Thursday, June 18, 2009

Speaking of science stuff... long do you think it will be before the nanny-nanny naysayers on global warming are pointing to the fact that the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina
constantly grows even as it spawns icebergs the size of apartment buildings into a frigid lake, maintaining a nearly perfect equilibrium since measurements began more than a century ago. ...

Every few years, Perito Moreno expands enough to touch a point of land across Lake Argentina, cutting the nation's largest freshwater lake in half and forming an ice dam as it presses against the shore.

The water on one side of the dam surges against the glacier, up to 200 feet (60 meters) above lake level, until it breaks the ice wall with a thunderous crash, drowning the applause of hundreds of tourists.
"The glacier is growing! Where's your precious global warming now, huh? Huh?"

[Insert: As MAD magazine used to say, "Speak and ye shall find." In looking for something else, I discovered that a naysayer has already used this exact article to make the exact inane claim I predicted.]

They will of course ignore the statement in the very first sentence of the story that Perito Moreno is one of "only a few ice fields worldwide that have withstood rising global temperatures." They will also ignore the quoted statement of Andres Rivera, a glacialist with the Center for Scientific Studies in Valdivia, Chile, who said "not all glaciers respond equally to climate change."

Because that's the way they argue. They nit-pick at details, pluck out isolated findings, claim any single variation from expectations is total disproof. They try to claim that the inability to precisely predict the climate decades in advance is proof that the models used are worthless and rely on people's ignorance of how models work to push their agenda. They even try to score points off whether you call it "global warming" or "climate change." Either ignoramuses or liars, they repeatedly confuse weather with climate. Either ignoramuses or liars, they persistently misstate the predictions that are made by global warming science (such as pointing to sea ice levels around Antarctica when the prediction is about global sea ice levels).

The ignoramuses are those who have soaked up the talking points and spit them out, talking about science that they clearly don't understand. The liars are those who pretend expertise that they use to focus either on tiny details (such as precisely how fast the pH of the oceans are dropping) or the astonishingly irrelevant (CO2 levels in the Cretaceous) - and even beyond that are the fossil fuel industry flacks of the Global Climate Coalition, who continue to push junk anti-global warming "science" even though their own experts told them over 10 years ago that "the scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied." (Well, not exactly: It could be denied, just not honestly. Which was no barrier to these folks.)

But no matter how hard the dolts and deceivers try, the facts just keep smacking them upside the head. The effects of global warming are not hypothetical, they are real and they are not somewhere off in the future, they are being seen now. And it will only get worse barring truly dramatic action.

In March, a meeting in Copenhagen of 2500 researchers and economists heard scientists, citing latest research, say that
[t]he worst-case scenarios on climate change envisaged by the UN two years ago are already being realised.
As they surely are. For example, besides the well-known loss and thinning of sea ice in the Arctic, there is the fact that
[t]he world's most important coral region is in danger of being wiped out by the end of this century unless fast action is taken, says a new report.

The international conservation group WWF warns that 40% of reefs in the Coral Triangle have already been lost.
The area contains 1/3 of the world's coral and 3/4 of its coral species and supports an entire ecosystem that could collapse if the coral dies off.

At that Copenhagen meeting, new data was presented that said the estimates of sea level rise made two years ago by the IPCC were already "woefully out of date" and the actual average rise could be more than a meter. It was also reported that 75% of the tree cover of the Amazon rainforest could be lost if temperatures rise more than three degrees Celsius - which, it develops, is an increasingly likely outcome of the failure of dramatic action in the near term. In fact,
[a]bout three-quarters of the world's fossil fuel reserves must be left unused if society is to avoid dangerous climate change, scientists warn.

More than 100 nations support the goal of keeping temperature rise below 2C.

But the scientists say that without major curbs on fossil fuel use, 2C will probably be reached by 2050.
Writing in Nature, this group of scientists said that the UN's goal of a "safe" level of annual emissions of greenhouse gases is flawed.
Some greenhouse gases, such as methane, have a definable lifetime in the atmosphere, meaning that stabilising emissions makes sense; but, said Dr [Myles] Allen [of Oxford University], CO2 "doesn't behave like that".

"There are multiple levers acting on its concentration and it does tend to accumulate; also models have to represent the possibility of some feedback between rising temperatures and emissions, such as parts of the land turning from carbon sinks into sources, for example."
Because of that, they said, what needs to be addressed is the total of emissions, not the annual level. The focus of current international agreements is to keep the global rise in temperature since pre-industrial times below 2C. (It has already risen 0.7C over the last century.) But
Dr Allen's analysis suggests that if humanity's CO2 emissions total more than about one trillion tonnes of carbon, the 2C threshold is likely to be breached; and that could come within a lifetime.

"It took us 250 years to burn the first half trillion," he said, "and on current projections we'll burn the next half trillion in less than 40 years."

Inherent uncertainties in the modelling mean the temperature rise from the trillion tonnes could be between 1.3C and 3.9C, Dr Allen's team calculates, although the most likely value would be 2C.
That is, if these researchers are correct, the 2C limit would be breached by 2050 and any use of fossil fuels beyond that time would simply add to the warming - even if the annual release of carbon was considerably below current levels, even if the G8 goal of emissions at only 50% of 1990 levels by that time was to be met.

