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Saturday, May 31, 2014

ANARCHISTS: Koch brothers are for the abolition of taxes, public schools, post office, Medicare, Social Security, elections laws

Bernie Sanders tells us what the Koch brothers are actually working toward
May 22, 2014

IPCC: Millions of words on climate change are not enough


The latest IPCC report has highlighted that it's dead certain that the world has warmed, and that it's extremely likely that humans are the main cause. Credit: IPCC

by andyextance, Simple Climate, May 31, 2014

The latest IPCC report has highlighted that it’s dead certain that the world has warmed, and that it’s extremely likely that humans are the main cause. Credit: IPCC
The most recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report saw perhaps the most severe conflict between scientists and politicians in the organisation’s existence. As its name suggests, governments take an active part in the IPCC process, whose latest main findings appeared between September 2013 and May 2014. Debate over what information makes the high-profile ‘Summaries for Policymakers’ is usually intense, but this time three graphs were dropped on politicians’ insistence. I show these graphs later in this blog entry.
At the Transformational Climate Science conference in my home town, Exeter, UK, earlier this month, senior IPCC author Ottmar Edenhofer discussed the ‘battle’ with governments on his part of the report. Another scientist who worked on the report highlighted confidentially to me how unusual the omission was.
To me, it’s more surprising that this hasn’t happened more often, especially when you look more closely at the latest report’s findings. There’s concrete certainty that warming is happening, and it’s extremely likely that humans are the dominant cause, it says. Governments have even – in some cases, begrudgingly – already signed up to temperature and CO2 emission targets reflecting this fact.
The inadequacy of those words is becoming ever more starkly obvious. Ottmar stressed that the emissions levels agreed at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference in Cancún, Mexico, in November 2010, would likely need later emissions cuts the likes of which we’ve never seen before to avoid dangerous climate change. The latest IPCC report shines a floodlight on that inertia, which understandably cranks up the tension between researchers and politicians.
Ottmar was one of two co-chairs who led the ‘working group three’ (WGIII) section of the IPCC report that looks at how to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He stressed that the need to make these cuts comes from a fundamental difference between the risks that come from climate change and the risks of mitigation. We can heal economic damage arising from cutting emissions – reversing sea level rise isn’t so easy.
Our choices are looking increasingly sucky
The three IPCC co-chairs who were at the Exeter conference, from left to right, Chris Field, Ottmar Edenhofer, Thomas Stocker. The IPCC report is split into three main parts, or working groups, each led by two 'co-chairs'. Within each working group there are many chapters, with scientists serving as lead authors or authors on those chapters. Image credit University of Exeter, used via Flickr Creative Commons licence.
The three IPCC co-chairs who were at the Exeter conference, from left to right, Chris Field (WGII), Ottmar Edenhofer (WGIII), Thomas Stocker (WGI). The IPCC report is split into three main parts, or working groups, each led by two ‘co-chairs.’ Within each working group there are many chapters, with scientists serving as lead authors or authors on those chapters. Image credit University of Exeter, used via Flickr Creative Commons licence.
The Exeter conference made it clear that the IPCC is also trying hard to highlight ways to meet these targets. Ottmar pointed to two important steps. One was setting a reasonable price on carbon, which would make using fossil fuels more expensive and shift us towards cleaner energy sources. Another was defining the atmosphere as a ‘global commons’ – something that belongs to all of us, which a legal system could be set up to look after. And while the greenhouse gas reduction agreements now in place are insufficient, WGIII lead author Catherine Mitchell stressed that we can learn from the ones that work well.
Yet the IPCC could only offer one scenario that would keep warming below 2 °C from pre-industrial times, the target countries signed up to in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009. That scenario advocated an approach that had been barely discussed before: bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. The authors have suggested it because to keep on track for the 2 °C target we’re likely to need to suck CO2 out of the air.
While there are hi-tech ideas for how to do that, the only currently-proven method is an ancient one: growing plants. We can and do burn these plants for energy, but to bring warming under control we need to stop their carbon getting back into the atmosphere – we need to capture and store it. This is the essence of BECCS and while it may seem an elegant solution, Ottmar revealed the debates on its inclusion were intense. One issue was the idea’s sheer obscurity – could the IPCC scientists even be confident it can be done? Another is that growing plants for fuel brings competition for land currently used for food.
When would climate change losses become unbearable for you?
The third of the graphs politicians stopped being included in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows that a growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes in low and middle income countries has been released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper‐middle income countries to high income countries. Image credit: IPCC
The third of the graphs politicians stopped being included in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows that a growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes in low and middle income countries has been released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper‐middle income countries to high income countries. Image credit: IPCC
Another new idea in the latest IPCC report has been discussion of ethical issues, like how BECCS might threaten people’s ability to meet their basic needs. WGIII author Simon Caney highlighted that our moral outlooks can determine how widely technologies like fracking, nuclear power and geoengineering are used. Moral arguments also enter climate negotiations, for example limiting the case for including past emissions because the older generation didn’t know  what burning fossil fuels was doing. Simon stressed that future analyses must include ethical aspects better, bringing in energy justice by looking at whose interest emissions are serving.
But it was such implications for negotiations that politicans objected to in the WGIII SPM. The first excluded graph showed that since the 1970s growth in total greenhouse gas emissions came mostly from developing countries. The second showed emissions per person have grown rapidly in middle-income countries like China and India, but have fallen in both the richest and the poorest countries. However, emissions remain much higher per person in the developed world. The final graph showed that the goods developed countries are importing are producing significant CO2 elsewhere, unbalancing the worldwide effort to cut emissions.
Despite the conflict these graphs and their implications caused, values-guided science still looks set to play a bigger role for the IPCC. For example, one suggestion at the Exeter conference was value-based scenarios for what the future might look like, and how greenhouse gas emissions might be shared. Our values are also important in setting the real limit to climate change – the point at which we are no longer willing to adapt. That was a question highlighted by Frans Berkhout, a lead author on one of theworking group two chapters: If we can adapt to everything, why fight global warming? Because some of our values are non-negotiable – I’d be unwilling to give up my home, for example – I’d hate to be forced to adapt by moving. And in fact, Frans noted, there will be damages and losses caused by the changes we can’t stop or adapt to. At what point are these losses intolerable?
WGII’s focus is both adaptation and the impacts of climate change. Chris Field, one of two co-chairs who led this part of the report, underlined that the impacts are felt on all continents, from the coasts to the mountains. But for me the one question about impacts that hit home harder than any other was about the big picture on nutrition and food availability. What happens if we get two or three years that are really bad for farming worldwide?
How can we get real solutions?

