Monday, November 12, 2012

Kevin Anderson: What They Won't Tell You About Climate Catastrophe

Scientists and officials are not telling the public the awful truth: we are hurtling toward catastrophic climate change. A review, summary and critique of an earth-breaking speech by Prof. Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre in Britain. Speaking to the Cabot Institute in Bristol November 6th, Anderson told the sold-out crowd our future is not possible. Radio Ecoshock 121114 1 hour.

Professor Kevin Anderson

Are the climate deniers right? Are some scientists colluding with government to hide the truth about climate change? "Yes", according to top British scientist Kevin Anderson - but not the scandal you've heard about. Top scientists and government reports won't tell you we are heading toward catastrophic climate change. Emissions are skidding out of control, leading us to a world six degrees Centigrade hotter on average, much faster than anyone thought possible. Why doesn't the public know?

Why are world conferences still talking about staying below 2 degrees, as though that is possible?

In a devastating speech at the University of Bristol Tuesday November 6th, 2012, Professor Kevin Anderson accused too many climate scientists of keeping quiet about the unrealistic assessments put out by governments, and our awful odds of reaching global warming far above the proposed 2 degree safe point.

In fact, says Anderson, we are almost guaranteed to reach 4 degrees of warming, as early as 2050, and may soar far beyond that - beyond the point which agriculture, the ecosystem, and industrial civilization can survive.

All this comes from one of the world's top climate scientists, plugged in to the latest research and numbers. Kevin Anderson is from the UK's premier climate modeling institution, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and the University of Manchester. He delivered the speech "Real Clothes for the Emperor, Facing the Challenges of Climate Change" at the Cabot Institute of the University of Bristol in Britain.

His estimates are backed up by recent reports from the International Energy Agency, and now the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also quote from Joe Romm's blog at, and a comment by Lewis Cleverdon from Wales, in the Transition blog at

I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. In this program, I'm going to play selections from Kevin Anderson's latest speech, accompanied by some explanation and references to other sources. Anderson speaks very quickly, assuming a highly informed European audience, and includes some technical data and reports unknown to most of us. So we're going to work through this together.


All music on this program is by Suvarna, with her co-conspirator Ravi, and guest Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy. The album is "Energia" on Etherean Records. Suvarna, a world music maker, has another couple of albums with White Swan Records. We end this Radio Ecoshock show with a special single she sent to Radio Ecoshock. It's dead on. The song is "Atmosphere's Lament".

Suvarna's home page.


For the first time in seven years, I have to ask for your help. I've always paid the whole cost of Radio Ecoshock. Now my income has gone down, while production and distribution costs are going up. You can help this radio program keep going by clicking on the donate button on our web site at - or on the blog at - look on the upper right hand side of this page for the "Donate" button. My thanks to listeners who made that donation last week.

Radio Ecoshock is the second biggest environment show anywhere. We run the world's largest free green audio download site. Won’t you become part of the program?



This week's show on Kevin Anderson in CD Quality (56 MB).

Or try the faster downloading, lower quality Lo-Fi version (best to share on social media...)


A Radio Ecoshock listener made this transcript of the talk, as a .pdf file.


Here is a 58 minute radio edit of Anderson's speech for those wanting to rebroadcast. It could be even shorter if you cut the intro and provide your own.

This version is also great for busy people downloading the speech for their IPOD, mp3 player, phone or whatever. To save space you can use the "Lo-Fi" version, which is less than 14 megabytes.

Find the complete and full original speech, just over an hour long, as recorded by Alex Smith here. My thanks to Chris at Sheffield IndyMedia for telling me about this important lecture in advance.

Find the helpful slides (including the graphs) for this Kevin Anderson speech here.

You may also want to check out Kevin Anderson's first chapter of a recently published book, “Climate, Development and Equity”.

