The Climate Change Storm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 9:14 PM GMT on April 06, 2007

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Significant climate change is already occurring, will grow dramatically, and will cause serious disruptions to natural ecosystems and the lives of billions of people world-wide over the coming century. We need to better prepare for the inevitable changes--and attempt to lessen the magnitude of the these changes by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. That's the take-home message from today's latest report from the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Every six years, the IPCC releases a huge, influential study detailing the state of Earth's climate. Part 1 of the 2007 report, summarizing the science of climate change, was released in February. Today's summary, titled "Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability" addressed the likely impacts of climate change on Earth's ecosystems and people. Not all of the expected changes will be harmful--the IPCC emphasizes that "impacts of future climate change will be mixed across regions" for temperature rises of 1 to 3 �C above 1990 levels, with the big losers being the poor developing countries. However, if global warming exceeds 2 to 3 �C, the IPCC states it is very likely that all regions of the globe will suffer increased costs or declining benefits. I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen of the planet to take the 30 minutes needed to read the IPCC summary and familiarize themselves with what the world's top scientists say about the likely impacts of climate change. The scope and severity of the Earth-shaking changes that lie ahead present a breathtakingly formidable challenge for humanity.


Figure 1. Locations of significant changes in physical systems (snow, ice and frozen ground, hydrology, coastal processes) and biological systems (land, ocean, and freshwater) from 1970 to 2004. Between 90% and 100% of these changes are consistent with warming global temperatures, due in large part to human-emitted greenhouse gases. White areas are where not enough data existed to determine a temperature change. Figure 1 is a simplified form of Figure SPM-1 of the 2007 IPCC document, "Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability--Summary for Policy Makers."

Observed impacts of climate change to date
The IPCC report begins by summarizing observed changes in physical systems (snow, ice and frozen ground, hydrology, coastal processes) and biological systems (land, ocean, and freshwater) reported in 577 papers in the scientific literature between 1990 and 2004 (Figure 1). They conclude, "Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases." Examples for which they are highly (80% chance) or very highly confident (>90% chance) of include:

Earlier bird migrations and leaf unfolding
Poleward shifts in the ranges of various plant and animal species
Shifts in the ranges and numbers of ocean species near the poles
Earlier migrations of fish in rivers
Earlier and increased peaks in spring run-off from glacier- and snow-fed rivers
Warming of lakes and rivers
More and bigger glacial lakes
Melting permafrost

Medium confidence effects (50% chance of being true) observed in the Northern Hemisphere include:

Earlier spring planting of crops
Increases in forest fires and pest damage to forests
Heat-related deaths in Europe, spread of disease in some areas, and changes in allergenic pollen
Hunting and travel by humans over Arctic snow and ice

Future impacts
This is where the IPCC report gets very sobering. Keep in mind that the predicted future impacts may be understated, given the cautious nature of scientists--and the fact that the final version was edited by government officials, who changed the original conclusions of the scientists. I'll present just of few of the more mind-boggling impacts (in blue, with my comments in black), and leave the rest for the interested reader to discover:

The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g., flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification), and other global change drivers (e.g., land use change, pollution, over-exploitation of resources) (high confidence).
In other words, some ecosystems will collapse, putting the people who depend on these ecosystems in grave peril.
Many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s. Those densely-populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low, and which already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence, are especially at risk. The numbers affected will be largest in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa while small islands are especially vulnerable (very high confidence).
Expect damage and human suffering from hurricanes to greatly increase in coming decades, thanks to higher seas levels.
There is medium confidence that at least partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, would occur over a period of time ranging from centuries to millennia for a global average temperature increase of 1-4 �C (relative to 1990-2000), causing a contribution to sea level rise of 4-6 m or more.
Along with drought and ecosystem collapse, sea level rise is my big concern. Sea level before the most recent ice age was about 4-6 meters (13-20 feet) higher than today, at global temperatures that we expect to match by 2100. The IPCC states that a sea level rise of 0.6-1.9 feet (0.18-0.58 meters) is expected by 2100, and a 4-6 meter rise is not likely for centuries. However, our understanding of the response of glaciers to climate warming is poor. An unexpected rapid partial disintegration of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets later this century raising sea levels by 2 meters (6 feet) has at least a 1% chance of occurring, in my opinion.