IPCC WGII co-chair Chris Field tells the Exeter conference about climate change impacts and adaptation.
Chris also made some refreshingly honest confessions. Even hundreds of scientists, who have together produced a report millions of words long, aren’t enough to make governments take up its suggestions, he admitted. Chris also doesn’t know how to move from producing a ‘massively rich’ document to a dialogue that leads to real solutions. And he also concedes that the report’s very richness may also sometimes be counterproductive. There are so many caveats that people can say fighting climate change is too dear, or dirt cheap, and both be right. And finally, he also admitted to being mystified about how the IPCC process can even work. Why don’t countries that dislike the IPCC oppose everything it tries to put in the Summaries for Policymakers?
As vast as the IPCC reports so far have been, Chris’ comments make an important truth clear. Even our best evidence alone is not enough to resolve a problem caused by the same resources that put our society in a place to reveal that evidence. Fossil fuels have given many of us comfortable lives, and if it weren’t for climate change their full exploitation would be a no-brainer. Giving them up, or even making them more expensive through carbon pricing, is a big step. It’s hardly surprising we’re slow to do it.
But the IPCC report does make a compelling case for why we must. So, where scientists have started others must continue. I use my vote and voice to try to persuade politicians to take the situation seriously – I hope you do too. Yet many people still don’t do this. It’s easy to think that they’re wrong, and perhaps accuse them of not caring about their future or that of their children. However, in a democratic world all such viewpoints should be considered, and so it’s up to us to work together to find a way forward.
In the climate change debate, where heightened passions can quickly descend into name-calling, for me the key is trust. We must each decide if and exactly why scientists deserve our trust. Having seen the efforts of the IPCC scientists in person has renewed my trust in their work, and I’d recommend that you trust it too. That then leads onto the other levels of trust we need – trust between us as individuals and as nations. If we can get a workable level of trust, then maybe the lessons and suggestions of the IPCC can be fully taken on board.
The first of the graphs that politicians prevented from inclusion in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows developed countries are now responsible for less than half of total human caused (anthropogenic) historical greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently negotiating a climate deal on the basis of historical responsibility for emissions looks like an idea that might backfire on its proponents in the developing world. Image credit: IPCC
The first of the graphs that politicians prevented from inclusion in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows developed countries are now responsible for less than half of total human caused (anthropogenic) historical greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently negotiating a climate deal on the basis of historical responsibility for emissions looks like an idea that might backfire on its proponents in the developing world. Image credit: IPCC
The second of the graphs politicians stopped from being used in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows that developed countries still emit the most, but that upper-middle income countries like India and China have gained rapidly. Image credit: IPCC
The second of the graphs politicians stopped from being used in the IPCC WGIII Summary for Policymakers. It shows that developed countries still emit the most, but that upper-middle income countries like India and China have gained rapidly. Image credit: IPCC
  • Videos and slides from the Exeter conference are available here
  • These other blog entries give different viewpoints of the event:
Journal reference
Kintisch, E. (2014). In New Report, IPCC Gets More Specific About Warming Risks Science, 344 (6179), 21-21 DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6179.21

