1. Negotiating Sceptical Distractions
2. Polling Statistics
3. Ocean Acidification and Carbon Dioxide
4. Greenland Temperatures Rise
5. Antarctica as a Key Factor
6. Ice Melt on the Arctic Ocean
7. Russian Heat, the NOAA, and Hurricanes
8. Sceptic Bjorn Lomborg
9. Sceptic Nigel Lawson
10. Persecution of Climate Scientists
11. Independent Ecologist James Lovelock
12. Climate Change in the Himalayas
13. Carbon Soot Problem
14. Crisis on the Tibetan Plateau
15. The Chinese Industrial Revolution
16. Copenhagen Diagnosis
17. NASA Decodes the Weather
18. Climate Scientist Stefan Rahmstorf
19. Global Prospects of Flooding and Drought
1. Negotiating Sceptical Distractions
Global warming was being discussed by scientists (including the Club of Rome) during the 1970s, and was predicted to accelerate substantially by 2000. In America, the political debates delayed public assimilation of ecological occurrences. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was ignored by politicians and oil economists in a country then creating the strongest degree of climate pollution in the world. The cost of regulating "greenhouse gases" was the major stumbling block. Many years passed before the American media gave a changing view, reflecting an improved information. In 2006, California became the first state in America to introduce regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. Opposition to the theme of man-made global warming remains strong.
Global warming, or climate change, has been the rationale favoured by a very substantial number of scientists working in universities and research centres. See Scientific opinion on climate change (accessed 18/09/2010). The subject has been opposed by an affluent minority of denialists who seek to influence public opinion by casting doubt on academic climate science experts. According to Wikipedia Global Warming (accessed 31/08/2010), "most scientists accept that humans are contributing to observed climate change," although "some scientists and non-scientists" are sceptics. Cardiff University is cited in relation to the theme that "Europe debates the appropriate responses while the United States debates whether climate change is happening" (ibid.).
The matter is aggravated by commercial companies that have "funded scientists who disagree with the scientific consensus" (ibid.). An influential denial of man-made (anthropogenic) global warming is the counter view that "global warming is simply the result of a normal climatic swing in the direction of increased temperature" (quote from What is global warming?). Sceptics or "denialists" vary in their standpoint. For criticism of sceptics, see RealClimate. See also Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010). Historians of science are able to chart the drawback and confusion provided by commercial and ideological biases. A British reviewer of the American book interpreted the contents in such terms as:
"The far right in America, in its quest to ensure the perpetuation of the free market, is now hell-bent on destroying the cause of environmentalism.... Real science is dismissed as 'junk' while misrepresentations are offered in its place.... Thus the tactics - the spreading of doubt and confusion - of a small group of cold war ideologues have worked their way across America and have now crossed the Atlantic so that the public in both the US and the UK are more confused than ever about the truth on a series of key scientific issues, in particular global warming, even though scientists have become more certain about the accuracy of their [scientific] efforts." (Robin McKie, review of Merchants of Doubt, August 2010).
Earlier, Professor Naomi Oreskes (University of California) contributed a now well known assessment appearing in Science (Dec. 2004) and entitled The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. She observed how politicians and the media frequently asserted that climate science is very uncertain, despite the fact that climate scientists had repeatedly made clear the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming.
"Some corporations whose revenues might be adversely affected by controls on carbon dioxide emissions have also alleged major uncertainties in the science. Such statements suggest that there might be substantive disagreement in the scientific community about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. This is not the case. The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).... IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all scientific bodies in the United States whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements. For example, the National Academy of Sciences report Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions , begins: 'Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise.' The report explicitly asks whether the IPCC assessment is a fair summary of professional scientific thinking, and answers yes.... The American Meteorological Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling."
In support of the scientific consensus, the commentator was able to mention a survey of 928 papers relating to climate change that were published in scientific journals between 1993 and 2003. Seventy five per cent of those papers explicitly or implicitly accepted the consensus view, while "none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position" (ibid.). A sceptical commentator has since stated that "sceptical scientists are a small minority" who do produce research papers (Naomi Oreskes Concensus, 2010).
Sourcewatch states that the Union of Concerned Scientists reported in 2007 that ExxonMobil "has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005" to a network of 43 sceptic groups, the intention being to oppose the data on global warming provided by climate science. ExxonMobil is the world's largest oil company, and has a record of financial influence in political sectors. In 2009, the company is reported to have spent over 27 million dollars in lobbying against global warming. Another major player in the opposition tactic is Koch Industries, an extensive private company in America who have been revealed in a Greenpeace bulletin as "a financial kingpin of climate science denial" via secret funding activities.
A scientific article, with strong credentials, addresses the continuing confusion posed by the situation in which "the American public expresses substantial doubt about both the anthropogenic cause and the level of scientific agreement underpinning ACC [anthropogenic climate change]." An extensive database encompassing 1,372 climate researchers was here employed to show that 97-98% of those researchers are in support of anthropogenic climate change as outlined by the IPCC. Furthermore, "the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers." (Stephen H. Schneider et al, Expert credibility in climate change, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2010).
Stephen H. Schneider (1945-2010) was a climate scientist at Stanford University, emerging during the 1980s as a leading American spokesman in the cause of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. He also became noted for his dispute with the prominent sceptic Richard S. Lindzen, a meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Schneider recounted details about the conflict with denialists (or contrarians) in his book Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate (2009). The "battle" gained strong dimensions of intellectual and media conflict. Schneider was a contributor to the IPCC reports from an early date; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published a series of relevant assessments. See also Schneider et al, eds., Climate Change Science and Policy (2010).
Schneider also wrote Laboratory Earth (1997), strongly pitched against the denialists of climate change. More recently, two British contributions signal a different approach. The climate scientist Professor Mike Hulme is the author of Why We Disagree about Climate Change (2009). The prominent sociologist Anthony Giddens has produced The Politics of Climate Change (2009), a work which has been considered significant. Neither of these British contributors are sceptics, but attempt a rationale moving at a tangent to more general tactics. Meanwhile, the sceptic/denialist influence remains insidiously pervasive in some Western countries.
The message of a major American denialist was reported in 2007 as: "Relax, the planet is fine." That same year, Professor Lindzen also controversially described a Royal Society communication as a "disgrace." The reference here is to a letter of protest sent by the venerable British scientific organisation in 2006 to ExxonMobil, concerning the notorious funding of misleading information by the American industry giant. See Exxon Secrets.
Favoured sceptic/denialist themes have included the idea that warming is caused by the sun, and that the climate is cooling. Such views have been extensively repudiated, and to the extent that informed citizens view the sceptic theories as gravely misleading at best, and ludicrous at worst.
A salient critic of the sceptics is climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf, Professor of Physics of the Oceans at the Potsdam Institute in Germany (section 18 below). Circa 2004, Rahmstorf commented that the various sceptical factions had been observed to quarrel in internet forums. Growing public understanding of the global warming issue is implied as contributing to a decline of certain sceptical arguments denying warming. Other sceptics did not deny warming, but were opponents of anthropogenic data, arguing that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions had originated from the oceans, and that increases of the controversial gas do not result in warming. Professor Rahmstorf countered with ignored details:
"The oceans have certainly not released CO2 into the atmosphere; on the contrary, they have absorbed some of the extra fossil CO2 load. Incidentally, this is leading to an acidification of sea water, causing considerable damage to coral reefs and other marine organisms.... Solar variations cannot explain the warming in the 20th century. For one thing, they are not large enough; the radiative effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gases is by now several times stronger. And while reconstructions of solar activity do indicate a rise until 1940, they show no significant trend since then" (Global warming skeptics).
Some of the sceptics concede that human activity has affected the climate, and that dangerous carbon dioxide levels are increasing. However, they imply that the climate has not warmed sufficiently to spell any great danger during the next century. They have even theorised that the sea level could lower, though slightly, if a warming effect becomes operative. These views are strongly contested by climate science experts. Sea level is already rising as a consequence of warming, and the dangers are acute.
Greenland and Antarctica are crucial subjects for assessment. The current flow of glaciers into the sea is a contributor to the rise of sea level. The pace of glacier-melt is far more pressing than the political and commercial agendas which seek to explain away complexities in ecology.
By 2007, important discoveries revealed that summer ice on the Arctic Ocean was shrinking too quickly, and exposing seas formerly anticipated to remain ice-bound for further decades. Satellite monitoring has confirmed global warming.
Climate scientists refer to two important features of sea phenomena that are influenced by global warming. The thermal expansion of sea water is a big potential problem, sufficient to create up to two feet of increased sea level, quite enough to disrupt and deluge low-lying deltas in Asia and Africa by the year 2100. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) initially underestimated the potential rise in sea level by failing to take into sufficient account the factor of additional water created by melting sources of ice. The data has been continually supplemented and updated by climate scientists affiliated to the IPCC. The Greenland ice sheet could create enough water to raise global ocean levels by seven metres (23 feet). The accompanying factor of melting Antarctic ice sheets accentuates the potential drama.
The German climatologist Professor Rahmstorf (associated with the IPCC) reminds that the 2007 report of the IPCC referred to an unspecified amount of sea level rise deriving from changes in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. The IPCC then tended to assume a near-zero net contribution from those regions. "Observations show, however, that both ice sheets have been losing mass at an accelerating rate over the last two decades." Rahmstorf implies that the melt increase could be drastic, even if the calculation is minimal. "The big ice sheets would then need to contribute only about 50 cm - corresponding to less than 1% of their mass - to bring sea level rise up to 114 cm." (Quotes from Rahmstorf, A new view on sea level rise, April 2010). See also sections 8 and 18 below.
In America, a prominent climate scientist is Dr. James E. Hansen, the head of NASA Goddard Institute in New York. He was a pioneer in climate change assessment during the 1980s, and predicted the difficulty in convincing politicians and the public to take due heed. In 1988 he gave a significant testimony to global warming before Congress. In 2007 he published a paper relating to the potential danger of fast-feedback effects involved in the disintegration of polar ice sheets, saying the geological record indicates that polar melting does not occur gradually, but that ice can achieve a speedy response to temperature changes. This paper was based on palaeoclimate data, and Hansen emphasised the uncertainties of prediction, though the danger is what could happen once a large-scale surface melt is in process.
Dr. Hansen has been critical of the denialist campaign which misleads the public, including politicians who accept money from the fossil fuel industry to describe global warming as a hoax. In some interviews of 2008, he advocated that executives of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal should be placed on trial for "high crimes against humanity and nature," meaning the campaign of misinformation about global warming. Hansen has also pressed for abolition of the notorious decapitation of mountaintops in America by the coal mining industry. He has gained the reputation of a climate activist; this climate scientist achieved the rare distinction of being arrested near the White House in 2010. His book has a dramatic title, namely Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (2009).
