2011-08-04 13:09:44National geographic has released some high impact videos
Tom Curtis


as trailers for their show based on Mark Lynas' book, Six Degrees:


One degree could change the world:


2 degrees warmer: ocean life in danger:


3 degrees warmer: Heat Wave Fatalaties:


4 degrees warmer: great cities awash:


5 degrees warmer: civilization collapses:


6 degrees: mass extinction?

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I think the videos overstate the case, but not by much.

2011-08-04 13:13:14
Tom Curtis


Sorry about the html hash, I'll fix it this evening when I have more time.  In the mean time Eli has the links available here:


2011-08-04 13:22:40
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

When posting video embed code, the WYSIWYG editor at first displays the code as-is.  Once you open the comment/blog post again, the WYSIWYG auto-converts the code into the above videos (as shown).

I guess it's giving you a chance to see if the code is right.

2011-08-06 08:54:22
Peter Miesler

"I think the videos overstate the case, but not by much."

~ ~ ~

Just got through watching the videos, I thought interesting and valuable so long as their cartoon quality isn't lost.

As for "Overstate the case" how does that reason out?

I thought the dialogue was overly PC.   

I thought the social upheaval aspect was unrealistically and quite understated. Seems to me, from observing how lousy the world cooperates during these times of plenty. How is society going to hold together long enough to taste the disintegration wrought by 4, 5, 6 degrees of warming?

By the time we reach a full two degrees of warming things will have gotten quite rough and tumble, and by the time 3 degrees shows up society, as we know it, will have traveled most of that path of unraveling.  Gonna be a whole new ball game at 3 and 4 degrees.

~ ~ ~

But, those are just details, it was worthwhile dramatizing the various steps we are committing society too.

Accurate in a broad sense, even if the exact time-line and sequence of happenings is only an interpretor's guesstimations.  After all it's National Geographic TV and they ain't nothing if not slick and glossy.   

It's a cool series to show, but it could really use some introduction and caveats.   In my wanna be world that series would be a great conversation starter but needs to be followed with a discussion on the actual science of what we've observed and what that tells us.

2011-08-06 09:27:51
Rob Painting

These videos greatly understate the seriousness of future warming. Global civilization will collapse long before 5°C.   

2011-08-06 09:33:51
Tom Curtis


citizenschallenge, I think the case is overstated on two grounds:

1)  The video's several times refer to the effects of sea level rise and loss of Greenland and Antarctic ice.  On each such occasion it shows the sea level rise and ice loss after eqilibrium is reached for that temperature, but equilibrium ice loss will not be reached for several centuries.  For most cities in the world, the economic cost of a retreat from the the foreshore necessitated by a 5 or even 10 meter sea level rise over several centuries will in fact be quite low, requiring the destruction of shoreline buildings and their replacement at a rate not much faster than the current replacement rate of buildings through new development.

2)  The second point is Mark Lynas claim that, "It's going to be inconceivable that human civilization could withstand that much of a climactic shock",  made for Our world plus five degrees.  In fact I think there is a very good chance that 5 degrees would topple the teuto-romantic civilization that has dominated the world since the 15th century, (and Europe since the eleventh century).  But civilizations have collapsed before, whille civilization itself, the maintenance of sufficient physical culture that the practise of living in cities continues, has continued on.  It is a very robust feature of human existence over the last six thousand years and only a near extinction level event is going to knock us out of it.  I do not think our world plus 5 degrees is going to kill of the 90% plus of humans that would be required to end civilization itself.

2011-08-06 09:44:59
Tom Curtis


Rob Painting, I think you need to distinguish between the collapse of global civilization, ie, the collapse of globalization, which may be on the cards at 3 to 4 degrees warming, and the collapse of civilization globally, ie, knocking humans back to the stone age, which may be on the cards at 6 or 7 degrees warming, but is unlikely at less than that.

2011-08-06 10:13:23
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Tom, I believe this is the first time I have ever disagreed with you.  I think you overestimate the robustness of our modern world when it is in numerical inferiority to the 3rd world, which is coupled with Islamic states and Russia acting as power broker and has nearly limitless munitions at their disposal.

