A Hotter Planet, “Anything Can Happen in 20 Years,” and more

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Volume 7,
Number 9
September 1, 2021

Hot Topic, Literally: Our Heated World

The planet will continue to warm through at least the middle of this century unless we can effect deep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, warns the recently released report “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policymakers” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Five scenarios (or projections) describe the effects of different levels of future greenhouse gas emissions (very high, high, intermediate, low, and very low). Each of the projections is based on specific socio-economic trends, or a “shared socio-economic pathway,” and CO2 emissions play a dominant role in the increase of global surface temperature in each.

Among other outcomes, the report projects that continued global warming will

  • increase the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, heavy precipitation, and agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions;
  • reduce Arctic sea ice, snow cover, and permafrost; and
  • intensify the global water cycle, including its variability, global monsoon precipitation, and the severity of wet and dry events.

“Many changes due to past and future greenhouse gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia, especially changes in the ocean, ice sheets and global sea level,” the report warns. Examples of these irreversible changes include increasing global ocean temperature and ice sheet melt, which will contribute to rising sea levels for thousands of years.

The authors assert that urbanization is a major factor in global warming, and cities will feel the biggest impacts. “Cities intensify human-induced warming locally, and further urbanization together with more frequent hot extremes will increase the severity of heatwaves,” they write with “very high confidence.”

“Urbanization also increases mean and heavy precipitation over and/or downwind of cities (medium confidence) and resulting runoff intensity (high confidence). In coastal cities, the combination of more frequent extreme sea level events (due to sea level rise and storm surge) and extreme rainfall/riverflow events will make flooding more probable (high confidence).”

The report asserts somewhat hopefully that “anthropogenic CO2 removal” and storage in durable reservoirs could potentially achieve net zero emissions; if removal exceeds emissions, that could lower surface temperature. Global net negative emissions could also reverse surface ocean acidification.

Comment: While it’s addressed to policy makers, this summary report neither describes specific actions nor proposes specific policies. Nor is the writing quite user-friendly. It seems likely (medium to high confidence) that busy and distracted non-specialist policy makers in governments will rely largely on the interpretations and recommendations of specialists in industry and/or civil society—with all the biases and battles these influencers may bring about. —CGW

Download “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policymakers,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (approved document August 7, 2021). https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf

Further reading

Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970-2019), World Meteorological Organization (September 1, 2021). The number of disasters related to climate change and more extreme weather has increased fivefold over the past half century. The good news is that improved early warning systems for these disasters have saved lives. [Learn more]

Brookings Initiative on Climate Research and Action has reported most recently on such issues as the need for local accounting of costs and benefits of climate action and the challenge of decarbonizing heavy industries such as steel, cement, and chemicals.

Resources for the Future explainers on carbon pricing (June 21, 2021) and the social cost of carbon (August 1, 2019, updated March 30, 2021).

Slow-Walking the Climate Crisis,” Bill McKibben, New Yorker (online August 25, 2021). “People with a vested interest are learning how to slow-walk this crisis,” writes McKibben, editor of The Climate Crisis newsletter. “And, in the course of that slow-walking, Big Oil is figuring out how to game the system in every way possible.”

Club of Amsterdam Journal (September 2021) offers a fresh look at several climate change solutions, including Denmark’s law making climate targets legally binding (“What if Climate Change was Made Illegal?”), the feasibility and risks of geoengineering projects (“Fine-tuning the climate”), a brief review of The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, and a report on Singapore’s collaboration with Future Cities Lab to tackle the urban heat island effect (“How Singapore Uses Science to Stay Cool”).

Blog Report: 20 Years of Possibilities

Almost anything can happen in 20 years, as Washington Irving’s hero Rip Van Winkle learned upon awakening to a newly independent United States. Other major accomplishments achieved in a similar time frame include the Manhattan Project and the NASA moon landing, points out environmental futurist David N. Bengston in his latest article for the Foresight Signals blog.

