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Environmental News, Global Warming and Green Economics Part II

A Scientist, His Work and a Climate Reckoning

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CONTENTS

Environmental News and Global Warming  Part I

Environmental News and Global Warming  Part II the Truth About Climate Change! A Scientist, His Work and a Climate Reckoning

Environmental News and global Warming Part III Millions May Soon Be Fleeing Flood Waters

Environmental News and Global Warming Part IV Glaciers Melted and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rose In 2010

Environmental News and Global Warming Part V  Why Are White Guys Climate Skeptics?

Environmental News and Global Warming Part VI A Directory of Climate Change Skeptics

 


A Scientist, His Work and a Climate Reckoning

Jonathan Kingston/Aurora Select, for The New York Times

KEEPING WATCH The Mauna Loa Observatory, at an altitude of 11,135 feet above sea level in Hawaii, has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to climate change since the 1950s. More Photos »

MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORY, Hawaii — Two gray machines sit inside a pair of utilitarian buildings here, sniffing the fresh breezes that blow across thousands of miles of ocean.

 

Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UC San Diego

THE KEELINGS Charles D. Keeling, top, with his son Ralph in 1989. More Photos »

 
They make no noise. But once an hour, they spit out a number, and for decades, it has been rising relentlessly.

The first machine of this type was installed on Mauna Loa in the 1950s at the behest of Charles David Keeling, a scientist from San Diego. His resulting discovery, of the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, transformed the scientific understanding of humanity’s relationship with the earth. A graph of his findings is inscribed on a wall in Washington as one of the great achievements of modern science.

Yet, five years after Dr. Keeling’s death, his discovery is a focus not of celebration but of conflict. It has become the touchstone of a worldwide political debate over global warming.

When Dr. Keeling, as a young researcher, became the first person in the world to develop an accurate technique for measuring carbon dioxide in the air, the amount he discovered was 310 parts per million. That means every million pints of air, for example, contained 310 pints of carbon dioxide.

By 2005, the year he died, the number had risen to 380 parts per million. Sometime in the next few years it is expected to pass 400. Without stronger action to limit emissions, the number could pass 560 before the end of the century, double what it was before the Industrial Revolution.

The greatest question in climate science is: What will that do to the temperature of the earth?

Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide traps heat at the surface of the planet. They cite growing evidence that the inexorable rise of the gas is altering the climate in ways that threaten human welfare.

Fossil fuel emissions, they say, are like a runaway train, hurtling the world’s citizens toward a stone wall — a carbon dioxide level that, over time, will cause profound changes.

The risks include melting ice sheets, rising seas, more droughts and heat waves, more flash floods, worse storms, extinction of many plants and animals, depletion of sea life and — perhaps most important — difficulty in producing an adequate supply of food. Many of these changes are taking place at a modest level already, the scientists say, but are expected to intensify.

Reacting to such warnings, President George Bush committed the United States in 1992 to limiting its emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. Scores of other nations made the same pledge, in a treaty that was long on promises and short on specifics.

But in 1998, when it came time to commit to details in a document known as the Kyoto Protocol, Congress balked. Many countries did ratify the protocol, but it had only a limited effect, and the past decade has seen little additional progress in controlling emissions.

Many countries are reluctant to commit themselves to tough emission limits, fearing that doing so will hurt economic growth. International climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, this month ended with only modest progress. The Obama administration, which came into office pledging to limit emissions in the United States, scaled back its ambitions after climate and energy legislation died in the Senate this year.

Challengers have mounted a vigorous assault on the science of climate change. Polls indicate that the public has grown more doubtful about that science. Some of the Republicans who will take control of the House of Representatives in January have promised to subject climate researchers to a season of new scrutiny.

One of them is Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California. In a recent Congressional hearing on global warming, he said, “The CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rather undramatic.”

But most scientists trained in the physics of the atmosphere have a different reaction to the increase.

“I find it shocking,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the government monitoring program of which the Mauna Loa Observatory is a part. “We really are in a predicament here, and it’s getting worse every year.”

As the political debate drags on, the mute gray boxes atop Mauna Loa keep spitting out their numbers, providing a reality check: not only is the carbon dioxide level rising relentlessly, but the pace of that rise is accelerating over time.

“Nature doesn’t care how hard we tried,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, the Columbia University economist, said at a recent seminar. “Nature cares how high the parts per million mount. This is running away.”

A Passion for Precision

Perhaps the biggest reason the world learned of the risk of global warming was the unusual personality of a single American scientist.

Charles David Keeling’s son Ralph remembers that when he was a child, his family bought a new home in Del Mar, Calif., north of San Diego. His father assigned him the task of edging the lawn. Dr. Keeling insisted that Ralph copy the habits of the previous owner, an Englishman who had taken pride in his garden, cutting a precise two-inch strip between the sidewalk and the grass.

“It took a lot of work to maintain this attractive gap,” Ralph Keeling recalled, but he said his father believed “that was just the right way to do it, and if you didn’t do that, you were cutting corners. It was a moral breach.”

Dr. Keeling was a punctilious man. It was by no means his defining trait — relatives and colleagues described a man who played a brilliant piano, loved hiking mountains and might settle a friendly argument at dinner by pulling an etymological dictionary off the shelf.

But the essence of his scientific legacy was his passion for doing things in a meticulous way. It explains why, even as challengers try to pick apart every other aspect of climate science, his half-century record of carbon dioxide measurements stands unchallenged.

By the 1950s, when Dr. Keeling was completing his scientific training, scientists had been observing the increasing use of fossil fuels and wondering whether carbon dioxide in the air was rising as a result. But nobody had been able to take accurate measurements of the gas.

As a young researcher, Dr. Keeling built instruments and developed techniques that allowed him to achieve great precision in making such measurements. Then he spent the rest of his life applying his approach.

In his earliest measurements of the air, taken in California and other parts of the West in the mid-1950s, he found that the background level for carbon dioxide was about 310 parts per million.