At 2 degrees we'll have civil unrest; at 2.5 degrees martial law.

By 3 degrees we'll see theatre-level use of tactical nukes and full engagement (especially in the Middle East) of military forces; by 3.5 degrees the US will be under full siege and international commerce (transoceanic) will never occur again.

By 4 degrees agriculture will only exist in hydroponic gardens and greenhouses surrounded by walled encampments.

5 degrees?  Don't ask.

2011-08-06 10:45:15
Tom Curtis


Daniel, I don't think you are disagreeing with my main point.  Clearly you are taking the perspective of the West, and doubt that the West's civilization can stand against future climate shocks.  I don't think that is certain, but it is certainly probable.  But the West is not synomynous with civilization itself.


To put this into perspective, suppose that all human life except in China (the most probable survivor) goes extinct.  Suppose also that central government in China collapses so that China devolves to a conglomeration of warring city states.  Even in this case, civilization itself has survived, because civilization is just the art of living in cities.  To say that civilization itself (not our civilization, but civilization itself) collapses means that the economic means of production are insufficient to support the existence of any cities, anywhere.  In essence it means that the few surviving humans have reverted to sustaining themselves as hunter gatherers.


At present our biggest protection against this prospect is the collapse of global trade (and our civilization with it) that will likely come much earlier in the litany of disasters.


Beyond that, I don't pretend to be able to predict political developments in a 2 degree plus world.  I think there are to many variables, although the collapse of democracy in most states of the world is highly probable.


I do disagree with you about agriculture though.  The range of temperatures in the agricultural belt, ie, from the equator to about 60 degrees north and south is significantly greater than 4 degrees, so some crops will be growable some where even in an plus eight degree world.  I'm not certain, however, that such a world will contain the humans to grow the crops.

2011-08-06 11:05:13
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

As far as me being US-Centric: Guilty.  I confess to not having the good grace to be born an Aussie or a Kiwi :-)

If it were just the collapse of the cities, then yes, China (being only recently dragged kicking and screaming from the pre-20th century into the 20th) is well poised to survive long after most other countries have collapsed into chaos.

But the reorganization of the climate in response to the temperature forcings we are imposing on the world will grow ever more unpredictable as the refrigeration system of the NH (the Arctic) warms/fails.  As shown in the Dai et al paper, we'll be experiencing extreme drought AND extreme rainfall.  That double-whammy will cripple crop production.

I'm trying to convince Barton Paul Levinson to do a guest post at SkS of his paper on desertification and the collapse of organized agriculture.  By his accounting (the maths were vetted by Tamino) the fraction of the Earth's surface experiencing severe dtought (PDSI <= -3.0) always hits 70% in the 2050-2055 time frame.  That is the timeframe that BPL assumes organized agriculture ends.

Without sufficient food, civilization will collapse back into armed city-states, at least for a time.

Similar to the popular NBC television show Heroes (save the cheerleader, save the world), the new mantra will be "save the food, save your ass".

2011-08-06 11:21:09
Rob Painting

Tom, no I don't expect we will end up back in the Stone Age anytime soon. I mean the global infrastructure of trade and commerce will collapse. In other words the global economy will be toast. 


2011-08-06 14:03:53
Peter Miesler

Ok so I'm a pessimist, interesting discussion, thanks for letting me join.   ;-)

2011-08-06 18:39:58
Glenn Tamblyn


I must confess to being in the 'civilisation can't take too much pressure' camp. For several reasons.

The old saying - 'No civilisation is more than 7 meals away from revolution' One aspect of AGW and the way it intersects and synergises (I just invented that word) with the other major streeses in the world - Peak Oil, perhaps soon Peak Gas (which is the main feedstock for fertiliser), over fishing, the hydrological crisis, soil depletion etc - all comes together at one focal point - food supply. If the world has 8 Billion people and food for 4 billion. All hell breaks loose. Not just those 'poor brown people' in 'other parts of the world' that we care so much about. When the fear of famine returns to the Western world, our 21'st century psyche's will implode.