He refers to greenwashing by politicians, amounting to deception. The same objector has compared coal trains to "death trains," in the context of his conclusion that coal is the largest source of anthropogenic carbon dioxide afflicting the atmosphere. He believes that America should relinquish coal power completely by 2030. That still leaves the big problems of oil and natural gas, which likewise trap heat in the atmosphere, thus contributing to the "greenhouse" effect.
A theme strongly associated with Dr. Hansen, and appearing on Wikipedia, is the matter of determining the responsibility for climate change via the effect of greenhouse gas emissions. These calculations involve the long term emissions deposited in the Earth's atmosphere. In this context, Britain is named as "the largest single cause of climate change," a problem entailed by the Industrial Revolution several generations ago. America and Germany are here the runners-up. However, the biggest emitter of atmospheric pollutants is currently China, a position formerly occupied by America, currently in second place.
In Britain, the Royal Society (founded 1660) has produced a document confirming and supplementing the IPCC report of 2007. See Climate Change: A Summary of the Science (September 2010). "There is strong evidence that the warming of the Earth over the last half-century has been caused largely by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use, including agriculture and deforestation" (Summary, paragraph 2).
The same report defines an increase in global warming during the period 1975-2000. "Each decade since the 1970s has been clearly warmer than the one immediately preceding" (paragraph 22). In due relation, "the decade 2000-9 was, globally, around 0.15 degrees Celsius warmer than the decade 1990-1999" (paragraph 22).
"The two gases making the largest contribution to the greenhouse effect are water vapour followed by carbon dioxide. There are smaller contributions from many other gases" (Summary, paragraph 6).
2. Polling Statistics
The factor of polling statistics is sometimes considered a significant indicator of public opinion, even though only a marginal sample of the population is generally represented. Recent polling at an international level has been cited. The following is one version found at The Public and Climate Change:
"Educated people in most developing nations expressed more concern about climate change than their counterparts in the industrialised world, and more commitment to action. The United States still lagged behind most of the world, with fewer than a fifth of its citizens expressing strong concern, only slightly more than a decade before.... Around the world polls found resentment against the United States, which had put much more CO2 [carbon dioxide] into the atmosphere than any other nation yet refused to take responsibility for it.... In all countries, even though majorities claimed to worry about global warming, most people still saw the problem as distant and abstract. Climate change felt remote not only in years but in geographical and emotional distance. To people in the developed world, global warming was not so much a problem for folks like themselves as for Pacific island natives and polar bears."
The assessment continues by specifying two smaller groups who expressed stronger views. These contingents are allocated a 5% to 10% presence in the international public under discussion. These sub-groupings are strongly polarised. One of them is identified in terms of being alarmed by a sense of imminent threat to their own way of life and perhaps to all creatures on the planet. The contrasting group is described in terms of dismissing global warming as a myth, and even as a deliberate hoax "concocted by self-serving intellectuals and journalists" (ibid.).
In relation to America, this bifurcation is further identified with political polarisation. A Gallup poll of 2007 revealed that "the average level of worry about the impacts of global warming" was 34% among Republicans, 59% among independents, and 75% among Democrats. In the following year, "Republicans grew less convinced that humans were causing global warming" (ibid.).
In 2010, a poll conducted by the University of Cardiff showed that 71% of Britons are concerned about climate change, though to differing degrees, from moderate to more acute. Of course, only a fraction of the population are involved in such polls. An earlier poll in 2005 showed 82% interest, though half of the British people questioned were of the opinion that the urgency of global warming is exaggerated. In 2010 a similar poll in America, conducted by Yale University, showed that 61% believed in the occurrence of global warming, with only half of them accepting a man made origin.
Such indicators are disappointing. There is evidently a great deal of education needed to offset the poor assimilation of scientific concensus. Many scientists have laboured to make relevant points in technical papers, but of course, these are not widely read. Even the more well known IPCC reports are too difficult for general comprehension. Politicians too frequently steer clear of embarrassing subjects, and are no gauge to what is actually happening. Perhaps only citizen coverages can ultimately break the hard ground. Viable efforts will inevitably relate to specialist information. A philosophical orientation (in my case, as distinct from environmental activism) cannot dispense with empirical data in this field.
3. Ocean Acidification and Carbon Dioxide
Concerns about ocean acidification are substantial, though the subject is still not so well known as global warming. Both of these problems are caused by carbon dioxide emissions created by human activity. The afflicting acidification is tragically affecting marine life in different oceans, including both the Arctic and Antarctic.
"The rapid acidification is caused by the massive amounts of carbon dioxide belched from chimneys and exhausts that dissolve in the ocean. The chemical change is placing 'unprecedented' pressure on marine life such as shellfish and lobsters and could cause widespread extinctions." (David Adam, Carbon emissions creating acidic oceans, 2009.)
Scientists at Bristol University featured in the Guardian journalist report abovecited. They predicted dangerous levels of acidification, and strongly implied deep water species. The article featured a shock photograph of a gray whale surfacing in a condition of distress at the Baja California peninsula. There was also the statement that:
"Human pollution is turning the seas into acid so quickly that the coming decades will recreate conditions not seen on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs" (ibid.).
A pressing message was given via the International Climate Congress at Copenhagen by Ken Caldeira, an expert on ocean acidification at the Carnegie Institution (California). He is reported to have said (March 2009):
"If we do not cut carbon dioxide emissions deeply and soon, the consequences of ocean acidification will stand out against the broad reaches of geologic time; those consequences will remain embedded in the geologic record as testimony from a civilisation that had the wisdom to develop high technology, but did not develop the wisdom to use it wisely" (ibid.).
See also Sourcewatch, which refers to the misrepresentation of Caldeira on the subject of geoengineering, which he has regarded only as an emergency measure, recognising the drawbacks. Geoengineering is a controversial subject, and has been described in terms of "the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change." The Royal Society study (2009) adds that geoengineering techniques "remain unproven and potentially dangerous." The same elite study emphasises that "man-made climate change is happening and its impacts and costs will be large, serious and unevenly spread."
The Climate Congress (or International Scientific Congress on Climate Change), held at Copenhagen in March 2009, was organised by Katherine Richardson, Professor of Biological Oceanography at the University of Copenhagen. The situation was one in which many climate scientists were alarmed that politicians had not assimilated the gravity of facts discovered. The Congress anticipated the subsequent summit meeting of world politicians at Copenhagen later that year. A problem was that the prospective negotiations would be based on the IPCC report of 2007, which was now outdated by four years of further research. The 2007 report did not include results published later than 2005. The standards set by the IPCC required consensus over published data; unpublished data did not feature, and nor recent published data.
Professor Richardson gained a strong response from the scientific community, and chaired a Climate Congress presented with over 1,600 abstracts from over 70 countries. A wide range of subject material was encompassed, including the social and natural sciences. Professor Richardson stated in an interview:
"Lots of new research has come out on sea level rise since the last IPCC assessment, and our knowledge of tipping points - chances of dramatic and sudden changes in the system - is now much greater.... Whatever happens in Copenhagen in December, it's not going to be enough. There's no doubt about that. It's not going to be enough in the same way that the goals for reducing CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions in the EU are simply not enough. Reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 means we'll still be highly dependent on fossil fuels and that the atmospheric CO2 concentrations will still be rising steadily." (Interview: Katherine Richardson, March 2009.)
As events transpired, the climate scientists emphasised that a 40 per cent reduction in emissions was required by 2020. The necessary political contract remained elusive. See also Katherine Richardson and Stefan Rahmstorf, Our Threatened Oceans (2009). See also section 16 below. The political and commercial obstructions to relevant action do not denote a scientific civilisation, nor a society inspired by science, whatever the general sentiments attaching to scientific discovery in the contemporary era.
4. Greenland Temperatures Rise
In January 2007, the New York Times featured an article describing the changing conditions in Greenland that are causing islands to appear as melting ice sheets recede. "All over Greenland and the Arctic, rising temperatures are not simply melting ice; they are changing the very geography of coastlines." The sudden appearance of islands had now become a "common phenomenon." Greenland has for long gained a reputation for being difficult to map, with over 27,000 miles of coastline and thousands of fjords, inlets, bays, and straits. Yet recently, the "geography is becoming obsolete almost as soon as new maps are created" (J. C. Rudolf, The Warming of Greenland, 16/01/2007).
An island scene in eastern Greenland (and 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle) was here described in terms of a contradiction to maps that showed only ice. "The water was littered with dozens of icebergs, some as large as half an acre; every hour or so, several more tons of ice fractured off the [retreating ice] shelf with a thunderous crack and an earth-shaking rumble" (ibid.).
A Professor of snow-and-ice physics at the University of Svalbard estimated that Greenland "could be losing more than 80 cubic miles of ice per year" (ibid.). That quantity amounts to three times the total ice volume of Alpine glaciers. These details are juxtaposed with the information that "Greenland is covered by 630,000 cubic miles of ice, enough water to raise global sea levels by 23 feet" (ibid.). Only a small proportion of that increase would be needed to cause serious global problems.
That same year (2007), a Los Angeles bulletin reported that biologists from the National Environmental Research Institute of Denmark had spent ten years monitoring the ecosystem near the Zackenberg Research Station above the Arctic Circle in northeast Greenland. This vicinity has been particularly prone to warming, with temperatures stated to be increasing at twice the global rate. On average, spring was now commencing a fortnight earlier than a decade ago. Plant, bird, and insect species were here being studied.
Some parties were not able to keep up with the diverse sources of information confirming that Greenland is melting faster than was generally assumed. In particular, the subject of icequakes was too often treated with incredulity. The number of icequakes increased more than twofold between 2002 and 2005. Seismologists at Harvard and Columbia Universities supplied an initial description of the glacial quakes in 2003. Even that report did not grasp the increasing frequency of the phenomenon. A 2006 sequel updated the commentary.
The icequake events in Greenland follow a different pattern to seismic activity existing elsewhere. About a third of the former are stated to occur in July and August. A Harvard scientist divulged: "Some of Greenland's glaciers, as large as Manhattan and as tall as the Empire State Building, can move 10 meters in less than a minute, a jolt that is sufficient to generate moderate seismic waves."
Major outlet glaciers, melting from Greenland valleys into the surrounding seas, "can respond to changes in climate conditions much more quickly than we had thought" stated a member of The Earth Institute at Columbia. Particular concern was expressed about a region of northwest Greenland; only one seismic event was observed here during the period 1993-1999, though in contrast more than two dozen glacial quakes occurred during the ensuing period 2000-2005.
In July 2009, one of the strongest earthquakes in Greenland history took place, achieving a magnitude of 6.1 on the Richter scale.The epicentre of tremors was Baffina, 170 kilometres from the nearest settlement of Thule on the north-west coast. Earthquakes of similar magnitude occurred in Mexico and China.