That's available online here: Kevin Anderson: “Climate Change going beyond dangerous: brutal numbers and tenuous hope


Anderson begins his talk with a source that is hardly known as green or radical. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist and Director of the International Energy Agency has warned on our current energy pathway the global mean temperature will rise by 3.5 degrees C - over 7 degrees F - over pre-industrial levels by 2040. For those counting, that's just 28 years from now. The IEA predicts 4 degrees rise by 2050, and 6 degrees by 2100.

In his book, "Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet", and the National Geographic series based on the book, Mark Lynas says at +4 degrees C "Southern Europe will become unlivable due to extreme heat. The West Antarctic ice sheet will melt away and add another 5 meters to global sea level." At +6 degrees C, the Amazon forest long ago burned in a giant fireball, and all the polar ice melted, Lynas simply says "we will all be dead." The short You tube version is here.

Fatih Birol of the IEA says we have only five years to change our energy system - or have it changed for us. We'll talk more about that short time frame later.



Anonymous said...

The changes portrayed as coming by 2040 are so great that they must be in the works today. We don't see them. Also, global temperature rises are much less than regional rises, particularly those in the Arctic. The numbers just aren't here, and that includes sea-level rise and melting rates of Greenland (Antarctica is growing, though very slowly).
A little critical thinking shows that the claims are not reasonable on current data .... unless the current data are being seriously underplayed by Jim Hansen and Al Gore. Al Gore has lost serious money so far: do you think he would allow that if the "truth" were on his side?

Alex Smith said...

I can't believe anyone could say "We don't see them".

Could we start with the record melt-back of Arctic sea ice last summer?

What about the rise of devastating storms? The extreme rainfall events all over the world? The record America drought?'

What exactly do we need to "see" to know the climate is already suffering a serious disruption?

Anonymous said...

Trees dying everywhere, $50 billion storms, 3rd worst drought ever, hottest year ever in u.s. Boom your toast.

Anonymous said...

This guy must be one of the worst speakers I've ever heard.
It's almost as if he is speaking to himself

Alex Smith said...

I agree his speech is difficult.

It would be easier for an English audience, especially at a University.

That is partly why I made a program with the best clips, and some introduction and commentary on his speech.

Even so, it's worth the effort of listening twice if necessary. He speaks quickly because he is trying to pack so much in. And it's important material we don't hear from anyone else with his level of access.

If someone explains we are doomed the way we are going, they might not be the best speaker, but we need to listen anyway, I think.

Wesmofo said...

He is not a bad speaker, he is technical and colorful. He's no schellnhuber or Jensen but he is good. Whenever someone mentions al gore like he is some kind of golden goose to the climate movement I can immediately stop listening. Only the lamest of all ideological climate deniers will attack a politician who has fumbled his way to the front of a Fox News moron update. Al gore has nothing to do with the climate movement. Sandy Irene Ilene and a couple of back to back droughts do however have clout in the forebrains of anyone paying attention.

Gidon Gerber said...

Isn't it strange when the IPCC makes projections, journalists don't pay that much attention, but when Fatih Birol of the IEA essentially repeats the IPCC projections, journalists report it as if he had revealed some formerly unknown truth.

Anonymous said...

Anderson's "hope" in humanity is severely misguided. There is zero evidence to support a voluntary decline in energy use. Examination of human behavior across the planet reveals that we simply will not stop our consumption. His point that scaling industry back "in time" is well-taken (impossible to do), but he's misguided on assuming that the rest of us will do anything on a sufficient scale.

In effect, Anderson admits industry "can't", but fails to correctly identify that humanity "can't" either. No voluntary de-consumption works. There are ample examples of proof.

I went through his entire slide show. Anderson is essentially saying "we're completely screwed" on our present path (he's not the first to admit this). We're going to blow right past 4C warming (at least) and are on track for 7C or higher.

Emission lag times (decades), 2+ year report times are strong indicators that the state-of-the-art science "reporting" and how this affects national and international policy and practice is woefully behind actual expected climate collapse and its effects.

