Posts Tagged ‘IPCC’

Climate Scientist Stirs Up A Storm

 

Climate Scientist Stirs Up A Storm

Stranded Polar Bear – Arctic Ice                                    by Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

       James Hansen, the NASA scientist, was among the first persons to bring Global Climate Change to the attention of the general public.  Near the end of his 2009 book, “Storms of My Grandchildren,” he states “Our culture has notions that humans are godlike & can produce miracles.”

Along about this time, the reader may be hoping for a miracle because Hansen has presented such a compelling picture of how and why we have put ourselves in a global fix, that our ability to get out of it seems greatly in doubt.

It is not that we do not understand the nature of the problem. Hansen lays out the evidence in a very convincing fashion. It is not that there are no remedies. Hansen explains clearly what we need to do and has excellent suggestions of how to go about it.

No, the main problem is, does mankind have the courage to face the truth about climate change and the willingness to make adjustments to avoid the consequences he describes?

I think that a few words about why Hansen chose the title, “Storms of My Grandchildren, “ would be appropriate here. Indeed, to understand his impetus for writing the book, it is necessary to know that beyond being a scientist, Hansen cares about what kind of world his grandchildren will face if we do not mend our ways.

In fact, despite sounding like a present day Cassandra a lot of the time, Hansen is an optimist, both about finding ways to slow down global climate change and in his belief that humans are not inherently deniers of painful truths, but are willing to look at the situation with unflinching eyes, and do whatever it takes to save ourselves. Otherwise he would not have bothered to write this book.

If Hansen’s predictions fail at all, it is in assuming that it will be our children and grandchildren, and not ourselves, who will suffer the consequences of climate change. In fact, he lays out a good deal of evidence that many of the predicted climate changes are happening sooner and proceeding faster than most scientists, being basically cautious souls, had anticipated. One of his most important messages to us, although it is in my opinion, one he does not emphasize enough, is that climate change is not something in our future. It is happening now, and it is we, who have to do something about it.

How do we know that Global Climate Change is occurring and that humans are mainly responsible for it? If you really want to know, this is the book for you. It is a fact-based examination of the evidence for GCC, the dangers that it holds for humankind and other life, and a blueprint for what we can do about preventing this incipient catastrophe.

“Storms” is loaded with graphs, tables, and definitions of technical terms. It could be a challenge to the casual reader, although Hansen has gone to great lengths to explain these concepts in plain language.

In order to make his important message as accessible as possible, I have written a comprehensive summary of the book, emphasizing facts and evidence just as Hansen does.

Of course I could not resist adding my own two cents every once in a while. For the purpose of  distinguishing my comments and ideas from those of Hansen, I have italicized mine.

 

Summary and Comments about “STORMS OF MY GRANDCHILDREN”, James Hansen, 2009, Bloomsbury Publishing, London

By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

 In examining Global Climate Change (GCC), there are certain key quantities to look for and potential tipping points (points at which the buildup of minor changes or incidents reach a level that triggers a more significant change) to watch: (1) continued and faster melting of the West Antarctic & Greenland ice sheets; (2) the % of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere; and (3) an increase in atmospheric methane

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Global CO2 Emissions

Hansen explains that his reasons for concentrating on these aspects are the following sobering facts: (1) Deterioration of ice sheets is leading to an increase in sea level and the number and intensity of storms; (2) an increase in atmospheric CO2 will increase Global Warming (GW) and trigger positive feedbacks (a response to an activity which increases the activity, spiraling out of control); e.g. increases in atmospheric methane also warm the biosphere, which in turn causes release of more methane from continental shelves and arctic tundra, which further warms the biosphere, etc. (Methane, although there is less of it in our atmosphere than there is of CO2, is a 20 – 30 X times stronger warming agent, molecule for molecule.)

In global warming, politics and science are inextricably intertwined. Hansen pulls no punches and plays no favorites, excoriating both Democrats and Republicans  for their unwillingness to deal with it., He first tells of his meetings with Republican VP Cheney and others in the Bush administration, describing his frustration in trying to deal with them.

Keystone XL Pipeline Route

He then goes on to accuse President Obama of failing to combat GCC in several ways: Obama has approved the concept of a tar sands pipeline, although tar sands are an even worse source of GW than are coal and oil.  He has approved new coal plants, despite their spewing large amounts of CO2 into the air. (Hansen makes the point that the consequences of GW are already so advanced, that any new sources of CO2 would be dangerous to the health of the planet).

Obama has also advocated Cap and Trade, a type of law that would put a ceiling on the amount of CO2 that can be emitted. The problem with this approach is that it rewards CO2 pollution, by allowing the polluter to sell the right to pollute to others. This only insures that its level will continue to increase.

Our government is also funneling billions of dollars to energy companies to produce “clean coal” The only problem with that, is there is no such thing. All coal burning releases more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Hansen also says that appointed high government scientists cannot contradict the President. Therefore honest criticism of governmental scientific policies can come only from career scientists or from outside the government. That is one of the reasons Hansen gives for writing this book.

Hansen states boldly that “Our planet … is in imminent danger of crashing.” and  that “It may be necessary to take to the streets to draw attention to [social] injustice.” He also states that “It is our last chance.”  There are warnings like this sprinkled liberally throughout the book, probably to make sure that the readers do not miss them. They will not.

Many environmental organizations urge people to reduce their “Carbon Footprint.” (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a particular person, group, etc. due to the consumption of fossil fuels). Hansen says that the problem with individual attempts to reduce Carbon Footprints is that this would lead to a reduction in energy prices, which in turn acts as an economic incentive for others to use more fossil fuels, ultimately putting more CO2 into our atmosphere. For this reason Hansen believes that only government action and international accords can be effective in  reducing atmospheric CO2.

