It’s only 4 degrees… what’s there to be alarmed about?

On my last day in Qatar, I attended the World Climate Summit at the Ritz Carlton in Doha. The opening speaker was Dr. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a climate scientist and the Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Dr. van Ypersele only spoke for about 15 minutes, but shared a couple of slides that opened my eyes to a remarkable fact –

The first slide (picture below) shows the world as it was at the time of the last glacial maximum – this was the period when ice sheets were at their maximum extension, over 20,000 years ago – the ice was 3 KM thick and extended pretty far south.

Glacial Maximum

The next slide (below) shows what the world looks like today, with ice sheets just around the poles.

4-5 degrees warmer

Here’s the kicker – the average temperature difference between our world today and the last glacial maximum? Just 4-5 degrees!! The above change took 3000 years to occur. We are talking about the same magnitude of change in just 100 years!!!

This is why everybody is worked up about a 4-degree warmer world, as this represents a HUGE change in the habitability of the planet.  For more information on the consequences on what to expect if/when we breach the 4-degree point, here is a link to a very recent and alarming World Bank report (which also features somebody well known to us at Tuck/Dartmouth) – this report got a lot of attention at the conference.

One a side note, I couldn’t help but notice four large chandeliers in the plenary chamber (two visible in the picture below and a close-up right afterwards) – each chandelier comprised of dozens of incandescent light bulbs – not the greenest of venues to play host to a climate summit!

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