The Thermometer Series: The third of six articles on the next steps in climate reform and why we need to advance current climate change strategy.

Scientists have been planning for how to implement a transformation to an alternative energy infrastructure for more than several years now. Jacobson 2013, represents years of effort and others have been doing the same. We know how to evolve our energy infrastructure, how long it will take, how much it will cost, and how efficient it will be. The storage challenge has been solved. Jacobson’s team has a plan for every state in the union now.

But this work is all based on the need to reduce emissions. We have far more than ample science to tell us that we need to go negative in a very large way, and that even net zero tomorrow allows continued warming of nearly double what we have already seen.

If we have 100 years to work this out, no problem, but we do not have 100 years. For nearly a decade now we have known that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) has begun its collapse. This process is a very long-term process that is confined by ocean warming and has always been assumed to have a dynamic component that was abrupt. We have paleo evidence of abrupt sea level jumps as far back as the late 1980s from Tahiti, Barbados, New Guinea, Sumba, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea, etc., and we have known of temperate changes 10 to 100 times more extreme than the worst-case scenario of the IPCC since the mid-1990s from ice cores.

But these dynamic changes are not modelable, and are not a part of the consensus (IPCC) because they cannot be reproduced on a computer–at least not until 2015. Now we have nascent modeling of the past North Atlantic shutdowns exactly like what is happening today, and Antarctic ice collapse modeling that is nine times more extreme than the consensus that the authors say is likely quite underestimating. The reason this science is not represented in the consensus is not just because it is brand new. There is a huge time lag required for the consensus to adopt new science. This lag is longer than abrupt change time frames.

It took the IPCC 17 years to recognized what was first published in 1994—that Antarctica was losing ice, first admitted in the 2007 IPCC report. Abrupt Earth processes happen far faster than the IPCC adoption lag.

Efforts to control annual emissions through legacy strategies–like legacy software, important but very outdated–legacy strategies are important and there are many reasons to support them, but timing is everything. We do not have 100 years to see, and we certainly do not have the capacity for 2 degrees C of overshoot under the best-case scenario.  The threshold for West Antarctic Ice Sheet collapse has already passed, the North Atlantic is already shutting down, 20 percent of Western US forests have been 60 to 90 percent killed by a native bark beetle driven berserk with warming. These real impacts are happening already, are far ahead of schedule or they are complete surprises, and they litter academic publishing.

We need an implementation plan to industrialize proven technology and complete a carbon removal infrastructure within ten years. The science is there. The cost is very cheap relative to things we do every day without thinking, and is only a tiny fraction of global economic cost of 10 feet of sea level rise by 2050. And this sea level jump is likely only controllable by a reduction of ocean temperatures to pre industrial by 2050. That the science is nascent likely means we will be lucky to have as long as 2050 to meet this deadline.

Our first step to control climate pollution is to remove climate pollution from where we put it. this means negative emissions. Negative emissions are those strategies or combination of strategies that have the capacity to remove some of the already emitted climate pollution from out sky. emissions reductions only address the climate pollutants that we currently emit.

Simultaneously, we need to find out if stratospheric sulfate or chloride injection depletes stratospheric ozone or degrades any of a number of other critical atmospheric processes (hydroxyls.) Implementation of these kind of blocking strategies, if needed, will be almost instantaneous so an infrastructure is not really needed.

Legacy strategies are important but the importance of time frames and the efficacy of strategies must be understood.