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Monday, December 26, 2011

A new way of thinking as sea levels rise

The Washington Post

A new way of thinking as sea levels rise

View Photo Gallery —  Obama administration members participated in international climate talks in Greenland in an effort to focus attention on polar melting even as new data suggest that the rate of melting is much higher than anticipated.

From his government office in Virginia Beach, Clay Bernick can see the future, and that future looks a rather lot like the movie “Waterworld.”

The sea level is rising in Virginia Beach and the entire area known as Hampton Roads because of the warming climate, and the area also happens to be sinking for other geological reasons.

Within 50 years, a big part of Virginia Beach’s identity — its beach — could be lost if nothing is done, said Bernick, the city’s environment and sustainability administrator. Large pieces of land could also be lost to the ocean in Norfolk within a few generations.

In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the greatest risk from sea-level rise for any area its size.

“It’s a significant threat,” Bernick said. “At this point, I wouldn’t put it in the category of fear, because it’s a long way off.” But he added: “You’ve got multiple factors with flashing lights saying, ‘Okay, guys, what are you going to do?’ ”

To help answer that question in the past, municipalities turned to a manual published by the Army Corps of Engineers since 1954 on how to protect shores by holding back the sea.

But earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the first manual on how not to hold it back, arguing that costly seawalls and dikes eventually fail because sea-level rise is unstoppable. The federal Global Change Research Program estimates that the sea level will rise 14 to 17 inches in the next century around Hampton Roads.

The analysis, “Rolling Easements,” published on the EPA’s Web site, hopes “to get people on the path of not expecting to hold back the sea” as the warming climate is expected to melt ice around the globe, EPA researcher James G. Titus said.

Titus said state and local governments should start crafting laws and ordinances to limit development on vulnerable lands and encourage people living there to move inland. Reflecting the scale of the problem, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission issued a report this month warning that 1 million residents would now be threatened by a Category 4 hurricane.

The EPA report said governments have three options to deal with sea-level rise: They can stay on the well-worn path of building expensive protection and raising streets and buildings. They can beat an organized retreat from the shore, perhaps by offering financial incentives to people and organizations to move inland. Or they can allow people to do whatever they want for their waterfront properties but tell them in no uncertain terms that they are on their own when the waters rise.

In Hampton Roads, planners and environmentalists said the EPA recommendations are on the table. Bernick called the report “useful.” John Boon, a professor emeritus at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who has studied sea-level rise for years, called it “very well reasoned.”

Most people aren’t taking the threat of sea-level rise decades from now too seriously, but planners say it is worrisome when you consider what’s at stake — public roads, schools, bridges, tunnels, museums, police stations and housing developments that are built to last well beyond the average 30-year home mortgage.

“It could result in those things having a life span less than what we budgeted for,” said John Carlock, deputy executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. “That part of it is trying to make wise use of taxpayer funds.”

Cities such as Norfolk have already experienced the effects of sea-level rise as powerful storms pushed water inland, leading to flooding in places where it once was rare.

Rising sea, sinking land

In a report this month, “Preparing for the Changing Climate,” the group Clean Air Cool Planet wrote that the increased flooding was inevitable along the Atlantic coast because the number of federally declared storms has increased — up by 50 percent over 20 years, for instance, in New England.

“In New Hampshire alone, the costs associated with declared storm damages have increased nearly 15-fold and the state has suffered through four ‘100-year floods’ in the last decade,” the report said.

Seven hundred miles south of New Hampshire, Hampton Roads is even more vulnerable because several rivers run through it on their way to the Chesapeake Bay and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. Its dense population of about 2 million residents swells with summer vacationers, making it “the largest urban concentration south of the Northeast until you get to Florida,” Bernick said.

Unfortunately, this crowded, low-lying area also has long-term geological issues to deal with. Thirty-five million years ago, a meteor landed relatively close by and created the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater. Hampton Roads is also home to a downward- pressing glacial formation created during the Ice Age. Scientists theorize that these ancient occurrences are causing the land to sink — and together account for about one-third of the sea-level change.

But human nature leads to rebuilding flooded areas however risky that might be, rather than leaving them.

