Friday, February 02, 2007

To No One's Great Surprise....

The UN report on climate change, the first of four this year, has been released this morning, and to no one's surprise (not even those who believe there is no such thing as global warming, and who also believe that giant unicorns would protect us if there was), the report is a deep indictment of man's practices over the past 350 years:
PARIS (Reuters) - The world's top climate scientists said on Friday global warming was man-made, spurring calls for urgent government action to prevent severe and irreversible damage from rising temperatures.

The United Nations panel, which groups 2,500 scientists from more than 130 nations, predicted more droughts, heatwaves, rains and a slow gain in sea levels that could last for more than 1,000 years.

The scientists said it was "very likely" -- or more than 90 percent probable -- that human activities led by burning fossil fuels explained most of the warming in the past 50 years.

That is a toughening from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) last report in 2001, which judged a link as "likely", or 66 percent probable.
That last report spurred the following admission, since covered up deeply by the GOP, from the Bush administration's mouthpiece, George W. Bush:
There is a natural greenhouse effect that contributes to warming. Greenhouse gases trap heat, and thus warm the earth because they prevent a significant proportion of infrared radiation from escaping into space. Concentration of greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution. And the National Academy of Sciences indicate that the increase is due in large part to human activity.
(emphasis added)

There's a bit of confusion, as I pointed out earlier this week, in the amount of sea level rise. This article does little to clarify this issue, either, so let me parse it for a second.

This passage:
The United Nations panel, which groups 2,500 scientists from more than 130 nations, predicted more droughts, heatwaves, rains and a slow gain in sea levels that could last for more than 1,000 years.
is debatable. The words "slow gain in sea levels" and "last for more than 1,000 years" are meant to give the impression that this would be a gradual rise, something that we could, you know, maybe just lay down another layer of sandbags against every few years.

This is true under only one scenario: a slow melting of the Anarctic and/or Greenland ice sheets. Which, in my opinion (and prima facie evidence suggests) ain't gon' happen.

First off, "last for 1,000 years" could mean, will mean, that the effects of the rise in ocean levels will last 1,000 years as mother nature restores balance to the ecology. Period. For the next thousand years, we will see weather the likes of which mankind has never experienced. It will exceed the fairy tales and the Old Testament accounts. Noah never had it so good.

Further, this is all predicated on a nice orderly melting of the ice sheets. Observation of history shows that nature tends to be violent when faced with change. For a recent example, we need look no further than the Anarctic pack ice break ups of the late 90s and early 00s. Water run-off from the melting of surface ice cuts into the ice pack like a hot knife through butter, weakening the structure of the pack, much like a crack in the ice on a pond will weaken it sufficiently that skating is banned until it heals.

As I pointed out in the article earlier this week, that means all the structure of the sheet is held from falling into the sea by a thinner and thinner barrier of ice at the shore.

Once that goes, it's like a dump truck letting for its load. Much if not most of the sheet will slide into the sea, creating a massive and immediate (and I do mean immediate) rise in sea levels. Twenty to thirty feet is a modest estimate, which will wipe out Miami, New York, London, the Netherlands...most major cities, in fact, across the globe. Already, low-lying islands like the Maldives and much of the South Pacific are being evacuated, or are making plans for evacuation. If BOTH the Antarctic and Greenland sheets release, you're looking at a fifty foot rise in sea levels. Suddenly cities in the heartland of America along rivers are in grave danger, like St. Louis and Pittsburgh. And insurance don't cover this kind of flooding.

This will also have an impact on our military strategy in the Middle East and South Asia, as Diego Garcia, an important British and United States airbase in the Indian Ocean, is flooded. It is only 22 feet high at its highest point and a recent five foot high tsunami caused much structural damage to buildings across the atoll, and wiped out the runway for a few weeks.

The one question that remains completely unanswered is, "can we even fix the problem?"

The short answer is, well, there is no short answer. The IPCC is scheduled to deliver in May a report outlining ways that we can limit carbon emissions and other ways to combat global warming (possibly including that rather silly idea of blocking the sun's light).

Put it this way: the short answer to whether we can fix this or not is, "I ain't looking forward to that report."