In Nov. 2009, Science reported the findings of a team from Utrecht University who employed ground observations and satellite gravity measurements. They estimated that approximately 1,500 cubic km of ice had been lost in Greenland during the period 2000-2008, and equivalent to about 0.46 mm of global sea level rise. Moreover, melting rates have accelerated since 2006, with mass ice loss reaching a total of 273 gigatons of mass per year, equivalent to 0.75 mm of sea level rise. "Without the moderating effects of increased snowfall, post 1996 mass losses would have been 100% higher" (Greenland Ice, 2009).
In Britain, a theory developed about the ultimate threshold temperature involved in the catastrophic scenario of a future ice melt sufficient to raise sea levels by more than six metres. Some scientists refer to this threshold as the Greenland "tipping point," meaning the point at which glacial melting becomes irreversible. This extremity was projected in terms of an average global temperature rise of 6 degrees Celsius, contrasting with the 3 degrees earlier suggested by the IPCC. (See Greenland ice tipping point, 2009). However, even a few degrees of rise in temperature could have disastrous effects that would be out of control. Many climate scientists now refer to the initial danger threshold of 2 degrees Celsius, which could prove fatal in the train of global repercussions still widely ignored. An eventual increase by 5 to 7 degrees Celsius is foreseeable by the end of this century, according to those scientists.
5. Antarctica as a Key Factor
Scientific investigations by both American and British teams have profiled the ecological importance of Antarctica. In January 2009, Reuters reported that American scientists had reviewed satellite and weather records for that continent, which is bigger than the United States. The results showed that freezing temperatures had risen by about 0.5 Celsius since the 1950s. This study disproved the popular idea that Antarctica is cooling.
The "cooling" myth has been a favourite with sceptics of man-made global warming, who have employed this distraction as evidence for their position. The myth has blocked due recognition of the fact that Antarctica is home to ninety per cent of the ice on this planet. An intensive thawing action would be devastating.
The average temperature in Antarctica was now declared to be comparable to the global average. The area of warming is not limited to the Antarctic Peninsula, but extends across the south of West Antarctica. Cooling at places such as the South Pole, together with an expansion of winter sea ice around the continent, had formerly obscured the overall warming effect. Scientists had formerly believed that warming was restricted to the Antarctic Peninsula, where the Rothera Research Station (of the British Antarctic Survey) is situated.
West Antarctica "will eventually melt if warming like this continues" said a representative of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. A 3 degree Celsius rise in temperature could precipitate a wide melt. Greenland is also very vulnerable. West Antarctica, combined with Greenland, hold enough potential ice-melt to to raise sea levels by 14 metres. "Even losing a fraction of both would cause a few metres [of increased sea level] this century, with disastrous consequences" said a director of climate change research at the University of Adelaide (Australia).
Substantial Antarctic ice-melt would be sufficient to threaten coastal cities from Beijing to London, not to mention Pacific islands. The situation is already grave. Since the 1990s, ten ice sheets on the Antarctic Peninsula have receded or collapsed. The Wilkins ice-sheet is now also on the verge of collapse, "held in place by a sliver of ice 500 metres wide compared to 100 km in the 1950s." There is the further consideration that the total ice mass of Antarctica contains sufficient frozen water to raise world sea levels by 57 metres (187 feet) or more, in the event of an extensive melt.
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has contributed to an extensive report on global warming. BAS member Professor John Turner divulged that scientists were now "very confident" in their comprehensive assessment of a discrepancy which had been causing confusion. While rapid ice loss had been occurring on the Peninsula, other areas of Antarctica had been cooling, with a 10% increase of ice in the surrounding seas. This contradiction had been used by sceptics as evidence against global warming. But the putative "evidence" is eliminated by interpretation from another angle.
Briefly, the huge ozone hole over Antarctica has been shielding that continent from the worst effects of global warming. The apparent anomaly is caused by the ozone hole, the ultra-violet radiation having changed atmospheric factors, increasing the winds in the Southern Ocean region and keeping the temperature down compared with the Western sector. The ozone hole was caused by man-made CFC gases, which have since been banned, and scientists expect the hole to repair within the next fifty to sixty years. By that time, the cooling effect will have ceased, and the Antarctic will experience the full effects of global warming. Temperatures could rise by 3 degrees Celsius, with melting ice contributing to a global sea level increase of up to 1.4 metres.
The danger from warming seas is already underway, with melting Antarctica ice sheets being estimated to have produced about 10% of a general rise in global sea-level in recent decades. See Antarctica may heat up dramatically. Important data was published by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), featuring BAS and international experts. See Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment (Cambridge, 2009). SCAR is closely linked to the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge (England). The lengthy SCAR report confirmed the conclusions of climate scientist Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, working at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (Germany); the average global rise in sea-level by the end of the century was here proposed at approximately 1.4 metres, exceeding the IPCC prediction of 2007, which had been based on more limited data.
These scientific findings and estimates are greeted with jeers by the more rowdy web sceptics. Ongoing and adamant denials of anthropogenic global warming are not impressive. The inverted arguments include the accusation of arrogance at finding humans to be in error. The extremist opponents evidently wish to maintain their consumerism at all costs to nature.
6. Ice Melt on the Arctic Ocean
Not only is the amount of ice on the Arctic Ocean getting smaller, but the summer melt season is becoming significantly longer (NASA: Melt Season in the Arctic Getting Longer, 2010).
The floating ice on the Arctic Ocean contracted to a record minimum area in the summer of 2007. A close sequel occurred in 2008, and 2010 saw the third summer minimum since satellite records began in 1979. The 2010 season has been described as short melt, the ice melting unusually rapidly because the layer was so thin. An American spokesman from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, said that the 2010 figures supported the conclusion about a gradual decline in summer Arctic ice cover. There is nothing to disprove anticipations of a disappearance of that cover by 2040/2050 (BBC News, September 2010).
There are few expeditions to the Arctic Ocean, and scientists say that very little is known as yet of the complex natural processes involved in the ecological drama. Recently, the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) has launched an expedition, in a specially designed ship operated by the British Antarctic Survey. Polar bears are one of the hazards, though of the natural variety and quite predictable.
Another team led by Professor Ronnie Glud (from Copenhagen) also had the auspices of SAMS, and made an important discovery. The sea ice was perceived to act as a giant gas pump, achieving a large scale pumping of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the ocean. This conclusion initially met with resistance subsequent to gaining a wide degree of acceptance amongst scientists. An implication is that "as the ice cover recedes, this pump will shut down and with it an important mechanism for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere" (BBC News, July 2010).
The possibility of an ice-free summer Arctic has dramatic implications for the entire food chain, from ice microbes to seals and polar bears. Further, the ability of the planet to regulate temperature would be reduced, and ocean currents could change. The ice cools the earth by reflecting heat back into space.
7. Russian Heat, the NOAA, and Hurricanes
In August 2010, dramatic events in Russia gained the spotlight. A weather adviser at the Kremlin, namely Dr. Alexander Bedritsky, was alarmed at the national heatwave, unprecedented in the records for 130 years. The heatwave created hundreds of wildfires that destroyed many homes. Numerous fires appeared near Moscow, creating an acrid smog that blanketed the city.The wildfires and drought reduced the national wheat crop by a third (involving millions of hectares), causing the government to impose prohibitions on wheat exports, and thus sending world grain prices soaring.
The Russian economy depends substantially on exports of coal and gas, and for this reason government officials have been sensitive to climate change themes. Dr. Bedritsky (President of the World Meteorological Association) broke the taboo by voicing his conclusion that the recent dramatic events were an indication of global warming. At a news conference, he referred to other signs of warming also, including the worst floods afflicting Pakistan in recorded history and the 2003 heat wave in France which killed 15,000 people.
Of course, the customary denials appeared on the web. A conservative American interpretation (associated with the NOAA) stated that the principal cause of the Russian heatwave was the natural process of atmospheric blocking, not man-made carbon dioxide emissions. Sceptic bloggers and emailers dogmatically asserted that facts were ignored by the groundless theory that man is to blame for global warming. The human perfection league may be more than slightly complacent.
The distinctive ClimateScienceWatch website is run by Rick Piltz, a former official in the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. In June 2010, he critically addressed the Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). That 2010 Outlook "predicts a likelihood of 8-14 hurricanes and 3-7 major hurricanes," and was "drafted by the same NOAA meteorologists who presented the notorious Bush-era hurricane season wrap-up in 2005," a message which "explicitly denied any link between anthropogenic global warming and increased hurricane intensity." The contested 2005 outlook also exhibited the discrepancy of having "failed to mention research by NOAA scientists on projected future increases that suggested otherwise."
A further problem emerges in that the 2010 Hurricane Outlook of the NOAA "said not one word about the possible observed or projected connection between greenhouse gases, rising surface sea temperatures, and hurricane intensity." Piltz goes on to cite other official documents which do indicate a connection between hurricane power and increased Atlantic sea surface temperature. Further, a detailed review article had appeared in a Feb. 2010 issue of Nature Geosciences, an article contributed by an expert team established by the World Meteorological Organisation, and which included the statement:
"Future projections based on theory and high-resolution dynamical models consistently indicate that greenhouse warming will cause the globally averaged intensity of tropical cyclones to shift toward stronger storms."
The overall deficiency outlined by Piltz in this situation moves to the reflection that NOAA colluded with the White House in the 2005 phase, an NOAA administrator being said to have "engineered an entirely one-sided presentation designed to steer public attention away from any connection between greenhouse gas emissions and a possible increase in hurricane intensity."
The public stance of NOAA on this issue "was seen as lacking in integrity, including among NOAA scientists." Rather suspiciously, the 2010 Hurricane Outlook of the NOAA lists only five references, encompassing three spokesmen discerned as being deniers and mitigators of global warming. "None of the references are more recent than 2006." (All quotes from Rick Piltz, NOAA Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook evasive on climate change.)
The NOAA were further engaged in a "workshop" held in Colorado (August 2010), an event described in terms of "research continues on the complexities of attributing climate change to human activities versus natural climate variability" (quote from International research group). Some critics say that much verbiage is expended to little immediate effect. Further, the explicit "workshop" tag is unsuitable for science and unfortunately converges, by association at least, with the "workshop" vogue for quack therapy and pop-mysticism that is pervasive in international entrepreneurialism and pseudoscience associated with the Esalen model. On this aggravating matter associated with a CIFAL venue, see further my web article Findhorn Foundation commercial mysticism and ecobiz (2008). See also the short entry Findhorn Foundation (2010).