“Unfortunately, we have a major storm like Hurricane Isabel and a lot of homes are flooded and people feel the economic impact,” said Boon, the professor. In response, city leaders hustle to protect shores in a way “that’s not very well thought-out,” he said.

A few years ago the city spent $1.5 million to elevate some homes in the Larchmont area, knowing the water will probably crawl to their doorsteps again.

If this keeps up, insurance rates will skyrocket as storms sweep the rising seas onto roads and inside people’s homes and businesses.

Building walls to protect development will cost a fortune, said James V. Koch, a professor of economics at Old Dominion University. Koch said the average cost of erecting a dike is about $35 million per mile.

“Norfolk has a little bit of that now,” Koch said of the city’s defenses, “but they’re not very well protected.”

A rise of a few inches will cause significant problems, Koch said, because much of Hampton Roads, including the Navy base, is at sea level.

In fact, two-thirds of the economy of Hampton Roads is based on “things significantly related to sea rise,” Koch said, and most especially Virginia Beach. A sustained rise in sea levels would be “a big thing” for the beach and those who make a living off it, Koch said.

Koch proposes one possible solution: “They have to think about moving back hotels or raising them up to make it possible to maintain a tourist presence.”

Virginia residents oppose preparations for climate-related sea-level rise

The Washington Post

Virginia residents oppose preparations for climate-related sea-level rise

As the opposition grew over the summer, confrontations became so heated that some planners posted uniformed police officers at meetings and others hired consultants to help calm audiences and manage the indoor environment, several planners said.

In James City County, speakers were shouted away from a podium. In Page County, angry farmers forced commissioners to stop a meeting. In Gloucester County, planners sat stone-faced as activists took turns reading portions of the 500-page Agenda 21 text, delaying a meeting for more than an hour.

A map of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula
Click Here to View Full Graphic Story

A map of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula

Agenda 21 is an agenda in name only, environmentalists say. The document encourages world governments to consider environmental impacts before developing land or slashing rain forests for resources, said Patty Glick, senior climate-change specialist for the National Wildlife Federation.

“Agenda 21 is the least thing they should be worried about,” said Glick, who like other environmentalists contacted by The Washington Post was surprised at the attention being given the document. “It has no legal or policy implication for local governments in the United States.”

Holt, who began scrutinizing public planning when her interior design business failed after the housing bubble popped, begs to differ. She sees the document as evidence of a global agenda that threatens property rights.

Her suspicions echo those of Tom DeWeese, president of the conservative American Policy Center, who wrote an essay opposing “smart growth” titled “Fight Agenda 21 or Lose Your Freedom.” The ultra-conservative John Birch Society cautions adherents through its Web site that the “Agenda 21 program may already be in your local community, through your home town or city’s membership in . . . Local Governments for Sustainability.”

“I don’t try to shove this down anybody’s throat. I’ve been able to connect the dots,” said Holt, who added that she has spoken against sustainability plans at meetings but doesn’t condone shouting and interrupting speakers. “They’re just doing their jobs.”

Lawrence and other planners have asked counselors for advice on how to control testy audiences. They were told to better explain their plans and recognize people who speak up but also to get rid of standing microphones where angry speakers line up.

“Let them talk, and let them vent,” planner Bruce Peshoff advised. “Sometimes planners . . . are their own worst enemy. They think they have to adhere to a schedule. That just lends to the feeling of oppression.”

In Carroll County planning commission meetings, Agenda 21 kept coming up, said Peshoff, a Kansas planner who was called on to help the county manage its meetings because his firm, Planning Works, emphasizes consensus-building. If the talk took a few extra minutes, “we would go with the flow,” he said. “That way, we didn’t monopolize a meeting.”

In time, a plan that preserved farms by prohibiting economic development that could have enriched some farmers passed, Peshoff said. At the same time, an interstate corridor was designated as an economic generator.

Shereen Hughes, a former planning commissioner in James City County, worried that some officials are giving ground to fearmongers. The uprising against smart growth “is ridiculous” and “a conspiracy theory,” she said.

But it’s effective. Planners aren’t saying this is wrong, Hughes said, because “most are afraid they won’t have a job if they’re too vocal about this issue.” Tea party members have political allies who “might stand up” against planners who complain, Hughes said.