Friday, May 30, 2014

Richard Tol's Attack On 97% Climate Change Consensus Study Has 'Critical Errors'

by Graham Readfearn, DeSmogBlog, May 30, 2014

Professor Richard Tol
One of the most consistent of all the attacks from climate science sceptics and deniers is the one which tries to convince the public that expert scientists are divided on the causes of climate change.
Those attacks have come from ideologically motivated think tanks and the fossil fuel industry, often working together. Only last week, the Wall Street Journal published a polemic to try and mislead the public that a consensus does not exist.
In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute was developing a campaign with the explicit aim of convincing the public that “uncertainties” existed in the science of climate change and its causes.
In 2002, Republican pollster Frank Luntz wrote that: “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.”
Several studies have surveyed the views of climate science experts or the scientific literature and have come to the same conclusions — the number of studies and the number of scientists who reject the fact that humans are causing climate change remains vanishingly small.
The latest and most high profile study to survey the scientific literature was led by John Cook, of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute and founder of the Skeptical Science website, and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in May 2013.
Cook et al. analyzed close to 12,000 global warming studies from 1991 to 2011 to see how many accepted or rejected the fact that human activities are causing climate change. The researchers also asked scientists themselves to look at their own papers and confirm whether they endorsed the scientific consensus.
The central finding, reported widely and even tweeted by Barack Obama’s campaign team, was that 97% of the scientific papers on climate change found that humans were causing it.
Since that study was published, Professor Richard Tol, an economist from the University of Sussex, has been planning to attack Cook’s paper. 
Tol is advisor to the UK climate sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord Nigel Lawson, who was treasurer to former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Tol is also an IPCC lead author but withdrew from the team writing the Summary for Policymakers, claiming the report was “too alarmist.”
Tol accepts that humans cause climate change, but his work consistently claims that economic impacts will be small and won’t turn negative until the back end of this century. 
This week, the chairman of the Republican-led US House of Representatives science committee Lamar Smith claimed that Cook’s study had been “debunked” and that the “science is not settled.”
Professor Tol gave testimony to the committee, and when he was asked about the 97% figure, he told the hearing: 
“The 97% estimate is bandied about by almost everybody. I had a close look at what this study really did, and as far as I can see the study just crumbles when you touch it. None of the statements in the papers is supported by any data that is actually in the papers. It is pretty clear that most of the science agrees that climate change is real and most likely human made, but this 97% is essentially pulled from thin air – it’s not based on any credible research whatsoever.”
Sometime in the coming days, DeSmogBlog understands the journal Energy Policy will publish a paper that claims to debunk Cook et al.’s work. The research will inevitably be devoured by conservative media. The author is Richard Tol. 
DeSmogBlog has found the paper was rejected by three journals and heavily criticized by reviewers who saw earlier drafts, who said it had identified “no serious flaws” in the Cook paper, and made some claims that were “not supported by the author’s analyses.”

Cook has told DeSmogBlog that he and his colleagues have found numerous errors [in Tol's final accepted manuscript to Energy Policy].
However, this is unlikely to matter to the world’s conservative media. 

