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Debate on Climate Shifts to Issue of Irreparable Change


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Debate on Climate Shifts to Issue of Irreparable Change

Some Experts on Global Warming Foresee 'Tipping Point' When It Is Too Late to Act

By Juliet Eilperin

Washington Post Staff Writer

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/28/AR2006012801021.html

Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend.

This "tipping point" scenario has begun to consume many prominent researchers in the United States and abroad, because the answer could determine how drastically countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. While scientists remain uncertain when such a point might occur, many say it is urgent that policymakers cut global carbon dioxide emissions in half over the next 50 years or risk the triggering of changes that would be irreversible.

There are three specific events that these scientists describe as especially worrisome and potentially imminent, although the time frames are a matter of dispute: widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and, within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.

The debate has been intensifying because Earth is warming much faster than some researchers had predicted. James E. Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, last week confirmed that 2005 was the warmest year on record, surpassing 1998. Earth's average temperature has risen nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, he noted, and another increase of about 4 degrees over the next century would "imply changes that constitute practically a different planet."

"It's not something you can adapt to," Hansen said in an interview. "We can't let it go on another 10 years like this. We've got to do something."

Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael Oppenheimer, who also advises the advocacy group Environmental Defense, said one of the greatest dangers lies in the disintegration of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets, which together hold about 20 percent of the fresh water on the planet. If either of the two sheets disintegrates, sea level could rise nearly 20 feet in the course of a couple of centuries, swamping the southern third of Florida and Manhattan up to the middle of Greenwich Village.

While both the Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheets as a whole are gaining some mass in their cold interiors because of increasing snowfall, they are losing ice along their peripheries. That indicates that scientists may have underestimated the rate of disintegration they face in the future, Oppenheimer said. Greenland's current net ice loss is equivalent to an annual 0.008 inch sea level rise.

The effects of the collapse of either ice sheet would be "huge," Oppenheimer said. "Once you lost one of these ice sheets, there's really no putting it back for thousands of years, if ever."

Last year, the British government sponsored a scientific symposium on "Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change," which examined a number of possible tipping points. A book based on that conference, due to be published Tuesday, suggests that disintegration of the two ice sheets becomes more likely if average temperatures rise by more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit, a prospect "well within the range of climate change projections for this century."

The report concludes that a temperature rise of just 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit "is likely to lead to extensive coral bleaching," destroying critical fish nurseries in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Too-warm sea temperatures stress corals, causing them to expel symbiotic micro-algae that live in their tissues and provide them with food, and thus making the reefs appear bleached. Bleaching that lasts longer than a week can kill corals. This fall there was widespread bleaching from Texas to Trinidad that killed broad swaths of corals, in part because ocean temperatures were 2 degrees Fahrenheit above average monthly maximums.

Many scientists are also worried about a possible collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation, a current that brings warm surface water to northern Europe and returns cold, deep-ocean water south. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who directs Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has run multiple computer models to determine when climate change could disrupt this "conveyor belt," which, according to one study, is already slower than it was 30 years ago. According to these simulations, there is a 50 percent chance the current will collapse within 200 years.

Some scientists, including President Bush's chief science adviser, John H. Marburger III, emphasize there is still much uncertainty about when abrupt global warming might occur.

"There's no agreement on what it is that constitutes a dangerous climate change," said Marburger, adding that the U.S. government spends $2 billion a year on researching this and other climate change questions. "We know things like this are possible, but we don't have enough information to quantify the level of risk."

This tipping point debate has stirred controversy within the administration; Hansen said senior political appointees are trying to block him from sharing his views publicly.

When Hansen posted data on the Internet in the fall suggesting that 2005 could be the warmest year on record, NASA officials ordered Hansen to withdraw the information because he had not had it screened by the administration in advance, according to a Goddard scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. More recently, NASA officials tried to discourage a reporter from interviewing Hansen for this article and later insisted he could speak on the record only if an agency spokeswoman listened in on the conversation.

"They're trying to control what's getting out to the public," Hansen said, adding that many of his colleagues are afraid to talk about the issue. "They're not willing to say much, because they've been pressured and they're afraid they'll get into trouble."

But Mary L. Cleave, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Office of Earth Science, said the agency insists on monitoring interviews with scientists to ensure they are not misquoted.

"People could see it as a constraint," Cleave said. "As a manager, I might see it as protection."

John R. Christy, director of the Earth Science System Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said it is possible increased warming will be offset by other factors, such as increased cloudiness that would reflect more sunlight. "Whatever happens, we will adapt to it," Christy said.

