Posted 9 months ago on Dec. 26, 2013, 4:54 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Climate Change 2013: Where We Are Now - Not What You Think
Thursday, 26 December 2013 11:31 By Bruce Melton, Truthout | News Analysis
The flats on Padre Island National Seashore, Texas, are only inches above sea level. This year, sea level rise could have taken these flats, forever, in time frames that matter.
We are in the midst of an era of frightening contradictions, when it comes to public understandings of climate change. While climate changes are occurring more quickly than scientists have ever predicted, most people’s knowledge of these realities remains hazy and clouded by political overtones. Because of both the counter-intuitive nature of climate change and the massive misinformation campaigns created by the fossil fuel industry, the general population is 20 years behind most climate scientists when it comes to the straightforward fact of "believing in" climate change. This is an ominous statistic: Now that scientists are predicting that even worse impacts than previously understood will happen significantly sooner, a rapid global response will be necessary for any attempt to stave them off. We are likely closer to irreversible dangerous climate change - if it has not begun already - and to take action, there must be a basic public consensus. There is, however, some hopeful news on the technological front if action is taken soon.
In 1976, Wallace Broeker was one of the first to suggest climate change could alter our planet harmfully within our lifetimes. Even though a few scientists said in the '70s we could be headed for an ice age, Broeker had already made the connection, and those few climate scientists have not talked about a coming ice age in nearly 40 years. Broeker is arguably the grandfather of climate science: He's been at it for 55 years.
One of his first jobs was under Willard Libby, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1949 for discovering carbon-14 dating. This rare but predictable form of carbon is radioactive, and it completely decays in about 55,000 years. It is because of carbon-14 dating that we know for absolutely certain that the extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere came from burning fossil fuels.
There are many other ways that we know for sure. The physics of the greenhouse effect are easily demonstrated in the lab, and even the simplest models from the early 1980s prove their effect. Surprisingly, the complicated high resolution climate models of today yield results that are quite similar to those of the simplest models of the early 1980s.
But how are we supposed to trust the models when weather people can't even get the seven-day forecast correct? Weather models predict what you need to wear to work or school this week. They are built out of the most recent weather data, and by the time they run off five or six days into the future, they are often wrong.
One can load a climate model up with any old weather data; this week's, last month's or last year's. It doesn't matter where the models start in time. Climate scientists create scores and hundreds of model runs and then average all of those wrong forecasts together to get average weather. Average weather is climate. Climate is not the seven-day forecast. The chaos that makes weather models wrong so quickly is actually what makes climate modeling work so well.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013
Climate measurements continue to become both more precise and more reliable - and thus, more terrifying. A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which combines the work of 2,000 scientists from 154 countries, drawing from millions of observations from more than 9,000 scientific publications, confirms and strengthens previous predictions and adds one new and very important observation. Even 100 percent emissions reductions will no longer keep our climate from changing dangerously.
These volunteer scientists also did something they normally don't do this time. They debunked a climate myth. This is the "temperature flattening myth" that is so present in this perceived debate and that has become so prevalent in our society. Their story goes that earth's temperature stopped warming in 1998, therefore climate change is not real. In 1998, we had the largest El Nino ever recorded. This massive warming of surface waters in the southern Pacific raised the temperature of Earth in that one year by about 0.15 degrees, or as much as it rose because of global warming in the previous decade. The IPCC 2013 prominently sinks this myth as the fifth statement of fact in their Summary for Policy Makers (SPM): "Trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends." (SPM, Page 3) The mythmakers chose 1998 as the beginning of their myth. This is plain and simple cherry picking. If one looks at the trend beginning in 1997, the temperature rise is anything but flat. If one begins in 1994, the annual rise rivals the fastest rise in the instrumental record from 1976 to 1997.
Since 1998, the global temperature record has been broken three times and tied once. The new IPCC report tells us that half of warming (57%) that should have already occurred has been masked by aerosols mostly emitted since the turn of the century in rapidly developing Asian nations (yes, warming would double if cooling smog pollutants were suddenly cleaned up in Asia). (SPM, Page 9) The new IPCC report also tells us the deep oceans are now warming, whereas before they were not, and 90 percent of actual warming has gone into the oceans (SPM, Page 4).
There is also new work, post IPCC 2013, that shows that warming since the turn of the century has been significantly greater than we thought. The reason is that the United Kingdom's temperature record simply ignores the Arctic. The Arctic is the most rapidly warming place on Earth, but there are no thermometers there. Using advanced statistics, this new work adds Arctic temperatures back in.
A Brave New Proclamation
The brave new proclamation in the new IPCC report was saved as the next to the last statement of fact in the SPM :"A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period." A large "net" removal . . . this means greater than 100 percent annual emissions reductions . . . In other words, we have to take more out than we are putting in every year. We must begin to remove some of the long-lived carbon pollution that we have already placed in our skies. (SPM, E.8, Page 20)
If we would have reduced our emissions to 1987 levels by 2012 - as was suggested prudent by the Kyoto Protocol - that would have been all that was needed. In the last 28 years we have emitted as many greenhouse gas pollutants as we emitted in the previous 236 years. (10) Somehow, we must begin to remove some of the load of long-lived greenhouse gases that have been accumulating in our sky.
Good News: The Solutions are Within our Grasp
The economic evaluations of the solutions to climate change show that 1 percent of global gross domestic product ($540 billion in 2012) is what we need to spend to control climate pollution every year - using existing technologies, techniques and policy.
This $540 billion may sound like a lot, but it's no more than we spend on either the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act in the US every year. It is no more than we spend on the military in the United States every year - not counting wars. It's twice what we spend disposing of urban garbage across the planet every year. It's no more than what we lose to normal weather losses and delays every year in the US - not counting climate change enhanced weather extremes. It's no more than we spend on advertising across the globe every year. It's only 25 percent of what we spend on health care in the United States every year - before Obamacare.
The scale is large and the amount of work immense, but treating climate pollution is not unlike many other things that have been accomplished across this planet over decades past for amounts of money that are relatively small. Another reference: Exxon Mobile has a market capitalization of $417 billion alone.
Extraordinary Urgency and New Climate Paradigm
Now that I have put you at ease with the simplicity of the solutions, the hard truth is that this global greenhouse gas experiment has gone horribly wrong. There are discoveries that are extraordinarily important to the discussion of appropriate policy and behavior that are unknown by all but a few.
The new paradigm of climate science states that oil is responsible for 2.5 times more warming than coal in short-term climate time frames (20 years or less). The reason is because coal emits an enormous amount of sulfur dioxide when it burns. Sulfur dioxide is a global cooling pollutant - it cools instead of warms.
Up until recently, science has not known much about cooling pollutants and the chemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere and clouds, water vapor and indirect effects. Now we know. We used to only understand global warming gases by their test tube signatures on warming. Now we know these complicated things about how everything behaves in the atmosphere, and when the math is done, oil is responsible for 2.5 times more warming in the short term than coal. The cooling pollutants are short-lived though, so after 20 years, carbon dioxide becomes the king of the warming gases once again.
But it is the short term that is crucial. If we cross an abrupt change threshold in the short term, or an irreversible threshold, our goose is cooked. In the long-term, we are far more likely to be able to develop solutions to mitigate for greenhouse gas warming. But if we fail to control radical climate change in the short term, we are toast.