That discovery drew attention in Washington, and Dr. Keeling soon found himself enjoying government backing for his research. He joined the staff of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in the La Jolla section of San Diego, under the guidance of an esteemed scientist named Roger Revelle, and began laying plans to measure carbon dioxide around the world.

Some of the most important data came from an analyzer he placed in a government geophysical observatory that had been set up a few years earlier in a remote location: near the top of Mauna Loa, one of the volcanoes that loom over the Big Island of Hawaii.

He quickly made profound discoveries. One was that carbon dioxide oscillated slightly according to the seasons. Dr. Keeling realized the reason: most of the world’s land is in the Northern Hemisphere, and plants there were taking up carbon dioxide as they sprouted leaves and grew over the summer, then shedding it as the leaves died and decayed in the winter.

He had discovered that the earth itself was breathing.

A more ominous finding was that each year, the peak level was a little higher than the year before. Carbon dioxide was indeed rising, and quickly. That finding electrified the small community of scientists who understood its implications. Later chemical tests, by Dr. Keeling and others, proved that the increase was due to the combustion of fossil fuels.

The graph showing rising carbon dioxide levels came to be known as the Keeling Curve. Many Americans have never heard of it, but to climatologists, it is the most recognizable emblem of their science, engraved in bronze on a building at Mauna Loa and carved into a wall at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.

By the late 1960s, a decade after Dr. Keeling began his measurements, the trend of rising carbon dioxide was undeniable, and scientists began to warn of the potential for a big increase in the temperature of the earth.

Dr. Keeling’s mentor, Dr. Revelle, moved to Harvard, where he lectured about the problem. Among the students in the 1960s who first saw the Keeling Curve displayed in Dr. Revelle’s classroom was a senator’s son from Tennessee named Albert Arnold Gore Jr., who marveled at what it could mean for the future of the planet.

Throughout much of his career, Dr. Keeling was cautious about interpreting his own measurements. He left that to other people while he concentrated on creating a record that would withstand scrutiny.

John Chin, a retired technician in Hawaii who worked closely with Dr. Keeling, recently described the painstaking steps he took, at Dr. Keeling’s behest, to ensure accuracy. Many hours were required every week just to be certain that the instruments atop Mauna Loa had not drifted out of kilter.

The golden rule was “no hanky-panky,” Mr. Chin recalled in an interview in Hilo, Hawaii. Dr. Keeling and his aides scrutinized the records closely, and if workers in Hawaii fell down on the job, Mr. Chin said, they were likely to get a call or letter: “What did you do? What happened that day?”

In later years, as the scientific evidence about climate change grew, Dr. Keeling’s interpretations became bolder, and he began to issue warnings. In an essay in 1998, he replied to claims that global warming was a myth, declaring that the real myth was that “natural resources and the ability of the earth’s habitable regions to absorb the impacts of human activities are limitless.”

Still, by the time he died, global warming had not become a major political issue. That changed in 2006, when Mr. Gore’s movie and book, both titled “An Inconvenient Truth,” brought the issue to wider public attention. The Keeling Curve was featured in both.

In 2007, a body appointed by the United Nations declared that the scientific evidence that the earth was warming had become unequivocal, and it added that humans were almost certainly the main cause. Mr. Gore and the panel jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

But as action began to seem more likely, the political debate intensified, with fossil-fuel industries mobilizing to fight emission-curbing measures. Climate-change contrarians increased their attack on the science, taking advantage of the Internet to distribute their views outside the usual scientific channels.

In an interview in La Jolla, Dr. Keeling’s widow, Louise, said that if her husband had lived to see the hardening of the political battle lines over climate change, he would have been dismayed.

“He was a registered Republican,” she said. “He just didn’t think of it as a political issue at all.”

The Numbers

Not long ago, standing on a black volcanic plain two miles above the Pacific Ocean, the director of the Mauna Loa Observatory, John E. Barnes, pointed toward a high metal tower.

Samples are taken by hoses that snake to the top of the tower to ensure that only clean air is analyzed, he explained. He described other measures intended to guarantee an accurate record. Then Dr. Barnes, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, displayed the hourly calculation from one of the analyzers.

It showed the amount of carbon dioxide that morning as 388 parts per million.

After Dr. Keeling had established the importance of carbon dioxide measurements, the government began making its own, in the early 1970s. Today, a NOAA monitoring program and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography program operate in parallel at Mauna Loa and other sites, with each record of measurements serving as a quality check on the other.

The Scripps program is now run by Ralph Keeling, who grew up to become a renowned atmospheric scientist in his own right and then joined the Scripps faculty. He took control of the measurement program after his father’s sudden death from a heart attack.

In an interview on the Scripps campus in La Jolla, Ralph Keeling calculated that the carbon dioxide level at Mauna Loa was likely to surpass 400 by May 2014, a sort of odometer moment in mankind’s alteration of the atmosphere.

“We’re going to race through 400 like we didn’t see it go by,” Dr. Keeling said.

What do these numbers mean?

The basic physics of the atmosphere, worked out more than a century ago, show that carbon dioxide plays a powerful role in maintaining the earth’s climate. Even though the amount in the air is tiny, the gas is so potent at trapping the sun’s heat that it effectively works as a one-way blanket, letting visible light in but stopping much of the resulting heat from escaping back to space.

Without any of the gas, the earth would most likely be a frozen wasteland — according to a recent study, its average temperature would be colder by roughly 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But scientists say humanity is now polluting the atmosphere with too much of a good thing.

In recent years, researchers have been able to put the Keeling measurements into a broader context. Bubbles of ancient air trapped by glaciers and ice sheets have been tested, and they show that over the past 800,000 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air oscillated between roughly 200 and 300 parts per million. Just before the Industrial Revolution, the level was about 280 parts per million and had been there for several thousand years.

That amount of the gas, in other words, produced the equable climate in which human civilization flourished.

Other studies, covering many millions of years, show a close association between carbon dioxide and the temperature of the earth. The gas seemingly played a major role in amplifying the effects of the ice ages, which were caused by wobbles in the earth’s orbit.