Here is a crucial point to remember. When Hansen wrote his book in 2007, there were 275 Parts Per Million (PPM) of CO2 in our atmosphere.  Now, five years later, in 2012, there are already 295 PPM. Using all of our fossil fuel reserves(2,795 Gigatons) would lead to an additional increase of 30 PPM in the atmosphere, pushing CO2 to well over 300 PPM, a level never before reached.

Global Carbon Emissions

Sea level rise will be one of the most devastating effects of climate change. Hansen and others have calculated that further ice sheet disintegration would lead to acceleration of changes that will take place, not in a hundred years, but within decades, and a rise in sea level of about 80 M (250 ft) is possible. One billion people would be effected.  A sea level rise of even 1 – 2 M would adversely effect hundreds of millions of people. Yet, loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet alone would result in a rise of 6 -7 M in sea level. He states unequivocally that “Ice sheet collapse and a sea level rise of several meters is a dead certainty.”

For comparison purposes, 14,000 yrs ago, at the start of the Holocene (the present geological epoch), the sea level changed 1 M (3.2 ft.) in 20 – 25 years, making a considerable change in the planet’s ecosystems

Hansen then tackles the effect of GCC on storms: He tells us that they will certainly be more powerful (and perhaps more frequent) in this century. Storms like tornadoes, thunderstorms, hurricanes, and typhoons will become more common and powerful. (a 10% increase in wind speed increases damage by 33%).  The region subject to tropical storms almost surely will expand (e.g. until Catarina hit S.E. Brazil in 2004, no cyclone had ever been recorded there). There will be more destructive mid-latitudes Frontal Cyclones.  The intensity of superstorms (like “The Perfect Storm” that hit New England in 1991) will increase.

Scientists studying Ice Sheet Disintegration have warned that due to their rapid melting and destruction, there will be a rapid sea rise within generations i.e. within the lifetimes of our grandchildren & perhaps our children.

Increases of only 1 M in sea level, together with more powerful storms, will have horrendous consequences. e.g. they would hit 1-2 magnitudes (each magnitude is a 10-fold change) higher population than Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005.

 It is not a question of whether, but of when. As I read this, the effects of the 2012 “derecho” superstorm (a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms), were still being assessed. It killed at least two dozen people and left millions in the Mid Atlantic states without electricity for up to a week during a record breaking heat wave (114° F in Washington, D.C.).

Some changes caused by GCC have already taken place faster than were anticipated: (1) It has caused the disappearance of Arctic sea ice in the summer, and with it, a rise in sea level and ocean temperatures; (2) It has brought about the expansion of subtropical climate to more northern latitudes, bringing a change in flora and fauna e.g. cases of Nile Fever, a viral disease in which mosquitoes, formerly found only in the tropics, are the vectors (or carriers) were reported in Southwest Idaho in July, 2012; (3) It is causing melting of mountain glaciers all over the world. This loss of glaciers will bring about a water crisis for  millions of people dependant on them for their drinking and irrigation water. Not far from my home in Northern Idaho, the glaciers of the eponymously named Glacier National Park are disappearing.

Hansen has an additional warning about methane. If methane hydrates (The form in which most methane is sequestered in ice, tundra, and along the Continental Shelves) are released in large quantities, these changes will accelerate. This  may already be occurring. _Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic research Center has reported finding large holes in Arctic ice in the Spring of 2012, through which escaping methane was detected .

We may have as much methane hydrate as that which drove the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), an event which occurred 54 million years ago and increased global temperatures 5 – 9 °C. (that amounts to about to 16° F, an increase I believe to be incompatible with life, at least as we know it). If ocean circulation changes so that warm Pacific currents sink, releasing those methane hydrates from the Continental Shelves, we have no known way to reverse the process.

Some climate skeptics insist that the predicted temperature changes in the Earth’s climate can cause little damage. In retort, Hansen points out that on the contrary, the Little Ice Age (1600 – 1850) was caused by a decrease of only ½ degree Celsius.

Hansen goes on to point out that this increase in methane is also one of three probable Ratcheting Effects (effects that trigger other similar and more powerful ones). These are as previously mentioned: (1) Intensification of storms; (2) Disintegration of ice sheets; and (3) Further melting of methane hydrates.

He anticipates that there will also be amplifying or positive feedbacks (cf.) e.g. If ice and snow melt, the Earth absorbs more sunlight, which, in turn, warms the Earth so that more ice and snow melt, etc. etc. What such feedbacks lead to is not only increase in amount, but also acceleration of the rate of increase. Increases in methane and nitrogen oxides produce such amplifications.

Some critics of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the main scientific body studying GCC, fault it for relying too much on computer modeling. These critics will find an unexpected ally in Dr. Hansen. In his opinion, Global Climate Change Models are not as accurate as Paleoclimate data. e.g. they failed to predict the recent Arctic sea ice loss. Why? The Earth is too complex a system to anticipate & include all relevant factors. Nevertheless, the predictive abilities of climate  science are pretty good. For example, forecasts of the temporary cooling effect of Mt. Pinatubo’s (Philippines) eruption in 1991 on world climate turned out to be accurate.

Fortunately, Hansen points out, we do not have to guess about these complex factors. We have records of past climate changes in glacial ice cores, as well as mountaintop  and antarctic snow, that we can compare with present and anticipated climate alterations. These findings give scientists a pretty good idea of what conditions to expect in the future, under similar circumstances.

The IPCC comes in for additional criticism from Hansen despite their extensive research and detailed reports.  He believes that they do not give sufficient warning of the dire consequences of GCC.  He says that the IPCC reports minimize the dangers of the likely sea level rise, and that their estimate of the highest level of GW is not high enough. He also faults them for not presenting scenarios and strategies to avert the dangers that would be brought on by continuation of present climate policies.