Scientists who read the history of Earth's climate in ancient sediments, ice cores and fossils find clear signs that it has shifted abruptly in the past on a scale that could prove disastrous for modern society. Peter B. deMenocal, an associate professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, said that about 8,200 years ago, a very sudden cooling shut down the Atlantic conveyor belt. As a result, the land temperature in Greenland dropped more than 9 degrees Fahrenheit within a decade or two.

"It's not this abstract notion that happens over millions of years," deMenocal said. "The magnitude of what we're talking about greatly, greatly exceeds anything we've withstood in human history."

These kinds of concerns have spurred some governments to make major cuts in the carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming. Britain has slashed its emissions by 14 percent, compared with 1990 levels, and aims to reduce them by 60 percent by 2050. Some European countries, however, are lagging well behind their targets under the international Kyoto climate treaty.

David Warrilow, who heads science policy on climate change for Britain's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that while the science remains unsettled, his government has decided to take a precautionary approach. He compared consuming massive amounts of fossil fuels to the strategy of the Titanic's crew, who were unable to avoid an iceberg because they were speeding across the Atlantic in hopes of breaking a record.

"We know there are icebergs out there, but at the moment we're accelerating toward the tipping point," Warrilow said in an interview. "This is silly. We should be doing the opposite, slowing down whilst we build up our knowledge base."

The Bush administration espouses a different approach. Marburger said that though everyone agrees carbon dioxide emissions should decline, the United States prefers to promote cleaner technology rather than impose mandatory greenhouse gas limits. "The U.S. is the world leader in doing something on climate change because of its actions on changing technology," he said.

Stanford University climatologist Stephen H. Schneider, who is helping oversee a major international assessment of how climate change could expose humans and the environment to new vulnerabilities, said countries respond differently to the global warming issue in part because they are affected differently by it. The small island nation of Kiribati is made up of 33 small atolls, none of which is more than 6.5 feet above the South Pacific, and it is only a matter of time before the entire country is submerged by the rising sea.

"For Kiribati, the tipping point has already occurred," Schneider said. "As far as they're concerned, it's tipped, but they have no economic clout in the world."

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Climate expert says NASA bids to muzzle him: report

ASA's top climate scientist said the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture in December calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases, The New York Times said on Saturday.

In an interview with the newspaper, James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that officials at the space agency's headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

"They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," the Times quoted Hansen as saying, adding that the scientist planned to ignore the new restrictions.

http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=scienceNews&storyID=2006-01-28T234534Z_01_N28206458_RTRUKOC_0_US-ENVIRONMENT-NASA.xml

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http://www.junkscience.com/

Losin' it, Jim? NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) is one of the world's leading AGW promoters, with GISTEMP, which bases it's guesstimations of global mean temperature on the same met. station data as everyone else, usually deriving anomaly figures that are 50%, sometimes 100% higher than other climate research groups and frequently triple that derived by UAH from satellite-mounted MSU data. GISTEMP is basically a product of the Hansen show and differs from other researchers' in that GISS extrapolate temperatures 1,200Km (750 miles) from recording points - some would call that ambitious, others dubious. Regardless, with NASA's GISS vying with EU Greens and misanthropic enviros for the catastrophic AGW cheerleading crown the claim that anyone is censoring the Hansen show strikes us as somewhat bizarre.

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http://www.junkscience.com/

Losin' it, Jim? NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) is one of the world's leading AGW promoters, with GISTEMP, which bases it's guesstimations of global mean temperature on the same met. station data as everyone else, usually deriving anomaly figures that are 50%, sometimes 100% higher than other climate research groups and frequently triple that derived by UAH from satellite-mounted MSU data. GISTEMP is basically a product of the Hansen show and differs from other researchers' in that GISS extrapolate temperatures 1,200Km (750 miles) from recording points - some would call that ambitious, others dubious. Regardless, with NASA's GISS vying with EU Greens and misanthropic enviros for the catastrophic AGW cheerleading crown the claim that anyone is censoring the Hansen show strikes us as somewhat bizarre.

Hmmm, a republican website paid for by big oil & big chemical tries to obfuscate the data real supprising huh?

BTW, do you think they have a reason to try and "debunk" global warming seeing as how they are paid for and funded by the biggest polluters in the country???

Since 1996, Junkscience.com has listed links to current articles on many environmental and public health issues, with running commentary courtesy of the "junkman," Steven Milloy.