The geologic record suggests that as the earth began cooling, the amount of carbon dioxide fell, probably because much of it got locked up in the ocean, and that fall amplified the initial cooling. Conversely, when the orbital wobble caused the earth to begin warming, a great deal of carbon dioxide escaped from the ocean, amplifying the warming.

Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, refers to carbon dioxide as the master control knob of the earth’s climate. He said that because the wobbles in the earth’s orbit were not, by themselves, big enough to cause the large changes of the ice ages, the situation made sense only when the amplification from carbon dioxide was factored in.

“What the ice ages tell us is that our physical understanding of CO2 explains what happened and nothing else does,” Dr. Alley said. “The ice ages are a very strong test of whether we’ve got it right.”

When people began burning substantial amounts of coal and oil in the 19th century, the carbon dioxide level began to rise. It is now about 40 percent higher than before the Industrial Revolution, and humans have put half the extra gas into the air since just the late 1970s. Emissions are rising so rapidly that some experts fear that the amount of the gas could double or triple before emissions are brought under control.

The earth’s history offers no exact parallel to the human combustion of fossil fuels, so scientists have struggled to calculate the effect.

Their best estimate is that if the amount of carbon dioxide doubles, the temperature of the earth will rise about five or six degrees Fahrenheit. While that may sound small given the daily and seasonal variations in the weather, the number represents an annual global average, and therefore an immense addition of heat to the planet.

The warming would be higher over land, and it would be greatly amplified at the poles, where a considerable amount of ice might melt, raising sea levels. The deep ocean would also absorb a tremendous amount of heat.

Moreover, scientists say that an increase of five or six degrees is a mildly optimistic outlook. They cannot rule out an increase as high as 18 degrees Fahrenheit, which would transform the planet.

Climate-change contrarians do not accept these numbers.

The Internet has given rise to a vocal cadre of challengers who question every aspect of the science — even the physics, worked out in the 19th century, that shows that carbon dioxide traps heat. That is a point so elementary and well-established that demonstrations of it are routinely carried out by high school students.

However, the contrarians who have most influenced Congress are a handful of men trained in atmospheric physics. They generally accept the rising carbon dioxide numbers, they recognize that the increase is caused by human activity, and they acknowledge that the earth is warming in response.

But they doubt that it will warm nearly as much as mainstream scientists say, arguing that the increase is likely to be less than two degrees Fahrenheit, a change they characterize as manageable.

Among the most prominent of these contrarians is Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who contends that as the earth initially warms, cloud patterns will shift in a way that should help to limit the heat buildup. Most climate scientists contend that little evidence supports this view, but Dr. Lindzen is regularly consulted on Capitol Hill.

 
“I am quite willing to state,” Dr. Lindzen said in a speech this year, “that unprecedented climate catastrophes are not on the horizon, though in several thousand years we may return to an ice age.”

The Fuel of Civilization

While the world’s governments have largely accepted the science of climate change, their efforts to bring emissions under control are lagging.

The simple reason is that modern civilization is built on burning fossil fuels. Cars, trucks, power plants, steel mills, farms, planes, cement factories, home furnaces — virtually all of them spew carbon dioxide or lesser heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

Developed countries, especially the United States, are largely responsible for the buildup that has taken place since the Industrial Revolution. They have begun to make some headway on the problem, reducing the energy they use to produce a given amount of economic output, with some countries even managing to lower their total emissions.

But these modest efforts are being swamped by rising energy use in developing countries like China, India and Brazil. In those lands, economic growth is not simply desirable — it is a moral imperative, to lift more than a third of the human race out of poverty. A recent scientific paper referred to China’s surge as “the biggest transformation of human well-being the earth has ever seen.”

China’s citizens, on average, still use less than a third of the energy per person as Americans. But with 1.3 billion people, four times as many as the United States, China is so large and is growing so quickly that it has surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest overall user of energy.

Barring some big breakthrough in clean-energy technology, this rapid growth in developing countries threatens to make the emissions problem unsolvable.

Emissions dropped sharply in Western nations in 2009, during the recession that followed the financial crisis, but that decrease was largely offset by continued growth in the East. And for 2010, global emissions are projected to return to the rapid growth of the past decade, rising more than 3 percent a year.

Many countries have, in principle, embraced the idea of trying to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, feeling that any greater warming would pose unacceptable risks. As best scientists can calculate, that means about one trillion tons of carbon can be burned and the gases released into the atmosphere before emissions need to fall to nearly zero.

“It took 250 years to burn the first half-trillion tons,” Myles R. Allen, a leading British climate scientist, said in a briefing. “On current trends, we’ll burn the next half-trillion in less than 40.”

Unless more serious efforts to convert to a new energy system begin soon, scientists argue, it will be impossible to hit the 3.6-degree target, and the risk will increase that global warming could spiral out of control by century’s end.

“We are quickly running out of time,” said Joseph G. Canadell, an Australian scientist who tracks emissions

In many countries, the United States and China among them, a conversion of the energy system has begun, with wind turbines and solar panels sprouting across the landscape. But they generate only a tiny fraction of all power, with much of the world’s electricity still coming from the combustion of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel.

With the exception of European countries, few nations have been willing to raise the cost of fossil fuels or set emissions caps as a way to speed the transformation. In the United States, a particular fear has been that a carbon policy will hurt the country’s industries as they compete with companies abroad whose governments have adopted no such policy.

As he watches these difficulties, Ralph Keeling contemplates the unbending math of carbon dioxide emissions first documented by his father more than a half-century ago and wonders about the future effects of that increase.

“When I go see things with my children, I let them know they might not be around when they’re older,” he said. “ ‘Go enjoy these beautiful forests before they disappear. Go enjoy the glaciers in these parks because they won’t be around.’ It’s basically taking note of what we have, and appreciating it, and saying goodbye to it.”

On Dec. 11, another round of international climate negotiations, sponsored by the United Nations, concluded in Cancún. As they have for 18 years running, the gathered nations pledged renewed efforts. But they failed to agree on any binding emission targets.

