Climate change is accelerating warns top German scientist

Time is running out:

Climate change is happening more rapidly than anyone thought possible, the German government’s expert, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, warned in an interview.

The threats posed by climate change are worse than those imagined by most governments, warned Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the scientist who heads the Potsdam Institute for Research on Global Warming Effects and acts as an adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on climate-change issues.

Schellnhuber warns that previous predictions about climate change and its catastrophic effects were too cautious and optimistic.

“In nearly all areas, the developments are occurring more quickly than it has been assumed up until now,” Schellnhuber told the Saarbruecker Zeitung newspaper in an interview published Monday, Dec. 29. “We are on our way to a destabilization of the world climate that has advanced much further than most people or their governments realize.”

This isn’t news to top climate scientists around the world (see Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path) or even to top climate scientists in this country (see US Geological Survey stunner: Sea-level rise in 2100 will likely “substantially exceed” IPCC projections, SW faces “permanent drying”) and certainly not to people who follow the scientific literature, like Climate Progress readers (see Study: Water-vapor feedback is “strong and positive,” so we face “warming of several degrees Celsius”).

But it’s always worth reporting when another leading scientist goes public with the truth that has been too long the bastion of “off the record” remarks:

The Arctic sea ice is melting more quickly than expected. There are also signs that the entire climate pattern at the North Poll has been disrupted to the extent of causing irreversible change.

For the Arctic, the global warming which has already occurred of 0.8 degrees Celsius has already stepped over the line, Schellnhuber said. If Greenland’s ice cap ice melts completely, water levels will rise by seven meters (23 feet).

“The current coastline will no longer exist, and that includes in Germany,” he said.

In order to stop global warming, global CO2 emissions would need to be halved by 2050. For industrial countries, that would mean a decrease of 80 to 90 percent. By 2020, this process has to be well underway.

“When only one side fails to act, industrial countries or developing countries, than a disastrous climate change will be inevitable,” he said.

“The science is beyond dispute… Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

Related Posts:


22 Responses to Climate change is accelerating warns top German scientist

  1. P. G. Dudda says:

    (Off-topic post.) Dan – yet another denier article, courtesy of the (UK) Telegraph, at

    Unfortunately, it’s a rehash of climate-change denier points that confuse annual weather with long-term climate. But I thought you’d want to know about it.

  2. Robert says:

    Another alarmist claim. Discussion is always good and can never harm. Namecalling is never a very strong argument. I am a disagreer, of which there are plenty.

    Sea level rise: I heard 6 meters and I heard 20 cm. Geusswork

  3. Larry Coleman says:

    There were many “disagreers” who disagreed (but could not rebut) Galileo, but they were not astronomers. Even the Vatican astronomer supported Galileo. Then, as now, the many “disagreers” did so for political, not scientific, reasons. Those who do not understand history….

  4. Jonsi says:

    Robert: keep in mind the variance in estimates are mostly the result of emissions scenarios and other feedback mechanisms. No change in emissions may result in 6m, whereas cutting emissions by 25% below 1990 levels may only result in 0.5 m. When you add in things like frozen CO2 and methane in the permafrost that melts, thereby released into the atmosphere, you have even more variance in outcomes. But the results of all models (and observations) is clear: increased temperature and sea level rise that will impact our coastlines, agriculture, wildfire hazards, and fresh water drinking supplies.

    There is uncertainty in the severity of outcomes; but it is certain the outcome will be severe.

    What level of CO2e ppm is appropriate for the atmosphere and our climate?
    What steps do you advocate to reach that level?
    Is 0.1% of GDP too high of an insurance policy? Is doing nothing really the best solution?

  5. Baerbel W. says:

    I just hope that our Chancellor Angela Merkel listens more to her advisor Joachim Schellnhuber than to her minister for economics affairs Michael Glos when it comes to climate change! Michael Glos just received a special “award” – the “Dinosaur of the Year” – for his efforts to water down climate related legislation. The “award” is given out by one of our largest conservation groups (Naturschutzbund Deutschland) and is considered one of the most embarassing environmental awards and the “winners” usually do not show up for the award-ceremony!

  6. paulm says:

    ” that has advanced much further than most people or their governments realize.”