Hansen points out that one of our biggest problems in convincing people of the reality of GCC is one of perception. The changes brought about by Global Warming so far, are usually much less than the daily fluctuations in weather with which people are familiar.

Global Temperature Index

 

 

 

It is instead the frequency, persistence, and location of these perturbations that will make them so dangerous. Mankind and the rest of life can survive occasional big storms, heat waves, droughts, etc. but, what will happen when they become the norm instead of anomalies?

Among the questions that scientists have not yet been able to solve are the effects of Aerosols (fine particles in the air, e.g. soot) on the climate.  Aerosols cause cooling, and this can at least partially offset effects of Global Warming. The main problem is that we cannot measure future amounts of aerosols in the atmosphere because many of these are man-made and others come from unanticipated natural causes (cf. the eruption of Mount Pinatubo). So, aerosols may be masking Global Warming, but scientists have difficulties in measuring the extent of their effects.

Some engineers have actually advocated deliberately injecting aerosols into the atmosphere to offset effects of climate change. There would be one big difficulty in doing this. Aerosols are health hazards, causing particulate pollution.

Next, Hansen tackles the question of what changes GCC is causing at the present time. He lists a number of those that can readily be measured: (1) Melting of mountain glaciers; (2) Shifting climate zones; (3 Increasing fires & flooding; (4) Loss of Arctic sea ice; (5) Loss of coral reefs (& biodiversity); (6) Shrinking of Greenland & Antarctic ice sheets;  (7) Rising sea level; and (8) Extinctions.

One of the most important things that a scientist can do, to show that his/her studies or theories are correct, is to use them to make accurate predictions. Being able to do so, solidifies the previous findings. Hansen does this, and it is eye opening. Storms was written in 2007, and in it Hansen states that as oceans move into a positive El Nino phase in 2009, expect global temperature increase in the next few years.

March 2012 State Temperatures

2009 turned out to be the 2nd hottest year on record,  2010 was the hottest year on record. (2012 is now on track to surpass both of these years).

Even scientists have feelings, and occasionally they are willing to talk about them. Hansen tells a story of driving to yet another meeting, where he was desperately trying to convince people of the reality and dangers of GCC, when he hit a deer unexpectedly dashing on to the highway. Of course, most people would be upset by such an accident, but Hansen started weeping uncontrollably. He realized only later that he was not only crying for the deer, but for the planet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Global Temperature Change 1881 -2009

There is no question in the minds of scientists what the main factor is that is driving climate change. It is CO2 Emissions. There is a global natural carbon cycle, involving plants and animals. This cycle has now been altered by humans, mostly through burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. Among the worrisome things about this change is that human driven emissions increased from 2003 – 2008 by 3.5%, and an industrially booming China has passed the USA as the chief CO2 emitter.

In another example of a positive or amplifying feedback, Global Warming will increase drought & forest fires in the Amazon Forest and turn it into a large source of CO2 emissions. If we continue our business as usual scenario, this will result in increasing these amplifying feedbacks, and they may spin out of control.

A sobering story that Hansen tells is about a time that he talked on TV with the famed interviewer Larry King.  When he told King that some of the effects of GCC will appear in the next 50 years, King replied that “Nobody cares about 50 years from now.”

King was telling the bitter truth. Humans seem to be programmed by evolution to react to immediate dangers, and ignore future ones. Perhaps this enables us to concentrate our energies and focus on the task at hand. (see Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse) This tendency however, to ignore future dangers is particularly unfortunate with reference to GCC because by the time some of these predictions come true years from now, we will probably have reached the point of no return. We will have no good solution to them.

The IPCC typically presents low and high estimates of their predictions. What will happen to life on earth if temperatures hit the high end of the IPCC’s predictions, around 8° C ?   The last time our planet’s temperature was 2 – 3 ° C  higher than now was the Middle Pliocene, 3 million yrs ago. The sea level was 25 M (80 ft) higher and Florida and many other areas were under water. One billion people now live in those formerly under-water areas. Anyone want to buy some seaside property?

Hansen tells us that paleontologists have identified five time periods in the Earth’s history when mass extinctions took place. The 5th Extinction was called the End Permian Event, and it happened 251 million yrs ago. 90 % of all species became extinct and nearly all life was wiped out. The causes of the Permian Extinction were acidification and warming of the seas, the same processes that are now occurring. The 6th Extinction is now under way. It is man-made, and the current extinction rate is 100X the natural rate.

As Hansen previously stated, one of the best ways of understanding the climate changes awaiting us is to look for and examine the effects of similar events that have already occurred. The Paleo Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) occurred about 56 million yrs. ago, at the boundary of the Paleocene & Eocene epochs. The changes then were comparable to the anticipated ones now, but they took place over millennia, not in less than 100 years. Will we and the rest of life be able to accommodate to such large changes, taking place at least ten times faster? Recovery from PETM took about 100,000 yrs.

         The present manmade emissions of CO2 when compared with similar but natural phenomena – are 10,000X greater.(e.g. a man strolling thru a park at 2 MPH compared with the Space Shuttle leaving Earth at 17,500 MPH). Also, humans are simultaneously stressing the planet in other ways – overharvesting of fisheries, deforestation, taking over much of the planet for our livestock (Stephen Augustine, Spokesman for Sandpoint Vegetarians, informed me that we and our animals and plants now occupy 95 % of the arable land on earth!). Our population is continuing to increase.

Doctor Hansen, along with author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, head of 350.org, have said that we should have a ceiling of 350 parts/million (PPM) for CO2 emissions. Why should the target be 350 PPM when CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere is already high?

