Dr Andrew Weaver is professor and Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria. He is also a member of, and lead author with, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
Weaver believes “global warming is the single biggest issue facing humanity today”. I would suggest that issue has to be even bigger for the oil and gas industry. The economic well-being of virtually the entire world has become critically dependent on this industry and its products. The policies we adopt to deal with global warming will have important economic implications, for the petroleum industry and especially for economies such as Alberta’s where so many people are dependent on this industry for their livelihood. My interest in reading this book was to gain a better understanding of the science underlying climate change, and to better engage in the debate over what policies are most appropriate in addressing these issues and the urgency with which these issues need to be addressed.
Weaver states unequivocally at the outset “There is now a clear, well-understood reason for global warming: it is largely because of carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels”. While we may think of climate change as a recent phenomenon, Weaver describes the science underlying global warming going back more than a century. He has no respect for the “denial industry”, nor any time for debate on the causes of or scientific basis for climate change, as “there is no such debate in the atmospheric and climate scientific community”.
“Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get”. A frequent source of confusion in the media and by the public is the failure to properly distinguish between climate and weather, leading to confusion; the former is predictable, the latter is not.
Weaver explains the science underlying climate, the scientific measurement of climate change, the scientific reasons for climate change and the range of expectations for climate change for the remainder of this century. “The 2007 IPSS report … has unequivocally concluded that our climate is warming rapidly, and that we are now at least 90% certain that this is due to human activities.” Some conclusions and implications include:
- We will have 0.6°C of warming over the next century no matter what we do;
- Sea levels are rising and will continue to rise;
- Precipitation is expected to rise in middle to high latitudes and some tropical latitudes, and decrease at subtropical latitudes;
- In Canada, precipitation will increase, but will come in fewer, more extreme events, interspersed with longer periods of little or no precipitation;
- At a 0.9°C rise from today’s temperature, between 9% and 31% of the world’s species become committed to extinction, and those percentage ranges rise with further warming.
Humans have emitted 488 billion tonnes of carbon since pre-industrial times and are currently adding 10 billions tonnes per year. It is the cumulative total emission that matter in terms of global warming, so stabilization and reaching zero emissions is important. Weaver outlines emission trajectories that will limit warming to 2oC, which he considers achievable and tolerable in terms of costs and consequences. This limit implies being able to emit a further 484 billion tonnes of carbon before reaching a zero emissions level.
Weaver talks briefly of the policies required to get us on this trajectory, including the need for a carbon tax. He quotes Rick Hyndman, climate change policy advisor to CAPP, and a friend and former colleague of mine, as saying “The carbon tax … is the better way to go. I have yet to meet an economist who disagrees with this statement”. Weaver is optimistic in terms of our will and ability to make the changes needed and lauds the Government of BC for its implementation of a carbon tax in 2008.
For those that think this is the death-knell for the petroleum industry, I would urge you to pick up Sustainable Fossil Fuels: the Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy by Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University (published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, 2005) which outlines the ongoing role of the petroleum industry and fossil fuels and how they would play a necessary role in reaching the trajectory towards stability and zero emissions, as outlined by Weaver. I read that book several years ago, and no review is included here — I’ll wait for Jaccard’s next edition.