Saturday, March 18, 2006

Climate Change Heats Up Again

An excellent Talk of the Town comment in The New Yorker, March 20, 2006, titled “Chilling,” discusses the findings of climate scientists showing more and more conclusive evidence of global warming. Scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder, using data from a joint satellite launch by NASA and the German aerospace agency with the acronym GRACE found that global warming is resulting in far greater melting of antarctic ice than previously believed. That means rising ocean levels. There are also studies from NASA’s Goddard Institute looking at glacier flow in Greenland – more fresh water is melting from ice into the ocean.

Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the New Yorker piece puts those studies together with statements from the EPA, the Wall Street Journal and National Review for a really frightening pastiche: utter disregard of the danger.

The new argument making the rounds of conservative thank tanks, like the National Center for Policy Analysis, and circulating through assorted sympathetic publications goes
something like this: Yes, the planet may be warming up, but no one can be sure of why, and in any case, it doesn’t matter – let’s stop quibbling about the causes of climate change and concentrate on dealing with the consequences. A recent column in the Wall Street Journal laid out the logic as follows: ‘The problems associated with climate change (whether man-made or natural) are the same old problems of poverty, disease, and natural hazards like floods, storms, and droughts.’ Therefore ‘money spent directly on these problems is a much surer bet than money spent trying to control a climate change process that we don’t understand.’ ... The beauty of this argument is its apparent high-mindedness, and this, of course is also its danger. Carbon dioxide is a persistent gas – it lasts for about a century – and once released into the atmosphere it is, for all practical purposes, irrecoverable.”
She goes on to compare trying to deal with climate change without putting an end to increasing releases of carbon dioxide, to treating diabetes with doughnuts. Here are some direct links and snippets to underline her comment.

Dept. of State

Washington -- In the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of the massive ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica, NASA scientists confirm that climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in Earth's largest storehouses of ice and snow.

Other recent studies have shown increasing losses of ice in parts of these sheets, according to a March 8 NASA press release.

But the new survey is the first to inventory the losses of ice and the addition of new snow on both continents in a consistent and comprehensive way throughout an entire decade.

"If the trends we're seeing continue and climate warming continues as predicted, the polar ice sheets could change dramatically," said survey lead author Jay Zwally of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

"The Greenland ice sheet could be facing an irreversible decline by the end of the century,” he added.

The survey showed a net loss of ice from the combined polar ice sheets between 1992 and 2002 and a corresponding rise in sea level. It also documented for the first time extensive thinning of the West Antarctic ice shelves, an increase in snowfall in the interior of Greenland and thinning at the edges.

All are signs of the warming climate predicted by computer models.

The survey combined new satellite mapping of the height of the ice sheets from two European Space Agency satellites. It also used previous NASA airborne mapping of the edges of the Greenland ice sheets to determine how fast the thickness is changing.

The survey pinpointed where the ice sheets were thinning and where they were growing.

In Greenland, the survey saw large ice losses along the southeastern coast and a large increase in ice thickness at higher elevations in the interior due to relatively high rates of snowfall.


In February, NASA scientists reported a speedup of ice flow into the sea from several Greenland glaciers. That study included observations through 2005; Zwally's survey concluded with 2002 data.

"The melting of ice at the edges of the ice sheet is also increasing, which causes the ice to flow faster," Zwally said.

"A race is going on in Greenland between these competing forces of snow buildup in the interior and ice loss on the edges,” he added, but scientists don’t know how long the forces might be in balance, or if the balance has already tipped.

The situation was very different in Antarctica.(snip) ...



Erica Hupp/Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
(202) 358-1237/1726

Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
(818) 354-0474

March 2, 2006
RELEASE: 06-085

NASA Mission Detects Significant Antarctic Ice Mass Loss

Scientists were able to conduct the first-ever gravity survey of the entire Antarctic ice sheet using data from the joint NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). This comprehensive study found the ice sheet's mass has decreased significantly from 2002 to 2005.

Isabella Velicogna and John Wahr, both from the University of Colorado, Boulder, conducted the study. They demonstrated for the first time that Antarctica's ice sheet lost a significant amount of mass since the launch of GRACE in 2002. The estimated mass loss was enough to raise global sea level about 1.2 millimeters (0.05 inches) during the survey period; about 13 percent of the overall observed sea level rise for the same period. The researchers found Antarctica's ice sheet decreased by 152 (plus or minus 80) cubic kilometers of ice annually between April 2002 and August 2005.

That is about how much water the United States consumes in three months (a cubic kilometer is one trillion liters; approximately 264 billion gallons of water). This represents a change of about 0.4 millimeters (.016 inches) per year to global sea level rise. Most of the mass loss came from the West Antarctic ice sheet.

I think that's pretty worrisome data. But here are some nice bits from the current web pages of the EPA, your government agency in charge of Environmental Protection. There are undoubtedly serious scientists still there, working doggedly through administration after administration -- you have only to look at the case of Dr. Hansen, at the Goddard Institute. These are career agency employees who are there because they care about the issues and the science. But the folks who set the policy are appointed by the current administration, and that changes when elections sweep in a new set of politicians. Though I have to say that Clinton was not actually signing us on for the Kyoto Accords, either. Take a look at what the EPA tells concerned citizens about the issues of Global Warming and what the government is doing:


Today, action is occurring at every level to reduce, to avoid, and to better understand the risks associated with climate change. Many cities and states across the country have prepared greenhouse gas inventories; and many are actively pursuing programs and policies that will result in greenhouse gas emission reductions.