The reasons Hansen gives are compelling. Climate change events are already exceeding safe levels and we may not be able to role back or even stabilize these levels. For one thing, Arctic sea ice is already declining at a rate beyond scientists’ expectations.  He also points out that most mountain glaciers will disappear within the next 50 yrs, and as previously stated, these glaciers are a source of water for millions of people. Furthermore, the Greenland & West Antarctic ice sheets are now losing 100 cubic Kms per year.

(Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of this loss, it is 5X the volume of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, and we do not know how to reduce or stop it,  Two pieces of the Greenland Glacier, one the size of Manhattan Island and the other twice that size, have broken off within the last few months).

Ice Island Breaks Away

         The bad news continues. Subtropical regions are now expanding northward at a rate of 4 degrees of latitude/yr. (that is 280 miles), changing the ecosystems (cf. the spread of Nile virus into Idaho, an unprecedented northward sweep of a hitherto tropical disease). Dry regions are expanding in the southern US, Australia, and the Mediterranean region. Fire frequency and area in the southwestern US have expanded 300% in the past several decades.

Colorado Springs Wildfires

 

 

 

350 homes were destroyed in Colorado Springs a month ago and many parts of Texas are burning up as I am writing this in the summer of 2012. Lakes Powell & Meade are inexorably shrinking (they are now half full). Where will drinking and irrigation water for large parts of the Southwest and Southern California come from in the near future? Dr. Hansen has recently published a paperthat directly attributes the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010, and the European heat wave of 2003 to GCC. 

The scientific culture is a hypercritical one. Even fledgeling researchers quickly learn that fellow scientists will look for things in their publications that can be challenged. One of the more consistent criticisms of climate science publications has been that no single catastrophic event can be attributed to GCC because such events have also occurred at other times and places. For example hurricanes as powerful as Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, have occurred previously. Therefore climatologists look for trends and repetition of these events. For example, an increase in atmospheric CO2 in a single year or in one month’s temperature would not be considered significant. However Hansen, and other climate scientists have reported such alarming trends as consistent yearly increases in CO2 and month after month and year after year of record high temperatures. Such evidence is extremely impressive. To ignore its implications would fly in the face of critical thinking and common sense.

Coral reefs are being highly stressed. They contain a majority of marine organisms and are a major source of our planet’s biodiversity. This stress is caused by ocean warming and acidification, both due to increased CO2 concentrations in the water.

Hansen puts special stress on the melting of Arctic ice. The bottom fell out in 2007. As stated previously, the ice is melting much faster than climate models predicted. It is now at the point that models predicted for 2050, 38 years sooner than expected. There are two factors at work here: (a) the processes themselves, and; (b) the rates at which the processes occur. We know what is happening with great certainty but when they will occur depends on future events, which cannot always be known until they happen e.g. CO2 amounts that we put into the atmosphere.

Back on the human side of all this bad news, Hansen tells of his many frustrating encounters with US government agencies and highly placed individuals, like Vice President Cheney. He accuses these officials of trying to cover up their unwillingness to do much about climate change, and still claiming that they are in favor of limiting CO2 emissions. He calls this tactic “Greenwash” ( a form of “hogwash”?), and gives various examples of it:

  1. Allowing construction of new coal-fired power plants
  2. Allowing construction of coal to oil conversion plants.
  3. Allowing production and use of unconventional fuels, like tar sands.
  4. Leasing public lands and remote areas for oil and gas exploration
  5. Allowing Hydraulic Fracturing.
  6. Allowing Mountain Top Removal and Long Wall Coal Mining.
  7. To this list, I would add the possible approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Port Arthur and Houston, Texas, a decision that would come up in early 2013. ( By the way, if these tar sands were destined for domestic consumption as claimed, why not terminate the pipeline in Oklahoma (cf.), where there is plenty of oil refining capacity. In reality, this fuel is destined for overseas markets, thus fattening the pocketbooks of energy companies, but doing little or nothing  to make the US  energy self-sufficient). The key to this decision is the question as to whether the State Department will consider the effects of GCC in their evaluation. Duh!

Next, Hansen tackles the question of how can fossil fuels be reduced and phased out.  He believes that there are two efficient tools for accomplishing this crucial task. One, would be the use of energy efficiencies, prodded by increasing taxes on fossil fuels. The second is through the use of renewable energies with the use of tax incentives and requiring utilities to use renewable energy.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to reducing CO2 emissions is the increasing industrialization of the two most populous countries in the world, China and India. Yet, Hansen sees a ray of hope in this part of the world because both these countries would suffer from Global Climate Change:

  1. There would be over 100 million Bangladeshi refugees because their homelands would be under water. And, where would these refugees go, if not to India?
  2. In addition, 100 million Indians themselves live near the sea, and would be subject to storms and floods.
  3. Finally, three million Chinese live within the 25 M zone (c f.), and would also be flooded out.

Next, Hansen tackles some of what he considers bogus ideas that governments and environmental organizations have suggested for slowing down or alleviating GCC One is carbon capture at coal power plants. He states that doing this would increase costs 25%. It would cost trillions of dollars to retrofit Indian and Chinese plants. He states bluntly that this will never happen, and I believe him.

Another panacea proffered is  so-called carbon offsets, such as planting trees.  Hansen compares offsets to Medieval Indulgences, in that they allow polluters to continue to pollute. This is of course reminiscent of the problems inherent in Cap and Trade, which were discussed earlier in the book. His conclusion is that there is no free lunch. If we are going to stop or even slow down GCC, we cannot allow more CO2 to enter our atmosphere.

Winding up his evaluation of suggested methods for combating CO2 emissions, Hansen again compares Cap and Trade with Fee and Dividend: In Cap and Trade, a ceiling would be placed on the annual emission of CO2 in various industries, which would decrease in future years. Any company that was able to operate below its assigned emissions, could sell the rights to the unused emissions to another company. In Fee and Dividend, all CO2 emitting entities would be charged a fee for doing so, and the fee would be reimbursed to the citizens on an equal basis, perhaps as a tax reduction, to be used as the citizen wishes.