Good to see the research and analysis done, but he's actually failed to admit that his solution is really no solution at all -- a terrifying oversight in reality.

Anderson is really telling us when you come to understand what he's really saying that "there is no answer to this crisis", even if he somehow missed that conclusion. ~Survival Acres~

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, I don't care about the coming troubled times. Sometimes, I think how other cultures survived a holocaust and ... oh, didn't learn anything. Because those who could, never speak up or change the views of those around them. Both sides just shake their heads and go on, minding their own business. This is the thing that has to change, and I align myself with this view. Provoke, explain, help and construct a new world (order...). But just do not remain silence(d).

Alex Smith said...

That reminds me of this quote from Winston Churchill...

"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing every happened."

I found that quote as the masthead of another of my favorite blogs "Climate Change: The Next Generation" here:

Jb said...

Terrific program; I'm headed over to listen to the full lecture. In support of this week's show I've made a small donation. I hope everyone listening and reading the comments who can afford to will do the same.

Anonymous said...

Is a written transcript of this Radio Ecoshock program available somewhere?

Alex Smith said...

The only transcript is this long blog postings (which is over 11 pages if you keep hitting "read more").

I am not aware of any transcript of the Kevin Anderson speech. It would be great to have, but would take hours I don't have (as I work on next week's program).

Any volunteers? I'll post it here if one shows up.

Gingerbaker said...

Professor Anderson claims that we can not implement renewables quickly enough to make a difference.

That is true only if we continue using the failed paradigm of the past twenty years - trying to impose market-based incentives for carbon reduction.

But there is another way, a different paradigm, that could work quickly enough. And that is to ignore the current carbon-based infrastructure and economy, and by government fiat, construct a 100% renewable energy system. In other words, nationalize our energy system.

The easiest, least expensive, most expeditious way to accomplish this would be to construct very large solar installations. For example, if we covered the Mojave Desert, where intense sun shines virtually all day every day of the year, with PV panels, we could produce enough electricity to replace every single calorie of carbon-based energy the U.S. needs now, and for hundreds of years into the future.

We could add inductive electrical charging to our highways, so that we could have a 100% electrical fleet even with our current lousy battery technology. We could employ millions to retrofit our homes and businesses to 100% electric heat, cooling, power.

We could do all this in 5 years if we wanted to. And this is how we sell it to the public:

All this electricity - every calorie - would be at no charge. It will be free to the consumer and businesses. No longer have to pay a dime to fill up your tank, heat/cool your house, run your factories.

For free of charge is what solar (or wind)actually costs after the needed infrastructure is up and paid for - it is free.

We don't need to take on the carbon economy with carbon taxes, etc - we need to ignore it and make it obsolete. AGW is a national (and international) crisis - it demands a Federal response, not market-based incentives.

Hell, if Obama wanted to, he could probably mandate this in the interest of National Security, and the Republicans would have nothing to say about it. The Dept. of Energy is part of the Executive branch, after all.

Anonymous said...

"Government fiat" is not free. Every company involved would expect to be paid.

A "100% electrical fleet" also will not work. No such thing as electric semi-trucks, trains, planes or ships.

"Employ millions" sounds nice too, but they also expect to be paid.

Your "no charge" electricity isn't free, nor does it even break even for many decades after the installation and maintenance costs are factored in. Suggest you look this up.

Anonymous said...

No such things as electric trains? Seriously?

Anonymous said...

The fight between "climate change zealots" and "climate change deniers" is a major turnoff. The main question in my opinion is not "do you believe or not in anthropogenic climate change," but rather "what can realistically be done if we had to meaningfully reduce carbon emission on a global basis." From what I've seen up to now, and considering how much fossil energy use is intimately related to standards of living, the answer to that more pragmatic question is: WE CAN'T DO MUCH. So the question of believing or not in human generated climate change becomes irrelevant. Please move on to more useful debates.