Conclusion
The language of the 2007 IPCC climate report is couched in uncertainly, but the broad picture is clear: future climate change may rival or exceed a World War in its effect on society. Steps to lessen its impact and adapt to it need to be made as soon as possible. The cost in lives, dollars, and human suffering will be far greater if we do not.

In his 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia, philosopher-scientist James Lovelock writes, "I am old enough to notice a remarkable similarity between attitudes over sixty years ago towards the threat of war and those now towards the threat of global heating. Most of us think that something unpleasant may soon happen, but we are as confused as we were in 1938 over what form it will take and what to do about it. Our response so far is just like that before the Second World War, and attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement was uncannily like that of Munich, with politicians out to show they do respond but in reality playing for time...Battle will soon be joined, and what we face now is far more deadly than any blitzkrieg."

The climate change storm is coming, and the wind is already starting to rise.

Next blog
My next blog will be Monday afternoon or Tuesday. I've got several topics in mind--tornadoes in Chicago, Greenland glaciers, or hurricane model improvements.

Jeff Masters

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290. StoryOfTheCane
3:42 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
lets just put a giant sunglass lense between the Earth and the Sun and thatll save us
289. weatherboykris
3:43 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
If Donald don't kill you...GW will,LOL.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
288. sullivanweather
3:41 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
CO2 looks accurate, buttemperatures are waaay off kilter
Member Since: March 8, 2007 Posts: 273 Comments: 12612
287. weatherboykris
3:41 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Posted By: sebastianjer at 3:36 AM GMT on April 07, 2007.

Natural gas at best has 65 years left. So all fossil fuels at there current rate of consumption will more than likely be exhausted by the turn of the century.

Does anyone seriously believe that the human race which for thousands of years has evolved and adapted will suddenly say "Duh, we can't figure this out, let's all just become cavemen again".



Alright...assuming we haven't developed plans for that...and we suddenly no longer have fuel...then survival of the fittest will temporarly take effect until we find a solution.Meaning all fat people will die.Watch out Rosie...
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
286. sebastianjer
11:36 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
If fossil fuels become scarcer, thus more expensive, then alternative energy sources become more economical and thus more viable.

In the next twenty years, market forces more than environmental activism will begin to shift us away from fossil fuels, thus away from greenhouse emissions.

I hate to busts peoples balloons, but it really is that simple. Oh and big bad BIG OIL will probably take the lead in it. Ironic, but probably true
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285. StoryOfTheCane
3:41 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
whos arguing that CO2 doesnt cause a rise in temperature?
284. weatherboykris
3:40 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Sorry,it looked paint program-ish.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
283. weatherboykris
3:39 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
My bad...that's from Wikipedia.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
282. StoryOfTheCane
3:38 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
well yeah several thousand was a bit dramatic, several hundred is probably more accurate
280. sullivanweather
3:37 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
MichaelSTL, that is the most inaccurate graph I've ever seen
Member Since: March 8, 2007 Posts: 273 Comments: 12612
278. weatherboykris
3:37 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
And yes,the temps spiked 20000 years ago,but they then plateaude(don't know if I'm spelling that right),and became cyclical.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
277. StoryOfTheCane
3:37 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
whatever happened to the dinosaurs will happen to us as well
276. weatherboykris
3:36 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Who you think you're fooling Mike?You did that with a paint program.Give me a URL.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
275. sebastianjer
11:32 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Natural gas at best has 65 years left. So all fossil fuels at there current rate of consumption will more than likely be exhausted by the turn of the century.

