So, two years on, how are events unfolding against the timelines I set out in that blog?
<<The three warmest years on record globally have been 2014, 2015 and 2016 (with 2017 set to join them).>>
The three warmest years are now 2015, 2016, and 2017. 2018 is in fourth position, while 2019 is expected to beat them all, in part due to a weak El Nino. However, CO2 levels continue to rise - the average level measured at Mauna Loa for October 2017 was 403.63 ppm. For October 2018 it was 406.00 ppm and last month 408.53. The current annual increase is around 2.5 ppm with no signs of even the rate of increase decreasing.
<<Within five to ten years I expect to see food prices rising well above inflation - perhaps by as much as 50% to 100% with some empty shelves appearing in supermarkets as specific crops are devastated>>
[This is the science bit] What drives the timelines I used regarding the impact of climate change on food production is crucially the state of the Arctic. The really significant event will be what's called a 'Blue Ocean Event' - where sea ice extent is below 1 million square kilometres at the annual minimum (in September each year). The 1 million figure is used as it represents largely open water, with residual ice remaining between islands and in fjords. The presence of sea ice keeps surface air and water temperature around or below zero Celsius. Without it, the water will warm up quickly, leading within a few years to an ice free ocean for much or all of the year.
Blue water absorbs much more solar radiation than white ice, and the next stage is for sea surface temperatures to gradually rise to several degrees above zero - about 30 degrees warmer than currently in the winter and several degrees above normal in summer.
Why is this important? Because it drives the jet stream, the fast flowing ribbon of air flowing at high altitude, normally at mid-latitudes. How the temperature differential affects the jet stream is explained in this video. This is crucial. It is also starting to happen on a startling scale. We are already seeing weak, wavy and stalling jet stream patterns even with most of the sea ice still present.
While sea ice extent is erratically trending down, the volume - i.e. the thickness of the ice - is steadily reducing. The problem is that measuring ice thickness is difficult and, even with the most advanced satellite technology, is far from totally accurate. However, the summer of 2019 has been characterised by more 'fluid' behaviour of the ice in the Central Arctic Basin, with more ice flowing towards the Atlantic side, indicating a thinner and more broken structure. The timing of a Blue Ocean Event is very uncertain, dependent on both the thickness of the ice overall and quite simply the weather experienced in any one summer, but it does look likely to occur by 2025.
The next crucial link is that between jet stream behaviour and crop production. A stalling jet stream gives rise to drought and floods, a weak and wavy jet allows 'heat domes' and 'beast from the east' type events, while allowing incursions of warm and moist air into the Arctic, exacerbating the situation [... end of the science bit].
The impact on food production so far has been through increasingly severe weather events over the last two years - most notable in the US mid-west, the main crop growing area of the United States, but also in Europe in 2018 and 2019 and even in the UK. In the southern hemisphere, Australia had its lowest wheat production in a decade, forcing it to move from being an exporter to an importer of wheat. However, we will probably not see an abrupt change to food production until after the expected Blue Ocean Event.
<<Wildfires are already becoming uncontrollable>>
Wildfires in Brazil have been in the news this year. But they've also been very bad in Siberia, Africa, Alaska, Australia, and as is becoming a worsening annual event, in California.
<<Hurricanes are becoming stronger and appearing in unusual places >>
Again we are seeing hurricanes forming further north and east in the Atlantic. Also similar storms are turning up in odd places in other parts of the world. As sea surface temperatures increase, these are reaching hurricane force and strengthening where in the past they may have dissipated.
<<Over the next decade, super hurricanes, flooding and drought will cause insurance companies to collapse.>>
In California this is already happening and where companies are surviving, they are either increasing premiums or cancelling policies completely.
On top of all this we have ocean acidification, the decimation of insects and vertebrates, deforestation and many other pressures on our fragile ecosystem.
Every week I see articles proclaiming that climate change is happening 'faster than expected'. If there's one thing I would change in the article I wrote two years ago, it would be my prediction that abrupt climate change will lead to the breakdown of society within 30 years. Now I would be inclined to say 20 years maximum. This is not linear, it's exponential. For example, if something doubles every year, it reaches a million in 20 years. Five years ago, BBC news reports included one or two climate related events each month. Now it's two or three a week. In five years' time it will be two or three new events a day with the heatwaves hotter, the hurricanes stronger, the floods more damaging and more widespread. When collapse happens, by definition it's fast and takes everyone by surprise.
The collapse of industrial society will bring its own specific problem - namely the removal of aerosol masking (the so-called 'global dimming effect'). This alone will increase global temperatures by several degrees. So we're damned with what we do and damned when we stop. But this must not be an excuse to continue what we are doing. Industrial society will soon collapse - no ifs, no buts - so the question is, do we manage it ourselves or let nature do it for us?
And I've not even mentioned the impact of a potentially huge methane blowout from under the rapidly melting Arctic permafrost ...
All of this leads to the conclusion that climate change is irreversible. But say it out loud and you're told that's 'giving up hope' and we can't do that or people will simply give up and not make any changes. In 1989, a full 30 years ago, the UN said that governments had a 10 year window to solve the climate crisis before it goes beyond human control. Since then we've seen numerous such warnings but still nothing has been done. So why keep trying with a failed method? To people who say we must not give up hope, I ask; "At what point would you openly agree that climate change is irreversible?". If they say "Never", then that is simply immoral (A doctor who refused to tell a patient their condition is terminal would be struck off for doing so) and one wonders if they may already have privately accepted it. On the other hand, if they admit they may one day reach that point, my response is that, having researched the science closely, I have already reached it and perhaps if they did the research I have, they too will accept the reality of the situation.
The reason we accept science is to use the information to decide best what to do in future. Only when we do that can we move on and start to prepare for what's coming our way. Hoping it won't be so bad, hoping we can fix the unfixable, only delays the point at which we start to make useful decisions. Accepting the inevitable isn't the same as giving up (someone given a terminal diagnosis doesn't just give up - after going through the five stages of grief as I have, they finally reach Acceptance and look for ways to prolong their life and make it more fulfilling). Acceptance allows us to focus on building resilience, slowing down the extinction process, and most importantly building the kind of communities that will help themselves and each other.
And we can do that by making drastic lifestyle changes to minimise the damage we are doing - no flying, removing vast numbers of cars from the roads, changing diets. Planting trees won't work, Green New Deals won't work, electric cars won't work. In short, Green capitalism simply replaces one set of problems with another, and simply feeds the consumerist habit with the belief things can just carry on as they are.
We also need to start growing food - everywhere - because that will be the new money. Community orchards, fruit and veg growing in all our public parks and spaces, allotments and back gardens, wherever space allows (think Leningrad during the siege). We need to plan for this now, building skills and infrastructure and a community spirit that will reap its own rewards.
Or we can just keep saying we've got ten years to fix the problem and wait for the next ten years to pass just like the last.