Late at night, as the delegates were wrapping up in Mexico, the machines atop the volcano in the middle of the Pacific Ocean issued their own silent verdict on the world’s efforts.

At midnight Mauna Loa time, the carbon dioxide level hit 390 — and rising.

Temperature Rising

Tracking the Numbers

Articles in this series are focusing on the central arguments in the climate debate and examining the evidence for global warming and its consequences.

 


Decade Of 2000s Was Warmest Ever, Scientists Say

Excerpts from an article on huffingtonpost.com by CHARLES J. HANLEY | 12/ 7/09

It dawned with the warmest winter on record in the United States. And when the sun sets this New Year's Eve, the decade of the 2000s will end as the warmest ever on global temperature charts.

Warmer still, scientists say, lies ahead.

Through 10 years of global boom and bust, of breakneck change around the planet, of terrorism, war and division, all people everywhere under that warming sun faced one threat together: the buildup of greenhouse gases, the rise in temperatures, the danger of a shifting climate, of drought, weather extremes and encroaching seas, of untold damage to the world humanity has created for itself over millennia.

As the decade neared its close, the U.N. gathered presidents and premiers of almost 100 nations for a "climate summit" to take united action, to sharply cut back the burning of coal and other fossil fuels.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told them they had "a powerful opportunity to get on the right side of history" at a year-ending climate conference in Copenhagen.

Once again, however, disunity might keep the world's nations on this side of making historic decisions.

"Deep down, we know that you are not really listening," the Maldives' Mohamed Nasheed told fellow presidents at September's summit.

Nasheed's tiny homeland, a sprinkling of low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean, will be one of the earliest victims of seas rising from heat expansion and melting glaciers. On remote islets of Papua New Guinea, on Pacific atolls, on bleak Arctic shores, other coastal peoples in the 2000s were already making plans, packing up, seeking shelter.

The warming seas were growing more acid, too, from absorbing carbon dioxide, the biggest greenhouse gas in an overloaded atmosphere. Together, warmer waters and acidity will kill coral reefs and imperil other marine life – from plankton at the bottom of the food chain, to starfish and crabs, mussels and sea urchins.

Over the decade's first nine years, global temperatures averaged 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.1 degrees F) higher than the 1951-1980 average, NASA reported. And temperatures rose faster in the far north than anyplace else on Earth.

The decade's final three summers melted Arctic sea ice more than ever before in modern times. Greenland's gargantuan ice cap was pouring 3 percent more meltwater into the sea each year. Every summer's thaw reached deeper into the Arctic permafrost, threatening to unlock vast amounts of methane, a global-warming gas.

Less ice meant less sunlight reflected, more heat absorbed by the Earth. More methane escaping the tundra meant more warming, more thawing, more methane released.

At the bottom of the world, late in the decade, International Polar Year research found that Antarctica, too, was warming. Floating ice shelves fringing its coast weakened, some breaking away, allowing the glaciers behind them to push ice faster into the rising oceans.

On six continents the glaciers retreated through the 2000s, shrinking future water sources for countless millions of Indians, Chinese, South Americans. The great lakes of Africa were shrinking, too, from higher temperatures, evaporation and drought. Across the temperate zones, flowers bloomed earlier, lakes froze later, bark beetles bored their destructive way northward through warmer forests. In the Arctic, surprised Eskimos spotted the red breasts of southern robins.

In the 2000s, all this was happening faster than anticipated, scientists said. So were other things: By late in the decade, global emissions of carbon dioxide matched the worst case among seven scenarios laid down in 2001 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N. scientific network formed to peer into climate's future. Almost 29 billion tons of the gas poured skyward annually – 23 percent higher than at the decade's start.

By year-end 2008, the 2000s already included eight of the 10 warmest years on record. By 2060, that trajectory could push temperatures a dangerous 4 degrees C (7 degrees F) or more higher than preindustrial levels, British scientists said.

Early in the decade, the president of the United States, the biggest emitter, blamed "incomplete" science for the U.S. stand against rolling back emissions, as other industrial nations were trying to do. As the decade wore on and emissions grew, American reasoning leaned more toward the economic.

By 2009, with a new president and Congress, Washington seemed ready to talk. But in the front ranks of climate research – where they scale the glaciers, drill into ocean sediments, monitor a changing Earth through a web of satellite eyes – scientists feared they were running out of time.

Before the turn of the last century, with slide rule, pencil and months of tedious calculation, Svante Arrhenius was the first to show that carbon dioxide would warm the planet – in 3,000 years. The brilliant Swede hadn't foreseen the 20th-century explosion in use of fossil fuels.

Today their supercomputers tell his scientific heirs a much more urgent story: To halt and reverse that explosion of emissions, to head off a planetary climate crisis, the 10 years that dawn this Jan. 1 will be the fateful years, the final chance, the last decade.


Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security

By JOHN M. BRODER

Published: August 8, 2009

WASHINGTON — The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.The conflict in southern Sudan, which has killed and displaced tens of thousands of people, is partly a result of drought in Darfur.

Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.

Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.

An exercise at the National Defense University, an educational institute overseen by the military, last December explored the potential impact of a flood in Bangladesh that sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into neighboring India, touching off religious conflict, the spread of contagious diseases and vast damage to infrastructure.

“It gets real complicated real quickly,” said Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, who is working with a Pentagon group assigned to incorporate climate change into national security strategy planning.

Much of the public and political debate on global warming has focused on finding substitutes for fossil fuels, reducing emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases and furthering negotiations toward an international climate treaty — not potential security challenges.

But a growing number of policy makers say that the world’s rising temperatures, surging seas and melting glaciers are a direct threat to the national interest. If the United States does not lead the world in reducing fossil-fuel consumption and thus emissions of global warming gases, proponents of this view say, a series of global environmental, social, political and possibly military crises loom that the nation will urgently have to address.

This argument could prove a fulcrum for debate in the Senate next month when it takes up climate and energy legislation passed in June by the House.

