Trump on Thin Ice … Fresh Hope for Climate Change?

Screening and discussion on July 2, 2017

Thin Ice – the Inside Story of Climate Science is an exploration of the science behind global warming, an intimate portrait of a global community of researchers racing to understand our planet’s changing climate. Executive producer and Antarctic researcher Peter Barrett said the science since then has simply strengthened the film’s principle conclusion – that we need to reduce fossil carbon emissions into the atmosphere to zero well before 2100 to preserve the ice sheets and keep the world as we know it.

After screening the film and updating the latest science, Peter explained why he felt optimistic about global climate change responses despite President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Improvements in ice sheet modelling shows the clear links of low and high CO2 emissions paths to future sea level rise – giving the world clear choices of paths forward. The “business as usual” path leads to 1.5 – 2m of sea level rise by 2100 (over 15m by 2500), whereas the low emissions path leads to around 0.4m of sea level rise by 2100 (under 1m by 2500).

We also know from fossil discoveries of 50 million-year- old crocodiles and tortoises in the Arctic that the poles then were subtropical, with global temperatures around 12-13°C above present. CO2 levels were then around 1000 ppm (~3-4 times pre-industrial), around the same as those projected for 2100 with the “business as usual” path.

It took Earth 50 million years to cool, and it could return to that warmth in less than 100 years – half a million times faster. Peter said that’s why we have to commit to the zero emissions path starting now. And there are signs of hope we can do it.

One global reason is the speed with which the Paris Climate Accord was agreed by 197 nations, coming into effect in November, 2016, just 11 months after it was agreed. A second is the shift in global energy investment from fossil fuels to renewables, the latter attracting twice the amount in 2016. This shows real momentum for change.

The shock of Donald Trump announcing the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord stimulated a ripple of condemnation worldwide, with leaders of China and several other countries announcing they would increase their own commitments to compensate, along with mayors of 7400 cities world-wide (including NZ’s largest four).

Here in New Zealand, after years in the doldrums, “we had the best four weeks for climate change in over 10 years” from March 20 to April 13, Peter said. There were three key events.

  • The OECD review of our environmental performance over the last decade “…arguing strongly for the transition towards a low-carbon, greener economy”.
  • GLOBE-NZ (cross-party group of 35 NZ MPs) released a report “Net Zero in NZ” from VIVID Economics – first ever to provide credible pathways for NZ to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero before 2100, leading to the first cross-party climate change debate in Parliament.
  • Generation Zero launched their campaign for a Zero Carbon Act to be introduced to Parliament, supported soon after by the Young Nats.

Peter said personal acts were also important – not just in their effects of lowering cumulative emissions, but also in their symbolism, encouraging politicians to make political change. Everyone can live more simply, reduce waste, eat less dairy/beef, travel on foot, bicycle, or bus instead of car, plant trees, and promote sustainable practices through community groups, write letters and vote in local and national elections.