Hansen says that Cap and Trade would be a disaster for the planet because it is extremely complex, can be manipulated to keep pollution high, allows Congress to do whatever it wants with the money, and enables Wall Street to speculate with it, making a great deal of money for them with little effect on CO2 emissions.

On the other hand, Fee and Dividend is straight forward, does not allow the government to play with the money, and puts it right back in the citizen’s hands to do with as they please. They can use it to reduce their energy costs or to take a vacation in Tahiti. It is their money and their choice. He believes that it will definitely reduce CO2 emissions.

In 2008, British Columbia adopted a Fee and Dividend plan, using a carbon tax and pairing it with an equal reduction in payroll taxes. Five months later, it was in place and working. The effect has been a 4.5 % reduction of CO2 emissions in B.C. 

Hansen ends with the following conclusions:  (1) Government agencies accept as a god-given fact that we will burn all fossil fuels; (2) The biggest problem for democracy and the safety of our planet is the role of lobbies and flood of corporate money and influence on government; (3) Our culture has notions that humans are godlike & can produce miracles I call this belief technophilia. It is the contemporary version of a belief in miracles, which I referred to in the first paragraph of this Summary.

Hansen concludes his assessment by saying that if we destroy our planet, we destroy ourselves. What should we do? Keep atmospheric CO2 below 350 PPM. For a brighter future, we must move beyond fossil fuels and energy, and reduce human population.

Hansen’s final recommendations are (i.e. showing the radicalization of a scientist):

1. We must draw a line in the sand – no new coal plants.

2. “I am now studying Gandhi’s concepts of civil resistance.”

 

Some questions for the reader to consider:

• Do scientists have an obligation to become politically involved?

• Does Obama support control of Climate Change?

• What actions should we take? Change light bulbs or adopt civil disobedience?

• What do you think we should do about Climate Change contrarians & deniers? Hint: Iran just sentenced to death three bank officers involved in a two billion dollar fraud scheme. Perhaps Iran is not all bad. Think of what a salutary effect a similar policy on the part of this country would have on Wall Street attitudes .

 

 What would you ask Obama to do?

         •Disapprove the XL Pipeline?

         •Freeze coal extraction?

         •No new coal plants?

         •Reinstall Carter’s solar panels?

 

       I personally like the idea of Obama asking the National Academy of Sciences for a report on what our present climate change policies are doing, and what government policies on climate change should be in the future. This might create a ground swell for changing those present government policies.

Should environmentalists support Permitting of 4th Generation (or Fast-Reactor) Nuclear Plants? Just what is a 4th generation nuclear plant? I recently listened to a full hour discussion on NPR by nuclear experts about how to make nuclear power plants safer, and this topic was never mentioned. Is it merely a pipe dream?

         We have had: Three-Mile Island, Chernoble, and now, after the publication of Hansen’s book, Fukushima. Would Hansen still champion Phase IV Nuclear Fission plants? Did he convince you?

How would you respond to a person who says that he just had the coldest winter in many years in his town and therefore Global Warming is bunk?

As I am writing this post and trying to finish it, new reports on recent dire effects of GCC seem to be coming in daily. The latest one pinpoints July 2012 as the hottest month in the US since they started keeping such records 117 years ago. Is anybody out there listening?

Summary of Intergovernmental Panel Report On Climate Change

 

 

 

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE CRISIS WE FACE

or

 THE LITTLE MEN IN WHITE COATS ARE HERE AGAIN

 

By Ken Fischman, Ph.D.

            Some of you are old enough to remember those 1950s science fiction movies. You know, the ones that begin with astronomers finding a giant asteroid, heading straight for the Earth, sure to blow us to smithereens.

A crisis meeting is called of all the earth’s leaders, at which anxious little men in white coats lay out the Doomsday scenario. They warn us that if we do not come together and take emergency steps, our planet will surely be destroyed.

Of course, after a lot of bickering, our leaders do come to their senses. We all cooperate in a sort of Manhattan Project. Mankind’s ingenuity finds a way to destroy the intruding asteroid, and our annihilation is avoided. Whew! Close call!

Well, I kind of felt like those theater audiences when I first read the 1oo page Summary of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – that’s a mouthful) 2007 4th Assessment on Climate Change.

I read and reread it. I went back to the voluminous original Report and read that. You may well wonder why I went to so much trouble. Well, you see, I was sure that I had misread or misinterpreted the Report.  Perhaps I had misplaced some decimal points or made mistakes in transposing from degrees Centigrade (which all scientists use) to Fahrenheit (which almost all Americans use) and/or from Meters to Feet (ditto).

Alas, I could not find any big errors. In thirty years as a scientific researcher I had never read a document as sobering as this one.  The little men in white coats were standing there again, telling us that we are doomed unless we take immediate, concerted action.

However, this is not a movie, not even a Grade B one. This is real life, and not enough people are listening. In fact, many people, mostly Americans, are desperately trying to ignore this danger. An entire multibillion-dollar industry of Climate Denial has sprouted, fueled by deep-pocketed energy corporations, who have much to lose if we slow CO2 emissions, and supported by people who do not want to face having to change their life styles.

In the ensuing four years since this report came out, the news has only gotten worse and the deniers more stubborn in their desperate need to ignore reality.

Next year another IPCC Report is due. I can tell you now, based on many publications I have read in the interim, that the news will be worse, showing that many of the predicted changes have already begun, and are proceeding at a rate faster than anticipated by our scientists.

Our leading climate scientist, James Hansen has written an eye opening book, summarized elsewhere on this web site, explaining the physics, biology, and politics of Climate Change.

