Sunday, September 28, 2014

176.5 - Not Good News: global warming continues

Not Good News: global warming continues

Okay. I gave you the Good News about global warming aka climate change, now it's time for the Not Good News.

Every day it seems, more research, more peer-reviewed scientific research, is published showing that global warming is already happening, it's already having a measurable effect. All these papers come with the proper scientific caution, all expressing the proper scientific doubt, all saying this is what know and this is what don’t, some expressing more confidence in their conclusions than others - but, this is the important point, all point in same direction: Climate change is already here. We are screwing with the climate and the effects can already be seen.

Worldwide, May was the hottest May on record since record-keeping began in 1880.

June was the hottest June.

July was the fourth hottest July and the other three all came since 1998.

August was the hottest August, again, since 1880.

Of course, you can't judge climate change based on records for a few months. You have to look at trends over time and climatologists say you should look at decades (or even longer). But I note these records just to point out that the world is still warming, despite claims of a "pause" or a "hiatus," or even a "halt" in global warming. World temperatures are still rising, just not as dramatically as before. Never forget that the 1980s set a record for the warmest decade ever, a record that was broken by the 1990s, which record was broken in turn by the 2000s, and if current trends continue that new record will be broken by the twenty-teens.

Scientists have been studying the question of why, with all evidence, including glacial melt, sea level rise, and a host of others, pointing to continued heating of the planet, that fact is not reflected in the world's average surface temperatures, which should, it seems, be rising faster than it is.

It has long been suspected that the extra heat is being hidden in the deep ocean, and now there is new research backing that up. That research indicates that there is a natural cyclical change in a major Atlantic Ocean current that is results in warm water being stored in the deep waters of the Atlantic. That also means that when the cycle goes back to its other state in several years, with the warmer waters at the surface and the cooler waters in the deeps, global warming could come back with a vengeance.

By which time it may be too late, especially as there are powerful economic forces using the slowing of the rate of global warming as leverage to delay doing anything about it which might hurt their bottom line. Someone, I can't recall who now, accurately noted that what we're trying to do is reframe the world's economy and compared it to trying to turn an aircraft carrier with a tugboat.

And make no mistake, time is short.

A new study by the Global Carbon Project, an international team that tracks and calculates global carbon emissions every year, determined that the world spewed far more carbon pollution into the air in 2013 than ever before.

As a result, the World Meteorological Organization found that concentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, reflecting not only rising emissions but also a diminishing ability of the world’s oceans and plant life to soak up the excess carbon put into the atmosphere by humans.

In fact, the Global Carbon Project says that human activities have added 1,430 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere from 1870 to 2013. That's 45 percent of the total carbon budget the world has to maintain if it's to maintain a rise in global temperatures of below 2 degrees Celsius, a level all but universally regarded as the danger level.

At the current rate of emissions, the world will blow through its carbon quota in no more than 30 years. Let me make clear what that means: At the world's current rate of carbon release, if as of 2045 the world at that point suddenly totally and instantly stopped all human means for producing greenhouse gases - totally and instantly stopped all releases of carbon, never used another bit of fossil fuel, never used another lump of coal, never burned another drop of oil - it would still be too late.

That means that if we just reduce our carbon output - which is all that those UN negotiations are trying to achieve and some nations will only pledge to slow the increase of their production -  just reducing our carbon output doesn't solve the problem, it only puts off the reckoning.

Which in turn means that ultimately, if we are going to protect the environment not just for ourselves but for our child, our grandchildren, and future generations, ultimately we will have to reduce our carbon output, our carbon footprint, to level below that of natural reabsorption. And that is a level of change, a level of change in how we do things, in how resources are distributed not only here but around the world, a level of technological change, that I think that none of our leaders and very few of us are prepared to contemplate.

For proof of that we need go no further than the speech the Amazing Mr. O gave at the UN climate summit on Tuesday, where he glossed over inconvenient facts and used carefully-parsed statistics to give the impression the US has done much more than it has.

For example, he said "Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth." Well, yeah, but when you have by far the world's largest economy, that's not saying much. By a better standard of effort, the proportion of emissions cut, over PHC's* time frame the European Union has done clearly better: a cut of 14% as compared to the US's 10%. And some of those cuts in US emissions come from the fact that instead of burning coal here, it was shipped to power plants overseas, which means those emissions were not cut, they were merely moved to poorer nations.

What's more, since 1990, the benchmark year the EU uses to judge progress, it's emissions are down by 18% while those of the US are up 10%.

In his speech, O urged other nations to follow our lead. Let's hope that, as is often so true of him, they follow the rhetoric rather than the reality.

But make no mistake on this either: The fight isn't over, it's not hopeless no matter how often it feels that way.

There are still things that can be done, economically, socially, technologically, on the international, the national, and even the state and local level, to preserve the environment and a healthy and decent life for the future.

But time is running out. Save where you can. Preserve where you can. Conserve where you can. And be on the streets where you can.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey, which I haven't called him in a while but since here he's back to saying in effect that things will be great if we just want them to be enough, it deserved a return.

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