Lawmakers leading the debate before Congress are only now beginning to make the national security argument for approving the legislation.

Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the climate legislation, said he hoped to sway Senate skeptics by pressing that issue to pass a meaningful bill.

Mr. Kerry said he did not know whether he would succeed but that he had spoken with 30 undecided senators on the matter.

He did not identify the senators he had approached, but the list of undecideds includes many from coal and manufacturing states and from the South and Southeast, which will face the sharpest energy price increases from any carbon emissions control program.

“I’ve been making this argument for a number of years,” Mr. Kerry said, “but it has not been a focus because a lot of people had not connected the dots.” He said he had urged President Obama to make the case, too.

Mr. Kerry said the continuing conflict in southern Sudan, which has killed and displaced tens of thousands of people, is a result of drought and expansion of deserts in the north. “That is going to be repeated many times over and on a much larger scale,” he said.

The Department of Defense’s assessment of the security issue came about after prodding by Congress to include climate issues in its strategic plans — specifically, in 2008 budget authorizations by Hillary Rodham Clinton and John W. Warner, then senators. The department’s climate modeling is based on sophisticated Navy and Air Force weather programs and other government climate research programs at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Pentagon and the State Department have studied issues arising from dependence on foreign sources of energy for years but are only now considering the effects of global warming in their long-term planning documents. The Pentagon will include a climate section in the Quadrennial Defense Review, due in February; the State Department will address the issue in its new Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

“The sense that climate change poses security and geopolitical challenges is central to the thinking of the State Department and the climate office,” said Peter Ogden, chief of staff to Todd Stern, the State Department’s top climate negotiator.

Although military and intelligence planners have been aware of the challenges posed by climate changes for some years, the Obama administration has made it a central policy focus.

A changing climate presents a range of challenges for the military. Many of its critical installations are vulnerable to rising seas and storm surges. In Florida, Homestead Air Force Base was essentially destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and Hurricane Ivan badly damaged Naval Air Station Pensacola in 2004. Military planners are studying ways to protect the major naval stations in Norfolk, Va., and San Diego from climate-induced rising seas and severe storms.

Another vulnerable installation is Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean that serves as a logistics hub for American and British forces in the Middle East and sits a few feet above sea level.

Arctic melting also presents new problems for the military. The shrinking of the ice cap, which is proceeding faster than anticipated only a few years ago, opens a shipping channel that must be defended and undersea resources that are already the focus of international competition.

Ms. Dory, who has held senior Pentagon posts since the Clinton administration, said she had seen a “sea change” in the military’s thinking about climate change in the past year. “These issues now have to be included and wrestled with” in drafting national security strategy, she said.

The National Intelligence Council, which produces governmentwide intelligence analyses, produced the first assessment of the national security implications of global climate change just last year. It concluded that climate change by itself would have significant geopolitical impacts around the world and would contribute to a host of problems, including poverty, environmental degradation and the weakening of national governments.

The assessment warned that the storms, droughts and food shortages that might result from a warming planet in coming decades would create numerous relief emergencies.

“The demands of these potential humanitarian responses may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations,” the report said.

The intelligence community is preparing a series of reports on the impacts of climate change on individual countries like China and India, a study of alternative fuels and a look at how major power relations could be strained by a changing climate.

“We will pay for this one way or another,” Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine and the former head of the Central Command, wrote recently in a report he prepared as a member of a military advisory board on energy and climate at CNA, a private group that does research for the Navy. “We will pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today, and we’ll have to take an economic hit of some kind.

“Or we will pay the price later in military terms,” he warned. “And that will involve human lives.”


The Truth About Climate Change

Deniers continue to insist there's no consensus on global warming. Well, there's not. There's well-tested science and real-world observations.

By Joseph Romm  Feb. 27, 2008 Salon.com

The more I write about global warming, the more I realize I share some things in common with the doubters and deniers who populate the blogosphere and the conservative movement. Like them, I am dubious about the process used by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to write its reports. Like them, I am skeptical of the so-called consensus on climate science as reflected in the IPCC reports. Like them, I disagree with people who say "the science is settled." But that's where the agreement ends.

The science isn't settled -- it's unsettling, and getting more so every year as the scientific community learns more about the catastrophic consequences of uncontrolled greenhouse gas emissions.

News AP Photo/John McConnico

An iceberg melts in Kulusuk, Greenland, near the Arctic Circle.

The big difference I have with the doubters is they believe the IPCC reports seriously overstate the impact of human emissions on the climate, whereas the actual observed climate data clearly show the reports dramatically understate the impact.

But I do think the scientific community, the progressive community, environmentalists and media are making a serious mistake by using the word "consensus" to describe the shared understanding scientists have about the ever-worsening impacts that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are having on this planet. When scientists and others say there is a consensus, many if not most people probably hear "consensus of opinion," which can -- and often is -- dismissed out of hand. I've met lots of people like CNBC anchor Joe Kernen, who simply can't believe that "as old as the planet is" that "puny, gnawing little humans" could possibly change the climate in "70 years."

Well, Joe, it is more like 250 years, but yes, most of the damage to date was done in the last 70 years, and yes, as counterintuitive as it may seem, puny little humans are doing it, and it's going to get much, much worse unless we act soon. Consensus of opinion is irrelevant to science because reality is often counterintuitive -- just try studying quantum mechanics.

Fortunately Kernen wasn't around when scientists were warning that puny little humans were destroying the Earth's protective ozone layer. Otherwise we might never have banned chlorofluorocarbons in time.

Consensus of opinion is also dismissed as groupthink. In a December article ignorantly titled "The Science of Gore's Nobel: What If Everyone Believes in Global Warmism Only Because Everyone Believes in Global Warmism?" Holman W. Jenkins Jr. of the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote:

What if the heads being counted to certify an alleged "consensus" arrived at their positions by counting heads?

