Saturday, April 05, 2014

153.4 - Global warming: new IPCC reports describes dangers

Global warming: new IPCC reports describes dangers

Okay. The IPCC has released the second of three reports for this latest round of its periodic reports on the climate and global warming. The IPCC is the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international, scientific and political attempt to address and understand climate change and how to respond to it. Each report is based on thousands of peer-reviewed research papers reviewed and summarized by hundreds of lead authors from 70 countries whose work is critiqued and refined before release.

The first report in the current series, issued last September, was about the level of scientific certainties on the topic, and confirmed what anyone at all familiar with the issue already knew: There is overwhelming agreement among scientists in relevant disciplines that the climate is changing, the world is warming, and human activities are the cause. And we could be no more than 25 years from a tipping point, beyond which we could no longer head off the most serious effects of global warming, effects which could become self-reinforcing.

So yes, despite what the nanny-nanny naysayers try to tell you, the science is settled. Period. There are questions about just how fast the temperatures will rise, just how high they will rise, and precisely what and how bad the effects of a given increase will be, but the basic facts, the facts that the world is getting hotter, we are to blame, and that is a bad thing which will become a very bad thing if we don't act fast and hard, are not in dispute and have not been for some time.

The data just does not allow for any other conclusion. And it's still happening. The warming is still going on.

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said 2013, worldwide, was the fourth warmest year on record, with those records going back about 135 years. NASA said it was the seventh warmest; the difference, which amounts to a fraction of a degree, arises from differences in how the two agencies extrapolate data from weather stations to cover areas where there are no weather stations and so there is no data. The World Meterological Organization, combining NASA and NOAA data with that from the Climate Research Unit in the UK, says 2013 was the sixth warmest on record, tied with 2007.

Which means 2013 adds to the string of record warm years seen in this century: nine of the 10 warmest and 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have been in the 21st century - that is, every year from 2001 through 2013 is one of the 14 warmest on record.

What's more, the year also adds to the string of decades that have each been warmer than the last. To see climate patterns, you really can't look at individual years. You have to look at at least decades. Ideally, you should look at hunks of time of 30 years or so, but at least decades

With that in mind, notice the graph to the right. I find it amazing: With the exception of the 1940s, which were unusually warm, every decade since the 19-teens has been warmer than the decade before it. The 1980s clearly surpassed all previous decades to set a record. A record which was broken by the 1990s. Which was broken by the 2000s. Look at that graph: Do you see a trend?

Let me express what we've seen then past couple of decades another way: The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces, that is, for the entire surface of the Earth, for February 2014 was the 348th consecutive month - that's a full 29 years - with a global temperature above the 20th century average for that month. For 29 years, every January has been warmer than the average January for the 20th century. For 29 years, every February has been warmer than the average February. And so on.

So how much hotter will things get? That depends on what we do from here on out. It could be as little as about 2 degrees Celsius to even 6 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 to nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit. And what will that do? What will that cause? That's what the new report is about.

Here's the first thing to know; if you get just one takeaway from this report, make it this: The report tells us, confirms, that climate change is already, today, affecting every continent and every ocean. The effects, the first impacts of climate change, are not coming, they are not in the future, they are here. Now. Today. On every continent and every ocean.

In the words of IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, "Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."

Ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, glaciers in West Antarctica may be nearing total collapse, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

Some parts of the world could soon be at a tipping point; for others, it's already too late: Warm water coral reef and Arctic ecosystems both are already experiencing irreversible changes.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities as global average sea level reached a new high in March of last year, much of the rise being caused by the expansion of ocean waters. The oceans absorb most of the excess heat of the Earth and as the water warms, it expands, so the water level rises. What's even more worrisome is that not only are the oceans rising, but for the last 10 years or so, the rate of rise has been increasing.

Water supplies are under stress and rising temperatures are already depressing crop yields, including those of corn and wheat. Crop yields could decline by 2% a decade over the rest of the century as the result of heat, drought, flooding, and changing rainfall patterns, leading to widespread hunger and economic disruption, including the potential for millions of environmental refugees and even resource wars.

Which means, of course to the point where it shouldn't be necessary to say it, the poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will the first and the hardest hit. The poor of Asia's coastal cities will be among the hardest hit.

You want to be angry as well as frustrated and frightened? The body of the report cites a World Bank estimate that poor countries could need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change. At present they are getting, at most, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries. That $100 billion figure was removed from a 48-page executive summary for policymakers, the summary that will be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was cut because those rich nations complained that the figure was too much, it was "unrealistic."

For comparison, that $100 billion is roughly 1/7 of our current annual military spending. Just to be sure that's clear, by "our" I don't mean the world, I mean the US.

In the light of that, what do you think are the real odds that we will actually do anything about global warming, about climate change, about the lives of our children and grandchildren? What are the chances when the response of some bozos in the House is to push a bill that would essentially require NOAA to stop researching climate change?

It's true that preventing global warming, heading off the severe damage that looms before us, will require something of a change in our lifestyles. It's just a fact. But I've said before that you should think about the way you lives in say the 1980s, consider the level of technology and creature comforts available to you in you daily life and ask yourself if that life was so bad that you would be willing to sacrifice a world to avoid living that way again.

It's doesn't seem like that big a sacrifice for the gain. But I still wonder if we are - no, that's not true, it's that I think we're not - up for it.


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