U.N. Panel Issues Its Starkest Warning Yet on Global Warming
By JUSTIN GILLIS, NOV. 2, 2014
COPENHAGEN — The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.
Despite growing efforts in many countries to tackle the problem, the global situation is becoming more acute as developing countries join the West in burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here on Sunday.
Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.
“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report found.
In the starkest language it has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.
Doing so would require leaving the vast majority of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels in the ground or, alternatively, developing methods to capture and bury the emissions resulting from their use, the group said.
If governments are to meet their own stated goal of limiting the warming of the planet to no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level, they must restrict emissions from additional fossil-fuel burning to about 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, the panel said. At current growth rates, that budget is likely to be exhausted in something like 30 years, possibly less.
Yet energy companies have booked coal and petroleum reserves equal to several times that amount, and they are spending some $600 billion a year to find more. Utilities and oil companies continue to build coal-fired power plants and refineries, and governments are spending another $600 billion or so directly subsidizing the consumption of fossil fuels.
By contrast, the report found, less than $400 billion a year is being spent around the world to reduce emissions or otherwise cope with climate change. That is a small fraction of the revenue spent on fossil fuels — it is less, for example, than the revenue of a single American oil company, ExxonMobil.
The new report comes just a month before international delegates convene in Lima, Peru, to devise a new global agreement to limit emissions, and it makes clear the urgency of their task.
Appearing Sunday morning at a news conference in Copenhagen to unveil the report, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, appealed for strong action in Lima.
“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message,” Mr. Ban said. “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
Yet there has been no sign that national leaders are willing to discuss allocating the trillion-ton emissions budget among countries, an approach that would confront the problem head-on, but also raise deep questions of fairness. To the contrary, they are moving toward a relatively weak agreement that would essentially let each country decide for itself how much effort to put into limiting global warming, and even that document would not take effect until 2020.
“If they choose not to talk about the carbon budget, they’re choosing not to address the problem of climate change,” said Myles R. Allen, a climate scientist at Oxford University in Britain who helped write the new report. “They might as well not bother to turn up for these meetings.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific body appointed by the world’s governments to advise them on the causes and effects of global warming, and potential solutions. The group, along with Al Gore, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to call attention to the climate crisis.
The new report is a 175-page synopsis of a much longer series of reports that the panel has issued over the past year. It is the final step in a five-year effort by the body to analyze a vast archive of published climate research.
It is the fifth such report from the group since 1990, each finding greater certainty that the climate is warming and that human activities are the primary cause.
“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, and in global mean sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the report said.
A core finding of the new report is that climate change is no longer a distant threat, but is being felt all over the world. “It’s here and now,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the panel, said in an interview. “It’s not something in the future.”
The group cited mass die-offs of forests, such as those killed by heat-loving beetles in the American West; the melting of land ice virtually everywhere in the world; an accelerating rise of the seas that is leading to increased coastal flooding; and heat waves that have devastated crops and killed tens of thousands of people.
The report contained the group’s most explicit warning yet about the food supply, saying that climate change had already become a small drag on overall global production, and could become a far larger one if emissions continued unchecked.
A related finding is that climate change poses serious risks to basic human progress, in areas such as alleviating poverty. Under the worst-case scenarios, factors like high food prices and intensified weather disasters would most likely leave poor people worse off. In fact, the report said, that has already happened to a degree.
In Washington, the Obama administration welcomed the report, with the president’s science adviser, John P. Holdren, calling it “yet another wake-up call to the global community that we must act together swiftly and aggressively in order to stem climate change and avoid its worst impacts.”
The administration is pushing for new limits on emissions from American power plants, but faces stiff resistance in Congress and some states.
Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University and a principal author of the new report, said that a continuation of the political paralysis on emissions would leave society depending largely on luck.
If the level of greenhouse gases were to continue rising at a rapid pace over the coming decades, severe effects would be avoided only if the climate turned out to be far less sensitive to those gases than most scientists think likely, he said.
“We’ve seen many governments delay and delay and delay on implementing comprehensive emissions cuts,” Dr. Oppenheimer said. “So the need for a lot of luck looms larger and larger. Personally, I think it’s a slim reed to lean on for the fate of the planet.”