Then add the multitudinous other civil disorder type stuff that happens - collapse of the world financial system, and collapse of individual countries financial systems. So when we need our economies functioning to cope with food supply collapse, we start confronting economic collapse - the companies that makes the widgets that keeps the fertiliser plants running or the trucks on the road or protect our seed grain supplies fromk mildew type X, or the companies that make the antibiotics that protect us from nasty dieases like Measles all go bust. The Government orders them to keep operating, but the expertice resides in a small number of people and they aren't getting paid so they go somewhere else.

So much of our understanding of the world assumes that when the shit hits the fan the 'Govnmnt' will pull some levers and fix it. Most people don't get how fragile those levers are. And when the levers crumble in the Govnmnt's hands, all kinds of shit is set loose.

From there a collapse to the equivalent of a medieval society living in the ruins of a 21st century society is all too likely.

Then it gets really scary. A medieval society in a resource depleted and AGW stricken world can't feed 2-3 billion, let alone 8-10. So mass starvation and now really serious collapse. And MASSIVE psychic trauma! A world filled with PTSD. And Cannibal societies that survived because of that for example. And ALL those bones!

So the collapse contiues. And over 2-3 generations of horror, what of human knowledge? Such a fleeting thing since most of it is held in incredibly perishable containers called grey-matter. What of libraries you might ask? Libraries of books make great fuel for fires to roast your nightly rat on. And without power, what is a DVD? Something to sit your beer mug on.

So humanity could easily be driven back to a pre-medieval world in terms of population numbers, technologies and health, and knowledge. Perhaps seriously pre-medieval in terms of knowledge. And with the massive psychic burden of death - all those bones, Granddaddy was a cannibal - what vestige of human civilisation will remain apart from some very weird religions.

But surely the collapse will stop somewhere? Yes. Maybe not caveman but perhaps Iron Age/Bronze Age. Then the recovery can begin right? But when our ancestors started down that road the world was rich in so many resources that were easy to reach - all those herring & cod in the North Sea, Cornish tin mines, Jed Klampett's 'Texas Tea'. Natural wealth that primitive people could easily reach.

Well thats all gone!. If you have some huge pumps you could empty this here giant open cut mine and get some coal. But first you need the coal to develop the pumping technology. Until then its just a very deep lake. And the Cod stocks still haven't recovered and Ocean Acidification is playing merry hell with everything else you might harvest from the oceans. And there may not be many animals on land to hunt either. During the Great Dying James Lovelocks words became prophetic. 'Forget Lions & Tigers. If it moved we ate it.'

So an Iron Age/Bronze Age society in a world with crippled oceans, crippled land food sources, plenty of energy - if you had the 21st century technology you don't have. Oh, and by the way, a climate that is 5 degrees warmer than our Iron Age/Bronze Age ancestors had to cope with.

Will human ingenuity win out? Maybe, but remember it is basic smarts we are talking about, not bodies of knowledge and data - this would at very best be an intelligence rich but knowledge poor world. And intelligence can't achieve that much without the scaffold of knowledge to stand on.

Will our descendent be able to 'hold' at this Iron Age/Bronze Age level? Or slide back to real stone age stuff. In a world without mammoths and bison and all that stuff cause we ate all the big animals generations ago. Could out ancestors have ever climbed out of the caves if their main sources of food and clothing were rats and cockroaches?

So could we slip back to just being some regressed Australopithicenes. Who then go extinct? Leaving the world to the roaches and rats.

50 million years from now might palentologists from the dominant Rattus Sapiens cuture be digging up the remains of these earlier homonids and wondering what the connection was between their extinction and a CO2 'outgassing' event. I wonder where all that CO2 came from?

Unless of course the radiation signature from these sediments leads them to conclude that it was all due to nuclear weapons. No other factors suggesting themselves.

Sorry for the rather negative 'vent' but I have just had a crap day at 'the office' and I needed to radiate a bit - and enjoy this rather fine bottle of stout that seems to have evaporated (OK, 2 bottles)