Scientists’ prediction of climate change: business as usual versus alternative futures

Observed change in average surface temperature 1901 - 2012 Source: IPCC

Source: IPCC

The foremost group of scientists of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has again published a landmark report on the evidence of climate change. In scientific terms, they now called it “unequivocal” and for the first time they said that humans are “extremely likely” to be the dominant cause. Underpinning the status and authority of this report, all the contributing scientists have to agree on every statement in the report of which the summary for policy makers has just been published.

Business as usual model

In addition to their analysis of the current state of climate change, they have made predictive models on the future of our global climate. The business as usual model shows a terrible runaway climate change and warming of more than 10OC in some regions. Their projections beyond 2100 display a bleak world: sea level rise causing floods, extreme wet conditions, alternated by heat waves. The message is, all of this could be the case if we continue our levels of carbon emissions.

Alternative futures

Climate runaway is not our destiny. There are alternative futures. The scientists of the IPCC panel developed several scenarios, of which the mildest (with a peak of concentration of CO2 of 421ppm) shows a stabilisation of temperature rise. The other, in between scenarios all pass the threshold of 1,5 OC temperature rise since the Industrial age. The question now is, how do we reach drastic reductions in CO2 emissions and achieve immediate change in production and consumption?

Ending poverty AND reducing climate change

There are still billions of people at the bottom of the pyramid. They need to get out of poverty and have their basic needs fulfilled: clean water, energy and a proper meal. This has to be done without raising CO2 emissions and other environmental pressures.

Many efforts are already going in this direction. Slingshot, a purifier that brings fresh water to the most deprived is one neat example. Algae production is a very promising source for bio fuel, but is not ready yet for economic up scaling. Solar energy efficiency is improving largely as innovations aim at eliminating energy loss. Likewise, agricultural innovations are targeting losses and waste, while increasing crop yields and enhancing the quality of ecosystems. Agroecology and similar approaches embody a variety of techniques to do so.

The urgency to think differently

As the IPCC reports and summaries for policy makers become more explicit in their statements on the causes of climate change and the consequences of business as usual energy consumption and CO2 emission patterns, we cannot look away and have to face the urgency to apply different technologies and change behavioural patterns.

Advanced information technology to speed up solutions

Luckily we live in an age of advanced information technology. We can learn fast and create new things rapidly, even from a DIY mode. We can connect online and offline, and share ideas with great minds all over the globe. New materials with extreme properties, the accelerating processing power of computer chips, and an enhanced awareness of “we can do it” are driving future solutions for these big climate change related challenges. As the urgency to produce CO2 neutrally becomes more pervasive, it will become the top priority of designers, inventors and most industries, either small or big. This will be at the core of our mindset of the 21th century.

Do you want to find out how hot it may be in your lifetime? The Gardian has made a neat animation to show you that!

The two extreme scenarios of the IPCC. On the left, our future when we drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions. On the right, when we continue "business as usual"

The two extreme scenarios of the IPCC. On the left, our future when we drastically reduce fossil fuel emissions. On the right, when we continue “business as usual”

About Freija Van Duijne

Twitter: @FreijavanDuijne Futuring is my passion. I am fascinated about what the future might bring. Always looking around for leads about the future and open for new insights. I am futurist, trendwatchter and strategist at the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, a thinktank in the Netherlands. My background is in Human factors psychology. I did my Masters at Leiden University and I did a PhD in Delft University at the faculty of Industrial design engineering. I have been involved in foresight studies since 2006. I am frequently asked as an expert for future studies in area of food, natural resources, health and governance. I am also a speaker and workshop facilitator on futures studies, trend presentations and the many topics that I blog about. My contributions to Futuristablog represent my own personal opinion and is never a statement of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
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One Response to Scientists’ prediction of climate change: business as usual versus alternative futures

  1. jc says:

    The fastest mitigation to climate change is to severely reduce consumption of animal foods. About 1/2 of human induced warming is attributable to animal agriculture. Methane is 24 times more potent than CO2 and takes only 7 years to cycle out of the atmosphere. CO2 takes around 100 years to come out. Human pursuit of animal protein is the leading cause of methane release and a primary cause of CO2 concentrating in the atmosphere. Check the facts and act!

    “A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy.” ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

    “As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

    “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

    “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

    “It’s not a requirement to eat animals, we just choose to do it, so it becomes a moral choice and one that is having a huge impact on the planet, using up resources and destroying the biosphere.” ~ James Cameron, movie director, environmentalist and new vegan

    “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~ Albert Einstein

    21-Day Vegan Kickstart