Thursday, May 09, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #107 - Part 2

Global warming: recent news

The other day, I had a neighbor tell me that he hasn't gone ice fishing in three years - because there just isn't enough ice and when there is, it's not thick enough to be safe. Which reminded me that we haven't covered global warming for a time, so I thought I'd catch us up on a few things.

First, last month we got more evidence that glaciers are shrinking all over the world.

The Quelccaya Ice Cap, over 18,000 feet up in the Peruvian Andres, is the largest tropical glacier in the world. About 25 years ago, researchers discovered long-dead plants near a lake formed from meltwater from the glacier. Chemical analysis showed that these plants lived about 4,700 years ago, meaning that the ice cap had shrunk to its smallest in nearly five thousand years - because the only way those plants could have preserved that long was by being frozen in the glacier. Otherwise, they would have decayed to dust.

Fast forward from 25 years ago to the present: In the April issue of the peer-reviewed magazine Science, those same researchers report having found at the glacier remains of plants that lived 6,300 years ago - which means that the Quelccaya Ice Cap has lost 1600 years of ice in just 25 years.

It's not the only example. Across the world, glaciers are melting at a rate not seen since the last ice age. In the short term, it might seem like a good thing: For communities that depend on annual glacial runoff for fresh water, it increases local water supply. But in the longer run, it spells disaster for those same communities as their source of fresh water dries up.

Second and also last month, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, which is part of NOAA, issued its latest Ecosystem Advisory on sea surface temperatures in the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem. That's the region of the Atlantic Ocean which extends from Cape Hatteras to the Gulf of Maine and from the shoreline outward to the edge of the continental shelf.

I love this: The Christian Science Monitor headlined its article with "Waters off Northeast US coast unusually warm, says NOAA." The advisory actually said that during the second half of 2012 those temperatures were the highest recorded in 150 years. "Unusually warm," indeed. The advisory also noted that population centers of seven key fishery species are shifting in response to the changing temperatures.

The report notes that the ultimate effect on the Northeast Shelf ecosystem is unknown - but what is known is that the ecosystem is changing and while the report, with the usual scientific caution, does not say this, I will: That change is being driven by global warming.

Finally and most recently, a new study out of NASA in the first week of May says that climate change will increase the risk of extreme rainfall in the tropics as well as extended drought in the world's temperate zones. It's what one climatologist called "the worst of all possible worlds" with already wet areas getting wetter and already dry areas getting drier.

The study examined computer simulations from 14 different climate models to reach its conclusion about the effect of every degree of global warming on rainfall patterns. It found that for every 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in global average temperature due to climate change, heavy rainfall will increase globally by nearly four percent while the length of time a region goes without rain could increase globally by over two and a-half percent. The study essentially confirmed a long-standing prediction of global warming science that warming would lead to more severe weather, but it was the first to quantify the effects on rainfall in various regions.

The impact of the increased rainfall will be mitigated somewhat by the fact that a lot of the increased rain will occur over the oceans. But the increased and lengthened droughts will mostly affect the temperate zones, which is where most of the population of the Earth lives, setting up a future not only of increased crop failures with attendant food shortages and soaring prices but increased competition for water supplies.

To top all this off, at the same time that all this is being learned, a collection of industry groups (including the American Chemistry Council, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers), a bunch of polluters including an association of electric utilities, and - get this one - the Energy-Intensive Manufacturers Working Group on Greenhouse Gas Regulation, have joined with some other "I love me some fossil-fuel" types and assorted anti-government twits to petition the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases.

They are arguing, in effect, that the federal government has no lawful authority to regulate greenhouse gases; in other words, that the government has no legal authority actually to do anything about climate change - because that, after all, might hurt their corporate profits and therefore their individual bank accounts and yearly bonuses. And we just can't have that!


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