The same week as Pope Francis’s historic encyclical warning of the dire dangers posed to humanity over climate change , scientists have issue new warnings that we are likely past the point of no-return to save humanity from catastrophe and possible extinction. Famed Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner, a key figure in the elimination of smallpox in the 1970s, now believes that humans will be extinct in 100 years after making the planet uninhabitable. Others have pointed out that the United States and other nations continue to adopt insufficient targets from carbon reduction and that our passing the critical “3C” threshold now appears all but assured due to opponents and deniers of climate change or reforms.
Fenner insists that it is now a sure bet that we will pass the point of no return and that humanity has missed its window to act. He was reacting to the G7 announcement on Monday that it was asking all countries to reduce emissions — a meaningless effort that scientists around the world denounced as too little too late. The G7 simply asked all countries to reduce carbon emissions to zero in 85 years despite the overwhelming scientific data showing that such a target date would be too late to stop the disastrous course for the planet.
The view of the scientific community is that no treaty that emerges from the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, in preparation for November’s United Nations climate conference in Paris, can now avoid the global disaster.
Scientists generally use the target of 2 degrees Celsius as the level that must not be passed. At 3C, the trend is viewed as unstoppable. Even the Pentagon now rates climate change as a “Threat Multiplier” and an existential threat.
While the Obama Administration has moved aggressively, the U.S. target (a 26 percent to 28 percent decrease from 2005 levels by 2025) is viewed as based on clearly erroneous and rosy projections. The European Union has proposed a 40 percent decrease from 1990 levels by 2030 while China as usual is the worst with a call for an unspecified emissions peak by 2030.
There have been dozens of academic publications from around the world reaching basically the same conclusions from leading academics and institutions. For the less scientifically trained, Bill McKibben did an oft-cited piece in in 2012 explaining the stark realities of these figures and why they will not avoid disaster. McKibben noted that the target temperature has already increased 0.8C, and even if we were to stop all carbon-dioxide emissions today, it would increase another 0.8C simply due to the existing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That would leave only a 0.4C buffer to hitting 2C. The failure to act by humanity has squandered its chance to avert the global catastrophic results. Indeed, as Pope Francis expressly denounced, powerful industrial interests have succeeded in blocking efforts to act and delaying any meaningful reforms. For many scientists, it is the Nero complex of fiddling as the planet burns.
The 100 year prediction of demise seems a bit too specific a time frame but that period does represent the passing of the critical 3C line that is expected to trigger catastrophic and cascading global changes. Regardless of whether we are speaking of extinction in a 100 years or worldwide famine and natural disasters, many of us are left to marvel at man’s capacity for avoidance of difficult challenges, even when our very existence could rest in the balance. The refusal to act in the face of such overwhelming scientific evidence and warnings is a sad (and possibly lethal) conclusion of our species.