It may seem strange that scientists would participate in such a phenomenon. It shouldn't. Scientists are human; they do not wait for proof. Many devote their professional lives to seeking evidence for hypotheses, especially well-funded hypotheses, they've chosen to believe.

Less surprising is the readiness of many prominent journalists to embrace the role of enforcer of an orthodoxy simply because it is the orthodoxy. For them, a consensus apparently suffices as proof of itself.

How sad that the WSJ and CNBC have so little conception of what science really is, especially since scientific advances drive so much of the economy. If that's what Jenkins thinks science is, one would assume he is equally skeptical of flossing, antibiotics and even boarding an airplane.

(Note to WSJ: One reason science works is that a lot of scientists devote their whole lives to overturning whatever is the current hypothesis -- if it can be overturned. That's how you become famous and remembered by history, like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein.)

In fact, science doesn't work by consensus of opinion. Science is in many respects the exact opposite of decision by consensus. General opinion at one point might have been that the sun goes around the Earth, or that time was an absolute quantity, but scientific theory supported by observations overturned that flawed worldview.

One of the most serious results of the overuse of the term "consensus" in the public discussion of global warming is that it creates a simple strategy for doubters to confuse the public, the press and politicians: Simply come up with as long a list as you can of scientists who dispute the theory. After all, such disagreement is prima facie proof that no consensus of opinion exists.

So we end up with the absurd but pointless spectacle of the leading denier in the U.S. Senate, James Inhofe, R-Okla., who recently put out a list of more than 400 names of supposedly "prominent scientists" who supposedly "recently voiced significant objections to major aspects of the so-called 'consensus' on man-made global warming."

As it turned out, the list is both padded and laughable, containing the opinions of TV weathermen, economists, a bunch of non-prominent scientists who aren't climate experts, and, perhaps surprisingly, even a number of people who actually believe in the consensus.

But in any case, nothing could be more irrelevant to climate science than the opinion of people on the list such as Weather Channel founder John Coleman or famed inventor Ray Kurzweil (who actually does "think global warming is real"). Or, for that matter, my opinion -- even though I researched a Ph.D. thesis at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography on physical oceanography in the Greenland Sea.

What matters is scientific findings -- data, not opinions. The IPCC relies on the peer-reviewed scientific literature for its conclusions, which must meet the rigorous requirements of the scientific method and which are inevitably scrutinized by others seeking to disprove that work. That is why I cite and link to as much research as is possible, hundreds of studies in the case of this article. Opinions are irrelevant.

A good example of how scientific evidence drives our understanding concerns how we know that humans are the dominant cause of global warming. This is, of course, the deniers' favorite topic. Since it is increasingly obvious that the climate is changing and the planet is warming, the remaining deniers have coalesced to defend their Alamo -- that human emissions aren't the cause of recent climate change and therefore that reducing those emissions is pointless.

Last year, longtime Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn wrote, "There is still zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world's present warming trend. The greenhouse fearmongers rely entirely on unverified, crudely oversimplified computer models to finger mankind's sinful contribution."

In fact, the evidence is amazingly strong. Moreover, if the relatively complex climate models are oversimplified in any respect, it is by omitting amplifying feedbacks and other factors that suggest human-caused climate change will be worse than is widely realized.

The IPCC concluded last year: "Greenhouse gas forcing has very likely (>90 percent) caused most of the observed global warming over the last 50 years. This conclusion takes into account ... the possibility that the response to solar forcing could be underestimated by climate models."

Scientists have come to understand that "forcings" (natural and human-made) explain most of the changes in our climate and temperature both in recent decades and over the past millions of years. The primary human-made forcings are the heat-trapping greenhouse gases we generate, particularly carbon dioxide from burning coal, oil and natural gas. The natural forcings include fluctuations in the intensity of sunlight (which can increase or decrease warming), and major volcanoes that inject huge volumes of gases and aerosol particles into the stratosphere (which tend to block sunlight and cause cooling).

A 2002 study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences warned, "Abrupt climate changes were especially common when the climate system was being forced to change most rapidly." The rapidly growing greenhouse warming we ourselves are causing today thus increases the chances for "large, abrupt and unwelcome regional or global climatic events."

Over and over again, scientists have demonstrated that observed changes in the climate in recent decades can only be explained by taking into account the observed combination of human and natural forcings. Natural forcings alone just don't explain what is happening to this planet.

For instance, in April 2005, one of the nation's top climate scientists, NASA's James Hansen, led a team of scientists that made "precise measurements of increasing ocean heat content over the past 10 years," which revealed that the Earth is absorbing far more heat than it is emitting to space, confirming what earlier computer models had shown about warming. Hansen called this energy imbalance the "smoking gun" of climate change, and said, "There can no longer be genuine doubt that human-made gases are the dominant cause of observed warming."

Another 2005 study, led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, compared actual ocean temperature data from the surface down to hundreds of meters (in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans) with climate models and concluded:

A warming signal has penetrated into the world's oceans over the past 40 years. The signal is complex, with a vertical structure that varies widely by ocean; it cannot be explained by natural internal climate variability or solar and volcanic forcing, but is well simulated by two anthropogenically [human-caused] forced climate models. We conclude that it is of human origin, a conclusion robust to observational sampling and model differences.

Such studies are also done for many other observations: land-based temperature rise, atmospheric temperature rise, sea level rise, arctic ice melt, inland glacier melt, Greeland and Antarctic ice sheet melt, expansion of the tropics (desertification) and changes in precipitation. Studies compare every testable prediction from climate change theory and models (and suggested by paleoclimate research) to actual observations.

How many studies? Well, the IPCC's definitive treatment of the subject, "Understanding and Attributing Climate Change," has 11 full pages of references, some 500 peer-reviewed studies. This is not a consensus of opinion. It is what scientific research and actual observations reveal.