CO2 emissions are continuing to climb, ice sheets are breaking off, methane is escaping from melting permafrost, heat wave records are tumbling all over the earth, our forests and plains are burning, and droughts are getting worse and more widespread. Did I leave anything out?  Sure I did, out of a concern not to overwhelm you – too much.

Are there any adults out there, who learned from their parents and elders that the only way to overcome adversity is to face it and surmount it? If you are among these few grownups, I urge you to read my ten-page summary of the last IPCC Assessment, and then if the spirit moves you and if you care about what happens to your children and grandchildren, take action. What will happen will not be pretty unless we get our act together fast. The sands of time are running out. A good place to start would be the 350.org website.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

INTERGOVERNMENT PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE – 4th ASSESSMENT

         SYNTHESIS REPORT – November 16, 2007

[Summary by K. Fischman, Ph.D., Jan 21. 2008)]

(For treatment of Uncertainty & other notes, see Addendum on last page)

A. Observed Changes:

1.  Warming of climate – unequivocal – now seen in increase of air & ocean temperatures, melting of snow & ice, sea level rise.

2.  Northern Hemisphere temperatures – very likely higher than in last 500 yrs., & likely higher than in past 1,300 yrs.

3.  Many natural systems are being affected, particularly by temperature increases.

4.  Changes in Arctic & Antarctic systems – high confidence.

5.  Increased runoff & earlier Spring runoff – high confidence.

6.  Timing of Spring events is changing, & there is poleward & higher elevation shift in Plant & Animal ranges – very high confidence.

B.  Causes of Changes:

1.  Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are due to human activities, & have increased since pre-industrial times. They have increased 70% since 1970.

2.  Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide ( CO2 ), methane ( CH4), & nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased markedly since 1750 as a result of  human activities.  They far exceed pre-industrial values & earlier ones. This was determined by analysis of ice cores, spanning 650,000 yrs.  The increase is primarily caused by fossil fuel use.

(a) CH4 has increased through agriculture & fossil fuel use.

(b) N2O has increased through agriculture.

3.  Increase in global temperature – very likely caused by anthropogenic (human-caused) activities (otherwise, solar & volcanic activities would actually have cooled the planet over the past 50 yrs.)

4.  Discernable human activities have resulted in other climate changes.

(a) Sea level rise – very likely.

(b) Wind patterns, storm tracks, hot nights & days, heat waves, droughts, & heavy precipitation.

5.  Significant warming has been global  (It is very unlikely that it is caused by natural variability).

C.  Projected Climate Change & its Impacts:

1.  There is high agreement & much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies, Global GHG emissions will continue to increase over the next few decades.                           

2.  Predicted global GHG emissions will grow by 25 -90% CO2-eq (CO2 equivalents) between  2000 – 2030 (23 yrs from now).

3.  Climate changes in the 21st century (next 93 yrs.) are very likely to be larger than during the 20th century.

4.  Global temperature will increase 0.8°F in the next 2 decades [almost a  1°F increase!].

D.  Scenarios for GHG Emissions from 2000 – 2100 (in absence of enactment of climate policies)

1. Projected increased global surface warming & sea level rise in next 100 yrs:

(a) Best case –  3.8 °F increase & 6.9 – 14.6 ft. rise.

(b) Worst case –   5.9 °F increase & 10.0 – 22.ft. rise

[this does not include the full effects of Greenland & Antarctic ice sheet flow, which has increased dramatically in the last 4 yrs.)

(c) Worst case 13.6 °F (highest possible temperature)

[Would such a temperature be incompatible with most life?]

E.  Regional Scale Changes:

1.  Warming will be greatest over land & at most northern latitudes.  This will result in contraction of snow cover, increase in thaw depth, & decrease in sea ice (It could disappear entirely in late summer).

2.  There will be hot extremes, e.g. heat waves , heavy precipitation – very likely.

3.  Tropical cyclone (Hurricane) intensity will increase.  (There is less confidence that the #s of such events will increase).

4.  There will be a poleward shift of extra-tropical storm tracks, with changes in wind, precipitation, & temperature patterns.

5.  Precipitation:

(a) increase in high northern latitudes –  very likely

(b) decrease in most subtropical lands  –  likely

6.  River runoff & water availability will increase in the higher latitudes, & will decrease in some dry regions of mid-latitudes & tropics.  Many semiarid regions (e.g. Mediterranean, Western USA, southern Africa, & NE Brazil) will suffer decreases in water resources – high confidence.

F.  Timing & Magnitude of Impacts (as well as amounts & rates of climate change):

1. (a) 30 % of species are at risk of extinction         (best case)

(b) Significant worldwide extinctions (worst case)

2. Many other serious consequences associated with global temperature change –  e.g.

•  cereal productivity in low latitudes will decrease.

•  coastal flooding

•  malnutrition

(high confidence for all of these)

G.  Projected Regional Impacts (with very high confidence or high confidence):

1.  Africa – 50 % decrease in rain-fed agriculture, & 5 – 8% increase of arid land.

2.  Asia – decrease in freshwater availability, & flooding in mega delta regions. [e.g. Bangladesh]

3.  Australia – significant biodiversity loss in the Great Barrier Reef & the Queensland Wet Tropics. Sea level rise will exacerbate the effects of coastal development & population growth. Agriculture & forestry are expected to decline.

4.  Europe – increased risk of flash floods, coastal flooding, & erosion.  Mountains – extensive species losses (up to 60%), glacier retreat, & reduced snow cover (Winter tourism will decrease).  South Europe – is expected to experience high temperatures, drought, & decrease in crop production, as well as heat waves & wildfires.

5.  Latin America – replacement of: tropical forest by savanna in eastern Amazonia, & semiarid vegetation by arid-land vegetation.  There is risk of significant biodiversity loss & species extinction. Crops & livestock are projected to decrease in productivity, hunger increase, & water availability decrease.