    This isn’t news to top climate scientists around the world

    It isnt news to top climate scientists, but there are too many other scientists and people who should know better who are not doing enough.

    For eg I have just spoken with friends who work as foresters – they are aware of the problem, they have science based degrees, but don’t seem that overly concern about whats round the corner.

    I personally think we have reached the Greenland tipping point and will be heading for hard times.

    But we have to move forward with sustainable measures to mitigate what we can and to adapt to the future.

  7. Politics and Science are the oil and water that will never mix.

    Scientists – thousands of them – study and make models and track data on the rate of climate destabilization. There are clear causes and clear solutions.

    Political stances, economic allegiances, or even skepticism mean absolutely nothing — and will not affect green house gasses and climate change at all. Only actual physical interaction works.

    Political will is totally subservient to physical sciences. It is a pity that politics refuses to accept science in this matter.

  8. Dan B says:

    There’s a long sad history of humanity not wanting to hear the truth.

    10,000 scientists saying the same thing will have no greater effect on society. We must “move” society, information is useless for a society that does not have a vision, or hope, for the future.

    However there are ways of reaching people that are effective. We have to listen and learn from experts in marketing and communication.

    #1. Lead with solutions (upgrading our electrical grid)
    #2. Talk about opportunity (modern and efficient electrical grid means better distribution, fewer power shortages or breakdowns, and is a boon to the economy)
    #3. Discuss principles (A society that modernizes thrives. Innovation will make a better future for our young people. The US has prospered when we met our challenges – WWII, Peace Corps – vigorously.)

    Personalize the situation – your feelings count, and describing Exxon/Mobil is less effective than talking about the CEOs of the Oil industry or the Saudi Royal family.

    And learn some humor. Laughter allows the “higher” brain to connect to the “lizard” brain. It opens up teachable moments. Think Jon Stewart and Tina Fey.. Neither are scientists or politicians but would you prefer to pit them, or 10,000 scientists, against the Fossil Fuel spinmeisters?

  9. Dan B says:

    P.G. Thanks for the link to the Telegraph article (I was tempted to write Arctic’le but….)

    A possible response to this might go like this:

    Christopher Booker has good intentions in his attempt to be skeptical of global warming. I’d prefer to be on the safe side of the argument, especially since the odds are on the side of Climate Scientists. More than 95% of them state that we are heading towards a point of no return and dangerous changes in weather. We can take the cautious road and begin investing in renewable energy and in innovation. There are projects like smart electrical grids and energy efficiency that will allow greater economic productivity and take our energy production into the 21st Century.

    Etc. Etc. Praise, rhetorical turn, opportunity, principle. I imagine the truly deceptive blowing a gasket.

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Robert — The best current estimate for sea level rise by 2100 CE is 80 cm, essentially no possiblity of less. However, the high end of the range of estimates is 2 m with low probability. A still more recent estimate, via a computer model, suggests about 1–1.5 m by 2100 CE.

    The Dutch engineers are planning on 1.38 m for that dat. The State of Califonia enginners are using a similar figure, I believe.

  11. I’d say that we ought to draw down atmospheric [CO2] to 280 ppm, the usual top of the ice age cycle.

    Clearly, we had an abrupt jump in global drought in 1983 when CO2 was at 342 ppm.

    It is also clear that we have been on the threshold of burning/rotting the Amazon in 1998 and 2005, which would produce a big jump in CO2 as well as a loss of leaves that would make our usual emissions about 50% more effective at raising [CO2].

    Fiddling while the Amazon burns is not just promoting a mass extinction of species but a regional collapse of civilization. We are in the danger zone for abrupt climate change and need to back out of it as quickly as possible.

  12. Rick says:

    on fixing the planet: it all just seems so beyond humanity to me.

    If we’re crossing tipping points, while we burn rain forests and coal, then realistically there is no turning back. Worldwide human activity is impossible to steer. Environmentalists will not be given the controls. They will never get more than a few useless bones thrown to them by a political system that is fragmented and totally self indulgent.

    The only hope for the climate is that it self regulates and that we’re just too small to affect it much.