Ignoring all the evidence, doubters and deniers keep asserting that the cause of global warming isn't human emissions, but is instead natural forcings, primarily the sun. Last year, brief presidential candidate Fred Thompson commented on claims that planets like Mars were supposedly also warming -- an idea debunked by RealClimate. Thompson said sarcastically:

I wonder what all those planets, dwarf planets and moons in our SOLAR system have in common. Hmmmm. SOLAR system. Hmmmm. Solar? I wonder. Nah, I guess we shouldn't even be talking about this. The science is absolutely decided. There's a consensus. Ask Galileo.

The view that the sun is the source of observed global warming seems credible mainly to people who are open to believing that the entire scientific community has somehow, over a period of several decades, failed to adequately study, analyze and understand the most visible influence on the Earth's temperature. Such people typically cannot be influenced by the results of actual research and observations. Those who can should visit Skeptical Science, which discusses deniers' favorite arguments. In one discussion, the site explains that the "study most quoted by skeptics actually concluded the sun can't be causing global warming." Doh!

And that brings us to a recent study by the Proceedings of the Royal Society, which examined "all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth's climate," such as sunlight intensity and cosmic rays. The study found that in the past 20 years, all of those trends "have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures."

Those trying to prove the sun is the sole cause of warming have a double challenge. First they would have to show us a mechanism that demonstrates how the sun explains recent warming, even though the data shows solar activity has been declining recently. (In the past, increased warming was associated with an increase in solar activity). They would also have to find an additional mechanism that is counteracting the well-understood warming caused by rising emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The doubters have done neither.

But then the doubters aren't interested in things like data and observations and peer-reviewed research. If they were, why would they keep pointing out that, historically, global temperature rise precedes a rise in carbon dioxide emissions by a few hundred years -- as if that were a reason to cast doubt on the impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases? Rep. Joe Barton said to Al Gore:

I have an article from Science magazine that explains a rise in CO2 concentrations actually lagged temperature by 200 to 1000 years. CO2 levels went up after the temperature rose. Temperature appears to drive CO2, not vice versa. You're not just off a little. You're totally wrong.

Yes, historically, glacial periods appear to end with an initial warming started by changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun. This in turn leads to increases in carbon dioxide (and methane), which then accelerate the warming, which increases the emissions, which increases the warming. That amplifying feedback in the global carbon cycle is what drives the global temperature to change so fast.

But while this fact seems to make doubters less worried about the impact of human emissions, it makes most scientists more worried. As famed climatologist Wallace Broecker wrote in Nature in 1995:

The paleoclimate record shouts out to us that, far from being self-stabilizing, the Earth's climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts even to small nudges.

That is, you need a trigger to start the process of rapid climate change. Historically, that has been orbital changes, or sometimes, massive natural releases of greenhouse gases.

Now humans have interrupted and overwhelmed the natural process of climate change. Thanks to humans, carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have been for millions of years. Even more worrisome, carbon dioxide emissions are rising 200 times faster than at any time in the last 650,000 years.

If the "Earth's climate system is an ornery beast which overreacts to even small nudges," what will happen to people foolish enough to keep punching it in the face?

That brings us to another problem with the word "consensus." It can mean "unanimity" or "the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned." Many, if not most, people hear the second meaning: "consensus" as majority opinion.

The scientific consensus most people are familiar with is the IPCC's "Summary for Policymakers" reports. But those aren't a majority opinion. Government representatives participate in a line-by-line review and revision of these summaries. So China, Saudi Arabia and that hotbed of denialism -- the Bush administration -- get to veto anything they don't like. The deniers call this "politicized science," suggesting the process turns the IPCC summaries into some sort of unscientific exaggeration. In fact, the reverse is true. The net result is unanimous agreement on a conservative or watered-down document. You could argue that rather than majority rules, this is "minority rules."

Last April, in an article titled "Conservative Climate," Scientific American noted that objections by Saudi Arabia and China led the IPCC to remove a sentence stating that the impact of human greenhouse gas emissions on the Earth's recent warming is five times greater than that of the sun. In fact, lead author Piers Forster of the University of Leeds in England said, "The difference is really a factor of 10."

How decent of the IPCC not to smash the last hope of deniers like Fred Thompson, whose irrational sun worshiping allows them to ignore the overwhelming evidence that human emissions are the dominant cause of climate change.

How else does the IPCC lowball future impacts? The 2007 report projects sea level rise this century of 7 to 23 inches. Yet the IPCC itself stated that "models [of sea level rise] used to date do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks nor do they include the full effect of changes in ice sheet flow."

That is, since no existing climate models fully account for the kinds of feedbacks we are now witnessing in Greenland and Antarctica, such as dynamic acceleration of ice sheet disintegration or greenhouse gases released by melting tundra, the IPCC is forced to ignore those realities. The result is that compared to the "consensus" of the IPCC, the ice sheets appear to be shrinking "100 years ahead of schedule," as Penn State climatologist Richard Alley put it in March 2006

According to both the 2001 and 2007 IPCC reports, neither Greenland nor Antarctica should lose significant mass by 2100. They both already are. Here again, the conservative nature of the IPCC process puts it at odds with observed empirical realities that are the basis of all science.

It's no surprise then that three scientific studies released in the past year -- too late for inclusion by the IPCC -- argue that based on historical data and recent observations, sea level rise this century will be much higher than the IPCC reports, up to 5 feet or more. Even scarier, the rate of sea level rise in 2100 might be greater than 6 inches a decade!

And it's no surprise at all that sea-level rise from 1993 and 2006 -- 1.3 inches per decade as measured by satellites -- has been higher than the IPCC climate models predicted.

The deniers are simply wrong when they claim that the IPCC has overestimated either current or future warming impacts. As many other recent observations reveal, the IPCC has been underestimating those impacts.

  • Since 2000, carbon dioxide emissions have grown faster than any IPCC model had projected.
  • The temperature rise from 1990 to 2005 -- 0.33°C -- was "near the top end of the range" of IPCC climate model predictions.
  • "The recent [Arctic] sea-ice retreat is larger than in any of the (19) IPCC [climate] models" -- and that was a Norwegian expert in 2005. Since then, the Arctic retreat has stunned scientists by accelerating, losing an area equal to Texas and California just last summer.
  • "The unexpectedly rapid expansion of the tropical belt constitutes yet another signal that climate change is occurring sooner than expected," noted one climate researcher in December.

