Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Story You Won't Read Here In The US

This Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue its fourth annual report on global warming, and it's expected to be a doozy.

Put it to you this way: the only thing the world's scientists disagree on is how high sea levels will rise in response to the current warming trends, and the panel painstakingly went out of its way to include scientists who formerly disagreed with the global warming concept. In fact, one of the major criticisms of the IPCC is that it has hired too many corporatists and right-wingers. Not surprisingly, these hirings were made under pressure from the two Bush & the Reagan administrations.

Ahead of that report comes this one:
Mountain glaciers are shrinking three times faster than they were in the 1980s, scientists have announced.

The World Glacier Monitoring Service, which continuously studies a sample of 30 glaciers around the world, says the acceleration is down to climate change.
If you've seen Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, then you're already aware of the effects of this: for instance, we will soon have to renamed Glacier National Park, "National Park".

While this report will refine the anticipated temperature rise attributable to global warming (it had been projected to be between 1.4°C and 5.8°C, but the lower end of that range is being narrowed upwards), the disagreement on sea level rise is a prominent one.
A bigger network of tide gauges and other instruments has enabled researchers to conclude that the sea level is on average rising by about 2mm per year, or 20cm per century.

This is one of the factors which led to earlier drafts of this report projecting rises by the end of the century which were a lot less than the maximum figure of 88cm contained in the 2001 version.
*whew* OK, so it may not be as bad as we originally thought, right?

Here comes the real chilling part (no pun intended):
But some scientists are arguing that recent observations of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets suggest a major melt may be commencing. This, they say, should be reflected in the eventual IPCC projections.
The projections included in the report assume that current melt-down of land-based ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland will continue linearly, whereas the more likely scenario, based on recent ice sheet detachments in Antarctica suggest an asymptotic meltdown.

Like a landslide or avalanche, as the ice barrier to the sea melts because of increased atmospheric heat and increased sea water warmth, the locking mechanism that holds the land-based ice sheet breaks down. This barrier acts like a load-bearing rafter in a house. Take one down, you've significantly weakened the house and put enormous stresses on the other rafters. When enough of them break down, the house collapses quickly.

Similarly, there's nothing pulling the ice back up onto the land. The support comes from below. Buhbye ice sheets!

The US, ahead of this report, has also had a response, although you'd be hard pressed to find it in any American newspaper (hat tip to Jack Balkin via Jesus' General):
THE US wants the world's scientists to develop technology to block sunlight as a last-ditch way to halt global warming.

It says research into techniques such as giant mirrors in space or reflective dust pumped into the atmosphere would be "important insurance" against rising emissions, and has lobbied for such a strategy to be recommended by a UN report on climate change, the first part of which is due out on Friday.

The US has also attempted to steer the UN report, prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), away from conclusions that would support a new worldwide climate treaty based on binding targets to reduce emissions. It has demanded a draft of the report be changed to emphasise the benefits of voluntary agreements and to include criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol, which the US opposes.
OK, that last bit is an obvious partisan ploy, which was to be expected.

The first suggestion, to block the sun's rays, at least means someone somewhere, perhaps with a decent sense of humour, has his eye on the ball.

It's true, blocking the sun's rays would help reduce global warming, just as pulling a shade down helps your air conditioner work more efficiently. And even a one percent drop in sunlight could drop temperatures about 1°C, which would offset nearly all the global warming experienced to date. Visions of a giant umbrella dancing in your head right now, that's one possibility. Another would be to seed space just below low-earth orbit with shiny little mylar balls. Still another would be to pollute the upper atmosphere with "volcanic ash", or microscopic particles of sulfate.

Naturally, the Bush administration has thought out all the negative contingencies and is prepared to deal with them, just like it had planned a response to Katrina and effectively carried out their response. Sadly, their planning was to blame, along with the execution.

The problems inherent in this solution are myriad. Transcontinental phone and television services would be disrupted, satellites would be put at risk, there's pollution issues with the sulfate solution, as well. Oh...and let's not forget that a reduction in solar energy would reduce crop yields at a time when the world is running out of grain stores. And reduce any other solar energy utilization as well, like photosynthesis or solar electricity.

Too, the problem isn't the amount of sunlight coming down onto the earth (altho as a short-term solution until we can get our heads out of our asses, it ain't a bad idea). The problem is the amount of heat that remains in the atmosphere. And there, too, these solutions have a cost, because what shields in one direction will shield in another. Unless you have an active cooling system in place on the planet (say, glaciers or ice caps), much of the effectiveness of these shade solutions is lost (much like pulling your shades and NOT turning your air conditioning is less effective at cooling than leaving your windows open to a breeze).

The US is engaged in a lot of whining about this report, which means it's probably a lot closer to the truth than they are used to:
The US submission complains the draft report is "Kyoto-centric" and it wants to include the work of economists who have reported "the degree to which the Kyoto framework is found wanting".

It also complains that overall "the report tends to overstate or focus on the negative effects of climate change". It also wants more emphasis on responsibilities of the developing world.
Ew. Boy, talk about crybabies!

The smartest quote I've seen about global warming is in this article:
"Hell, we buy fire insurance based on a 1 per cent chance," [Professor Stephen Schneider, a climate consultant to the US government for more than 30 years] said. "If we're going to be risk averse … we cannot dismiss the possibility of potentially catastrophic outliers and that includes Greenland and West Antarctica [ice sheets breaking up], massive species extinctions, intensified hurricanes and all those things. "There's at least a 10 per cent chance of that. And that to me for a society is too high a risk … My value judgement when you're talking about planetary life support systems is that 10 per cent, my God, that's Russian roulette with a Luger."

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