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January 23, 2007

IPCC: Global Warming Will Be Worse Than Previously Thought Environment

The Guardian says that the forthcoming IPCC report on climate change says global warming will be worse than previously thought. Excerpts:

Global warming is destined to have a far more destructive and earlier impact than previously estimated, the most authoritative report yet produced on climate change will warn next week.

A draft copy of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by The Observer, shows the frequency of devastating storms — like the ones that battered Britain last week — will increase dramatically. Sea levels will rise over the century by around half a metre; snow will disappear from all but the highest mountains; deserts will spread; oceans become acidic, leading to the destruction of coral reefs and atolls; and deadly heatwaves will become more prevalent.

The impact will be catastrophic, forcing hundreds of millions of people to flee their devastated homelands, particularly in tropical, low-lying areas, while creating waves of immigrants whose movements will strain the economies of even the most affluent countries.

"The really chilling thing about the IPCC report is that it is the work of several thousand climate experts who have widely differing views about how greenhouse gases will have their effect. Some think they will have a major impact, others a lesser role. Each paragraph of this report was therefore argued over and scrutinised intensely. Only points that were considered indisputable survived this process. This is a very conservative document - that's what makes it so scary," said one senior UK climate expert. [...]

[The report] points out that:

  • 12 of the past 13 years were the warmest since records began;

  • ocean temperatures have risen at least three kilometres beneath the surface;

  • glaciers, snow cover and permafrost have decreased in both hemispheres;

  • sea levels are rising at the rate of almost 2mm a year;

  • cold days, nights and frost have become rarer while hot days, hot nights and heatwaves have become more frequent.

    And the cause is clear, say the authors: "It is very likely that [man-made] greenhouse gas increases caused most of the average temperature increases since the mid-20th century," says the report.

    To date, these changes have caused global temperatures to rise by 0.6C. The most likely outcome of continuing rises in greenhouses gases will be to make the planet a further 3C hotter by 2100, although the report acknowledges that rises of 4.5C to 5C could be experienced. Ice-cap melting, rises in sea levels, flooding, cyclones and storms will be an inevitable consequence.

    Past assessments by the IPCC have suggested such scenarios are "likely" to occur this century. Its latest report, based on sophisticated computer models and more detailed observations of snow cover loss, sea level rises and the spread of deserts, is far more robust and confident. Now the panel writes of changes as "extremely likely" and "almost certain".

    And in a specific rebuff to sceptics who still argue natural variation in the Sun's output is the real cause of climate change, the panel says mankind's industrial emissions have had five times more effect on the climate than any fluctuations in solar radiation. [...]

    The report reflects climate scientists' growing fears that Earth is nearing the stage when carbon dioxide rises will bring irreversible change to the planet. "We are seeing vast sections of Antarctic ice disappearing at an alarming rate," said climate expert Chris Rapley, in a phone call to The Observer from the Antarctic Peninsula last week. "That means we can expect to see sea levels rise at about a metre a century from now on — and that will have devastating consequences."

    However, there is still hope, said Peter Cox of Exeter University. "We are like alcoholics who have got as far as admitting there is a problem. It is a start. Now we have got to start drying out — which means reducing our carbon output." [Emphasis added]

  • Humans, like other organisms, are designed to react to threats that appear suddenly. A loud noise, a sudden movement, and we feel the adrenaline hit our bloodstreams, mobilizing us for fight or flight. Slow motion threats have a hard time getting our attention. They require us to mobilize ourselves via rational thought, rather than reflex. Are we rational enough to save ourselves?

    Posted by Jonathan at January 23, 2007 10:12 AM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

    Comments

    > The impact will be catastrophic, forcing
    > hundreds of millions of people to flee their
    > devastated homelands,

    It will be far, far cheaper to pay the relocation costs of these people than it will be to reduce GHG emissions to the point where their relocation is not required.

    Posted by: Kevin at January 23, 2007 12:12 PM

    Yes, relocation costs might be trivial, others not.
    http://murl.se/20110

    Posted by: Kent at January 23, 2007 12:27 PM

    > It will be far, far cheaper to pay the
    > relocation costs of these people than
    > it will be to reduce GHG emissions to
    > the point where their relocation is not
    > required.

    It would be far cheaper to buy a lot of spades and bury our heads in the sand than to try to relocate.

    Bonkers.

    Posted by: Phil at January 23, 2007 01:59 PM

    Phil wrote:
    > It would be far cheaper to buy a lot of
    > spades and bury our heads in the sand
    > than to try to relocate.

    Do you have an actual argument, or are you content merely with snark? Because if you have an argument, now would be the time to reveal it.

    Posted by: Kevin at January 23, 2007 02:22 PM

    Just where exactly would all these hundreds of millions of people be relocated to? Farmlands? Cliffsides? Swamps? Wal-Mart parking lots? Roof tops? Polar ice caps (oops, those won't be here anymore) Your backyard?

    This is not meant to be snark. Seriously, where would we put all these people and still have ariable land? Someone tell me.

    Posted by: Lane_in_PA at January 23, 2007 03:14 PM

    > Seriously, where would we put all these
    > people and still have ariable land? Someone
    > tell me.

    Countries like Russia and Japan and much of Europe (esp. Italy) are all losing population and are all worried about their future--and, specifically, the economic condition of their retirement system. Certainly they have room for a few hundred million, and would welcome them. For that matter, the US can surely take another 100 million as well--it will do so in the next 50 years, in any case. And are you really going to tell me that China can support 1.3 billion people, but there's just no possible way it can support 1.4 billion?

    Posted by: Kevin at January 25, 2007 03:53 PM

    Kevin, cognitive thinking really isn't your bag, is it?

    Posted by: Lane_in_PA at January 26, 2007 01:09 PM