Repost from TruthOut [Editor: a good summation of the latest evidence that runaway anthropogenic climate disruption continues to escalate. A new study reports that climate change is ”worse than we thought” because it is happening ”faster than we realized.” – RS]
As Casualties Mount, Scientists Say Global Warming Has Been “Hugely Underestimated”
October 20, 2014, By Dahr Jamail
As we look across the globe this month, the signs of a continued escalation of the impacts of runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) continue to increase, alongside a drumbeat of fresh scientific studies confirming their connection to the ongoing human geo-engineering project of emitting carbon dioxide at ever-increasing rates into the atmosphere.
A major study recently published in New Scientist found that “scientists may have hugely underestimated the extent of global warming because temperature readings from southern hemisphere seas were inaccurate,” and said that ACD is “worse than we thought” because it is happening “faster than we realized.”
As has become predictable now, as evidence of increasing ACD continues to mount, denial and corporate exploitation are accelerating right along with it.
The famed Northwest Passage is now being exploited by luxury cruise companies. Given the ongoing melting of the Arctic ice cap, a company recently announced a 900-mile, 32-day luxury cruise there, with fares starting at $20,000, so people can luxuriate while viewing the demise of the planetary ecosystem.
This, while even mainstream scientists now no longer view ACD in the future tense, but as a reality that is already well underway and severely impacting the planet.
To provide perspective on how far along we are regarding runaway ACD, another recent study shows that the planet’s wildlife population is less than half the size it was four decades ago. The culprits are both ACD and unsustainable human consumption, coupling to destroy habitats faster than previously thought, as biodiversity loss has now reached “critical levels,” according to the report. More than half of the vertebrate population on the planet has been annihilated in just four decades.
Let that sink in for a moment before reading further.
Meanwhile, the situation only continues to grow grimmer.
The effects of all these developments are especially evident in the Arctic, where sea ice coverage reached its annual minimum on September 17, continuing a trend of below-average years. According to the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice coverage this year is the sixth lowest recorded since 1978.
Equally disconcerting and symptomatic of the aforementioned, 35,000 walruses crowded onto land near the Northwest Alaska village of Point Lay late last month, when they couldn’t find their preferred resting grounds of summer sea ice.
The European Space Agency announced that, due to billions of tons of ice loss, a dip in the gravity field over the Western Antarctic region has occurred, making even gravity itself the latest casualty of ACD.
A recent analysis of 56 studies on ACD-related health problems revealed that increasing global temperatures and extreme weather events will continue to deleteriously impact human health on a global scale.
Further north, warming temperatures continue to disrupt the fragile ecological balance in the Canadian Arctic, which is warming faster than most of the rest of the planet. Canada’s minister for natural resources provided a new report detailing the impact ACD is having on that country’s forests, which are being impacted “faster than the global average.”
In neighboring Alaska, summer heat and invasive insects are taking a similar toll on interior Alaska birch trees, according to experts there.
Wildlife populations continue to struggle to adapt to the dramatic changes wrought by ACD. In California, one of the largest populations of state-protected Western pond turtles in the southern part of that state is struggling to survive as its habitat, a natural two-mile long lake, has become a smelly, severely alkaline death trap due to drought and fires there.
Of course it isn’t just wildlife that is struggling to adapt and cope with ACD.
Members of the Swinomish tribe, located north of Seattle, were recently awarded a large grant from the federal government in order to deal with rising seas and flooding, as they live near the mouth of the Skagit River.
The extremes of water, flooding and drought continue to persist and escalate as ACD continues.
In East Porterville, a small rural community in Tulare County, California, the situation has become so desperate that residents are no longer able to flush toilets, fill a glass with water or wash their hands without using bottled water.
Dairy farmers in that state are struggling to survive the drought, as the cost for feed and water is being driven up by the lack of water.
The US Energy Information Administration announced that California’s ability to produce electricity from hydroelectric dams is being significantly hampered by the drought, which covers 100 percent of the state now. This is because the reservoirs, which create power when the water in them is released into turbines, are drying up, thus providing less pressure to spin the turbines. The first six months of this year have seen the state’s hydropower generation decrease by half.
