‘Beyond the tipping point, climate change consequences will be difficult’

Updated: Feb 26, 2013, 16:45 PM IST

Rahul Kumar/OneWorld South Asia

Prof Godfrey Boyle is Professor Emeritus at The Open University, UK, and a visiting professor at The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) University in New Delhi. He has been keeping an eye on the weather for the last many decades. Now, he predicts that the world is headed for disaster, very fast, but still does not commit on how far, or close, is the planet’s tipping point.

OWSA: You spoke about the trajectory of climate change and you also said that it’s been happening for decades now. So, where are we headed now on the same trajectory?

Boyle: Well, many people have suggested about it and they may be right that if we don’t change the economy and the way we use energy and industry, we will be headed towards global warming of two degrees and carbon concentration in the hemisphere. Now, what many people think is that there will be a tipping point beyond which climate change consequences such as sea level rise, hurricanes and droughts will be very difficult to manage. The planet has survived despite many changes; it’s us who will suffer. So, unless we change our economy, agriculture, the way we use energy and water resources, we are headed for a very difficult future. And I think, we can change it.

OWSA: You talked about the tipping point. The way we are going currently, is it possible to predict when does that tipping point come?

Boyle: I think it’s impossible to predict that. Many studies are only suggestive. Many experts have said that two degrees, may be one degree more or less, is a point beyond which consequences of climate change are hard to predict and could be highly adverse. That’s a very conditional thing but I don’t think it’s possible to be certain about these things.

OWSA: You don’t want to put any figures like 50 years or 100 years?

Boyle: It depends on how fast we keep on emitting carbon emissions. The studies suggest that if the concentration of carbon into the hemisphere reaches 450 ppm, then difficult things start to happen. But that’s a very approximate thing. And the date when we will reach there depends on how fast we keep on emitting. If we slow down, we will live longer. If we keep on emitting, it might be very soon. It can be within 10-20 years but I can’t give you an exact answer.

OWSA: The way we are living currently, do you think we are able to make any dent on the current climate change scenario?

Boyle: I think it’s difficult to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because too many contrary things are happening. Many nations are trying to improve efficiency and energy economy. They are investing on low carbon energy resources. But because conventional economic growth keeps on cranking on relentlessly which is very material and resource intensive, then despite the major initiatives to mitigate emissions, the emissions keep on increasing. So, we are still not bringing in enough radical changes to make emissions come down.

OWSA: A lot of answers are around technological prowess but I still haven’t heard much about preserving what we already have, or a call to grow more trees. Do you think technology has all the answers?

Boyle: I would certainly support the idea of preserving natural resources. I think technology is part of the answer but changes on the part of the society, particularly moving away from the culture of consumerism which is so prevalent in developed countries and now in, the so-called developing countries also. We need to move away from this culture of acquisition. So, I think it requires cultural and political changes. It requires synergy between three types of changes — individual change, change in corporate or companies, and government change. If these three are in harmony, then we could move rapidly towards a more sustainable and equitable world. We need to move to a circle of economy where we can recycle the products that we use and that circle is powered by zero carbon energy resources.