6.  North America – Western mountain regions expected to experience decrease in snow pack, increase in winter flooding, & reduced summer flows. Rain-fed yields in agriculture will increase 5 – 20%.  Cities in some areas would have increases in #, intensity, & duration of heat waves..  Coastal communities & habitats would be stressed.

7.  Polar Regions – Glaciers, ice sheets, & sea ice will decrease in thickness & extent. Detrimental stresses on migratory birds, mammals, & predators.  Detrimental impacts on traditional indigenous life. Decrease in climate barriers, resulting in increase of invasive species.

8.  Small Islands – Their existence threatened by: inundation, storm surge, & erosion. Coral bleaching. Water resources decrease, & invasion of non- native species increase.

H.  Likely Effected By Climate Change:

1.  Ecosystems

(a) Tundra, boreal forests, & mountains.

(b) Mediterranean region – rainfall decrease, resulting in decrease of tropical rain forests.

(c) Coastal regions – Mangroves & salt marshes impacted.

(d) Coral Reefs – at high risk.

2.  Water resources – dry regions in mid-latitudes, dry tropics, & areas that are dependant on snow & ice melt.

3.  Low-latitude agriculture – decrease in water availability.

4.  Low-lying coastal regions impacted by rise in sea level & extreme weather.

5.  Human health – populations with low adaptive capacity impacted.

6.  Regions:

(a) Arctic – projected high rates of warming.

(b) Africa – low adaptive capacity.

(c) Small islands – sea rise & warming.

(d) Asian & African mega delta regions – sea levels, storm surges, & river flooding [what will happen to New Orleans, Miami, etc. in North America?]

I.  Ocean Acidification:

1. Anthropogenic CO2 uptake – since 1750 [start of industrial age] has led to oceans becoming more acidic.

2. Projections – Decrease in global ocean pH of between 0.14 – 0.35 by the 21st century. [This is a large change because pH is a log, not an arithmetic function]

3. Already observed – Damage to marine, shell-forming organisms, including coral.

J.  Frequencies & Intensities of Extreme Weather & Sea Level [Rise] Projected to Increase:

1.  Temperature rise is virtually certain:

(a) Agriculture – Increased yields in colder environments, decreased yields in warmer ones, & insect outbreaks.

(b) Water sources – detrimental to those regions which rely on snow melt for water supply.

(c) Reduced human mortality due to decreased cold exposure.

(d) Reduced demand for heating, but increased demand for cooling. Decrease in air quality in cities, but reduced disruption of traffic in the winter.

2.  Very Likely Outcomes:

(a) Warm spells & heat waves.

(b) Reduced agricultural yield in warmer regions, & increase in wildfires.

(c) Water quality – water demands increase, & quality decreases, more algal blooms.

(d) Heat-related mortality –especially in the young, aged, chronically sick, & the socially isolated.

(e) Quality of life –decrease in warm regions, especially among the very elderly, very young, & the poor.

3.  Very Likely Outcomes – In areas where heavy precipitation occurs, results in:

(a) Agriculture – crop damage, soil erosion, & water logging of soils.

(b) Water resources – contamination, but water scarcity may be relieved.

(c) Human health – deaths, injuries, & diseases increase.

(d) Society – Disruption of settlements, commerce, infrastructure, & loss of property.

4. Drought increases:

(a) Agriculture – degradation, decreased yields, livestock deaths, & increased wildfires.

(b) Water – stress.

(c) Health – Food & water shortages, also water – & food-borne diseases.

(d) Society – Reduced hydroelectric power & increased population migrations.

5. Tropical Cyclone Activity Increases:

(a) Agriculture – crop & coral reef damage

(b) Water – power outages, causing public water supply disruption.

(c) Health – deaths, injuries, disease, & post-traumatic stress disorder.

(d) Society – more pressure for population migrations.

6. High sea level:

(a) Agriculture – damaged by salinization.

(b) Decreased fresh water availability.

(c) Health – deaths & injuries increase.

(d) Social – infrastructure damage & increased pressure for population migration & infrastructure relocation.

K. Anthropogenic (human-caused) warming & sea level rise would continue for centuries, even if GHG concentrations were to be stabilized.

L. Consequences of multi-century warming:

1. Contraction of the Greenland Ice Sheet, & perhaps its total elimination, is projected to result in a sea rise of 7 Meters (22+ ft.) within several thousand yrs.

M. Anthropogenic warming:

1. It could lead to abrupt & irreversible impacts, depending on the rate & magnitude of climate change:

(a) There could be meters of sea level rise, major changes in coastlines, & inundations of low-lying areas, such as deltas & islands, over several thousand years.

(b) However, more rapid changes in sea levels within the time frame of centuries cannot be excluded.

2. Extinctions (medium confidence):

(a) If warming exceeds 2.7 – 4.5 °F, 30% of species are likely to  be at risk of extinction.

(b) If warming exceeds 6.3 °F, projections suggest there would be a significant # of extinctions (40 – 70% of species around the globe).

3. Meridianal Overturning Circulation (MOC) – (This is density-driven global circulation of oceans). It is very unlikely to undergo a large, abrupt transition during the 21st century.  However, changes in it will likely have long-term effects on marine ecosystem productivity, fisheries, & oceanic oxygen concentrations.

4. Oceanic Uptake of CO2 – This would lower the pH, & in turn, it may feedback on the climate system.

N. Adaptation & Mitigation Options:

1. More extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change.

2. There is high confidence that there are viable adaptation options.

3. Adaptive capacity is connected to social & economic development, but is currently unevenly distributed.

4. There is high agreement & much evidence of substantial economic potential [benefit] for mitigation of GHG emissions.  This could offset projected emissions or [even] reduce emissions below current levels.