Not that we're doing great even on that basis: In 2007, the total emissions from industrialized countries rose by about 1%. The future for the coral, many shorelines, Arctic ice levels, and the Amazon rainforest does not look good.

And then, of course, there are the people.

Three weeks ago, the Global Humanitarian Forum released the first comprehensive report into the human cost of climate change. It said
the world is in the throes of a "silent crisis" that is killing 300,000 people each year.

More than 300 million people are already seriously affected by the gradual warming of the earth and that number is set to double by 2030....

"For the first time we are trying to get the world's attention to the fact that climate change is not something waiting to happen. It is impacting seriously the lives of many people around the world," the forum's president, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told CNN. ...

Of the 300,000 lives being lost each year due to climate change, the report finds nine out of 10 are related to "gradual environmental degradation," and that deaths caused by climate-related malnutrition, diarrhea and malaria outnumber direct fatalities from weather-related disasters.

The vast majority of deaths - 99 percent - are in developing countries which are estimated to have contributed less than one percent of the world's total carbon emissions.
An estimated 45 million people are chronically hungry due to climate change, hungry now due to climate change, and that number is expected to double in 20 years.

Those who deny the existing effects, the existing damage, of global warming are dangerously deluded if not despicable deceivers. Even the federal government has to agree:
Rising sea levels, sweltering temperatures, deeper droughts, and heavier downpours - global warming's serious effects are already here and getting worse, the Obama administration warned on Tuesday in the grimmest, most urgent language on climate change ever to come out of any White House. ...

A point of emphasis of the report, which is just under 200 pages, is what has already happened in the United States. That includes rapidly retreating glaciers in the American West and Alaska, altered stream flows, trouble with the water supply, health problems, changes in agriculture, and energy and transportation worries.

"There are in some cases already serious consequences," report co-author Anthony Janetos of the University of Maryland told The Associated Press. "This is not a theoretical thing that will happen 50 years from now. Things are happening now."
At the Copenhagen conference, scientists said there is a increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts. The White House report was softened from an earlier draft which said various "tipping points" have already been reached, but even so,
Tom Karl of the National Climatic Data Center said that at least one tipping point - irreversible sea level rise - has been passed.
We here in the US, as a modern industrialized nation, are in a much better position to withstand the worst effects of global warming that might hit us. But even with our resources, we face dramatic changes - including, if the prediction of a one meter rise in ocean levels proves accurate, the loss of New Orleans and serious impacts on other parts of the coast - particularly including the northeast, where sea levels are expected to rise eight inches more than the worldwide average, which not only inundates sections of coastline but puts the rest at increased risk from storms.

But again, we're the lucky ones. Consider the Coral Triangle. The area is shared between Indonesia and five other Southeast Asia nations and its ecological collapse could lead to mass hunger as fish stocks dry up.
By the end of the century, 100 million people across South East Asia could be on the march, looking for something to eat. Communities might be breaking down and economies destroyed. ...

"Up until now we haven't realized how quickly this system is changing," says Professor [Ove] Hoegh-Guldberg.

"In the last 40 years in the Coral Triangle, we've lost 40% of coral reefs and mangroves - and that's probably an underestimate. We've fundamentally changed the way the planet works in terms of currents and this is only with a 0.7 degree change in terms of temperature."
It's reasons like that which prompted famed medical journal The Lancet in May to call climate change "the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century."
Climate change will exacerbate the divide between rich and poor, hitting the poorest communities first and hardest.

Population growth, primarily in least developed regions, will combine with climatic effects to cause instability of food and water supplies. That in turn will drive mass migrations and create civil unrest, they say.

"The Indian government has nearly completed plans for seven-foot-high double-thickness razor wire and steel fence 4500 kilometres long along the entire border with Bangladesh and it's there to keep out the climate migrants," said Institute for Health and Human Performance professor Hugh Montgomery.
Increased hunger, mass migrations of millions of refugees, resource wars, water wars, ecological destruction, that's the future we're laying out for ourselves - or, more exactly, laying out for those millions who, again, contributed less than 1% of the problem. All so that we don't have to be a little inconvenienced.

Inconvenienced? Yes, surely. We will have to change the way we live, our expectations about technological goodies and our "more is better" attitude about life. Even with the genuine benefits of a "green economy," we will have to give up some things, some conveniences, live more simply and learn again how to find pleasure in less energy-intensive pasttimes. I'm not talking about being the little house on the prairie, so don't lay that on me. But I am talking about sacrifice.

But for those of you old enough, just think back, think back to say the 1960s and tell me: Was your standard of living, your way of living, really so bad, so much less, worse, than today, that you'd sacrifice a world to avoid returning to it?

Footnote: By their fruits shall you know them. Scott Segal, a Washington lobbyist for the coal industry, responded to the White House report by saying
Fast action without sufficient planning is a route to potential economic catastrophe with little environmental gain.
In other words, do nothing - otherwise, you'll hurt our profits.

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