Wesmofo said...

I love these people who suggest that we have no choice but to grab the wheel and punch the gas over the cliff. Well just figure it out when we get there. A.k.a. Worst plan ever. Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Anonymous said...

by Martin:
There should be no use of "hope," by anyone, even by Kevin Anderson, without data indicated real world feasibility. What could the word possibly mean?
We must look at the future, as it looks in outline and design, from what we are, what we have demonstrated we can do, what are the states of our instituions.
In that view, the "science" of these climate researchers, including Mr.Anderson, may be quite sophisticated and expert, but their "political science" abilities are shockingly bad, almost as if sociology is to be avoided, abhorred, denied at all times.
The human world is not run by a rational, planned system. Social reality is a supersysem, run by corrupt, myth-based, corporate-dominated adjustments and power dynamics.
Efficiency, power-down, voluntary simplicity, corporate technofixes, grass roots degrowth, decarbonization, direct action, are complete and utter fantasies as "solutions" to the specter of climate catastrophe.
The ecoshock is that ecology can never be separated from social reality, from politics to psychology.

Takver Takvera said...

I listened to a similar speech by Kevin Anderson last December. Scientific reticence is all too real - scientists do not want to appear too alarmist. I witnessed such reticence myself attending the Four degrees or more? conference in Melbourne July 2011 as a citizen journalist. Most climate scientists are well aware that we are on target for 4 or perhaps 6 degrees of warming this century and the massive impacts this will have on population, food security, ecoysytems. But they do not want to be alarmist!

If you want some depressing analysis, read or watch the lectures and papers of physicist Dr Tim Garrett who applied basic thermodynamic physics principles to the economics of wealth, carbon emission rates and civilization asked Is it possible to decouple economic wealth from carbon dioxide emission rates? He came up with some very disturbing results. Thanks Alex Smith for the interview with Dr Garrett.

I think we have stuffed the capacity to keep within a 2 degree C limit, without an immediate 'war footing' effort by governments and business around the world. While global concern is serious, I don't think such action would be acceptable yet. The world will prevaricate some more, perhaps slow the rise in emissions a little, when we need substantial reductions.

I think it will require several more extreme weather events like the 2012 USA drought or Hurricane Sandy, or more extreme fire weather in Russia and Australia, heatwaves like the 2003 European one which purportedly killed 77,000 people, to bring the global crisis to a point where action becomes necessary, as in a war-like industrial footing.

I hope that we wake up soon and declare the One Degree War as put forward by ex-Greenpeace CEO Paul Gilding and Professor Jorgen Randers before too long. The earlier we start the more we limit the damage. And it is going to be rough. Watch Paul Gilding's TED talk from March 2012

So the world has 7 billion people currently, heading for nine billion people by 2050. With business as usual we might hit 4 degrees warming by the 2060s. In the current climate we would be pressed to feed 9 billion. In a four degree world we are probably looking at a carrying capacity of less than 1 billion. We are looking at the death of 8 billion people, this century.

Thanks Alex for your continued are a small light in the darkness.

david lewis said...

Anderson has been saying roughly the same things for years.

For those requesting a transcript of his speech, the link you provided, i.e. to the Development Dialogue September 2012 article by Anderson is a very good written summary of Anderson's views by Anderson himself.

David Roberts did a series of articles on the views of Kevin Anderson almost a year ago now, for Grist.

Peer reviewed papers by Anderson or by Anderson and coauthors such as Alice Bows, his main collaborator:

2008 paper: Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 emission trends

2009 Anderson, New, Liverman: "Mind the Gap", Dec 2009 Nature Reports Climate Change

2010 paper: Beyond Dangerous climate change: emission scenarios for a new world

Anderson's most recent peer reviewed paper appeared in Nature Climate Change September 2012 A New Paradigm for Climate Change

The editors of Nature Climate Change called attention to Anderson and Bows work in their editorial Clarion Call in that September 2012 edition. They say that Anderson and Bows "make the case that climate scientists and other academics should do more to impress on politicians the urgency for radical action to avert potentially dangerous future climate change over coming decades.... “science demonstrates that the threshold of 2 °C is no longer viable, at least within orthodox political and economic constraints.”

david lewis said...