This last point, though little remarked on in the media, should be as worrisome as the unexpectedly rapid melting of the ice sheets. As a recent study led by NOAA noted, "A poleward expansion of the tropics is likely to bring even drier conditions to" the U.S. Southwest, Mexico, Australia and parts of Africa and South America. Also: "An increase in the width of the tropics could bring an increase in the area affected by tropical storms." And finally: "An expansion of tropical pathogens and their insect vectors is almost certainly sure to follow the expansion of tropical zones."

Why are recent observations on the high side of model projections? First, as noted, most climate models used by the IPCC omit key amplifying feedbacks in the carbon cycle. Second, it was widely thought that increased human carbon dioxide emissions would be partly offset by more trees and other vegetation. But increases in droughts and wildfires -- both predicted by global warming theory -- seem to have negated that. Third, the ocean -- one of the largest sinks for carbon dioxide -- seems to be saturating decades earlier than the models had projected.

The result, as a number of studies have shown, is that the sensitivity of the world's climate to human emissions of greenhouse gases is no doubt much higher than the sensitivity used in most IPCC models. NASA's Hansen argued in a paper last year that the climate ultimately has twice the sensitivity used in IPCC models.

The bottom line is that recent observations and research make clear the planet almost certainly faces a greater and more imminent threat than is laid out in the IPCC reports. That's why climate scientists are so desperate. That's why they keep begging for immediate action. And that's why the "consensus on global warming" is a phrase that should be forever retired from the climate debate.


Global Warming Denials Flawed

by Froma Harrop

It has long been sage policy to ignore the crank denials around global warming. But now and then you have a weather-related disaster like the fires devouring big chunks of Southern California --- and you wonder about the extent to which the blockheads have slowed progress in dealing with the problem.

Leading climatologists may debate how much of the drought in the West and the South reflects normal weather cycles and how much climate change. Few question that global warming is already here and that its acceleration will bring more of what we've been seeing--- extreme dryness in parts of the United States and more hurricanes.

Neither I, nor the deniers, nor nearly everyone else reading this is qualified to independently analyze global warming. What we do is choose whom to believe. We who worry have as our teachers nearly every leading climatologist on the planet.

While the deniers' reflections on science are not very interesting, their politics can be. Pat Buchanan insists that the fuss over climate changes is all a "con" to transfer sovereignty, power and wealth to a global political elite."

To cast doubt on the scientists' warnings, Buchanan lists examples in history of dire predictions that didn't come true, ignoring those that did. He also tries to equate the squishy prophecies of social science with the findings of hard science, now aided by sophisticated computer modeling.

And he found a helpful scientist, the contrarian Dr. William Gray. A meteorologist at Colorado State University, Gray holds that human-caused global warming is "a hoax." Gray has yet to establish his theory in a peer-reviewed journal, but he gets lots of media attention, as you can imagine.

OK. The deniers declare it's not happening, or if it is, humans aren't involved. Or they just say these things for political expediency. It's a free country.

But when the deniers unfairly impugn the motives of respected scientists, they cross a dark line.

Early on, they attacked the integrity of James Hansen, NASA's head climatologist. Hansen had warned that the environmental calamity will happen sooner than expected. His newfound enemies couldn't make a case that his science was bad. The best they could do was spread the lie that George Soros had paid him $720,000.

The Bush administration tried to silence him in sneaky ways. It empowered a lawyer from the petroleum industry to change Hansen's climate reports. Political appointees forbid him to talk with certain journalists.

No one could find a plausible reason why Hansen would subvert science. The reticent Iowan had no obvious lust for fame. He wasn't pushing a book. His politics were middle-of-the-road.

The global-warming issue isn't about whether you like Al Gore. It's not about the Kyoto Treaty, which no president was going to sign. The treaty's flaws did not change the reality that global warming is a serious problem needing international cooperation.

Bush could have suggested other approaches. Instead, he decided to blow off the countries that had signed the Kyoto, including some of our dearest allies. His strategy was to stall on taking any action. He declared the science "not sufficiently reliable."

The people of Southern California can't be terribly interested right now in such pronouncements. Most know full well that their region, always subject to wildfires, is becoming more vulnerable as the planet warms.

Businesses, states and even the federal government have begun moving forward on climate change. Too bad so much time has been wasted.

(Harrop is a writer for Creators Syndicate)


A COMMENT BY A DYNION MWYN MEMBER

It's amazing to me that Global Warming is even an issue that's up for debate. It seems perfectly clear to me what is going on around the globe in the form of human influenced global warming. Instead of sitting around debating with those who have no intention of changing their minds (an effort that would be as futile as a Christian attempting to convert me) I am putting my energy towards thinking about my future and the future of my family and friends here on this planet.

The changes aren't just coming- they are HERE. Global warming will be one of the contributing factors that will make the 2012 shift so dramatic. I firmly believe that one of the most destructive factors in the potential calamity to come isn't the fact that a person can't can peaches (those that can't will figure it out fast) but rather it will be the inability or refusal to open one's mind to the possibility that life as we know it could change for ever. It isn't that far of a stretch. All the modern conveniences we have created are simply DESTROYING the earth. She's not going to take it much longer.

Something's got to give. I've been reading the posts about the 2012 events and who will do what to prepare. Quite frankly I've been a bit surprised by some of the responses. Especially the ones that state survival isn't an option because if life as we kow it comes to an end they don't want to participate. Well, this is natural selection. Mother Earth doesn't want humans living on her soil that don't care to make changes in her favor. Personally, I compare the coming events to one of my favorite cards in the Tarot- The Tower.

If all hell breakes loose and everything we know comes crashing down, I hope to be standing there once the dust settles- hand in hand with my bothers and sisters- survivors ready to take on the new challenges of life on earth!

Blessed Be!

Samantha~

 

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