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The politics of climate change

Politics cloud the issue of climate change.
Politics cloud the issue of climate change. We have a global economy driven by fossil fuels. Whoever controls the energy controls the power. Some have it and want to keep it. Others lack it but want to grab it.
The first political argument often cited is a flat out denial that our climate is warming. However, the scientific evidence is very clear. There are over a thousand years worth of data in tree rings, sediment cores, ice cores, corals, and historical records. The retreat of glaciers and polar ice during the 20th Century has been quantified, and in the case of glaciers, is visible to the naked eye. Along with lab experiments and 160 years of temperature records, the case for warming is undeniable.
A second political argument recognizes a changing climate, but does not ascribe that change to human causes. The evidence used to deny human implication in climate change is the shifts between 17 major ice ages and warming periods that occurred during the Pleistocene.
In light of that, we discuss natural triggers for changing climate.
Climate can be altered by short and long-term changes in the atmosphere, like volcanoes, global fires releasing greenhouse gasses, or the asteroid that ended the Cretaceous. Every three to seven years there are linked changes in the atmosphere and ocean that cause El Nio events. Every decade or so there is a sunspot cycle and every 75 years or so, there is an effect that modulates those sunspot cycles. The latter can change climate for several hundred years in parts of the earth (but not all of the earth). An example could be the Little Ice Age of Europe between the years 1100 and 1300. Variations in the Earth's orbit around the sun likely caused the recent ice ages of the Pleistocene. Most of these methods increase or decrease energy from the sun to force climate change.
In our present situation, we see temperature increases in the lower level of the atmosphere and cooling in the outer atmosphere. We also see night temperatures proportionately rising more than day temperatures, winter temperatures rising more rapidly than summer temperatures, and a greater increase in temperatures at high latitudes than at the equator. All of those effects are the opposite of what you would expect if our warming was caused by an increase in energy from the sun.
On the other hand, global CO2 records are the highest they have been in 800,000 years of records taken from ice cores. During these years, CO2 varied between 180 and 190 parts per million (ppm) during global cooling periods and between 270 and 290 ppm during the warm periods. As of June 2012, we are at 395.7 ppm. The CO2 numbers have increased steadily since the Industrial Revolution.
Another greenhouse gas associated with human activities is methane. Methane gas has 20 times the heating trapping ability as CO2. The biggest human source of methane is livestock production. However, melting perma frost is also releasing methane that has been locked up frozen for thousands of years. Methane is at the highest level of the last 800,000 years.
Greenhouse gasses hold the heat, and that accounts for the lower level of the atmosphere being warmer than the outer level of atmosphere, night temperatures rising over day temperatures, winter temperatures rising more than summer temperatures, and polar temperatures rising more than equatorial temperatures.
The consequences of climate change on rising sea levels, acidification in the ocean, increasing desertification, and the loss of fresh water have been amply discussed. Much of the time, these effects are discussed as if climate change moves in a steady, linear fashion. Most of nature, however, reacts in a non-linear fashion, largely because of positive feedback. For example, higher global temperatures mean that more tundra permafrost melts, which releases more CO2 and methane.
In turn, those higher greenhouse gas levels further increase temperatures, and that melts even more permafrost. Or, rising temperatures melt ice. Because ice reflects heat whereas darker surfaces, like blue water, hold heat, melting ice raises temperatures and that melts more ice. The key is that not only do temperatures rise, they do so at an accelerating, or non-linear rate. This has been quantified in measuring loss of glaciers, with the glacial decline accelerating over the last few decades.
Furthermore, there is about a 30-year lag between greenhouse-gas emissions and the effects that we see today. Although we presently have CO2 levels of 395.7 ppm, the physical evidence we currently see comes from greenhouse gases around 1980, when levels were about 330 ppm. That makes the belief that we can easily reverse climate change through technology change a fallacy.
Greenhouse gases are a serious threat, but we should consider rising greenhouse gas emissions as a symptom of a larger problem-our cultural belief that human population numbers can keep growing without harm, and that those with the means to do so, can continue profligate consumption as if our resources were unlimited.
Alternative energy is not a cure for that culture. If greenhouse gasses were neutralized today, we would still face a myriad of environmental issues that are potentially catastrophic: desertification, deforestation, erosion of topsoil, dropping aquifer levels, destruction of habitat, pollution of water and air, overfishing in the ocean, growing dead spots in the ocean, salination of soils, and the propensity for humans to unthinkingly displace and destroy life. Any resource that we use faster than it can be made will eventually lead to more problems.
Finite resources, of course eventually run out. And even so called "renewable" resources are unlikely to keep up with human numbers, needs, or whimsical consumption. If sustainable means "without negative impact on the future," then we face many unsustainable problems. So far, we have been able to exhaust one resource and simply move to another. But the Earth is a globe and if we keep gobbling what is in front of us, eventually we will arrive at our own back door.