8. Sceptic Bjorn Lomborg
The Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg is strongly associated with the Copenhagen Business School, and in the capacity of adjunct professor. He gained repute as a severe sceptic with the publication of his well known book The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001). Lomborg became notorious for attacking climate scientists, citizen campaigners, and the media, alleging that global warming was an exaggerated issue, and that funding was best diverted elsewhere. His book aroused much controversy and rebuttal, though it proved disastrously influential, misleading the public in various countries.
A further book by the controversial statistician was Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming (2007). There was ongoing resistance from close analysts. In an August 2010 interview with The Guardian, Lomborg appeared to reverse his position, saying that he now advocates heavy expenditure to combat climate change. See 100 billion dollars a year needed to fight climate change. He has edited the new book Smart Solutions to Climate Change (2010), which is also in dispute.
Some analysts respond that Lomborg's apparent about-turn should be welcomed as a support for climate science. However, others take the view that ten years of confusions caused by "sceptical environmentalism" will take further years to offset.
Lomborg has been strongly criticised for his denial of data revealing that sea levels are rising faster than formerly expected. In March 2009, climate scientist (and oceanographer) Stefan Rahmstorf opposed Lomborg on this issue, stating that the latter misrepresented what he (Rahmstorf) and others wrote in the IPCC report of 2007. The IPCC coverage did not conclude that sea level will stay within the bounds of 18-59 cm by 2100; instead, the effects of sliding ice are an extra factor of unknown extent. The IPCC report had found that during the period 1961-2003, sea level rose 50% faster than projected. A separate study by the same scientists, featuring observed data up until 2008, confirms that "sea level continues to rise faster than expected with no sign of slowing down."
Professor Rahmstorf was here contesting the misleading conclusion of Lomborg that a slow-down of sea level rise was occurring. The former comments: "This is another well-worn debating trick: confuse the public about the underlying trend by focusing on short-term fluctuations. It's like claiming spring won't come if there is a brief cold snap in April." The claim of Lomborg that the globe is cooling caused widespread confusions.
Lomborg was also countermanded for asserting that the Copenhagen Climate Congress in March 2009 (see section 3 above) was "an effort by a group of scientists and activists to cast aside the concensus view of thousands of scientists from the IPCC." Professor Rahmstorf corrected this error, pointing out that the Congress was organised by a global alliance of universities, including Copenhagen, Yale, Berkeley, Cambridge, Oxford, Tokyo, and Beijing. There were three years of new results to discuss, including fresh measurements on ice flow and sea level. "Over 1,600 research papers and posters will be presented by scientists including leading IPCC authors from over 70 countries."
The facts here are surely indication of the distortions that have been occurring in some sectors. See Rahmstorf, Climate Sceptics Confuse the Public (March 2009).
A notable book has since appeared entitled The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight about Global Warming (2010), written by the independent scholar Howard Friel and published by Yale University. This critique was repudiated by Lomborg on his website, though Friel contributed a response which further reveals the strength of protest at economist theory.
Subsequently, Friel observed that although in both of his books, Lomborg briefly conceded the fact of anthropogenic warming, he (Lomborg) nevertheless wrote hundreds of pages in an attempt to discredit climate science, and employed "grossly misleading claims" about there being no catastrophe in prospect. This meant, in Lomborgian theory, that there was no need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to any substantial extent.
Friel notes that, in the new book edited by Lomborg, the latter states that "the risks of unchecked global warming are now widely acknowledged," though he nevertheless still employs the argument: "cost-benefit economics analysis shows that it is prohibitively expensive for the world to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the extent required by the scientific evidence." Friel accordingly concludes that the purported "smart solutions to climate change" amount to insanity, failing to address the basic problem of increasing atmospheric pollution. (Friel, Bjorn Lomborg's missing questions, Aug. 2010).
Howard Friel's book reveals a situation in which Lomborg's themes were uncritically accepted as deriving from an expert source (i.e., Lomborg). The two coolist volumes of the statistician contain many references, giving the impression to sceptical partisans that the arguments are impeccably sound. However, Friel proffers a meticulous analysis of Lomborg's Cool It endnotes, and finds these to be erratic and misleading, and to the extent that he describes Lomborg as "a performance artist disguised as an academic." This matter gains edge from the coolist strategy of claiming accuracy while insinuating that scientists and environmentalists are in error. The coolist "baroque documentation system" does not have scientific validation. See also the Lomborg Errors website.
A rather obvious deficiency in Cool It is Lomborg's version of polar bears, which urges that only a minority of these creatures are suffering a decline in population (two out of twenty regional populations), a misfortune not here viewed as a result of global warming in the Arctic. Lomborg even suggests that warming will benefit the bears, and argues that polar bear populations in warming regions are rising. Friel reveals the drawback of unreliable sources. Lomborg did not assimilate the most authoritative version of polar bear populations; the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has stated that bear populations are declining in the warming Arctic regions due to reduction in ice. Furthermore, an expert on polar bears, Dr. Ian Stirling, is on record for stating that Lomborg used "inaccurate and utterly inadequate arguments" in his theory about warming creating a basically positive effect on the existence of bears.
One of Friel's reviewers (who cited Stirling) observed that Lomborg became "hugely influential in providing cover to politicians, climate-change deniers, and corporations that don't want any part of controls on greenhouse emissions; Lomborg made that stance intellectually respectable in many circles, in no small part because his books seem so well sourced, something a number of glowing reviews noted" (Sharon Begley, Newsweek, 2010).
One of the experts in Polar Bars International is Dr. Ian Stirling, a biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta. He has been studying polar bears since the 1970s, and has emphasised the dangers of global warming for polar bear survival. He is closely associated with the monitoring conclusion that the bear population of Western Hudson Bay has decreased by more than 20% since the 1980s.
In 2005, Nature reported the World Wildlife Fund assessment that "the trend of melting Arctic ice, which is the main habitat for polar bears, presents real problems for the species; the ice sheet is shrinking at a rate of about 10% per decade.... about 1.3 million square kilometres, an area equivalent to three times that of California, have been lost over the past four years" (Drowning polar bears, 2005). The habitat of the polar bear is disappearing due to rising temperatures in the Canadian Arctic and other Arctic regions. Reports of tragic bear deaths and loss of weight accompanied a population decline charted in the Western Hudson Bay area. Early ice break in spring means less food and hunger that can kill cubs and old bears, as Dr. Stirling reported in 2007 (Polar bears dying in years of early ice melt, 2007). See also Global Warming and Polar Bears.
The Polar Bear Specialist Group, an IUCN extension, says that "unabated global warming will ultimately threaten polar bears everywhere." The diverse population regions of these animals have been classified in the PBSG status table (2010), which indexes 19 circumpolar populations. Only one of these is stated to be increasing. In contrast, eight of the populations are stated to be declining. Three are described as stable. The remaining seven are classified as data deficient zones. The eight declining populations are directly linked in terms of causation with the Arctic ice melt, and the sole increase occurred in a region that has not seen so much ice loss as other areas.
The U.S. Geological Survey has predicted that two-thirds of the world's polar bears will disappear by 2050 (Wikipedia, accessed 10/10/2010). In 2008, these animals were listed in America as a threatened species, one year after publication of the Lomborg coolist myth about increasing numbers and warming benefits.
The polar bear data is the target of sceptical attack on the web, and caricature blogs have been reported. Bear experts have complained at the contrarian (or denialist) articles in the popular press:
"Such articles generally exhibit a poor understanding of polar bear ecology and selectively use information out of context, which results in public confusion about the real threat to polar bears due to loss of sea ice" (I. Stirling and A. E. Derocher, Melting Under Pressure, 2007, PDF).
9. Sceptic Nigel Lawson
Another book celebrated by sceptics is An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming (2008) by Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer for the British Conservative Party, and who became Baron Lawson in 1992. The independent British ecologist James Lovelock has sympathetically observed on the media that Lawson's book is not a diatribe or polemic, and that "he tries to reason his case." There is nevertheless prodigious scope for improved reason.
Other assessments by climatologists have been less flattering. Baron Lawson's short book follows a conservative economist orientation. He does not deny that global warming has been occurring, but thinks that the impact will be minimal. Climate change scientists are here viewed as alarmists for predicting catastrophe in the absence of due rectifications. Lawson relies upon the mistaken deduction that temperature has not increased during the past decade. He thinks that the term climate change is a cover-up, and favours the suggestion that global warming has almost stopped. His appeal to reason is a contradiction, and very misleading. It is not alarmist for scientists to reasonably emphasise, for example, that sea level is rising due to increasing ice melt and related factors. Lawson implies a "new age of unreason"; the "new age" is mystified by confusions that effectively serve to conflate science with indulgences of the "Esalen workshop" variety.
Some press reviewers welcomed Lawson's book as a relief from being worried by "speculations" and dramatic newspaper headlines. The reviewers took comfort from the politician's pronouncement that it is "inherently absurd" to credit accuracy in predicting what might happen in fifty or a hundred years time. Ideas about global food production being on the increase in a warming phase are deceptive according to other assessments. The reasoned theme of substantially curtailing carbon emissions is considered by Lawson too high a price to pay, in view of the supposed affluence of future generations. India and China are celebrated by Lawson for the performance of economic miracles, the new affluence being closely related to a high carbon footprint. Future "uncertainties" are here considered a distraction to current benefits. Such themes can be interpreted very differently.
Baron Lawson contributed to The Great Global Warming Swindle (2007), a programme shown on Channel 4, and featuring politicians, economists, scientists, and others; the basic intention was to depict man-made global warming as a fiction and scam. The documentary was strongly criticised by scientists and environmentalists who "argued that it had misused and fabricated data, relied on out-of-date research, employed misleading arguments, and misrepresented the position of the IPCC." Quote from Wikipedia (accessed 03/09/2010).
The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) made a statement (March 2007) regarding the confusion caused by the Channel 4 programme, which "claimed to demonstrate that climatic change is driven by solar influences and that the recent warming is not related to human greenhouse gas emissions." BAS clarified that "the evidence for an unusual recent global warming is unequivocal, and it is very likely that this is due to human activity." BAS were categorical in observing that "recent changes in solar activity bear no resemblance to temperature changes." The due accusation was also made that "Channel 4 used seriously flawed data on which to base their programme." The deficiency may be gauged from the relatively simple detail that much of the programme was based around a diagram labelled "NASA," and showing a curve extending to the year 2003. "The curve was produced by NASA nearly twenty years ago; although it showed data only until 1987, it had been stretched and relabelled to suggest it showed the temperature record to 2003." BAS duly stated:
"The resulting distortion excludes the significant warming that has occurred since 1987; other figures similarly misrepresented the current state of knowledge.... Any scientist found to have falsified data in the manner of the Channel 4 programme would be guilty of serious professional misconduct."