Lawrence, a native of Gloucester County, bristled at being accused of undermining the constitutional rights of Virginians.

“It’s driving public policy sideways,” Lawrence said. “It’s not advancing it. It’s not going backward. The voice of a minority is trying to assert itself as the voice of the majority.”

Nonetheless, he said he has to give a little to get a little. “I welcome them every time,” Lawrence said.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Carbon Emissions Show Biggest Jump Ever Recorded

Carbon Emissions Show Biggest Jump Ever Recorded

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery.

Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.

The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades.

The researchers said the high growth rate reflected a bounce-back from the 1.4 percent drop in emissions in 2009, the year the recession had its biggest impact.

They do not expect the extraordinary growth to persist, but do expect emissions to return to something closer to the 3 percent yearly growth of the last decade, still a worrisome figure that signifies little progress in limiting greenhouse gases. The growth rate in the 1990s was closer to 1 percent yearly.

The combustion of coal represented more than half of the growth in emissions, the report found.

In the United States, emissions dropped by a remarkable 7 percent in the recession year of 2009, but rose by just over 4 percent last year, the new analysis shows. This country is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, pumping 1.5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere last year.

The United States was surpassed several years ago by China, where emissions grew 10.4 percent in 2010, with that country injecting 2.2 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions are usually measured by the weight of carbon they contain.

The new figures come as delegates from 191 countries meet in Durban, South Africa, for yet another negotiating session in a global control effort that has been going on, with minimal success, for the better part of two decades.

“Each year that emissions go up, there’s another year of negotiations, another year of indecision,” said Glen P. Peters, a researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo and a leader of the group that produced the new analysis. “There’s no evidence that this trajectory we’ve been following the last 10 years is going to change.”

Scientists say the rapid growth of emissions is warming the Earth, threatening the ecology and putting human welfare at long-term risk. But their increasingly urgent pleas that society find a way to limit emissions have met sharp political resistance in many countries, including the United States, because doing so would entail higher energy costs.

The new figures show a continuation of a trend in which developing countries, including China and India, have surpassed the wealthy countries in their overall greenhouse emissions. In 2010, the combustion of fossil fuels and the production of cement sent more than nine billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the new analysis found, with 57 percent of that coming from developing countries.

Emissions per person, though, are still sharply higher in the wealthy countries, and those countries have been emitting greenhouse gases far longer, so they account for the bulk of the excess gases in the atmosphere. The level of carbon dioxide, the main such gas, has increased 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

On the surface, the figures of recent years suggest that wealthy countries have made headway in stabilizing their emissions. But Dr. Peters pointed out that in a sense, the rich countries have simply exported some of them.

The fast rise in developing countries has been caused to a large extent by the growth of energy-intensive manufacturing industries that make goods that rich countries import. “All that has changed is the location in which the emissions are being produced,” Dr. Peters said.

Many countries, as part of their response to the economic crisis, invested billions in programs designed to make their energy systems greener. While it is possible those will pay long-term dividends, the new numbers suggest they have had little effect so far.

The financial crisis “was an opportunity to move the global economy away from a high-emissions trajectory,” said a scientific paper about the new figures, released online on Sunday by the journal Nature Climate Change. “Our results provide no indication of this happening.”

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Global Warming Facts

Global Warming

Global Warming Facts

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Global Warming Skeptics - Skeptics of global warming think that global warming is not an ecological trouble.

Global Warming Facts - 8 Facts about Global Warming

Causes of Global Warming - The Green house gases are the main culprits of the global warming. The green house gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are playing hazards in the present times.

Green House Gasses are the ingredients of the atmosphere that add to the greenhouse effect.

Al Gore Global Warming Initiative - Gore has written a book that archives his advice that Earth is dashing toward an immensely warmer future.

Global warming is caused by green house gases, which trap in the sun’s infrared rays in the earth’s atmosphere, which in turn heat up the earth’s atmosphere. These green house effect warming is called as global warming. The effects of green house effect are visible more prominently in the recent years, with number of natural calamities on the rise in the whole world.

The global warming has happened in the past few years and is evident from the rise in mean temperature of the earth’s atmosphere. The main causes for the global warming are attributed to release of green house gases by human activities. The main gases contributing to green house effect are carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane and nitrous oxide. The largest producers of these gases are the thermal power plants, which burn the fossil fuels and produce these gases in large quantities. The second biggest sources of these green house gases are the road vehicles and industries.