Does anyone seriously believe that the human race which for thousands of years has evolved and adapted will suddenly say "Duh, we can't figure this out, let's all just become cavemen again".
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
273. StoryOfTheCane
3:30 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
271. weatherboykris
3:30 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Anyone else see what I mean?
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
270. weatherboykris
3:30 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Click on it.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
269. StoryOfTheCane
3:26 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
alright sorry I misread the graph, it is the most polluted areas.
268. weatherboykris
3:29 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
none
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
266. sebastianjer
11:28 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Coal will run out in about 155 years at the current rate of consumption. How about natural gas?
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265. sebastianjer
11:27 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
At the current level of use, how long before the coal runs out?
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263. sebastianjer
11:26 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
So that you don't have to look it up I'll tell you. At best at current rate of consumption we have 100 years before the wells run dry. Does anybody thinking about the GW arguement realize the significance of this?
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262. anvilhead
8:25 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
look at my blog for a sec
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261. StoryOfTheCane
3:21 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
They include:
Dzerzhinsk in Russia, a Cold War chemical weapons site
Linfen, heart of China's coal industry
Kabwe in Zambia, site for mining and smelting of metals including lead
Haina in the Dominican Republic, where battery recycling and smelting have left huge concentrations of lead in residents
Ranipet in India, where more than 3m people are affected by tannery waste
260. weatherboykris
3:23 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
And I don't see a lag effect in that graph.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
259. StoryOfTheCane
3:23 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
They include:
Dzerzhinsk in Russia, a Cold War chemical weapons site
Linfen, heart of China's coal industry
Kabwe in Zambia, site for mining and smelting of metals including lead
Haina in the Dominican Republic, where battery recycling and smelting have left huge concentrations of lead in residents
Ranipet in India, where more than 3m people are affected by tannery waste
258. sebastianjer
11:22 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Sorry to interupt here, but I have a question. If the worldwide consumption of oil were kept at there current levels, otherwise no increase in consumption beyond what is currently being used. How many years of oil do we have left before we run out?
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257. snowboy
3:18 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
StoryOfTheCane, what is that map supposed to represent? It sure as heck isn't the top 10 greenhouse gas emitters of the world. Chernobyl was the site of a nuclear meltdown, no CO2 emitted at all..

Please folks, try to think and screen before posting.
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256. weatherboykris
3:19 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
STL...regarding the map you posted at 3:05GMT.How do you know there isn't some independent cycle that causes CO2 and temp to rise and fall coincidentally?They may not even be related to one another,and just happen to rise and fall at the same time.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
255. StoryOfTheCane
3:22 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
theres no way in my opinion that population has less of an affect than emissions
254. StoryOfTheCane
3:21 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
its the top 10 most polluting cities in the world.
253. StoryOfTheCane
3:19 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
are you kidding snowboy? China is the number one contender against Earth
251. weatherboykris
3:18 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
back
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
250. snowboy
3:10 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Dyce you are correct in stating the planet has gone through natural cycles of warming and cooling. The most recent cooling was a dramatic ice age which ended about 12,000 years ago.

The concern that natural and environmental scientists the world over have, is that humanity through its emissions of greenhouse gases is totally derailing the natural system of cycles and pushing us toward a future of ever-rising temperatures.

And sure, the fact that there are ever more of us on the planet is part of the problem, but only a little part. The countries where population is still exploding (in Africa and Asia) are generally the countries with the lowest per capita fossil fuel emissions.

It is our First World nations in Europe, Japan and North America that have created the current problem. In future, the 2 giants of Asia (China and India) will be contributing ever more, but they are only part of the FUTURE problem. The huge rise in greenhouse gas levels over the past 150 years is almost entirely the by-product of western society, and no nation has contributed more than the US.
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248. StoryOfTheCane
3:15 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Posted By: snowboy at 3:10 AM GMT on April 07, 2007.

StoryOfTheCane, if you're going to ask pointed questions like that, be prepared for the answer: more than any other country, the destruction of the planet is the responsibility of the USA.

That is incorrect, snowboy

246. sullivanweather
3:12 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
MichaelSTL, CO2, although a greenhouse gas, has never, not once, not ever, been the driver of climate...NEVER

Show me one peice of evidence where CO2 has been the determining factor in climatic conditions...
Member Since: March 8, 2007 Posts: 273 Comments: 12612
245. StoryOfTheCane
3:13 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
because if we dont have an ozone we dont have protection from the sun, we'll essentially become Mars to an extent
243. StoryOfTheCane
3:08 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
I wonder if there is just some weird way that the Earth replunishes itself, and maybe thats what happened to the dinosaurs. I think we'd all be wise to begin to evolutionize our species to become aquatic species, that might be our only hope of survival.
241. sullivanweather
3:09 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Posted By: StoryOfTheCane at 3:08 AM GMT on April 07, 2007.

the ice age occurred when there were far less people on Earth. I dont think its possible for that to happen again due to the extreme population

You are naive to actually think that. What scientific basis did you use to come to that conclusion??
Member Since: March 8, 2007 Posts: 273 Comments: 12612

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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