When Anderson says "we don't want to bite the hand that feeds us", or "why is it every single scenario out there has this growth rate that's lower? I would argue that if you put in a higher growth rate, you get nasty results, and your funders won't pay you", he's making a similar point to the one climate science deniers make, i.e. that climate scientists produce whatever result their paymaster wants them to produce, which is ridiculous.

Anderson's point, that many scientists have not spoken up when they knew that the somewhat rosy projections about how everyone could live happily ever after while stabilizing the composition of the atmosphere and enjoying prosperity for all, as he says in his Bristol speech, are most properly directed at the types who make those projections that involve economic models, emission models, and climate projection, not your average climate scientist.

When Anderson says "I think the climate scientific community has hugely underplayed the size of the problem, knowingly, because its very hard to come up and say what you really think, because people don't want to hear the message".

I'd like to hear him say this to James Hansen or John Schellnhuber.

The subject of the "impossible" world we are heading into, i.e. 4 degrees warming and beyond, has been explored by the Royal Society of the UK, and in a followup conference held in Australia. Schellnhuber gave the keynote at both conferences.

People who think types like Schellnhuber are who Anderson is thinking of when he criticizes scientists haven't listened to what Schellnhuber is saying.

Extensive material in the form of audio and video of the presentations is available online. Royal Society UK material here

Oz conference material here

Royal Society UK January 2011 Special Issue on 4 Degrees highlighting the views of Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows table of contents page

Video of Anderson presenting his views at the 4 degrees conference here

Alex Smith said...


A Radio Ecoshock listener made this transcript of the talk, as a .pdf file.

Great job - thanks!

Piyush said...

I think more scientists like Kevin need to step out of the comfort zones and become activists.

With how climate change is going, it looks like a significant majority of humanity may never see 4 C, well below that level we could be so decimated that we may not even have the ability to track global temperatures [or global population numbers] anymore. Even below 2 C we are seeing climate change effects much worse than IPCC's worst case scenario, and this is ramping up exponentially so what to say of 4C.

We talk about "saving the environment" currently because we are in the protective shell of relatively stable climate for most of the globe that allows life to flourish. But beyond some thresholds of climate battering the life support systems on the planet, we will no longer be talking about saving the environment but just hoping to escape the environmental wrath by trying to adapt in the here and now.

That said, we must still do what we can to move to carbon neutrality and sustainability and resilience just in case the earth reacts in a way that isn't as life threatening as the computer models predict because we don't yet know completely how the planet's highly complex anatomy and physiology works.

Alex Smith said...

I think Piyush has raise something important.

All of our reports and "plans" assume a globally functioning industrial civilization. But what if we are so battered by repeated extreme weather events that we end up with disassociated pockets of humans?

For example, we might not know what is happening on another continent, or what is coming our way.

I might not have considered that possibility until I see the inability of America's foremost city, New York, to help seniors and others trapped in blacked-out buildings, many floors up, even weeks later.

All the talk in New York and New Jersey seems to be about "rebuilding" these coastal communities, rather than recognizing in some places it is better to retreat from low-lying areas near the sea.

There is an economic tipping point where the cost of storm recovery, much less rebuilding, may be more than the productive capacity of a society. Countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh are already at that point. We may be a decade or two away?

Piyush said...

