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France’s Global Warming Predicament

CLIMATE

ENVIRONMENT - When one of the world’s most developed culturally elite countries, France, tosses in the towel on the IPCC 2°C barrier, it sends a loud and clear message that the global warming fight is losing the battle.

Seriously, France expects 4°C. The country is bracing for 4°C according to Environment Minister Christophe Béchu: “We can’t escape the reality of global warming.” (Source: ‘We Can’t Escape the Reality’: France is Preparing for 4°C of Warming by 2100, Euronews.green, May 22, 2023). 

France’s position on global warming is heavily influenced by other countries failing to deliver their targets to keep temperatures within the 1-5°C-2°C range of the Paris Agreement. “Unless countries around the world intensify their efforts to cut emissions further still, we are on track for global warming of between +2.8 and +3.2 degrees on average, which means +4 degrees for France because Europe is warming fast,” Béchu said,” Ibid. 

The question going forward will be how to keep the electrical grid functioning as global warming diminishes water resources crucial for nuclear power, and as the aging fleet corrodes (37 years median age). France leads the world in nuclear power at 70% of total electricity generation. Yet, in a strange twist of fate, nuclear power, falsely advertised as clean green energy, is vulnerable to global warming shutdowns. 

The French Court of Auditors’ Report on the Safety and Operation of France’s Fifty-six (56) Reactors highlights an increasingly unstable supply of water necessary for cooling reactors. (Source: Climate Change, Water Scarcity Jeopardizing French Nuclear Fleet, Balkan Green Energy News, March 24, 2023) 

The Loire River is the longest river in France at 625 miles. As of early 2023, global warming clobbered the river, some areas completely dry with flow rate down to 1/20th of normal. Significantly, some of the country’s nuclear power plants depend upon the river for cooling purposes. Global warming is threatening France’s nuclear power system. So far, forced shutdowns have only occurred in the summer, but France’s Court of Auditors warned that such events are likely to become 3-to-4 times more frequent unless global warming somehow subsides, yet France’s environmental chief thinks 4°C is on the horizon.

Moreover, for the first time since 1980, France has been a net importer of electricity, losing its 40-year net exporter status. Output shrank 23% because of a double whammy: (1) global warming diminished water resources, and (2) corrosive defects in infrastructure as a result of the tension and stress of creating energy via nuclear fission, as a dozen reactors were shutdown. One-half of France’s nuclear fleet was shut down at times during 2022.

In the face of its most challenging hottest year on record, France is throwing in the towel on 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial, the upper band as suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Notably, anything above 2°C is considered trouble for life-supporting ecosystems. In fact, the world today at only 1.2°C above pre-industrial is already experiencing trouble in many instances, e.g., losing the water towers of Europe, the Alps, way too fast. The European continent runs hotter than the world at large. According to the World Meteorological Organization, temperatures in Europe have increased at more than twice the global average over the past 30 years. Meanwhile, with global warming walloping Europe last year, it nearly slid off the map.

With France convinced 4°C is in its future, it should be noted that there are plenty of credible scientists who believe 2°C above pre-industrial is simply intolerable, hmm. For example: A recent study entitled Assessing Dangerous Climate Change by James Hansen (Columbia University) Jeffrey Sachs (Columbia University) Camille Parmesan (University of Plymouth), et al (18 scientists) claims that governments have set the wrong target to limit climate change at “2°C higher than the average for most of human history… consequences can be described as disastrous.” With a 2°C increase “sea level rise of several meters could be expected,” and several species will be decimated.

The Hansen study pulls no punches, 2°C above pre-industrial is too high. It should be noted that Dr. Hansen correctly warned the U. S. Senate in 1988 of the dangers of global warming, subsequently front-page news for the New York Times: “The greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now.” His warnings then as head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies are evident today. If only America’s highest-ranking politicians had listened and reacted, but they didn’t.

France is taking on the global warming challenge by opening a public consultation process thru the summer months to work at defining a nationwide adaptation plan as global warming is expected to trigger several events: (1) severe heatwaves will last up to two months (2) southern portions of the country can expect up to 90 nights with tropical temperatures per year (3) the west and south will experience longer more extreme droughts (4) water shortages will become severe.