Some sceptics have argued that global warming can facilitate an increased productivity in agriculture. However, scientific research now suggests that "global warming is set to cut rice yields in Asia." American scientists recently studied records from over 200 fully-irrigated rice farms in six countries, including India, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. The conclusion was that over the last 25 years, the rate of growth in yields has fallen by 10-20%. Despite the growth in yields caused by improved farming methods, increased nocturnal temperatures have curbed the rate of growth. If temperatures continue to rise, the yields will be tangibly reduced.
Much depends upon the daytime heat threshold that can impair growth; recent studies of American crops, particularly corn, have revealed a substantial drop-off when the threshold is crossed. Strong temperature increases are anticipated to impair crops in all regions.
Another study, published in 2009, concluded that half of the world population "could face a climate-induced food crisis by 2100, with the most extreme summers of the last century becoming routine towards the end of this century" (BBC News, August 2010).
10. Persecution of Climate Scientists
One victim of the ongoing sceptical attack has been Rajendra Pachauri, the Indian scientist and UN chairman of the IPCC. "The serious charges made against Rajendra Pachauri are completely untrue," said British commentator George Monbiot, who informs that the Sunday Telegraph "maligned a scrupulously honest man," and subsequently encountered legal costs running into six figures.
However, the main problem is not the British media, but a larger sector of the Western communications output. Dr. Pachauri has referred to "a new form of persecution of those who defy conventional ignorance." This has been interpreted as a reference to the campaign of American senator James Inhofe, a major opponent of climate science in the US Congress, who in early 2010 invoked a "criminal investigation" of the subject he hated. This campaign has been called a McCarthyite witch-hunt, an event accused of creating hatemail and comprising a situation in which scientists "are being subjected to inquisitions coming from Congress."
One of the seventeen targets was Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who said: "The idea very clearly [of Inhofe] is to let it be known that should you be a scientist who speaks out in public then you will be intimidated, you will be harassed, and you will be threatened.... That kind of intimidation is very reminiscent of other periods in US history where people abused their position" (guardian.co.uk, 01/03/2010).
According to Pachauri, it was to be expected that critical choices created by climate change "would pose challenges for some stakeholders and sectors of the economy," though "to ignore the IPCC's scientific findings would lead to impacts that impose larger costs than those required today to stabilise the Earth's climate" (guardian.co.uk, 26/03/2010).
No less than 255 members of the (American) National Academy of Sciences (NAS) endorsed a collective letter calling for a termination to the "threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them." ClimateScienceWatch informed that the significant 700-word statement from NAS was rejected for inclusion by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. However, the disconcerting lethargy was redressed by Science journal (May 7, 2010).
By now, ClimateScienceWatch (directed by Rick Piltz) was featuring a relevant series of entries under the heading of Global Warming Denial Machine. Indeed, many Americans and non-Americans alike were beginning to feel that America harbours the most unscientific (and anti-scientific) political tendencies in the world. The University of Virginia soon petitioned a state court to set aside the investigative demand of right wing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who wanted that university to turn over materials relating to climate scientist Michael E. Mann, a Professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, and co-author of Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming (2008). On Mann, see also Wikipedia and climatechangepsychology.
Some instruction might be derived from the adjacent situation in which Oklahoma City was deluged in a record rainfall (June 2010), only days after Republican Senator Inhofe (of Oklahoma) had derided all conclusions of the IPCC as having been refuted. In 2007, the IPCC had stated: "the frequency of heavy precipitation [rainfall] events has increased over most land areas, consistent with warming and observed increase of atmospheric water vapour."
A significant report was issued by Pennsylvania State University concerning the allegations of misconduct aimed at Professor Mann by the sceptics of climate change. The report concluded that the allegations lacked all substance; the victim was now completely cleared of any error. Mann was interviewed by Rick Piltz of ClimateScienceWatch, and his comments included the following:
"I think there's a concerted, well-organised, and very well-funded campaign to attack climate scientists.... This campaign has been funded by industry special interests who don't want to see action taken to combat the problem of climate change. They've sought to discredit the science by attacking it with misleading and specious claims.... I think that what this indicates is that those who continue to deny that climate change is a problem do not have science on their side.... So instead they've turned to smear campaigns. They've turned to character assassination.... It's intellectually dishonest and uses whatever means available to try to discredit the science behind the basic facts that climate change is a reality." (Interview with Michael Mann, July 1st 2010).
Despite the innocence of Professor Mann and others, damage had been done by the sceptics, as evidenced by the hate mail targeting some American scientists. This disconcerting phenomenon received coverage in The Guardian (July 2010). ClimateScienceWatch supplied the information that:
"U.S. authorities appear to be doing little about it [the hatemail], in part because the hate speech put out by popular right-wing commentators, and the bizarre and sometimes vicious e-mail they seem to inspire among some of their followers, is protected under US law" (Barrage of right-wing lunatic hate mail, July 5, 2010).
In August 2010, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce filed a petition for a judicial review challenging the legality of an EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) decision not to reconsider a verdict that "greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health and welfare and are to be regulated under the Clean Air Act." This tactic of delay is a telling reminder of commercial forces at work. "The Chamber has a history of questioning climate science to fight off regulation, including the assertion that warming of even 3 degrees Celsius over the next century would be 'beneficial to humans'." (All quotes from Global Warming Denial Machine.)
In October 2010, the resumption of Republican hostilities against climate scientists further astounded an international audience. Cuccinelli's renewed demand in court against Michael Mann has aroused strong critique in America. Moreover, the closely associated situation of corporate influences and funding has been emphasised. The version of Rick Piltz explains the corporate denialist tactic in terms of being "in a position to fund, at whatever level they deem necessary, the careers of whatever political candidates appear most combative and effective in advancing their agenda." The free market here decodes to an intention "to derail the process in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving toward regulation of greenhouse gas emissions."
The situation is surely memorable. "Behind the denialist attack on the so-called 'climategate' stolen emails and the campaign to undermine the credibility of the IPCC - of which the Cuccinelli witch hunt is a direct extension - is the politics of .... protecting corporate interests from regulation." Piltz further describes the problem in terms of:
"With climate change legislation dead at the hands of a coalition of Republicans and conservative corporate-oriented Democrats, their next move is to block regulatory action at EPA" (quotes from Rick Piltz, Denialist witch-hunt is about political ambition, Oct. 2010).
11. Independent Ecologist James Lovelock
In addition to academic mainstream climate science, there is the independent British version associated with James Lovelock, a veteran ecologist of renown. Dr. Lovelock has been considered controversial, though there is surely some merit in various of his themes and contributions over the years. See Club of Rome theme and James Lovelock (2008). More recently, he appeared to conflate scientists with politicians, and to veer towards sympathy with sceptics and the lack of public trust in climate science. See Fudging Data (29th March, 2010).
I have to state here that I disagree with the interpretation and misconception of Lovelock, which occurred in the wake of distortions perpetrated by denialists about the Copenhagen political conference and related matters. Many people in Britain were confused by the adverse publicity about "hacked University of East Anglia (UEA) emails and IPCC errors," though ecologists should not be deceived by subversive scepticism. The ongoing persecution of climate scientist Michael Mann by the Republican inquisition is an inverted consequence of the "hacked emails" episode, dubbed Climategate by the media. See section 10 above. The lack of public trust in climate science is basically caused by defective media, influenced to varying degrees by the pervasive (if sub-surface) campaign of big business.
The UEA or "climategate" emails were lamented by the liberal Guardian journalist George Monbiot, who even called for the resignation of Professor Phil Jones. Monbiot subsequently annulled that complaint, providing a fresh analysis which included the statement: "Almost all the claims made about these messages [emails] are false. Their contents have been wildly and wilfully misinterpreted, their authors demonised, their implications inflated." Monbiot is here referring to the situation in which, e. g., academic deliberation about the selection of papers for an IPCC report gained the repute of a conspiracy. Monbiot concluded that "the science is sound; the IPCC has not been compromised."
Another development was the significant Open Letter from US Scientists, dated 10th March 2010, signed by over 250 American scientists and quickly despatched to federal agencies. This communication duly clarified the misleading media statements about the IPCC, and commenced with the reflection:
"Many in the popular press and other media, as well as some in the halls of Congress, are seizing on a few errors that have been found in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC in an attempt to discredit the entire report. None of the handful of mis-statements (out of hundreds and hundreds of unchallenged statements) remotely undermines the conclusion that 'warming of the climate system is unequivocal.' "
The error most generally assailed related to the IPCC deduction that the Himalayan glaciers would erode by 2035. Nobody knows when those glaciers will vanish, but sufficient mountain ice has already disappeared to justify a strong sense of alarm at what is occurring. See section 12 below. Associated developments in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Peru are a confirmation of emergency.
Though liberal towards certain sceptics of climate science, Lovelock commented that "some of the mad ones I think have not done anyone any favours; some of them, of course, are corrupted and employed by oil companies and things like that. Some even work for governments." Quote from Lovelock on the value of sceptics (2010).
In his rather amiable commentary, Lovelock says "I think the sceptic bloggers should worry; it's almost certain that you can't put a trillion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere without something nasty happening." A related issue is what will convince the public that decisive action is required to tackle global warming. Lovelock says on this subject:
"There has been a lot of speculation that a very large glacier [Pine Island glacier] in Antarctica is unstable. If there's much more melting, it may break off and slip into the ocean. It would be enough to produce an immediate sea-level rise of two metres, something huge, and tsunamis. I would say the scientists are not worried about it, but they are keeping a close watch on it. That would be the sort of event that would change public opinion. Or a return of the Dust Bowl in the mid-west." (Ibid.)
A Nasa scientist was reported by the Guardian to have stated that "no one expects full collapse of the system [Pine Island glacier] as quickly as 100 years," though bets might be unwise. With regard to the Dust Bowl, Lovelock's polite poke at American apathy is accompanied by his statement applying elsewhere. "The Germans and the Danes are making a fortune out of renewable energy" (ibid.). Lovelock adds that Germany has made an admission that wind turbines are not viable. Lovelock is controversially in favour of nuclear power for Britain, on the basis that this resort is "cheap, effective and exceedingly safe" (ibid.).
Safety is a deceptive word today. Complaints can go unheeded by official negligence. Eco themes have certainly proved commercial in some sectors, including the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, though complaints to UNITAR about CIFAL Findhorn received no answer in 2006. The UNITAR bureaucracy clearly favoured the commercial eco-houses and alternative therapy workshops (plus four wind turbines) to complaints about economic irregularities and other matters. See my CIFAL Findhorn: A Critical Statement and Findhorn Foundation: Problems.
Lovelock provisionally refers to carbon emissions trading as a scam; this form of trading is certainly controversial, and has met with opposition. Lovelock emphasises that the increasing cycle of carbon dioxide emissions in China and India makes nonsense of the attempt to sell "renewable gadgetry and green ideas." There will doubtless be more business interests in such areas, and a philosophical version of ecology requires to be suitably exacting.