Yes Alex, the key point in your statements is that many things we have designed for a modern industrial system are based on the assumption of a relatively stable climate in most places, particularly where there are dense populations. Engineers do design for things like earthquakes knowing the geology and there is also some allowance for floods etc but I doubt if there is intentional design for superstorms. Of course, one can rebuild such as what was done post Katrina in new Orleans where about 14 billion dollars were expended to rebuild the levees etc by Army Corps of Engineers, and now it can handle Cat 3, but is there any guarantee that a Cat 4 super hurricane will not strike New Orleans? Next time it happens, where are the money and resources going to come from? And let's say we start rebuilding in New York and before we are done, what if another one strikes?

So far climate change hasn't quite registered in the psyche of the majority because the cost and times during a year occupied in storms and extreme weather is a fraction (number of days out of 365 and economic cost in relation to GDP). Currently it is like a child that throws a few tantrums every now and then but it is morphing fast into a monster. As these fractions get to 10-20 % levels with increasing intensity, increasing frequency and increasing geographical spread, the kind of question you are raising [rebuilding versus relocating] will start to get serious consideration and people will be willing to rise enmasse.

Similar assumptions prevail when it comes to industrial ag, where soil is treated as inert substrate to hold oil to grow inorganic food in monocultures. Dust bowl like conditions are already happening in Midwest and the costs of this are coming up with a time lag.

Gnomish said...

Poor kids. You have unhinged your minds to swallow absurdities larger than your heads.
You may never know what it is to have a life that's meaninful on the basis of merit.
This self indulgence of adolescent angst is a sign of stunted development.
No - I wouldn't change it. This is what makes idiocy self limiting - what Darwin called 'natural rejection'.
You can't multiply without recruiting and you've hit the limit of the flask that contains you. It's all extinction from here.
So long and fare as well as you have devoutly wished.
The world has no use for you.
We will positively thrive when you are gone.

Takver Takvera said...

From my experience some assessment and planning is being done now in Australia regarding sea level rise and it's impact on planned and existing coastal buildings and infrastructure. But there is an institutional vacuum about measures to allow and assist coastal wetlands to migrate inland as sea level rises.

I asked the following question of Professor Lesley Hughes, an Australian Climate Commissioner in July at a Climate Commission public forum for Victoria:

"Given that coastal wetlands are important carbon sinks, moderate storm surges and provide an important animal nursery ecosystem, what measures are being taken to allow coastal wetlands to migrate inland as sea level rises?"

Her brief answer? "None". So there is no planning to allow coastal wetlands to advance, which will have major ecosystems consequences along our coasts in the long term. I suspect this lack of environmental planning will occurr round the world, and just adds to the impact of future storms and degradation on ecosystems which ultimately human society depends upon.

Alex Smith said...

A brilliant addition by Takver.

Nobody is going to want to give up an inch of real estate to "useless" swamps or wetlands - even when we know they protect us from storm surges (or river flooding during extreme precipitation events).

There is no give and take with nature, with the landscape and ecosystems. It's just take - and then we are surprised when natural systems take what they need anyway.

As Guy McPherson's blog title says: "Nature Bats Last".

Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Well I am no Scientist, But it doesn't take a Rocket Scientist to figure This out..With all the highly conductive materials they are spraying in the sky, Blocking the sun. The sun is heating up those materials & causing more heat to reflect back down on the planet. Another thing that greatly concerns me & should concern everyone on this planet!!Someone in the background is splitting atoms!! What do I mean by that? Someone had joined forces with climate change via Geo Engineering.
Who? It should be Investigated, And why hasn't it already. Not only are they spraying their Highly Conductive materials, But they are also spraying self assembling nanos. Now they are in the soil, The sewers, Wildlife, Plants, tree's you name it!!Domestic animals & Humans. This is a very serious matter & Whoever is response able for this, Should be locked up in prison for the rest of their life..

Linda Knight said...

It cannot be undone but still the coming of climate change can be prevented. The only way is to help out the authorities in bringing back or replace everything that is lost. Live in a environmental-friendly lifestyle and as much as possible avoid doing things that'll aggravate the current situation of the world environmentally.

Alexandra Ariana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.