At the national level, the U.S. Global Change Research Program Exit EPA coordinates the world's most extensive research effort on climate change. In addition, EPA and other federal agencies are actively engaging the private sector, states, and localities in partnerships based on a win-win philosophy and aimed at addressing the challenge of global warming while, at the same time, strengthening the economy. For more information, see the US Climate Action Report (U.S. Department of State, May 2002).

At the global level, countries around the world have expressed a firm commitment to
strengthening international responses to the risks of climate change. The U.S. is working to strengthen international action and broaden participation under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Exit EPA

Did you understand any of that to mean that the government is actually taking action to require auto makers to raise their gas mileage or reduce emissions? Did you hear anything about smokestack scrubbers or reducing the pollution of utility production? Me neither. Try this explanation of how serious global warming might be:


Rising global temperatures are expected to raise sea level, and change precipitation and other local climate conditions. Changing regional climate could alter forests, crop yields, and water supplies. It could also affect human health, animals, and many types of ecosystems. Deserts may expand into existing rangelands, and features of some of our National Parks may be permanently altered.

Most of the United States is expected to warm, although sulfates may limit warming in some areas. Scientists currently are unable to determine which parts of the United States will become wetter or drier, but there is likely to be an overall trend toward increased precipitation and evaporation, more intense rainstorms, and drier soils.

Unfortunately, many of the potentially most important impacts depend upon whether rainfall increases or decreases, which can not be reliably projected for specific areas.

Gee, I didn't see anything about more hurricanes or losing cities under water or lots of other things I am worried about. This is a CNN snip from back in 2001, when President George W. Bush announced that the U.S. would NOT join into the Kyoto Accords:


"In terms of the effectiveness of the Kyoto protocol, the U.S. participation is crucial."
-- Yasuko Ishii,
Japanese environment ministry (more)

"We'll be working with our allies to reduce greenhouse gases. But I will not accept a plan that will
harm our economy and hurt American workers."
-- U.S. President George W. Bush

President Bush has re-entered the global warming debate by unveiling his alternative to the 1997 Kyoto agreement on global warming. His plan offers incentives to businesses to voluntarily reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 4.5 percent over 10 years and to reduce power plant emissions.

Bush's plan is dramatically lower than the estimated 33 percent mandatory reduction sought by the Kyoto agreement for the United States, the world's largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

Asian and European nations have strongly criticized Bush's decision in 2001 to abandon the Kyoto treaty, which commits 37 industrialized nations to cut gas emissions. Bush has criticized the treaty, saying it set unrealistic goals and could damage the U.S. economy. But other nations worry about scientific concerns that climate change could lead to severe floods and droughts, rising sea levels and an increase in malaria and respiratory disease.

Bush touts alternative plan

Here is an interesting comment by a scientist who urges individual citizents to take the matter into their own hands as far as possible and make up for the "leadership vacuum" as he calls it in the United States on this matter.

Open Democracy

The United States and global warming: a tale of two countries
Alden Meyer
29 - 4 - 2005
The challenge of global climate change forces the world to ask:
what to do about the United States?
Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists says: ignore the Bush administration
and get on with business.

To have a fighting chance to keep global warming within safe levels, industrialised countries must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050 – and we must begin to make those reductions right away. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Europe, Japan, and other industrialised countries have committed to start making modest cuts in their emissions, and have acknowledged the need for much deeper cuts in the years ahead.

In stark contrast, US emissions are projected to increase 14% over the next decade, and the administration of President George W Bush has made it crystal clear that it will not engage in negotiations – or even informal discussions – about mandatory emissions limits.

Don’t miss other articles in openDemocracy’s debate on the politics of climate change

President Bush has proposed no meaningful alternative to Kyoto. His voluntary, business-as-usual approach is heavy on long-term technology research, but ignores the tremendous potential of currently available clean energy technologies to cut global warming pollution right now. His administration has consistently opposed serious policies to accelerate deployment of these technologies, such as the proposal supported by 58 senators – including 10 Republicans – to require electric utilities to increase the share of their electricity generated from renewable energy
resources from the current two percent up to 10% by 2020. And when California responds to the federal leadership vacuum by putting sensible limits on global warming pollution from new vehicles, the Bush administration joins the auto companies in challenging the state’s right to take such action.

Fifty years from now, the Bush presidency will likely be remembered for two things: the war in Iraq, and the utter irresponsibility of the president’s climate policy.

And while 43 senators voted for the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, which would establish mandatory economy-wide emissions caps, 55 senators, including most Republicans, opposed it. One of them, who by luck would have it chairs the Senate’s Environment Committee, called global warming the “greatest hoax every perpetrated on the American people”.

(Snip -- I urge you to read more of his article at this excellent Open Democracy website)

No comments: