I spent the last couple of days reading a presentation on climate given in September by the Apollo-Gaia project, an organization formed of scientists and thinkers that advises the Club of Rome, amongst other institutions. You can find it HEAR.


The presentation was made to explain some recent developments in climate science that revise the earlier models used by the bodies who advise the international climate negotiations. This includes the IPCC, which is the authority most governments have been following over the years, and who released their 5th report in 2013. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the situation is more serious than these institutions have told us. In short, the forecasts are too conservative, because the old models have excluded feedbacks that accelerate global warming as the planet heats up.


In fact, according to this new analysis, CO2 in the atmosphere only accounts for a fraction of the increase in global temperatures predicted by the models. The rest comes from feedbacks that are triggered by the temperature- whatever is causing that temperature change, which in the case of manmade climate change are greenhouse gases.


In brief, the sensitivity of the Earth’s climate system is higher than previously thought. The science behind this is complex and I would recommend reading the whole paper to get the full explanation. However, a summary of the main implications:


Feedbacks in the Earth Climate System are activated by temperature. Some of these respond quickly (fast feedbacks), activated over a few years perhaps- like losses in the cloud covering the Earth.

Others take longer to get underway- such as melting of the great ice sheets and glaciers that reflect solar radiation from the Sun back into space.


The important metric for quantifying climate change is the eventual temperature that will be reached due to the state of the feedbacks, not just the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) concentration. The higher the temperature, the more feedbacks are activated.


Because of slow feedbacks, the temperature we will eventually reach (nobody can predict exactly when) if CO2 keeps it’s current level of 400ppm, or the level of 450ppm targeted by climate negotiations, is too high- it would have catastrophic outcomes, enough to initiate runaway climate change of 4+ degrees.

There is no carbon budget left to avoid catastrophic climate change- humanity now has a carbon debt. It is not enough to stabilize atmospheric CO2- the concentration must be reduced to well below 350ppm (as low as possible).


Some good news: The feedbacks that we will likely trigger on our emissions trajectory do not activate immediately. It takes a number of decades- up to around 60 years, maybe- to reach the point where the Earth is moving fully into a new climate state, characterized by a much higher temperature. At that point, there is not much humanity can do as the climate system has the momentum of the entire planet driving it. The 60 years is an estimation, of course, but you can be fairly sure of the energy needed to make those kind of changes to the Earth- and it corresponds to a lot of sustained warming, so the prediction is unlikely to be far off.


Accordingly, humanity should be preparing not only a zero carbon economy, but a carbon negative economy where we are drawing carbon down from the atmosphere in order to meet our food and energy needs. That is a daunting task, but the means to do it exist. Some features of the carbon negative economy might be:

  • Reforestation. We should direct research into producing trees that can withstand climate extremes that we have already committed ourselves to. Tree planting and stewardship could be a major source of employment over this century.
  • Biochar is a form of charcoal produced from burning organic matter without oxygen (in sealed containers). It locks up the carbon that would be released from decaying vegetation, preventing it’s release into the atmosphere (not decaying for thousands of years). It has the added benefit of increasing soil fertility. Scaled up, there is the potential for carbon-negative biomass power stations.
  • Anaerobic digesters take some types of rotting vegetation and food waste and turn it into methane, or biogas. This gives a carbon neutral or carbon negative source of fuel for transport and heating.

This is on top of the renewables that are needed to replace fossil fuels.


In the short term, the conclusion is the same as before; humanity’s immediate priority is to decarbonize our energy, transport and agricultural systems. But we should be preparing for the next stage.

In addition, we need to find other ways to cool the planet should the carbon negative economy not prove enough to mitigate global warming to the degree necessary. Depending on the definition you use, this may include the controversial notion of ‘geoengineering’. But there are many other, more benign things that we can do, such as increasing the whiteness of the Earth to make up for lost ice, whitening clouds, and others. I’m going to post soon on this topic.

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The EA is to lose 1700 jobs to cuts this year, on top of 1150 lost since 2009 (23% of its workforce) and more than 300 flood defence schemes have been halted to save money.

The main impact of climate change on the UK will be more frequent and extensive floods. That is the conclusion of every single report and study for the last decade, including the government's own major risk assessment published by the Environment Agency (EA) in 2012.

So why is the key agency responsible for flood planning being cut? And how come the ConDems are lying about the amount being spent on flood prevention?

See more: 

See this Matt - what do you reckon?

Michael Mountain talks with climate scientist Guy McPherson about what we can expect to happen over the next 30 years and what it means that we're facing a Sixth Great Extinction

Joe, above,

McPherson is not the only scientist out there with a gloomy prognosis. I am glad of the few who are prepared to be brutally honest. To me, this only reiterates more strongly the need to liberate humanity and the planet from the clutches of capitalism and the world's psychotic elite- since resolving the grave hazards McPherson states in that video will not be possible without governance by the world's population.

Note that there are two great near term dangers McPherson alludes to in addition to the climate crisis I tried to outline above. One is the world's nuclear power stations. The other is unfolding major change in weather across the northern hemisphere that is due to the melting Arctic.

Nuclear power stations all around the world must be shut down and decomissioned as soon as possible. The people of the world must appreciate the danger- coming from flooding that McPherson mentioned + very hot weather that can lead to droughts and a loss of cooling water necessary for any plant to operate.

On the Arctic, the situation is that we are close to losing the sea ice that covers the ocean around the North Pole in the summer. If this happens it will speed up global warming in itself as ice that reflects sunlight away from the Earth will be absorbed by dark ocean. More significant however is the danger to crop production due to the resulting weather changes (Northern Hemisphere gets markedly colder, as the Arctic is warmer than it used to be).

I believe we should geoengineer in the Arctic- i.e, introduce man-made cooling measures to save that sea ice. This sounds impossible but can be done. Many people, especially climate activists would disagree with any mention of 'geo-E'. But if it works it might avert a food crisis that would seriously affect many of the world's poor and even those richer.

Some people talk about Geo-E as pointless because it is only 'buying time'. But it is crucial to recognise that buying time by delaying global warming is not delaying the inevitable, it a key to managing and perhaps long term resolving the crisis. We must remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, as I argued in the original post.

Another thing many don't realise is that the 'pause' in global warming over the last 15 years is completely temporary- despite the continuing rise in CO2, the pollutants that countries like China are pumping into the atmosphere (also emitted in the contrails of aircraft) are performing a blockout of the sun's rays that is halting warming. But when things change (China starts using air pollution controls), this effect will cease and temperatures will climb again.

The most important thing at this stage is to be brave and tell people about all of this. We are looking for the 'click' in people that turns huge numbers from deniers into activists that people like McPherson thinks is not possible. To get through the future it's essential not only to love the Earth but also have a deep compassion for humanity- that is not always shown by those such as pessimistic scientists who have learnt the truth but struggle to tell it to people while not telling the human story that has brought us here.

This is an important presentation given by a British scientist, John Nissen, of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) to which Guy McPherson sometimes contributes. It sets out the measures they think should be taken in the Arctic to counter the strong feedbacks that will result from the loss of sea ice.


The collapse over the next 30 years predicted by the scientist that Joe linked to will become a lot more likely if we don't take emergency steps to save the Arctic Sea Ice.

I have made a petition as a start:


That latest blog from Media Lens lays it on the line eh?

This video is a must watch. Sums up the vital issues so well


Hmm... lots have been warning about this for ages of course, and even NASA is in on the act (see below)... and climate change is only one of a whole range of things coming together at once... like soil erosion, resource depletion, population growth, ecological collapse, hormone disruption from plastics and un-managable social inequality leading to the breakdown of political systems... and the prognosis is much sooner than the 60 years mentioned above... 

NASA's observation is that our elites being cushioned from the reality by their power and money so just won't change until its too late.

My observation of very worthy initiatives like transition towns is they imply we can manage the change... however very few seem to be doing very much that is really making an impact, so in a sense are they just propping up the illusion that we can somehow work our way out of this by tinkering in a very safe, middle class, tokenistic manner?

How do we give people the positivity and confidence to become carbon negative within a rampant consumerist paradigm... it doesn't seem to make sense... might as well stop paying into the pension, buy some mad max leather trousers and shades, and sign up for a survival course instead?

More seriously, as a parent what message do I give my kids? Borrow like crazy and have one massive consumption party like I've enjoyed, before its too late??



How to be the most useful in the short term is to emphasise the urgent short term priorities, like dealing with the Arctic situation, which is a climate change tipping point.

By the way, in response to Jez Hall above: you describe a confluence of several problems which interact with eachother. While this situation has the potential to get ever worse, understanding how different parts of our global ecosystem and the societies that are built on them interact, presents a number of solutions that take advantage of the tendency of the natural systems to restore and complement eachother.

By taking CO2 from the air and turning it into biochar, you can reduce greenhouse gas levels rapidly (potentially towards the pre-industrial level by the end of the century), while gaining a natural product that has been shown to increase soil drainage properties. By farming with integrated, more organic methods you can combine biochar with food production, for example planting woods/forests that create rainfall in addition to locked up carbon. So it's not fair to say Transition Towns are not making an impact, their framework is the right thing and it fits in very well with the vision of a carbon negative self supporting local community.

To my mind an increasingly large sector of society is agitating for change but is confronted by the negative information and hence feels powerless, which is why you have to emphasise the sense of opportunity from taking control of the economy to turn it around into a force for good that enhances lives. For example, in case you havn't read


Hi Matt,
Thanks for your reply and of course i agree with you on many points, and the ambition for transition is of course the right one. Though i have some concerns it has not done enough to link issues of social inequality and the environment. Sadly the all too widespread perception too often is transition is for nicer middle class areas... unfair, but a reality to deal with.

And obviously urgent action on many fronts is needed. Yet sometimes it gets us down as we come to realise the interactions of so many different forces and their complexity, and the truth is ultimately pretty negative information.

I also realise that if the economic power we have was redirected to taking back control of the climate huge benefits could ensue, as long as it links with political power and people power. I'm just a bit worried a narrative concentrating on climate change to the exclusion of other realities means it won't be achieved either. We need to develop what might be called a meta narrative that can link various social movements... anyone have ideas on that?

I'm just not quite convinced it's, as your link ends... "It's an unprecedented crisis but it's also an opportunity to dream-weave and say "well actually everything is. going to go to pot over the next 20-30 years if we don't change, so here's an opportunity to think outside the box". My sense of what leads people to change is set somewhere deeper than that

Having said all this i don't give up hope as us humankind, and the planet we inhabit, is hugely resilient and adaptable, and if we love each other enough, and also sometimes get angry enough to take action, personally and politically, we can all maybe one day rest in peace (rather than RIP) ;-)

Hey Jez

I'm just not quite convinced it's, as your link ends... "It's an unprecedented crisis but it's also an opportunity to dream-weave and say "well actually everything is. going to go to pot over the next 20-30 years if we don't change, so here's an opportunity to think outside the box". My sense of what leads people to change is set somewhere deeper than that

Can you share what this is?

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