Tol’s attack plan

In June 2013, the month after the Cook et al. study was published, Tol commented on a blog that he had “three choices” open to him as a response. 
He wrote these were to either “shut up,” or write a “destructive comment” or a “constructive comment.” He wrote that he would opt to make a “destructive comment.”
Tol had also submitted a response to Cook et al. to Environmental Research Letters — the same journal where Cook’s original paper was published.
Unusually, Tol published the anonymous comments from the academics who were asked to review his paper.
One reviewer wrote: “I do not see that the submission has identified any clear errors in the Cook et al. paper that would call its conclusions into question – in fact he agrees that the consensus documented by Cook et al. exists.”
Another reviewer comment said Tol’s paper “provides no reason to question the main conclusions of Cook et al.” 
The comment added: “[Tol] merely provides his opinions on where he would have conducted this survey differently and in his view better – and he is free to do just that. But he has not identified serious methodological flaws in Cook et al. that would justify the publication of a Comment.”
In August, Tol wrote to the University of Queensland’s vice-chancellor Professor Peter Hoj to complain about what he claimed were errors in Cook’s methodology.
Tol wanted data that would associate the members of Cook’s team to the scientific papers they had looked at. He wrote that he wanted to find out if the ratings might have been impacted by “fatigue.”
This was the same argument he had made in the first draft of his own paper to Environmental Research Letters (ERL).  One reviewer wrote in response to the “fatigue” hypothesis:
Tol presents no evidence that this is a large problem that would significantly alter the results, though, to the contrary – the numbers he presents suggest it is a small problem that would not significantly alter the conclusion of an overwhelming consensus. 
The University of Queensland released a statement responding to claims that it was trying to block the release of important data connected to Cook’s research.  The university said: 
All data relating to the “Quantifying the Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming in the Scientific Literature” paper that are of any scientific value were published on the website in 2013.
Only information that might be used to identify the individual research participants was withheld.
In September 2013, Tol took to Twitter to promote an article written by climate science denialist Lord Christopher Monckton.
In the article, Monckton went on a name-calling spree, describing the Cook et al. authoring team among other things as “zit-faces,” “tiddlers” and “intellectual minnows.”
Tol has published the first 7 drafts of his paper on his blog. His paper was rejected twice by Environmental Research Letters and was also rejected by two other journals for being “out of scope” before it was finally accepted by the journal Energy Policy.
Tol has also created a slideshow based on his Energy Policy paper where he discusses his claims, despite the fact the paper is not yet published.
In one instance, Tol says he reanalyzed the data in the Cook et al. paper and found the consensus figure dropped from 97% to 91%.
Whether or not Tol has addressed the wide-ranging criticisms of his earlier work remains to be seen.
Cook told DeSmogBlog that a response to Tol’s paper would be published in the same issue of Energy Policy and would document “a number of critical errors.” He said:
Our finding of 97% consensus on human-caused global warming in relevant climate papers was based on the most comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed climate papers yet to be conducted. Our result is consistent with previous studies, using different methods, which have independently found 97% agreement amongst climate scientists.
I have been invited by the journal to submit a reply to Professor Tol’s paper, to be published in the same issue. Our reply will document a number of critical errors in Professor Tol's paper and will be available once his paper has been published.

Marine veteran "mad as hell": GOP climate-science deniers threaten national defense

by Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch, May 29, 2014

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — I’m mad as hell. The GOP used to be the party of national defense. No more. What happened? In 2003 Bush launched the Iraq War to “defend our freedom.” Flash forward: Last week 227 of 231 GOP members of the House voted to turn the Pentagon into climate-science deniers, a decision certain to weaken national security. That’s about as absurd as telling Silicon Valley they can’t use technology.