And it’s not just California that is experiencing drought. The better part of the entire Western Hemisphere has experienced some form of drought in recent years, according to another recent report published in the journal Science which states: “A dry spell has killed cattle and wiped out crops in Central America, parts of Colombia have seen rioting over scarce water, and southern Brazil is facing its worst dry spell in 50 years.”
Across the Atlantic, at a recent international conference that was held to discuss the growing global water crisis, experts warned that Britain must prepare for the “worst droughts in modern times.”
On the other end of the water spectrum – melting and flooding – we continue to see global evidence of the impact of ACD. The aforementioned recent satellite observations from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center revealed in October that the Arctic ice cap has melted so much that open water is now a mere 350 miles from the North Pole, which is the shortest distance ever recorded, according to scientists.
This coincides with predictions from leading British and American polar researchers that Truthout has previously interviewed who predict the ice cap will melt completely during the summer as early as next year.
A recent report by the Union for Concerned Scientists warned that several major US cities will see at least 10 times more coastal flooding by 2045, in addition to at least 11 inches of sea level rise by the same year.
In Delaware, they aren’t waiting. There, millions of dollars have been spent to pump sand in to build up dunes along the beaches in order to create a buffer from future storms and sea level rise.
Down in Miami, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to install new storm pumps and storm drains in order to combat sea level rise at Miami Beach. Near the Cape Canaveral area, a low-lying barrier island is getting even lower as sea levels continue to rise, so communities there are investigating ways to keep the water at bay, or to plan a retreat.
Edmonton, Canada, is pushing forward with a $2.4 billion bill for flood prevention, as that city is seeing increasingly severe downpours.
Southern France experienced a deluge of 10 inches of rain in just three hours, which amounted to half a year’s worth of rain in one day in Montpellier.
In Norway, massive amounts of melt-water from streams and blue ice on mountains indicated that the ice fields and glaciers on central Norway’s highest peaks were in full retreat, and exposed rock and ice that had not been seen for 6,000 years. On that note, recent studies also show that sea-level rise over the last century (20 centimeters) has been unmatched in 6,000 years.
Recent reports indicate that the Gulf of Alaska has become unusually warm, warmer in fact than since researchers began tracking surface water temperatures in the 1980s, according to NOAA.
In the Atlantic, lobsters off the coast of southern New England are moving up into Canada due to warming waters. The exotic lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, is also heading north up the Atlantic coast, as warming waters are changing ocean habitats.
In Greenland, “dark” snow atop the ice sheet is now being called a “positive feedback loop” by an expert there, as the increasing trend is reducing the Arctic’s ability to reflect sunlight, further contributing to runaway ACD.
Recent analysis indicates that scientists could have underestimated the size of the heat sink across the upper ocean, according to a recent report. The study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that the upper 700 meters of the ocean have been warming 24 to 55 percent faster since 1970 than previously thought. This means that the pace and scale of planetary warming is much faster than previously believed.
Lastly in this section, and possibly the most distressing, a recent report revealed that fish are failing to adapt to increasing carbon dioxide levels in the oceans. This means that within just a few generations of fish, a mass die-off could occur due to lack of adaptation. More carbon dioxide in the oceans is adversely changing the behavior of fish through generations, which means that marine species may never fully adapt to their changing environment.
A study published in Geophysical Research Letters showed that tornado activity in “Tornado Alley” in the Midwestern United States is peaking two weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago, and ACD is the culprit.
Erratic jet stream behavior is now believed to be caused by the rapid retreating of Arctic sea ice as a result of ACD. The increasingly unpredictable jet stream is being blamed for more frequent, prolonged spells of extreme weather in Europe, North America and Asia. This includes more and longer freezing temperatures, storms and heat waves.
In October, California found itself in yet another heat wave, with record-breaking temperatures reported in several cities and hotter-than-usual temperatures across the state. The National Weather Service put the San Francisco Bay area and San Diego under a heat advisory and issued a hazardous weather outlook for the Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) cancelled outside activities and sports for the better part of a week due to the extreme heat, which was the second time this school year that LAUSD has had to cancel activities because of high temperatures.