Dr. Brian Miller is the director of the Wind River Ranch in New Mexico which seeks to study and reestablish keystone species. He received his Ph.D. from the U of Wyoming studying black footed ferrets.

George Wuerthner is the Ecological Projects Director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology and has published 35 books, including soon to be released Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth.

Labor Day 2040: Endless Summer 05.Sep.2012 16:45


Who ever would've guessed that there would be a Labor Day card for global warming? But that is what SomeEcards are for:

But "The Onion" of e-card companies makes a serious point: In the not-too-distant future, people are going to be amazed that anybody ever thought Labor Day signified the unofficial end of summer. As Climate Progress discussed in "Mother Nature is Just Getting Warmed Up" last year:
Stanford climate scientists forecast permanently hotter summers
The tropics and much of the Northern Hemisphere are likely to experience an irreversible rise in summer temperatures within the next 20 to 60 years if atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase, according to a new climate study by Stanford University scientists... .
"According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years," said the study's lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh.
And this could happen even sooner since, "actual GHG emissions over the early 21st century have exceeded those projected in the SRES scenario used here, suggesting that our results could provide a conservative projection of the timing of permanent emergence of an unprecedented heat regime."
Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe has a figure of what staying on the business as usual emissions path (A1FI or 1000 ppm) would mean for the end of this century (derived from the NOAA-led impacts report):

Yes, absent a sharp and deep reduction in national and global emissions, by century's end, Kansas (!) could well be above 100F for three full months. Labor Day will mean a return to those pleasant mid-to-upper 90s!
It truly will be an endless summer over much of Texas and Arizona and the Central Valley of California (see also NASA's Hansen: "If We Stay on With Business as Usual, the Southern U.S. Will Become Almost Uninhabitable").
Not only will it be hot, but if we don't reverse emissions trends ASAP, it will be very, very dry :

The maps use a common measure, the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which assigns positive numbers when conditions are unusually wet for a particular region, and negative numbers when conditions are unusually dry. A reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought. More details on this figure are here.
The PDSI in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here). So the numbers projected by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are catastrophic by the 2060s (see New study puts the 'hell' in Hell and High Water).
The NCAR study warned, "The United States and many other heavily populated countries face a growing threat of severe and prolonged drought in coming decades ... possibly reaching a scale in some regions by the end of the century that has rarely, if ever, been observed in modern times."
This drying creates a vicious circle. The heat dries out the land. Then Dust-Bowlification exacerbates the warming because when large tracts of land are dry, the warming doesn't go into evaporating moisture from the soil, but into heating up land. It bakes. That's why, for instance, the U.S. set so many temperature records in the 1930s Dust Bowl. And it's why in July 2011, drought-stricken Oklahoma saw the highest average temperature of any state in the continental United States for any month since statewide average temperature records began in 1895.
It'll be a hellish summer for much of the West by mid-century see Climate change expected to sharply increase Western wildfire burn area as much as 175% by the 2050.
Here's the grim wildfire projection from a presentation made by the President's science adviser Dr. John Holdren in Oslo in 2010:

If you're wondering what the worst-case might look like, then the UK Met Office has what you are looking for: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18F over most of U.S. and 27F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but "we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon."
This is the "plausible worst case scenario" for around 2060 from the Met Office that occurs in 10% of model runs of high emissions with the carbon cycle feedbacks [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:

Now that is an endless global summer.
Note: While that is the plausible worst-case scenario for 2060, it is in fact just business as usual for 2100!

Read article with graphs here:

Paraphrased from a Jensen book 06.Sep.2012 07:11


Forests proceed us and deserts dog our heals.