12. Climate Change in the Himalayas
The reduction of Himalayan ice is illustrated by developments on the Imja glacier, six kilometres from Mount Everest. In the 1950s, a deep layer of ice covered that glacier. Subsequently, small ponds of meltwater continued to grow, merging to form the Imja lake by the mid-1970s. By 2007, that lake had increased in size to the length of about one kilometre; the American mountaineer Dr. Alton Byers recorded his updated discovery on photographs of 2007. A substantial portion of the glacier had by then melted.
A number of mountaineers have reported ice reductions. Alton Byers is a significant testifier to the worldwide decline of glaciers, being noted for his explorations and photography in Nepal and Peru. See Climate Witness: Alton Byers. He reports that local people in both Nepal and Peru are very worried about the climate change and recent extreme weather trends. He is closely familiar with the Cordillera Blanca range in Peru; Wikipedia refers to "many experts warning that all of the [Cordillera Blanca] glaciers may be gone within the coming decades" (accessed 07/10/2010).
In relation to the Himalayas, Byers has informed that "many small glaciers at low altitude have disappeared entirely and many larger ones have lost around half of their volume; some have formed huge glacial lakes at the foot of the glacier, threatening downstream communities in case of an outburst."
The Himalayas have dramatically demonstrated the effects of climate change. That range of mountains is identified with the "third pole," a description applied because of the highest volume of frozen water in evidence after the north and south poles. Along with the Tibetan Plateau, this Asian region is crucial in the study of ecology and global warming.
The Imja glacier has the fastest recession rate of all Himalayan glaciers, losing a very substantial number of metres per year. Yet Imja is only one of 27 glacial lakes in Nepal which have been classified as potentially dangerous. If any breach occurs in the moraines damming the lake, thousands of lives in the heavily populated Sherpa valley will be at risk from flooding and landslides.
Since 1975, the average temperature of Nepal has increased by 1.5 Celsius, according to some professional reports. There have been differences of opinion about the outcome. Himalayan glaciers converge into major Asian rivers, including the Ganges, Indus, Mekong, and Yangtze. "If glacial meltwaters turn to a trickle, widespread droughts will threaten the 1.3 billion people that depend on water flowing in those rivers." (Quotes from 50 years of climate change in the Himalayas, 2009). Some sceptics say that the Ganges is more dependent on the monsoon than the glaciers.
"Climate change is mostly caused by the highly industrialised parts of the world" (ibid.). India and China are heavy contributors to climate change, like America and Europe, though countries like Tibet and Nepal are comparatively innocent.
In 2006, veteran glaciologist Lonnie Thompson (of Ohio State University) travelled with a team of researchers to study the Naimona'nyi glacier in the central Himalayas. They are reported to have been stunned at the findings. Glaciers are usually dated by locating two pulses of radioactivity in the ice which are residues of American and Russian atomic bomb testing in 1951-2 and 1962-3. Yet there was no sign of those residues in the Naimona'nyi investigation. In over twenty years of taking samples from glaciers, for the first time Professor Thompson found that the well known markers were missing. "The glacier had melted so much that the exposed surface of the glacier dated to 1944."
The tentative reason given was that high altitude glaciers are more sensitive to climate change, and that the atmosphere holds more water vapour when more heat is absorbed. "When the water vapour rises to high altitudes it condenses, releasing the heat into the upper atmosphere, where high mountain landscapes feel the brunt of warming."
Commencing in 1974, Professor Thompson has made more than fifty expeditions, to both polar and tropical regions. In relation to the Himalayas, he is reported to have said:
"At the highest elevations, we're seeing something like an average of 0.3 degrees Centigrade warming per decade. The IPCC projects 3 degrees of warming by 2100. But that's at the surface; up at the elevations where those glaciers are, there could be almost twice as much, almost 6 degrees." (Quotes from Himalaya glaciers melting much faster, 2008).
The message here is that the water stored by Himalayan glaciers is melting fast, and with dire implications for hundreds of millions of people who depend on those waters. "Some glaciers are just being decapitated" commented a glaciologist of the University of Calgary (Canada), who said that glaciers near the equator are far more at risk than those in Canada.
Eyebrows were raised when a retired Indian geologist supplied a controversial report that was supported in 2009 by the Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh. This report, based on observations of 25 glaciers, claimed that there was no evidence for climate change having caused excessive depletion of Himalayan glaciers. The minister argued that, although some glaciers were receding, they were not doing so at a rate that was "historically alarming." This version was strongly contested by the chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, who said that the new report was unsubstantiated, not being peer reviewed and containing only few scientific citations.
The controversial report implied that Western scientists confused the rate of glacial loss from other parts of the world with the Himalayas, whose glaciers were located at much higher altitudes than those in Alaska. Yet no such confusion is evident in the assessments of Professor Lonnie Thompson and others. Pachauri observed that the report favoured by Ramesh was reminiscent of the denialist arguments against climate change. The standpoint favoured by Ramesh also met with resistance elsewhere. Sunita Narain, an Indian climatologist, said that the Climate Change Council sponsored by the Indian Prime Minister, "has just received a comprehensive report which presents many studies which show clear fragmentation of the glaciers would lead to faster recession." (Quotes from Controversial claim of no evidence, 2009).
The American glaciologist Lonnie Thompson was consulted about the disputed assessment favoured by Ramesh, and he expressed a negative conclusion:
"First and foremost this is not a peer reviewed report, and nothing scientific can be claimed based on 25 glaciers out of over 15,000 glaciers in the Himalayas and 46,300 in the Himalayas and Tibetan region. Glaciers response time to climate change depends on their size; larger glaciers take longer to heat up and respond than smaller glaciers. Thus, in a mountain range such as the Himalayas with over 15,000 glaciers, some will be stationary or advancing based on what climate change happened over 100 years ago. Some glaciers are surging glaciers that advance and retreat due to dynamics of ice flow and not climate. Glaciers do respond on the short term to increases in precipitation [i.e., snowfall] as well as temperature, but with time temperature will win.... I certainly concur with Ramesh that it is high time that the government of India makes investments in the study of the glaciers in the Himalayas, as they [the government] will certainly be impacted by their loss." (Quotes from Himalayan glaciers, 2009).
13. Carbon Soot Problem
In 2009, the daunting phenomenon of carbon soot gained focus. Scientists in India and China were now concerned at the growing clouds of soot created by diesel engines, coal burning, and wood fires (also fires using crop waste or cow dung). Tiny particles of carbon were assembling in a new onslaught upon the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau, where glaciers feed the rivers passing through large populations. Those glaciers were now melting faster because of the ominous clouds of black carbon.
The soot created by developing countries had formerly passed largely undiscerned as a cause of rising temperatures. When the soot falls on glaciers, it absorbs sunlight which the snow would otherwise deflect. A process of melting results. The phenomenon is a striking confirmation of man-made global warming.
The Energy and Resources Institute in Delhi was a relevant source of information. Professor Syed Hasnain stated that "we are finding concentrations of black carbon in the Himalayas in what are supposed to be pristine, untouched environments" (Soot clouds pose threat to Himalayan glaciers, 2009).
India and China were producing a substantial proportion of the black carbon output, and yet both countries were slow to take due action. Hasnain explained that India was the worst culprit, China having made an effort to assess the problem with sensors, unlike the Indian government. That same year in China, the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research referred to an anticipated 43% decrease in glacial area by 2070 due to the carbon soot problem.
The IPCC now requested cuts in black carbon output. New data implied that 50% of the emissions causing climate change are from pollutants other than carbon dioxide. Some scientists have urged that black carbon may be the largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. A very damaging effect upon the Arctic has been emphasised, along with the need to reduce black carbon as the best way to save the Arctic from increasing temperatures, prior to reaching the feared "tipping point" where recovery of ice would be impossible. Much of the black carbon in the Arctic has been traced to South Asia, though America and Russia are implied as supporting sources.
After a few days or weeks, black carbon particles are deposited from the atmosphere onto the ice and snow below, "darkening the reflective white surface and leading to greater absorption of solar radiation; this leads to more melting and larger pools of dark water, which then absorb more heat, continuing a dangerous feedback cycle" (Cutting Black Carbon Soot Could Save Arctic, 2010).
Black carbon has been described as a killer, with nearly one and a half million people being reported to die every year from breathing air polluted by black carbon, which can create respiratory diseases. A means of reducing black carbon emissions has been urged via the use of diesel particulate filters and more efficient cooking stoves.
14. Crisis on the Tibetan Plateau
The recent desertification process on the Tibetan Plateau, together with the carbon soot problem and water vapour complexity in surrounding mountain ranges (Kunlun, Himalayan, and Karakorum), are testimony to the increasing headaches for governmental authorities.
Water vapour is an intricate subject. A recent Western contribution (associated with the NOAA) indicates that stratospheric water vapour increased between 1980 and 2000, enhancing the rate of global warming, and being closely related to an increase in methane, a greenhouse gas which produces water vapour when oxidised. Complexities attach to the stated relative decrease in water vapour, juxtaposed with a climate that is still warming. See Water vapour feedback.
Ecology on the Tibetan Plateau is inseparable from the subject of nomadic inhabitants. The Tibetan nomads comprise a substantial sector of the Tibetan population, and were frequently semi-nomadic, raising yaks and other livestock. The Chinese authorities have been controversially resettling the nomads in urban situations; the unconvincing explanation for this was nomadic overgrazing on the Plateau. Many of the nomads are unhappy in their new environments, where they are prone to disease while their yaks lose weight. Some unemployed rural Tibetans have been filmed by the Guardian while foraging for caterpillar fungus, a commodity which becomes sold via dealers to wealthy urban Chinese who believe in the curative qualities celebrated by the lore of traditional medicine.
Statements about conditions in Tibet have varied, and are sometimes said to reflect political viewpoints. One source of information is SaveTibet. Another website, reflecting the official Chinese outlook in 2003, states:
"The Chinese government attaches great importance to ecological improvement and environmental protection in Tibet.... The Tibet Autonomous Region [on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau] is 1.22 million sq km in area, with an average altitude of well over 4000 m above sea level. It boasts a unique natural ecology and geographical environment.... Ecologically, the changes are manifested in belts from forest, bush, meadow and steppe to desert. The complex and varied terrains and landforms as well as the unique type of ecological system have created a natural paradise for biodiversity.... As the whole global ecosystem is deteriorating, the fragile ecology in Tibet is particularly affected. Mud-rock flows, landslides, soil erosion, snowstorms and other natural calamities occur frequently in Tibet and desertification is threatening the region's eco-environment, compounded by man-made damage to the ecological environment as Tibet's economy develops." (Ecological Improvement and Environmental Protection in Tibet, 2003).