AFP/Getty Images. The Pentagon building in Washington.
Seriously, the Republicans just passed an amendment to the $607 billion National Defense Authorization Act funding the Pentagon in 2014. Yes, 227 members of the GOP-dominated House just voted to limit the Pentagon’s ability to defend America, by preventing military planners from using any strategic research the military’s been gathering for years about threats to national security. Listen:
“None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this act may be used to implement the U.S. Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.”
Get it? The Republican Party is now officially on record as the party of climate-science denialism. These research programs, ongoing and widely used by the Pentagon in strategic national defense planning for many years, could, if the Senate agrees, become illegal to use.
Yes, this Marine veteran is mad as hell. GOP science deniers have “crossed the line,” they’re now messing with national security. America is now under attack from an enemy within, irrational science denialism, a toxic mind-set, a spreading, self-destructive mental virus. Yes, this is a “War on America.” The military has been using climate-science research for decades. This vote is self-destructive. These research studies are essential in our national defense.
If you’re at all concerned about the safety of your family and our nation, you’ll be mad as hell, too, about this new “War on America.” All 227 Republicans are on record as science deniers, a real dumb message to send to our allies worldwide. Why? If the GOP regains the Senate in November, it may become the law of the land.
For the Democrats, this should be the last straw. These 227 GOP science deniers exposed a dangerous mind-set that’s more than just part of an attack sabotaging our national defense, but a deep attack on America’s moral conscience. This vote exposes a toxic virus spreading nationally. In fact, the GOP’s science denialism is now so self-destructive even the Koch Bros. should be embarrassed for no other reason than that the military is the world’s largest consumer of oil.

Pentagon’s historic use of climate-science research in defense planning

What if the GOP regains control of the Senate? Ask the CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board, a longtime Pentagon consultant that includes 16 retired generals and admirals. They just updated a report that earlier “described projected climate change as a threat multiplier.”
Get it? The Pentagon has seen climate change as a threat to our national defense for over seven years. Their updated report “drills down on the new vulnerabilities created and tensions amplified due to climate change, which it deems a catalyst for conflict.” No wonder the Dems warned GOP leaders before that radical amendment to the budget vote: “That’s science denial at its worst and it fails our moral obligation to our children and grandchildren.”
So here’s the likely scenario if the GOP takes back the Senate. The senator most likely to head the Senate Armed Services Committee is ranking GOP Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, “a vocal skeptic of the established science that greenhouse-gas emissions contribute to global warming.” Inhofe “scoffed at the idea that climate change is linked to national security threats.”
Inhofe dismissed the updated Pentagon report by personally attacking retired Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, one of the 16 contributors. “There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer,” said Inhofe. “I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War. Now you have people who are mentally unbalanced, with the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon. For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are to get the public to buy this.”
When the report was first released, Secretary of State John Kerry said that for years climate-science research has alerted the U.S military to hot spots and increasing regional conflicts: “Tribes are killing each other over water today. Think of what happens if you have massive dislocation, or the drying up of the waters of the Nile, of the major rivers in China and India. The intelligence community takes it seriously, and it’s translated into action.”
Now imagine Inhofe chairing the Senate Armed Services Committee enforcing the GOP’s climate-science-denialism amendment, warning Pentagon generals never to use climate science in national defense planning.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

ABSOLUTE MUST READ!!! IT HAS FINALLY BEGUN! Fossil fuel companies on notice they will be held liable for funding climate denial and hiding potential losses from investors

Big Carbon’s Big Liability

MUST SEE PHOTOS of Ocean Acidification's effects on sea life

I highly recommend that readers check out these National Geographic photos -- one can see what is causing the massive die off of star fish all over the world. In particular, check out the brittle star toward the last of the photos:

Peter Gleick: Water and Conflict in Syria

by Peter H. Gleick, Huffington Post, May 28, 2014


Drought, Water and Agricultural Management, and Climatic Conditions as Factors in the Syrian Conflict
Starting in 2006 and lasting through 2011, Syria suffered the worst long-term drought and the most severe set of crop failures in recorded history. In a new research paper, I've looked at the role of regional drought, unsustainable water management policies, and climatic conditions in contributing to the severe conflict in Syria in the past few years (see the peer-reviewed paper "Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria" by Dr. Peter H. Gleick, coming out in the July issue -- and here online -- in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate, and SocietyA press release on this paper is now available, here). Many factors influenced the civil war in Syria, including long-standing political, religious, and ideological disputes; economic dislocations from both global and regional factors; and the consequences of water shortages influenced by drought, ineffective watershed management, and the growing influence of climate variability and change.
The drastic decrease in water availability, water mismanagement, agricultural failures, and related economic deterioration contributed to Syria's population dislocations and the migration of rural communities to nearby cities. These factors further contributed to urban unemployment, economic dislocations, food insecurity for more than a million people, and subsequent social unrest. Key to mitigating risks in the region are improvements in water-use efficiency and productivity in agriculture, better management and monitoring of groundwater resources, and comprehensive international agreements on managing and sharing the rivers that cross political borders.
There is a long history of conflicts over water in the Middle East (this history can been seen in the Water Conflict Chronology, published online by the Pacific Institute). The region experiences high natural variability in precipitation and suffers from a lack of modernized agricultural and water management systems. Less than one-fifth of Syria's irrigated area uses modern sprinklers or drip irrigation. Half of all irrigation water comes from groundwater systems, which are in a condition of overdraft, leading to dropping groundwater levels and rising production costs. Water use and the construction of large water infrastructure upstream by Turkey have also decreased surface water supplies flowing into Syria (see Figure). Populations in the Tigris-Euphrates river basins have grown rapidly, further stressing limited water supplies. All of these factors were worsened by severe multi-year drought.