2022 Hottest Year Since 1900 

National weather agency Météo-France claims 2022 ranks as the hottest year ever recorded in France since data collection began in 1900. It was a year (2022) of multiple extreme disasters as excessive global warming hit hard, e.g., three suffocating heat waves over 33 days, temperature records smashed with many cities exceeding 40°C. (Source: 2022: The Hottest Year Ever Recorded in France, Le Monde, Jan. 6, 2023) 

France is gasping from a dire water shortage with hundreds of towns and villages left with no tap water as 'ogre' wildfires rip across the country for the second time this summer in a 'vision of hell'… The entire nation is suffering its worst drought on record with restrictions in place to limit water usage, but for more than 100 parched communes, they don't even have the option to ration their supply. French environment minister Christophe Béchu said it is a 'historic' crisis for so many communities to have no tap water at all, as fleets of vans ferry bottled water to the desperate residents. (Source: ‘Monster’ Wildfire Incinerates French Wine Country: France Desperately Sends in Reinforcement Firefighters as Ten Thousand Flee, While Record Drought Helps Kill Tons of Fish in Germany Amid Summer ‘Extremes Not Seen Before, Daily Mail, August 11,2022)

The ’vision of hell’ experience and trucking water to hundreds of parched communities is/was a wakeup call, and that experience “has prompted concerns over water security across the continent.” (Source: France Heading Towards Worse Summer Drought Than 2022, Geological Service Says, Reuters, April 13, 2023)

If 2022 was a disaster year with Europe’s temps above the global average of 1.2°C pre-industrial, what on earth can the French expect with 4°C looming?

A 4C World

The World Wildlife Foundation published a study of various scenarios of temperature ranges: Backgrounder: Comparing climate impacts at 1.5°C, 2°C, 3°C and 4°C.

4°C looks like this: (1) 3/4ths of the world population will have deadly temperatures for at least 20 days every year, e.g., a heatwave in Karachi, Pakistan killed 1300 people in 2015; at 4°C Karachi would get hit with deadly heat for 40 days straight. (2) major portions of the world will be hit with horrific food shortages (3) all of Europe will experience water shortages (4) hundreds of millions of people at risk of sea level rise with 760 million in high-risk coastal city locations (5) one-half of all plant and animal species at risk of local extinction, and alas (6) adaptation to 4°C may not be possible. In which case the first 5 examples may not matter all that much!

According to a World Bank analysis: “There is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible…the projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur,” Ibid.

Even with worldwide awareness of global warming, it is still important to recognize the fact that climate change is a fickle public issue with plenty of ammunition for deniers and doubters to cast spells: “not to worry, the climate always changes.”

Studies suggest that people, not wanting to deal with a nearly impossible situation, block out the challenges of climate change. And as such, they are susceptible to any public statement that gives some comfort that it’s not all that bad. For example, “the climate always changes,” implying that it’s done this same thing over and over again, but we are still standing. However, that statement leaves out a crucial fact. It leaves out the rate of change. It’s one thing when it takes a thousand years to naturally increase CO2 at the rate of 0.02 ppm per year, thus impacting temperature levels gradually. It’s an altogether different case when its human-driven 100 times faster at 2.0 ppm, which is today’s rate, thus compressing 1,000 years into 10-to-100 years. From most signals in France today, the compression factor is looking more severe yet, just ask France’s environmental minister about the rate of change.

Excessive levels of greenhouse gases are the culprit: “In the 1960s, the global growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide was roughly 0.8± 0.1 ppm per year. Over the next half century, the annual growth rate tripled, reaching 2.4 ppm per year during the 2010s. The annual rate of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 60 years is about 100 times faster than previous natural increases, such as those that occurred at the end of the last ice age 11,000-17,000 years ago.”  (Source: Climate Change: Atmosphere Carbon Dioxide, Climate.gov, May 12, 2023)

Here's more unsettling paleoclimate history from Climate. gov: “Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in human history. In fact, the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, during the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period, when global surface temperature was 4.5–7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5–4 degrees Celsius) warmer than during the pre-industrial era. Sea level was at least 16 feet higher than it was in 1900 and possibly as much as 82 feet higher.”

To repeat the facts just described in the former paragraph, which are difficult to accept: Three million years ago, atmospheric CO2 was the same as today. It was 2.5-4°C warmer than today’s pre-industrial basis with sea levels at least 16 feet higher.

Maybe France is right, 4C could be low. Only time will tell. Today’s global heat is a product of CO2 from a decade ago. There’s a lag time that’s roughly 10+ years (source: Institute of Physics) between CO2 emissions and the subsequent temperature impact… buckle up!

Meanwhile, when nuclear power plants go down and drinking water is delivered via truck to hundreds of cities and towns in G7 countries, like Italy and France, the underlying message is silent and unspoken. There’s nothing more to say.   

A Cool Solution 

James Hansen has issued a draft paper entitled Global Warming in the Pipeline, Cornell University, May 2023 that answers the question of what must be done. An enormous drawdown of CO2 is required to cool the planet: “A new plan is essential. The plan must cool the planet to preserve our coastlines. Even today’s temperature would cause eventual multimeter sea level rise, and a majority of the world’s large and historic cities are on coastlines. Cooling will also address other major problems caused by global warming.” 

(Robert Hunziker, MA, economic history DePaul University, awarded membership in Pi Gamma Mu International Academic Honor Society in Social Sciences is a freelance writer and environmental journalist who has over 200 published articles appearing in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, and is a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.com.)