  13. Nancy says:

    Rick: I feel like you at times and as an activist, there are days I want to quit from frustration. There is hope, though. After January 20th, there will be a new way of thinking in the White House. I am increasingly optimistic. I have children. I have to be hopeful.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Rick — As it happens, I’ve just finished the (most preliminary) costs estimates on an efficient way to remove excess, unwanted carbon dioxide. This looks to me that it will

    pay for itself

    if the cost of growing and collecting biomass at a digester is below about $65 per tonne!

    Even better, if the price of natural gas goes back up, the whole operation will actually make money. (My study size turns ought to involve tens of billions of dollars.) That thought of potential profit ought to be incentive enough to get this started.

    I’m about ready to start re-writing the first draft of the white paper on this variation of enhanced mineral weathering.

  15. David Lewis says:

    James Hansen’s open letter

    written after his meeting with government officials in Germany and the UK, including this German government science advisor John Schellnhuber the post above is about, concludes that all these types in Germany and the UK are deluding themselves as they continue on with their massive non carbon capturing coal fired electrical generating plant building program. Hansen refers to a “sobering self-deception….” he saw in a letter from an official in the UK, and he said the delusion was “almost identical to that of German Minister Gabriel”.

  16. jorleh says:

    90 % of people don´t understand the function of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    These 90 % vote their leaders only to get better next four years for themselves.

    The first thing must be to educate people to understand the function of CO2 in the atmosphere.

  17. paulm says:

    Rick ..
    .”….The only hope for the climate is that it self regulates and that we’re just too small to affect it much.”

    I have to agree with you. We are, however, a big part of Gaia and have to do our part.

    The world has a fever and things are going to get worse for us. A ridding/reducing of the ‘virus’ .

  18. hapa says:

    everything here is a virus. virus versus virus. virus-on-virus action. just because we stepped outside our bounds faster than we could teach ourselves the system, or the ice age slanted things way toward our skill set, doesn’t make our DNA somehow an abomination.

    even to call us a virus or cancer, that criticism is informed by our own spin on what’s good and bad in biophysical affairs. we hate disease outbreaks or preventable illness because they cause us pain and they damage our social networks and hierarchies but we welcome viral cures for critters we think are pests. we even inject ourselves with viruses to cure other viruses.

    actually i think that ice age thing is important. greatness was thrust upon us. thousands of years later, from a start somewhere near extinction, we’re stripping ourselves of the opportunity and crown because we are uncontrollably ferocious and not smart enough to see that chasing heaven leaves earth barren.

  19. Bob Wright says:

    I took a look at some of the denier material on-line. They have convinced themselves of a scenario (including a 30 year cooling trend) best summarized in articles by retired geology prof. Don Easterbrook:
    * The GISS temp charts are misleading. The world has cooled since ’98.
    * They see some trend indicating reduced solar activity, and point out the long quiet period between solar cycles 23 and 24.
    * The Pacific Decadal Oscillation has entered a cool period, and this actually lines up with the “cool” temps in the Pacific and parts of the US in 2008.
    * Water vapor as a GHG feedback to the above vastly outweighs any change in CO2.
    * The arctic temp trend will soon reverse.

    It looks like Easterbrook is using his “experience” in predicting lower solar activity, and apparently simply copied the last cool PDO segement on the chart, pasted it on the end, and called it his prediction with no regard as to the overlay effect of increased CO2. I recently followed a GW thread on CommonDreams, and there was no convincing a well versed skeptic.

    Senator Imhofe compounds this with publishing these opinions as part of his commitee reports, making them “accepted” expert opinions.

    So we have dueling sets of opinions, and don’t be surprised if Imhofes’ Republicans and the pundits fight tooth and nail until the GW signal is more apparent. If Hansen’s models are corrrct, it won’t take long.

  20. Peter Sinclair says:

    Read the telegraph piece. Good lord what a mish mosh of half digested garbage.
    The writer was confused on so many issues one does not know where to begin.

    In other words, a typical disagreer.

  21. Bob Wallace says:

    I don’t have a TV at home, but I recently spent a few nights in motels which had TVs.

    I’d say, based on my small sampling, that global climate change is a given in the general population.

    Several months back a Gallup poll found only 10% of the population to be in active denial. I’d bet that number to be much smaller now. Even starting to approach the percentage of the population that is clinically mentally “not attached to reality”.