“That almost anything can be done in twenty years is an important principle for stretching our thinking about the future and considering a broader range of possibilities,” Bengston writes. Who knows? Perhaps we could even do much to reverse climate change, he suggests.

ReadRip Van Winkle Futures, or Almost Anything Is Possible in Twenty Years” by David N. Bengston, Foresight Signals blog (August 5, 2021).

Foresight Resources and Publications

  • Fast Future has scheduled three free webinars on “the fundamentals of the crypto economy, the opportunities and risks, and views on how it might evolve.” Rohit Talwar of Fast Future and Kapil Gupta of Nibana Life will lead the webinars, designed “to help people deepen their understanding of the sector.” The webinars are scheduled for September 9, 16, and 23. [Learn more or register]
  • The World Academy of Art & Science commemorated its 60th anniversary with the publication of a report, “A Planetary Moment” (June 2021), edited by Janani Ramanathan of Mother’s Service Society (India). The report outlines WAAS’s work in global governance, human rights and security, sustainability, education, and global society. More than 130 individuals contributed to the report, including Mila Popovich, WAAS Executive Committee; Jerome Glenn, The Millennium Project; Hazel Henderson, Ethical Markets Media; Michael Marien, Security & Sustainability Guide; and Mariana Todorova, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. [Learn more]
  • The Security & Sustainability Guide has launched a new monthly publication, SOS Newsletter, focusing on issues aimed at “Securing Our Sustainability and Sustaining Our Security.” In addition, SSG has upgraded its website with improved design, higher server speed, and “a future proof restructuring of our database,” says senior principal Michael Marien. [Learn more]
  • Two sample chapters are available from the forthcoming Advances in Clinical Immunology, Medical Microbiology, COVID-19, and Big Data edited by Raj Bawa (Jenny Stanford Publishing, December 2021), part of the series Current Issues in Medicine. Unlike traditional medical textbooks, the series “focuses on current trends, perspectives, and issues in medicine that are central to healthcare delivery in the 21st century.” [Learn more or download chapters 1 and 33]
  • The Journal of Futures Studies, through its Perspectives platform, has partnered with The Briefing. Today podcast to “spark people’s creativity by embracing the wonder of change.” Hosted by Mattia Vettorello, the podcast has featured Ivana Milojević, Metafuture and Metafuture School; Maree Conway, Foresight Futures; Sohail Inayatullah and Riel Miller, UNESCO; John A. Sweeney, World Futures Review; Jose Ramos, Action Foresight, among other futurists and thought leaders. [Learn more]
  • William Halal’s latest book, Beyond Knowledge: How Technology Is Driving an Age of Consciousness (Foresight Books), will be released in Kindle format September 6, with paperback and hardcover editions coming soon. Among the topics covered: the technology revolution’s promises and perils, uniting science and spirit through technologies of consciousness, the democratic enterprise as a collaboration between business and society, and prospects for global consciousness. Excerpt from Chapter One, “Introduction: The Noosphere Is Here,” is available at the TechCast Project website. [Learn more]

News and Moves in the Field

  • Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies is accepting applications for Junior Associate—full-time internships for Spring 2022. The incumbents will work with either the “advisory or health team as part of a diverse, cross-disciplinary and international working environment, with an interesting and varied project portfolio.” Deadline for applications is September 18. [Learn more]
  • Future Technologies Conference 2021 will be held entirely virtually October 28-29, 2021. The conference gathers academic researchers, graduate students, and representatives from research think tanks and industry to report on “technological breakthroughs in the areas of Computing, Electronics, AI, Robotics, Security & Communications.” [Learn more]
  • World Futures Studies Federation director Victor V. Motti has been named managing editor of the European Journal of Futures Research, a publication of the Springer Nature Group. The Journal is affiliated with WFSF and with the Free University of Berlin’s Institut Futur (Institute Future Tense). [Learn more]

Signal Thoughts

“All things are possible until they are proved impossible—and even the impossible may only be so, as of now.” Pearl S. Buck, A Bridge for Passing, 1963