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article imageOp-Ed: Study predicts half the Earth 'too hot' in 300 years

By Paul Wallis     May 10, 2010 in Environment
A University of New South Wales study has found that temperature increases of 12 Celsius are possible over the next few centuries. This is a longer time scale than most predictors, and the study is sparking a controversy.
It’s not clear from information provided what modeling methods were used for this analysis. Most scientists would consider this figure a ballpark, rather than definitive, analysis of the temperature rises.
The problem with climatic modeling is that it is necessarily based on a very large range of individual functions to produce a compound result as an estimate. This is an incredibly complex situation, and has been responsible for the breakdown of many predictive models over the last decade.
There are other parameters, however, and they’re not negotiable. Temperature effects can be defined accurately by their effects on living systems.
For example:
At what temperature do living ecosystems collapse? It varies, but the starting point, in my opinion, is about 55C. Osmosis, evaporation, and life’s requirements for water and relation with temperatures start shutting down at these temperatures. Metabolisms can progressively overload if they can’t lose heat when required. Humans can dehydrate completely in 50C conditions, as we’ve seen with people stranded in the Australian outback.
At what point do marine and soil biota cease to function, en-cyst or die? Again, it’s in the 50-60C range. These organisms can’t survive at all in water deprived situations where they’re basically being cooked, and the marine or soil environment acts like a barbecue through heat conduction. We’ve now moved to basic thermodynamics, and those laws are well known.
As you can see, these aren’t vague measures. The real criteria for climate change is what dies, at what temperatures and when.
For humans, the parameters are pretty clear. We’ve seen in Australia that strong evaporation rates can cause massive percentile losses of uncovered water reserves like major dams in a few days. The big heat waves in Europe have required people to take shelter, and have killed hundreds of people.
The logistic strain on supporting a projected human population of up to 15 billion in the next century in adverse climate conditions will be huge, and extremely expensive. It’s possible to provide shelter, protect water resources and take other measures, but it’s not the ideal solution.
We’ve just had the worst drought in recorded history in Australia, 12 years, and the costs have been enormous. The huge bushfires in bone dry temperatures killed a lot of people and are costing a fortune to deal with their effects. A similar fire in California would have wiped out an area the size of southern Los Angeles.
Temperatures, thermals and atmospheric behavior make a real difference in these cases, and there’s no guesswork required in terms of actual effects, because we’ve seen them for ourselves. The oceans are acidifying, creating anoxic zones, free of oxygen.
The basic scenario for a global collapse based on temperature is a series of crashes:
1. Food crash- global harvest failures.
2. Water crash- Reduction in water supplies through melt and evaporation.
3. Economic crash- Loss of capital assets hits finance and revenue. Prices break out in consumer needs.
4. Ecological crash- Massive system failure in ecosystems, breaking up the water, carbon and nitrogen cycles. Result, growing food becomes that much harder and far more expensive.
5. Population crash- Famine and lack of adequate backups for nutrition and water need.
Note: This is temperature based, without any mention of sea levels, or other factors.
The UNSW study may or may not be accurate, but it deserves credit for being one of the extremely few to take a long term view. That’s long overdue. Tomorrow is only so far away.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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