The Tibetan Plateau comprises an area about a third of the size of the United States. The Guardian has reported the statement of a Chinese explorer and environmental activist:
"People have not paid enough attention to the Tibetan plateau. They call it the Third Pole but actually it is more important than the Arctic or Antarctic because it is closer to human communities. This area needs a great deal more research.... The desertification of the grasslands is a very evident phenomenon on the plateau. It's a reaction by a sensitive ecosystem that will precede similar reactions elsewhere" (Tibetan nomads struggle as grasslands disappear, Yang Yong reported by Jonathan Watts, September 2010).
Desertification of the Tibetan Plateau grasslands is said to be accelerating climate change. Without the grass, the Tibetan "roof of the world" has an impaired ability to absorb moisture. The adjacent mountain ranges are reported to have "warmed two to three times faster than the global average; the permafrost and glaciers of the 'Third Pole' are melting." The recent coverage is sobering for other reasons also:
"To make matters worse, the towering Kunlun, Himalayan and Karakorum ranges that surround the plateau act as a chimney for water vapour - which has a stronger greenhouse gas effect than carbon dioxide - to be convected high into the stratosphere. Mixed with pollution, dust and black carbon (soot) from India and elsewhere, this spreads a brown cloud across swathes of the Eurasian landmass. When permafrost melts it can also release methane, another powerful greenhouse gas. Xiao Ziniu, the director general of the Beijing climate centre, says Tibet's climate is the most sensitive in Asia and influences the globe." (Quote from Jonathan Watts, Guardian article linked above).
The journalist was reporting from Maduo, a town in Qinghai province, formerly prosperous but now suffering from acute decline and ruined grasslands during the last decade. The green prairie has become a brown desert. Even long grass, formerly scythed by nomads, is now moss stubble where found. Conditions are said to be the same across much of the Plateau.
Many local people in Qinghai are former herders now living in resettlement centres. In 2003, the Chinese government in Beijing commenced the rehabilitation scheme, now "relocating between 50% and 80% of the 2.25 million nomads on the Tibetan Plateau" (ibid.). According to exiled Tibetans, the relocation scheme "does little for the environment and is aimed at clearing the land for mineral extraction and moving potential supporters of the Dalai Lama into urban areas where they can be more easily controlled" (ibid.). The nomads are certainly subscribers to the Tibetan version of Mahayana Buddhism.
The effectiveness of the relocation programme has been questioned by some ecologists in Tibet and China. Though nomadic overgrazing was officially regarded by the Chinese government as a probable cause of the grassland deterioration, some observers have strongly disagreed. In 2009-10, three prominent Tibetan environmental activists were arrested by the Chinese authorities. Two of them "sought to expose local officials who hunted endangered animals." Paradoxically, "the central government has encouraged green NGOs to expose local authorities and factories that break environmental regulations." (Quotes from J. Watts, Chinese government urged to release Tibetan environmental activists, June 2010).
An increasing number of rodents on the Tibetan Plateau has also been viewed as a complicating factor; the increase is feasibly explained by the fact that hawks, eagles, and leopards have been hunted almost to extinction. In just ten years, the fragile ecosystem on the Plateau has drastically deteriorated due to the human interference.
Non-Chinese sources have provided a rather grim picture of the nomad fate. When the Chinese invaded Tibet in the 1950s, their ideology was strongly marxist and unfamiliar with pastureland complexities. "Productivism was the new ideology, to intensify meat production for China, especially for the influx of Chinese migrants building new towns, oil wells and mines in Tibet." A very oppressive development then occurred.
"The nomads were herded into communes, stripped of all possessions, reshaped into production brigades, and given their orders. No production meant no rations. Starvation, especially in 1959, 1960 and 1961, was common. From the outset, the new class of [Chinese] cadres in command saw the nomads not as stewards and curators of the landscape, but as ignorant, backward and irrational.... Twenty years later, in the late 1970s, the communes collapsed.... In the early 1980s nomads were given their animals back, but not their land.... Meat, wool and dairy products met the subsistence need of the nomads, and their neighbours, the farmers of Tibet; but nomads failed to commercialise slaughter rates; little meat was available for monetisation.... It is only in the 21st century that Chinese and global science have caught up with what the nomads have always known." (Quotes from Nomads facing Climate Change and Dispossession, 2009).
During the 1980s and 1990s, widespread problems on the Plateau grasslands became alarmingly evident. The turf was eroding, extensive rodent populations appeared, and toxic weeds multiplied. While the Chinese turned to an intensive form of capitalist industry, "still the nomads failed to commercialise, bypassing the opportunity to get rich" (ibid.).
The Chinese administrators blamed the nomads for overstocking herds of sheep, goats, and yaks. "The compulsory overstocking of the revolutionary years could not be discussed" (ibid.). Though a construction boom occurred in urban Tibet, the rural Tibet of the nomads remained poor. In the 1990s, "the nomads were at last given certificated guarantees of long term leasehold to their land, long after China's farmers had been given such guarantees" (ibid). However, the drawbacks were pronounced:
"At the same time, other policies, driven by China's long standing disdain for mobile people, were also implemented. Sedentarisation, fencing, limits on family size and herd size were gradually made compulsory.... No longer were nomads free to nomadise. Gone was the annual cycle of overwintering in lower plateau pastures and herding up into the alpine meadows in summer. Forced to live in rudimentary, unsanitary, almost windowless houses, their herds behind fences, the lives of both herds and herders, and the quality of land, all deteriorated. Countless reports by international and Chinese scientists now reveal the cost of concentrating animals and people behind fixed fences. Inevitably the land eroded.... None of these increasingly restrictive policies achieved the goal of intensifying meat production.... A new source of worry was emerging for China: water security. The Yellow River, drained for irrigation and industry as well as urban populations along its length, ran dry in winter, for the first time in history.... The new [Chinese] policy.... assumes the only way to conserve China's upper watersheds is to remove animals and nomads. Yet China's own scientists have now learned, through patient observation, that the grasslands of Tibet, when grazed moderately and intermittently, moving herds on well before the short summer growing season ends, actually maintains a higher biodiversity than on ungrazed pastures, where toxic weeds invade and biodiversity declines" (ibid.).
The pro-nomad argument is basically saying that for nine thousand years, the nomads and their herds maintained the Tibetan Plateau successfully, until an urban colonisation wrecked the environment in just a few decades. Comparisons are made with the fate of the American Indians who were forced onto reservations, and with the Australian aborigines who were relegated to mission stations. "Colonisers justify colonialism as a mission to civilise the backward" (ibid.).
Nomadic mobility emerges as a crucial factor for biodiversity on the Plateau, undermined by the urban preccupation with industry and meat production.
"Nomadic knowledge of how, when and where to graze, and the nomadic willingness to live in portable woven yak hair tents, summer and winter, with their animals, kept the pasture free of invasive toxic weeds, erosion, shrub invasion, and infestations of pests" (ibid.).
A complaint is also found that climate change has been used as a facesaver on the part of Chinese administrators. Climate change really is occurring rapidly on the Tibetan Plateau, but the blame should not be placed on the nomads.
15. The Chinese Industrial Revolution
The transition from communist China to neo-capitalist China has met with diverse commentaries, both inside and outside that country. China is now described as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, but has taken seriously the ecological attitude. A big question is to what extent the Chinese government can realistically curb the phenomenal industrial growth in terms of emission. Some commentators are pessimistic.
A recent commentator is the informed Guardian journalist Jonathan Watts, whose book is rather provocatively entitled When a Billion Chinese Jump (2010). The underlying theme refers to the population of 1.4 billion people who have accelerated their material lifestyle as prosperous consumers. The Chinese industrial revolution has been intensive, using coal in quantity, and producing a factory system that has been called the ultimate in unsustainable development.
The factories of eastern China, staffed by women working for a low wage, produced affordable goods for export. This development triggered the nationwide boom in commerce and pollution. Rivers turned black, the air became clogged with fumes, the land was poisoned and agricultural produce was impaired. Cancer and other diseases increased dramatically, and death rates amongst Chinese farmers became four times that of the global average. The cost of "growth" was high.
A new middle class was created in the wealthy cities of eastern China. They eventually recognised that harmful factories needed to be closed down or renovated. Yet less prosperous industrialists overlooked the problems. Everyone wanted to be rich. According to Watts, the pollution transmitted by the rivers of China has poisoned the sea from the Gulf of Bohai to the Pacific. In the air, the extensive brown cloud of smog spreads over a large area of Asia (with India being another major contributor). Various other environmental ailments are visible, such as desertification and chronic water shortages.
China has become committed to a low carbon economy and a new sustainable development. The obstructing problems are prodigious, however. One governmental resort has been to encourage migration from the overpopulated urban areas into the mountainous territories of the Uighurs and Tibetans. Such zones have been able to support small populations, but the ecosystems cannot accomodate a large influx. The province of Yunnan, rich in biodiversity, has been described in terms of the last remaining natural paradise in China. Watts reveals that the life expectancy will be drastically reduced.
The ecological drive "requires a profound cultural shift away from the entrenched idea that nature exists to be exploited and plundered and that any environmental problem can be fixed by engineering" (quote from review of Watts by Isabel Hilton, A stark warning of the dangers of pollution, July 2010). On China, see also Jonathan Watts' Blog.
In recent decades, northern areas of China have been prone to increased drought, while southern territories have been subject to increased flooding caused by heavy summer rainfall. The NASA Goddard Institute is associated with research indicating that the extensive output of black carbon increases convection and rainfall, producing a surface cooling (or temperature decrease) which masks the heat in the air.
16. Copenhagen Diagnosis
The Copenhagen political summit conference in December 2009 was accompanied by a report from 26 international climate scientists entitled The Copenhagen Diagnosis. There were doubtless some politicians who did not really want to see the contents. One verdict was that by 2020 the industrial nations must reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide by around 40% below 1990 levels to achieve any realistic chance of avoiding dangerous repercussions. In the absence of sufficient mitigation, the high danger warming threshold of 2 degrees Celsius could be crossed as early as 2040. Deep emission cuts are imperative due to recent emission increases.
The Diagnosis emphasised that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate, and already contributing to the rise of sea level. Arctic sea ice is also melting much faster than formerly assessed. Without a substantial reduction in greenhouse gases, global warming could contribute as high as 7 Celsius by 2100. Sea level has risen more than 5 centimetres over the past 15 years, about 80% higher than the tentative IPCC predictions from 2001. Furthermore, if the climate is to be stabilised, global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases require to decline rapidly within the next five to ten years.
Some Diagnosis scientists stressed that the human contribution to climate change is not in doubt, and that the recent warming does not accord with natural climate variability over the last two thousand years.
