “huge areas of woodland have … been destroyed by another side-effect of warming — spruce-bark beetle infestations, which have killed 2.3 million acres of trees since 1992 across a broad swathe of southern Alaska.” (60)  South Pacific islands such as Tuvalu are being eroded by higher sea levels as coral reefs die out.  China is being desertified, with huge, malevolent dust storms roaming the landscape:

Black windstorms are more than a nuisance: they are killers.  When one tore through the provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia on 5 May 1993 the authorities described the ensuing disaster as ‘like an earthquake’.  A total of eighty-five people were left dead, with 224 injured and a further thirty-one missing.

Most victims were children, out playing in the fields and unable to get home before the surging black and red clouds engulfed and choked them.  Over 100,000 farm animals were lost, whilst enormous areas of crops were simply stripped of their leaves.  Visibility was so bad that people caught outside spoke later of not even being able to see their hands in front of their faces.  The hurricane-force wind was so strong that its sand-blasting action even eroded away the opts of tarred roads. (132)

Hurricanes in the US were getting more intense, Lynas reported (in advance of Katrina); Peru’s glaciers were melting, taking with them inland Peru’s water supply.  We are told that all of this catastrophic weather, taking place immediately and over several years, has in some way been amplified by human-caused global warming.

For solutions to this sort of thing, Mark Lynas favors the Kyoto Protocol,   the end of new fossil fuel exploration, and the advocacy of personal action to “end emissions.”  And he adds something new and interesting into the mix: a proposal called “contraction and convergence.”  A book with this title by Aubrey Meyer is available on the Net.  The label deserves some explanation.  “Contraction” means that carbon emissions levels will be reduced.  “Convergence” will mean that, eventually, every soul on Earth will be given the right to emit the SAME amount of carbon dioxide.  This, says Meyer, will equalize things between the “developing world” and the “developed world” such that the “developing world” will no longer complain that climate change treaties are unfair to them.  (This, you may recall is one of the stumbling blocks keeping India and China from enforcing the emission-reduction provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.)

What this means, in practice, was bared recently on in a review of George Monbiot’s new book Heat.  Monbiot, too, is an advocate of “contraction and convergence.”  Here’s a quote from the review:

The implications of biospheric equity are so profound and so disturbing, that it is understandable why American environmentalists shy away from discussing the issue. Currently, global carbon emissions are about 7 billion tons, roughly, 1 ton per person. But the average American generates, directly and indirectly, some 10 tons per capita. Thus, to save the planet and cleanse our resource sins, Americans must go far beyond freezing greenhouse gas emissions. As a nation, we must reduce them by more than 90 percent, taking into account the sharp reductions in existing global emissions necessary to stabilize the world’s climate.

Anyone here think that, under capitalism, the US is going to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by “more than 90 percent”?  This is the dirty little secret, you see, of “contraction and convergence.”  They’d like to talk about doing away with capitalism, you see, but they can’t, because that sort of conversation is just plain taboo in the current political culture.  So they call it “contraction and convergence.”

At any rate, it should be plain at this point that, as I said in a previous diary, environmentalism will not save the environment.  We need to be thinking in broad strokes, of a new society, if we wish our children’s generation to live.  I’ve written plenty of diaries about how this can happen; I’ll just stop here and let the rest of you speculate.

Or maybe you will be inspired by this diary to write global warming ethnographies of your own, in the spirit of Mark Lynas.  Remember, ethnography is an employable skill: you can see, for instance, that there’s a category for it on  As the Earth changes, we will need people to observe its effects upon society.  You can be one of those people!


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