N(1). Examples of planned adaptation:

1. Water

(a) Rainwater harvesting & water storage.

(b) Adjustment of planting dates, change in crop variety, crop relocation, & tree planting.

2. Protection [& strengthening] of existing natural barriers [e.g. New Orleans marshlands].

3. Shifting ski slopes to higher elevations.

4. Redesign & relocation of rails, roads, & other infrastructure, & change of emphasis [toward more efficient transportation].

5. Increase in energy efficiency & switching to renewable sources, thus reducing our dependency on a single source.

6. Examples of planned mitigation:

(a) CO2 capture & storage (sequestration).

(b) Reduction of fossil fuel subsidies.

(c) Subsidies for renewable energy.

(d) Production & increasing use of fuel-efficient vehicles, mandatory fuel economy.

(e) Reduction in CO2 & N2O emissions.

(f) Reducing deforestation

(g) Use of forestry products for bioenergy [renewable].

O. Future Energy Infrastructure – The cost expected to exceed 20 trillion US dollars, between 2005 – 2030 [25 yrs.].

P. There are a wide variety of policies & instruments available to create incentives for mitigation activities.

Q. There is high agreement & much evidence that there are near-term co-benefits to offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.

R. There is high agreement & medium evidence that lifestyle & behavioral changes can contribute to climate mitigation.

S. There is high agreement & much evidence that international cooperation can reduce GHG emissions, e.g. Carbon markets.

T. It is very likely that climate change can slow progress toward sustainable development.

U. Science can provide criteria to judge ”dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

V. There are 5 reasons for concern.  These risks are identified with higher confidence than in the previous TAR (Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, 2001):

1. There are threats to unique & vulnerable systems. e.g. polar, mountains, & coral reefs.

2. There are risks of extreme weather. e.g. droughts, heat waves, & floods.

3. Distribution of impacts & vulnerabilities –uneven. e.g. poor, elderly, low latitude, less developed, dry areas, mega deltas.

4. Aggregate impacts – e.g. net costs are projected to increase with amount of warming & time.

5. Risks of large-scale singularities:

e.g. There is high confidence that sea level rise would be much greater than in the 20th century, due largely to the contributions of the Greenland & Antarctic ice sheets, & that this could occur in century time scales.

(Recent observations, not accounted for in this report, could raise the rate of ice loss).

W. There is high confidence that neither adaptation nor mitigation can avoid all climate change impacts, but they can significantly reduce them.

X. If climate change is not mitigated, it is likely to exceed the capacity of natural & human-managed systems to adapt to it.

Y. Many impacts can be reduced, delayed, or avoided by mitigation over the next 2 – 3 decades to achieve lower stabilization levels.

Z. Delayed GHG emission reductions significantly constrain opportunities to achieve lower stabilization levels, & increase the risk of more severe climate change impacts.

AA. In order to achieve the lowest mitigation scenario, emissions would need to peak no later than 2015 (7 yrs from now).

BB. Sea level rise, caused by warming, is inevitable:

(1) Even if GHGs were stabilized, thermal expansion (of oceans) would continue for several hundred yrs., causing an eventual sea level rise of several meters.  This would be much greater than projected for the 21st century.

(2) The Greenland Ice Sheet could contribute several meters more to sea rise in addition to that produced by thermal expansion.  This would occur if temperatures > 3.4 – 8.3 °F above the pre-industrial level are sustained over several centuries.

(3) Stabilization of GHG concentrations at, or above present levels would not stabilize sea levels for many centuries.

CC. Stabilization Scenarios & Their Effects On Temperature & Sea Level (Table SPM.6)

                       Effects_______________

Scenario                  CO2 eq.(ppm)                  Temperature(°F)                  Sea Level(ft.)

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

Best (I)                  350 – 400                                 3.6 – 4.3                          1.3 – 4.5

Worst (VI)           660 – 790                                 8.8 – 11.0                       1.8 – 11.8

(double pres. level)

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

• The table above shows effects from thermal expansion only. It does not take into account the additional contributions of ice sheets, glaciers, & ice caps to sea level & temperature. [It appears that temperatures in the Worst Case scenario could result in extinction of much life on Earth]

DD. There is high agreement & much evidence that emission stabilization levels can be achieved by deployment of technologies that are currently or soon to be available.

EE. Cost of Climate Change:

1. The impacts of climate change will very likely increase costs over time as the temperature rises.

2. There will be significant differences in costs among regions, populations, & sectors.  Estimates of damage are very likely underestimates, due to inability to measure all of them. [e.g. social costs]

ADDENDUM

TREATMENT OF UNCERTAINTY:

Qualitative: (theory, observation, models)

1. high agreement, much evidence

2. high agreement, medium evidence

3. medium agreement, medium evidence

Quantitative: (expert judgment, statistics, probability of occurrence).

1. very high confidence (9 out of 10)

2. high confidence (8 out of 10)

3. medium confidence (5 out of 10)

Specific Outcomes: (expert judgment, statistics)

1. virtually certain (> 99%)

2. extremely likely (> 95%)

3. very likely (> 90%)

4. likely ( > 66%)

5. unlikely (< 33%)

6. very unlikely (< 10%)

7. extremely unlikely (< 5%)

8. exceptionally unlikely (< 1%)

 

Notes:      1. Treatment of uncertainty is highlighted in red

2. K. F.’s emphasis is indicated by bolding

3. Opinion is enclosed in square brackets [  ]

4. Numerical ranges are also in square brackets e.g. [1.8 – 6.3]

They indicate 90% uncertainty intervals:

(1) 5% likelihood – above range in brackets

(2) 5% likelihood – below range in brackets

Original Documents:

1. IPCC 4th Assessment Report – Summary for Policy Makers

http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-syr.htm