The summit conference itself revolved around politicians, not scientists. The event was attended by conflicting arguments, doubts, divisive undercurrents, and diverse media reports that included distortions.
Prior to the conference, a prominent German climate scientist, Professor Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber, stated that America was "climate illiterate." The implication here was that the attendant public ignorance comprised a potentially serious risk of failure at the Copenhagen conference. Schellnhuber (founding director of the Potsdam Institute in Germany) referred to polls which indicated that there were more people in Brazil and China who were aware of climate problems, and who believed that deep cuts in emissions were necessary. He commented that "the political chances seem very slim that something [positive] will happen in Copenhagen and even in the years after."
The same Guardian article informed that "the US has some of the highest carbon emissions per capita in the world." Schellnhuber complained that "many in the Republican party and the wider US population still did not understand the need to act." His comments were made on the occasion of an Oxford University climate science seminar. A climatologist at the Met Office Hadley Centre presented a study indicating that the world could undergo a 4 degree Celsius increase in temperature as early as 2060-2070. Further, a climate scientist from the University of Reading stated that a temperature rise on this scale would "bring about colossal changes in weather conditions," and that "some 15% of land worldwide that is currently suitable for agriculture would become useless." (Quotes from US inertia could scupper world climate deal in Copenhagen, September 2009).
The subsequent complication in political resolution at the summit conference has been widely viewed in terms of a failure, entailing a delay in agreement for global needs, with major polluters avoiding the mandate supplied by the Diagnosis. Further groans have resulted from the ongoing friction between China and America, evidenced by the UN climate change talks at Tianjin (October 2010). The two biggest carbon emitters quickly clashed at Tianjin, despite the efforts to find common ground that could enable a "partial agreement" to be signed at the forthcoming meeting in Mexico (Jonathan Watts, China and US clash at climate talks and China and US blamed as climate talks stall).
Meanwhile, a realistic assessment of the political situation was expressed by a British journalist noted for his ecological interests. "Everyone blames everyone else for the failure at Copenhagen," commented George Monbiot. The same writer mentioned the recent phenomena in America concerning the 48 Republican contenders for the forthcoming Senate elections. Only one of these contenders accepted that anthropogenic climate change is occurring. The exception was very quickly ousted by another denialist candidate. However, the drawbacks are far more widespread. Many nations, including Britain, "have produced what appear to be robust national plans for cutting greenhouse gases; with one exception (the Maldives), their targets fall far short of the reductions needed to prevent more than two degrees of global warming" (George Monbiot, The Process is Dead, Sept. 2010).
Political conveniences need not stop citizens from knowing the facts. Websites like the Met Office Hadley Centre are noted for conveying details such as "the ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 1995," and "one third of the earth's land surface is now desert." Perhaps even more pointed is the assessment that "five billion people will be living in water-stressed areas by 2050" (accessed 1/10/2010).
17. NASA Decodes the Weather
What is currently the condition of the globe in the face of technology, worldwide capitalism, and political obstructions? The reality is avoided by too many entrenched interests, but climate scientists have made the problem intelligible. One of the major centres for climate analysis has been the NASA Goddard Institude for Space Studies, led for many years by the industrious Dr. James Hansen (see section 1 above). A website feature informs:
"Global warming has an effect on the probability and intensity of extreme events. This is true for precipitation [rainfall] as well as temperature, because the amount of water vapour that the air carries is a strong function of temperature. So the frequency of extremely heavy rain and floods increases as global warming increases. But at times and places of drought, global warming can increase the extremity of temperature and associated events such as forest fires" (NASA Analysis: What Global Warming Looks Like, 2010).
The quote comes from a brief bulletin related to a lengthy article by James Hansen et al, the latter entitled Global Surface Temperature Change (2010), available on PDF in 52 pages. Various complexities are there explained, including the low temperatures of 2009 that were wrongly interpreted by sceptics and denialists, to the further confusion of the public in different countries. The cool summer of 2009 in America and the cold winter of 2009/10 in the northern hemisphere were part of a scientifically accepted variability in weather patterns attaching to global warming. One excerpt from the relevant article is sufficient here:
"In the US, 16 of the past 20 winters and 15 of the past 20 summers were warmer than the 1951-1980 climatology, a frequency consistent with the expected 'loading of the climate dice' due to global warming" (Global Surface Temperature Change, PDF page 17, accessed 09/10/2010).
18. Climate Scientist Stefan Rahmstorf
A leading climate scientist, Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, has offered some useful remarks about the hot summer of 2010:
"While it cannot be scientifically proven (or disproven, for that matter) that global warming caused any particular extreme event, we can say that global warming very likely makes many kinds of extreme weather both more frequent and more severe. For weeks, central Russia has been in the grips of its worst-ever heat wave, which has caused probably thousands of fatalities.... Meanwhile, Pakistan is struggling with unprecedented flooding that has killed more than a thousand people and affected millions more. In China, flash floods have so far killed more than a thousand people and destroyed more than a million homes. On a smaller scale, European countries like Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic have also suffered serious flooding.
"Meanwhile, global temperatures in recent months have been at their highest levels in records that go back 130 years. Arctic sea-ice cover reached its lowest recorded average level for the month of June ever. In Greenland two huge chunks of ice broke off in July and August.... This is far more likely to be the result of a warming climate - a consequence of this decade being, worldwide, the hottest for a thousand years.... Owing to fossil fuel emissions, there is now one-third more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any time in at least a million years, as the latest ice drilling in Antarctica has revealed. The changes in the planet's energy budget caused by solar variations are at least ten times smaller in comparison.... With weak action, like that promised by governments in Copenhagen last December, we will be on course for 3-4 degrees Celsius of global warming. This is bound to outstrip the ability of many societies and ecosystems to adapt." (Stefan Rahmstorf, Our Summer of Extremes, dated 16 August 2010.)
The same climate scientist (and oceanographer) of Germany states that the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration "is entirely caused by humans and is primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels, with a smaller contribution due to deforestation" (Rahmstorf, Climate Change Fact Sheet, 2010). See also Rahmstorf and Katherine Richardson, Our Threatened Oceans (2009); David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf, The Climate Crisis (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
The same fact sheet informs that "life in the oceans is not only threatened by climate change but by the equally serious problem of the ongoing global ocean acidification, which is a direct chemical result of our CO2 emissions."
The Rahmstorf fact sheet also states: "Droughts and forest fires are likely to increase in some regions, as is currently occurring in the Mediterranean region, Southern Africa and California. Hurricanes are expected to become more destructive."
Another memorable antidote to sceptical reductionism is the observation that "ice thickness has decreased by 20-25% just since 2001" (ibid.).
In contrast to misleading scenarios of the sceptics and denialists, Professor Rahmstorf realistically reflects that "currently sea level is rising at over 3cm/decade.... even if warming is stopped at 3 degrees Celsius, sea level will probably keep rising by several meters in subsequent centuries in a delayed response" (ibid.).
19. Global Prospects of Flooding and Drought
A relatively minimal rise in sea levels could drastically affect small island nations, a factor highlighted by concerns in the Maldives. Barbados and the Philippines are two of the other sectors at risk. Water level has been rising in the Philippines, flooding rice fields and other areas of agricultural importance; in some areas, an increase from 20% to 80% has been reported. In mainland areas, Bangladesh faces prospective fatality. The Nile delta is also at risk, that territory comprising the prime agricultural land in Egypt. (See Rachel Cernansky, 8 Countries About to Go Underwater, Literally, 2010).
The large and relatively stable island of Britain has recently been revealed as prone to more risk than generally assumed. Governmental advisers on climate change have warned that urgent action is necessary to safeguard homes, power stations, roads, and water supplies. The problems stipulated are flooding, heat waves, and drought.
"The first national assessment of the country's readiness for the impacts of global warming has found the UK was very poorly prepared for the changes, with fewer than one in 15 companies, local authorities and other public bodies taking action to tackle the issue." (UK poorly prepared for impact of global warming, September 2010).
The first report of the (British) Climate Change Committee on adaptation, dating to 2010, stated that climate change was already having an impact upon Britain, with average annual temperatures 1 degree Celsius higher than in the 1970s, and seasons arriving on average eleven days earlier. This warming is considered likely to increase, bringing extremes in the form of storms, floods, heat waves, and droughts.
Another British report (cited by the Dept for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) revealed that, although between half and three-quarters of companies, and all local authorities, were aware of the need for adaptation, "only 6% of the 633 organisations questioned had gone further than discussing or considering the problem" (ibid.). Some observers say that there is also the danger of focusing upon a generalised "adaptation" at the expense of mitigating carbon dioxide emissions.
The same year of 2010, the flooding in Pakistan gained extensive attention. The Pakistani ambassador Husain Haqqani visited America in September, where he conferred with climate scientists about global warming and the connection with extreme weather events. Haqqani boldly stated:
"While the debate about climate change continues, Pakistan is living through the changes... Pakistan is bearing the burden of profligate natural resource consumption by others" (Alexa Jay, Pakistani Ambassador, 2010).
The ambassador referred to the disastrous fact that 17 out of 43 million acres of arable land in Pakistan had been flooded. Two million homes, together with eight thousand schools, had been damaged or destroyed, and some 2,000 people had died. Edward Markey, American chairman of the Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence, made significant reference to the recent flooding in Tennessee, Iowa, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, commenting that "the more heat-trapping pollution we put into the atmosphere, the higher the chance of weather disasters" (ibid.).
A major international concern is aridity and drought. Researchers at Princeton University have warned that a warming climate could cause millions of Mexicans to migrate across the border into the United States by 2080. Rising temperatures are predicted to cause a decrease in Mexican crop yields through drought, flooding, and stronger storms. The authoritative Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has referred to a 10% reduction in crop yields being sufficient to create an emigration trend amongst Mexican farmers. There are already a large number of undocumented Mexican immigrants believed to be in North America, and a new immigration law was prepared for Arizona. A similar trend to migration on a more global level, from Africa to Australia, is also predicted to become a significant issue. See Climate change will increase Mexico-US migration, 2010.
A serious problem for America has been discussed, and in terms of the energy-water "choke points." The global freshwater crisis is not imaginary. An increasing water scarcity is feared in America, due to the increase in energy production. Electric generation capacity is stated to require an increase of 40% by 2050, a factor considered an affliction by some analysts. Further, only two of the new alternative energy sources (wind and solar) use less water than fossil fuels. There are references to a suppressed/delayed report on the energy-water problem, a document whose "conclusions are inconvenient for both political and industry interests, as all of the big energy production and large water use sectors are implicated" (Alexa Jay, US faces collision between energy demands and water scarcity, 2010). Climate change is strongly implicated as a constricting influence on the water system in America, and thus affecting future energy production.
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
Copyright © 2010 Kevin R.D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.