On one day, downtown Los Angeles reached 92 degrees by noon, whereas the average October temperature for that city is 79 degrees. Several cities in Southern California broke record temperatures. Oxnard reached 98 degrees, breaking an almost 70-year-old record.
As wildfires continued to burn across parts of drought-stricken California, a record-breaking amount of fire retardant was used (203,000 gallons in one day alone) while combatting a massive wildfire in Northern California. The fire was burning so hotly and expanding so explosively, due to the prolonged drought, that firefighters found that normal amounts of retardant weren’t stopping the flames.
It is now well known that fire season in California, as well as across all the other Western US states, is extending due to ACD.
Denial and Reality
The person who runs the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a free-market lobbying group that opposes policies to mitigate ACD, is not sure whether humans actually cause ACD, according to an interview recently published in National Journal.
When asked specifically whether or not she thought human carbon emissions are causing climate change, ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson said, “I don’t know the science on that.”
The denial-based antics of Gov. Chris Christie are ongoing as well. He recently said that a regional cap-and-trade program from which his state of New Jersey withdrew in 2011 was “a completely useless plan” and added that he “would not think of rejoining it.”
Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016, is taking a “soft denial” approach by admitting that ACD is real, while saying the extent to which humans have a role is still in “doubt.”
The denial project’s success is evidenced by large numbers of Americans racing to buy and develop seashore properties in areas well known to be at high-risk for rising seas and increasingly intense storms. Mike Huckabee, now apparently a chronic presidential candidate, is among those racing to build on shores that will be submerged in the not-so-distant future.
It’s no coincidence that merely 3 percent of current Congressional Republicans have even gone on record to accept the fact that climate disruption is anthropogenic, according to PolitiFact, which also found that there is a grand total of eight Republican non-deniers, total, in the House and Senate.
Another interesting turn of events shows companies like GE and Google operating as large companies do in advance of elections – funding both sides to safeguard their interests. In this case, these companies, along with others, are making campaign contributions to Congressional ACD-deniers – while simultaneously professing to be pro-sustainability companies.
Meanwhile the media blitz continues, as the Rupert Murdoch-owned and ACD-denying Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” which was chock full of the usual ACD-denier talking points. The article provides us with a prime example of how the doubt narrative is consistently slipped in as a meme: “Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future.”
In stark contrast to the “doubters” and “deniers,” the Pentagon recently announced that ACD poses an “immediate risk” to national security, according to the Department of Defense’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.
Shaun Donovan, the new US director of the Office of Management and Budget, used his first speech to talk about the dangers of inaction on climate change, in regards to the federal budget. “From where I sit, climate action is a must do; climate inaction is a can’t do; and climate denial scores – and I don’t mean scoring points on the board,” he said. “I mean that it scores in the budget. Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars.”
Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently admitted that funding ALEC was a “mistake,” and said that the group’s spreading of disinformation and lies about ACD was “making the world a much worse place.” During an NPR interview, Schmidt said, “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren. . . . And so we should not be aligned with such people – they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”
The Endangered Species Coalition recently released a list of things people should take their children to go see outdoors, because if they wait too long, their kids might not get a chance to see them before they become extinct. The list includes monarch butterflies, polar bears, great white sharks, white bark pine trees and Snake River sockeye salmon.
A study published in Environmental Research Letters showed that switching to natural gas will not reduce carbon emissions very much, and could in fact increase them slightly, due to the fact that it would discourage the use of carbon-free renewable energy sources. This is significant because there are many lawmakers who are ACD “realists,” including President Obama, who advocate that natural gas is a “solution” to ACD.
A remarkable electronic dashboard created by The Guardian shows some of the key indicators of planetary health, where you can view updated snapshots of the impacts your country, as well as humans, are having on the environment.
Lastly, possibly the most disturbing reality check of all comes from MIT’s 2014 Climate and Energy Outlook. The recently released report revealed that global energy use and carbon dioxide emissions will likely double by 2100.