Figure 1. Discharge of the Euphrates River measured at Jarablus, Syria, from the mid-1930s to around 2010. Red lines show the decadal averages. The long-term linear trend is also shown. Data from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, 2013.
Assessing the role of climatic changes in altering water availability finds growing evidence that drought frequency and intensity in the Levant/Eastern Mediterranean region have changed from historical climatic norms. Researchers have identified an increasing tendency in annual and seasonal drought intensity corresponding with an increasing number of dry days in the rainy season, and there is evidence that climate changes are already beginning to influence droughts in the area by reducing winter rainfall and increasing evapotranspiration at rates higher than can be explained by natural variability alone.
Future climate projections for this region are also unfavorable from the perspective of water availability. Recent climate simulations all indicate growing water-related risks from higher temperatures, increased evaporative water demands, reductions in future runoff levels, and changes in the timing of runoff.
In the face of this, there are viable options for reducing the risks of water-related conflicts in the region, including expansion of efficient irrigation technologies and practices, integrated management and monitoring of groundwater resources, and diplomatic and political efforts to improve the joint management of shared international watersheds and rivers. And as global warming worsens, populations increase, and pressures on water grow, efforts to reduce conflicts over water will have to expand and improve.
("Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria" will appear in the July 2014 issue of Weather, Climate, and Society. The Early Online Release notice and the abstract are available here: Media requests for the paper should be sent to Nancy Ross, )
Dr. Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific Institute, a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, a MacArthur Fellow, and an expert on water, climate, and conflict. The Pacific Institute in Oakland, California is one of the world's leading independent research centers working to create a healthier planet and sustainable communities.

Peter Wadhams: Melting Polar Ice Caps a "Ticking Timebomb" for Earth's Climate System


