Saturday, November 17, 2007

Back To The Overarching Crisis

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a new report which one author has termed its "strongest report yet."

There's not a helluva lot of good news in it, I'm afraid, but that doesn't mean action can't be taken immediately:
Among the report's top-line conclusions are that climate change is "unequivocal", that humankind's emissions of greenhouse gases are more than 90% likely to be the main cause, and that impacts can be reduced at reasonable cost.

The synthesis summary finalised late on Friday strengthens the language of those earlier reports with a warning that climate change may bring "abrupt and irreversible" impacts.

Such impacts could include the fast melting of glaciers and species extinctions.
Or the forced evacuation of a city of millions and its environs.
"Approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5C (relative to the 1980-1999 average)," the summary concludes.

Other potential impacts highlighted in the text include:

- between 75m and 250m people projected to have scarcer fresh water supplies than at present
- yields from rain-fed agriculture could be halved
- food security likely to be further compromised in Africa
- widespread impacts on coral reefs
Please note the clause I highlighted: if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5C (relative to the 1980-1999 average). That means the IPCC has dumbed down the assessment targets for warming, basically tossing out the first hundred years of formal meteorological recorded history to focus on the era that was already far warmer than it ever had been since the last Ice Age.

Things are bad enough that the Norwegian government has decided to open a "Doomsday Vault" to store seeds to survive the coming crisis:
Engineers have begun the two-month process of cooling down a "doomsday vault", which will house seeds from all known varieties of key food crops.

The temperature inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will drop to -18C (0F) in order to preserve the seeds.

Built deep inside a mountain, it aims to safeguard the world's crops from future disasters, such as nuclear wars, asteroids or dangerous climate change.

The first seeds are scheduled to arrive at the Arctic site in mid-February.

The Norwegian government is paying the $9m (£4.5m) construction costs of the vault, which will have enough space to house 4.5 million seed samples.
In the Hollywood version of this, the vault survives global climate change only to get hit by an asteroid, or worse, a fungus, but I digress.

It can't be helping any that carbon dioxide emissions have grown 35% faster than predicted since 2000....gee...who's been President this whole time, I wonder?

We're going to start seeing many more stories like this one, "US wants freeze on tuna fishing," in the near future. And yes, the United States comes off as a petulant little boy in that story, for a reason!

Yes, the presenting cause has been overfishing, but the backdrop to the story is that bluefin tuna are as reliant on zooplankton as every other fish in its food chain, and global warming is decimating the entire oceanic life cycle.

Atlantic cod is a good example of how this plays out: cod fishing was banned in the Grand Banks off the American coast in 1992.

Cod are still there, but their numbers have not increased since the ban went into effect, meaning they are barely breeding at replacement rates and not growing a population, which you'd expect for an apex fish.

So is there any good news out of this summary report of the IPCC's previous three reports this year? Sure. A little.
The growth in greenhouse gas emissions can be curbed at reasonable cost, experts at a major UN climate change conference in Bangkok have agreed.

Boosting renewable energy, reducing deforestation and improving energy efficiency can all help, they said. [...]

The sharpest cuts, keeping greenhouse gas concentrations to levels equivalent to between 445 and 535 parts per million of carbon dioxide, might cost anything up to 3% of global GDP by 2030, while milder curbs could even enhance growth.
Basically, signing onto and keeping to the Kyoto Protocols, for less than $400 billion per year, or roughly what we spend in Iraq in one year, including the "hidden costs."

Hmmm....which leading economic power has refused to endorse that, I wonder?