SEE ALSO: The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition Steve Milloy defines Junk science as "bad science used by lawsuit-happy trial lawyers, the 'food police,' environmental Chicken Littles, power-drunk regulators, and unethical-to-dishonest scientists to fuel specious lawsuits, wacky social and political agendas, and the quest for personal fame and fortune." (http://www.junkscience.com/faqs.html) Junkscience.com became a project of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition when Milloy became TASSC's executive director in March 1997. Though TASSC no longer exists as public entity (See "The Advancement of Sound ScienceCoalition for more information on the questionable status of TASSC), Milloy continues to produce Junkscience.com However, he refuses to disclose his current funding sources. For a short time, the site was sponsored by "Citizens for Integrity in Science," a group that seemed to exist entirely on paper, and whose website was registered to Milloy's home address in Potomac. Milloy denies ever having been a lobbyist. However, he shows up in 1997 federal lobbyist registration data with lobbying expenditures on his behalf, indicating his firm, the EOP Group, considered him an active lobbyist. The same federal records indicate Milloy represented the American Petroleum Institute, FMC Corp, Fort Howard, International Food Additives Council, and Monsanto. (Center for Responsive Politics, Lobbyist Database) According to the Washington Representatives, Milloy was still registered as a lobbyist with the EOP Group in 1999, with the American Petroleum Institute and FMC Corp listed as clients. (http://www.opensecrets.org/lobbyists/lobbyist.asp?ID=15971&year=1997)

source

Steven Milloy is founder and president of Citizens for the Integrity of Science, an organization housed at his home address in Potomac, Maryland. Milloy is also executive director of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), which is run by a division of Grey Advertising called APCO. TASCC is funded by Dow Chemical, Exxon, the National Pest Control Association, Amoco, Lorillard, Occidental Petroleum, Phillip Morris (Grey's largest client), W.R. Grace and other corporations interested in discrediting epidemiological and toxicological studies contrary to their interests, which Milloy attacks on a website called JunkScience.com. Milloy is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and a columnist for FoxNews.com.

source

How does GSFC's scientists have anything to gain by coming out with a paper which describes global warming, other then the truth? If anything, it would caus LESS funding into their research from the Bush Administration, and it is AGAINST their best intrest to tell the truth. So tell me, what is the "hidden agenda" of NASA's GSFC Science division? I showed you the motives of Steve Milloy, who gets money from big oil and chemical to publish BS articles, what is the reason for NASA?

BTW, take a look at the "evidence" junkscience lists, and you can even SEE the data is trending upward over the past 30 years. They just print BS meant to dirty the water, yet it ignores the raw data. If you want me to get into the individual graphs and show why and how junckscience is wrong, I will, but it is pretty glaringly obvious for even the laimen to see.

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Oh Good! yet another thread on the never proven "Global Warming" theory!

Now let's get one based on the Brady Campaign, The great job that the UN is doing and of course the tried and true... "I hate the President" thread and we can call this weekend a raging success.

Man, liberals really need to find a new song and dance. Don't you see that the old way hasnt worked so far and that it never will?

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Are we stll arguing about Global Warming? Seriously, even Conservatives like Bill O'Reily have changed their tune on Global Warming. The modern debate is not whether Global Warming is legit, it is whether MAN can affect it or not.

Really good point!

Either way, it's not really a political topic due to the range in opinions of respected scientists from both left and right.

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Hmmm, a republican website paid for by big oil & big chemical tries to obfuscate the data real supprising huh?

BTW, do you think they have a reason to try and "debunk" global warming seeing as how they are paid for and funded by the biggest polluters in the country???

source

source

How does GSFC's scientists have anything to gain by coming out with a paper which describes global warming, other then the truth? If anything, it would caus LESS funding into their research from the Bush Administration, and it is AGAINST their best intrest to tell the truth. So tell me, what is the "hidden agenda" of NASA's GSFC Science division? I showed you the motives of Steve Milloy, who gets money from big oil and chemical to publish BS articles, what is the reason for NASA?

BTW, take a look at the "evidence" junkscience lists, and you can even SEE the data is trending upward over the past 30 years. They just print BS meant to dirty the water, yet it ignores the raw data. If you want me to get into the individual graphs and show why and how junckscience is wrong, I will, but it is pretty glaringly obvious for even the laimen to see.

Ad Hominem attacks don't work Chom. I hoped you would have figured this out by now. Guess not...

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Guest Gichin13

Global warming or not, do people really believe that human beings are not leaving a stamp on this planet that is highly dangerous to our long term survival?

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Ad Hominem attacks don't work Chom. I hoped you would have figured this out by now. Guess not...

Please explain to me how my post was an "ad hominem" attack. . . explaining the motives behind a website, and where they get their money from is not an ad hominem attack, in fact it is pertinant to the discussion.

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How vain to think that we can change the WX.

THe Earth has been doing this since the beginning of time

How naieve and defeatist to think that we can't. The funny part is the people who say we can't do anything, say we should do nothing even when we know polluting is detremental. . . and I guess the elimination of CFCs had nothing to do with the ozone hole shrinking either :rolleyes:

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