Peter Wadhams, ScD, is professor of Ocean Physics, and Head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. He is best known for his work on sea ice. Dr. Wadhams is the president of the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans Commission on Sea Ice and Coordinator for the International Programme for Antarctic Buoys.
Dahr Jamail has written extensively about climate change as well as the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Award for Journalism and the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. He is the author of two books: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq and The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Melting Polar Ice Caps a ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
A recent study by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine, has found that a section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is melting at an alarming rate and could raise global sea levels by up to four feet. Meanwhile, the Arctic is also showing the strain of global warming, with an ice-free Arctic summer predicted by 2016, according to research by the U.S. Navy. This research comes as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that April 2014 ranked as the hottest April on record, tying with April 2010. It also follows the recent release of the National Climate Assessment that says that signs of climate change are all around us.
With us to discuss why the melting polar ice caps could spell the end not just for penguins and polar bears but for mankind are our two guests.
Dahr Jamail is a staff reporter with Truthout currently writing about the environment and climate change. His recent articles include "The Vanishing Arctic Ice Cap".
Also joining us is Peter Wadhams, who is a professor of ocean physics and head of the Polar Ocean Physics Group in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at University of Cambridge.
Thank you both for joining us.
So, Peter, let's start with the recent NASA study on the melting of the West Antarctic glaciers. What are the predictions in terms of the scope of the melting and the effects that it will have on rising sea levels?
PETER WADHAMS, PROF. OCEAN PHYSICS, UNIV. OF CAMBRIDGE: Well, it was a surprising prediction. In the past, until recently, the general assumption was that the Antarctic ice sheet is very stable. The West Antarctic ice sheet is slightly less stable than the East Antarctic ice sheet, which is the much bigger area, but the general thought was that it's quite stable and we don't have to worry about the Antarctic ice sheets, and for a long time, if they contain most of the fresh water in the world and if any part, major part of the Antarctic ice sheet did slide off its bed, then there would be a gigantic impact on global sea levels. And this study predicts four feet as what would happen if this large chunk of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet came off. It's something which is clearly based on very good research. It's something where we might expect it not to happen within the next few years.
But climate change at the moment, which is so catastrophically rapid that something that's going to happen in a few decades, perhaps, which is very quick in terms of Antarctic glacial history, is, as far as the world is concerned, kind of slow, because by then the sea ice melt will have had much bigger impacts on global climate and will be affecting us very detrimentally. So I think the Antarctic, it's much more serious than people ever thought, because people thought we didn't have to worry about the Antarctic ice sheets. So it's more serious than we thought it was going to be.
But in terms of what are the immediate threats to our continued existence on this planet, it's probably the case that sea ice retreat is going to have its impact first, and something happening to the West Antarctic ice sheet is not something that's going to happen in less than a few decades.
WORONCZUK: So what would a four-foot rise mean in terms of its effects on humans and the climate system?
WADHAMS: Well, even IPCC, which is a very conservative body, is now predicting something like a meter of sea level rise this century. And if you--they don't take really enough account of the rapid melt of the Greenland ice sheet. But we would expect from Greenland ice sheet melt and general warming, which produces rise in the level of the ocean because the ocean is itself warming, we would expect, I think, more than a meter in this coming century. So what would happen if the Ice Sheet, if the Antarctic Ice Sheet slid off its bed would be a century of sea level rise in one go. And that would be pretty serious. I mean, we can compensate somewhat for a steady sea level rise by raising the heights of flood defenses and taking precautions against it or adapting to it by retreating from certain coastal urban zones, opening up more wetlands, but if it's happening very suddenly, we can't. You can't adapt to something that's happening that rapidly. So it would be a pretty serious thing if it really did happen like that.
WORONCZUK: So, Dahr, as governments and corporations open up new shipping routes and offshore oil drilling projects in the Arctic, why shouldn't we embrace an iceless Arctic summer as the new normal? Can you explain the role of Arctic sea ice within the Earth's climactic system?
DAHR JAMAIL, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, another thing--and I'm speaking somewhat out of turn, since Professor Wadhams is really the expert here and he can talk more in detail about this--but, you know, the Arctic sea ice is playing a critical role in keeping methane emissions from melting permafrost in check. And as that ice continues to thin and both retreat, exposing more and more of the shallows, Arctic seabeds, to warming waters and solar radiation, as well as continuing melting of permafrost on the shores, it's well documented at this point that intensification of methane release is ongoing and worsening. And so methane, of course, being dramatically more intense as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide-- so it's really causing a runaway feedback loop or a positive feedback loop with anthropogenic climate disruption of really causing the whole situation to speed up much, much more dramatically.
And NASA has done studies on this, as well as Professor Wadhams' group, that basically shows--the NASA study referred to the methane in the Arctic as the ticking time bomb of climate change, that as this continues to ramp up in its release, it's really setting in motion a runaway feedback loop that we probably won't be able to do very much about. It's causing dramatic increases in temperatures across the planet.
And then, you know, another thing that I think we need to keep in mind is that as dramatic as the situation that we find ourselves in today and the rapidity with which climate change is happening and ever increasing, that the 63 percent of all human-generated carbon emissions have occurred in just the last 25 years since the Industrial Revolution began. And we have scientific reports that show there's actually a 40-year time lag from when those emissions are released into the atmosphere and when we actually feel the effects. So that, I think, just underscores the urgency of the situation that we're in regarding that we're literally on the precipice of losing the Arctic ice cap in summer is a situation that once it happens is going to increase, of having a longer period each summer where that's open, and then the massive disruptions in the climate that's going to cause.
WORONCZUK: So, from what you're saying, it sounds like nothing much can be done in the short-term to reverse the melting.
JAMAIL: Well, as far as if we're talking about reducing emissions, you know, I think this really puts into perspective, really, the folly of when we hear governments, particularly that of the Obama administration in the United States, talking about 30 year and 50 year timelines of a plan that they might have of reducing emissions, you know, 3 percent per year, for example, up until 2050, or trying to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2050. We simply do not have anywhere near that kind of time.
WORONCZUK: And, Peter, what's your take? Do you think that we've already passed the point of no return in terms of controlling polar ice cap melting?
WADHAMS: Yes, I think we have. A few years ago, I predicted that the summer sea ice--that's the September minimum--would go to zero by about 2015. And at that stage, it was only really one model that agreed with me. My prediction was based on observations from satellites and from measurements from submarines of ice thickness, which I've been doing from British subs, and Americans have been doing the same from American subs. And the trend was so clear and so definite that it would go to zero by 2015 that I felt it was safe to make that prediction, and I still think it is, because next year, although this year we don't expect things to retreat much further than last, next year will be an El Niño year, which is a warmer year, and I think it will go to zero.
And once it goes to zero in the summer, it is sort of irreversible, because it means that the next summer there'll be a longer ice-free period. Instead of just one month, there might be two or three months, because the water warms up during the summer months. If there is no ice there, it's absorbing solar radiation, the water's warming up.
As we've heard, one of the things that would happen from that is that the water on the continental shelves warms very much. We've seen seven degree temperatures from satellites. And that means that the seabed permafrost near the coast then melts, and that releases methane. And the methane effect, I think, is the biggest of all the threats from the retreat of sea ice. We've got other effects as well. The retreat is causing warmer air over Greenland, which is causing the Greenland ice cap to melt faster and sea level rise to accelerate.
But the biggest immediate threat, I think, is that the warming of the water in summer is causing methane to be released from the seabed because of the melt of offshore permafrost. And this is something that's being documented by a Russian-American group, and for several years. And we're joining them with some European funding, which we're putting in to help fund their work and going out with them.
So I think that the documentation of this and the fact that the extra methane we see each summer--that's the big, increasing amounts of methane plumes in the Arctic reaching the surface, releasing methane into the atmosphere--and that's reflected in NASA's measurements from satellites of methane levels in the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, which have started to go up again quite fast after having been flat for a decade or so. I think that that is a big threat.
But the loss of the sea ice is something that's, I think, irreversible, because all the trends are towards decreased sea ice extent, and there's no countervailing trend that will bring the ice back. The biggest effect is an albedo feedback effect, for instance, the fact that as the ice disappears, you're replacing highly reflective ice and snow with poorly reflective water. And that has an effect of increasing the rate of warming of the Arctic, and that increases the rate of retreat of the ice. So all the feedbacks are positive. There's no negative feedbacks that will tend to bring the ice back. Once it's gone in summer, it's gone, and I think the summer ice-free season, having started very soon, maybe next year, will then extend itself so that we might have a number of months of ice-free conditions. We'll have plenty of ice in the winter, of course.
But that ice-free summer will have all these knock-on effects of increasing methane release, maybe producing a catastrophic pulse of methane, which has been predicted based on how much methane is sitting in the form of methane hydrates. And that pulse would be very catastrophic. We examined this with climate modeling and economic modeling and found that a pulse of the size that's predicted based on how much methane is there could cause a temperature rise of 0.6 of a degree within 20 years. Now, that's a big addition to the amount of warming that is already going on. It's pretty much doubling the rate of global warming.
And so--plus it's costing some astronomical amount of money as well to the planet. This is using a model, an economic model. So the cost to the planet of having this happening far exceeds any of the benefits we might get from Arctic oil or shipping through the Northwest passage. We're really stuck with a massive economic cost and, of course, a catastrophic cost to the planet.
So all these things are bound to happen, sadly. And the only way in which they wouldn't happen would be if for some surprising reason the methane hydrates on the seabeds stopped emitting methane. But then we wouldn't get off scot-free, because the other source of increased methane is permafrost on land, and that's also melting as the climate warms. And it's a slower process, but in the end there's more methane going to be released from that over many decades than would be released from a pulse in the Arctic Ocean. So in the end we'll have the methane impact on global warming, which hasn't been taking account of IPCC [models]. It's going to come in and it's either going to hit us fast or it's going to get us slowly, but it's going to hit us.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge, thank you for joining us.
WADHAMS: Pleasure.
WORONCZUK: And Dahr Jamail from truth out, thank you for joining us.
JAMAIL: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.