The global warming has led to increase in mean earth surface temperature and thus melting of polar ice. There are frequent melt down of glaciers that result in floods and other natural calamities. The melting of ice at the poles had led the mean sea level. And further increase in temperature may further melt the ice and lead to further increase in mean sea level, which will engulf low lying countries.

The effect of global warming is very evident on the animal kingdom also. Some animals have become extinct due to loss of their natural habitat or their inability to evolve to the rapid changes in the climate. Also there is a change in their life style because of the changes in the seasons. The migrating birds have changed their time of travel and also their place of migration.

The effect of global warming can be felt on seasons too. There is shift in season cycle, as the summers are getting longer than the winters. This has affected the animals and made them to change their lifestyle accordingly, and those who failed to do so have perished or on the verge of extinction.

The global warming is also responsible for the introduction of some new diseases. The bacteria are more effective and multiply much faster in warmer temperatures compared to cold temperatures. The increase in temperature has led to increase in the microbes that cause diseases.

Global warming is also effecting the crop production, as the crops are getting destroyed by the sudden change in temperatures or sudden on set of rains. Also the flash floods and other natural calamities affect the crop.

As a matter of fact, because of global warming, the earth’s atmosphere is getting more unpredictable with heavy rains in the areas, which have scanty rainfall or drought in the areas, which received good annual rainfall. The months of rainfall has also getting affected.

But there are some people on the other side of the wall also, they believe that the global warming is a natural process and cannot disturb our ecosystem. The earth’s surface mean temperature was even higher a long time ago, and the ecosystem has evolved from that temperature to this. So it can evolve further. But the changes that are happening now are rather fast compared to earlier times.

Global Warming is an International Issue

The average facade temperature of the globe has augmented more than 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1900 and the speed of warming has been almost three folds the century long average since 1970. This increase in earth’s average temperature is called Global warming. More or less all specialists studying the climate record of the earth have the same opinion now that human actions, mainly the discharge of green house gases from smokestacks, vehicles, and burning forests, are perhaps the leading power driving the fashion. Melting Glaciers
The gases append to the planet's normal greenhouse effect, permitting sunlight in, but stopping some of the ensuing heat from radiating back to space. Based on the study on past climate shifts, notes of current situations, and computer simulations, many climate scientists say that lacking of big curbs in greenhouse gas discharges, the 21st century might see temperatures rise of about 3 to 8 degrees, climate patterns piercingly shift, ice sheets contract and seas rise several feet. With the probable exemption of one more world war, a huge asteroid, or a fatal plague, global warming may be the only most danger to our planet earth.

Global Warming Causes
As said, the major cause of global warming is the emission of green house gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide etc into the atmosphere. Gasoline Causing Global WarmingThe major source of carbon dioxide is the power plants. These power plants emit large amounts of carbon dioxide produced from burning of fossil fuels for the purpose of electricity generation. About twenty percent of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere comes from burning of gasoline in the engines of the vehicles. This is true for most of the developed countries. Buildings, both commercial and residential represent a larger source of global warming pollution than cars and trucks.

Building of these structures require a lot of fuel to be burnt which emits a large amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Methane is more than 20 times as effectual as CO2 at entrapping heat in the atmosphere. Methane is obtained from resources such as rice paddies, bovine flatulence, bacteria in bogs and fossil fuel manufacture. When fields are flooded, anaerobic situation build up and the organic matter in the soil decays, releasing methane to the atmosphere. The main sources of nitrous oxide include nylon and nitric acid production, cars with catalytic converters, the use of fertilizers in agriculture and the burning of organic matter. Another cause of global warming is deforestation that is caused by cutting and burning of forests for the purpose of residence and industrialization.

Annual Greenhouse Gas EmissionsGlobal Warming is Inspiring Scientists to Fight for Awareness

Scientists all over the world are making predictions about the ill effects of Global warming and connecting some of the events that have taken place in the pat few decades as an alarm of global warming. The effect of global warming is increasing the average temperature of the earth. A rise in earth’s temperatures can in turn root to other alterations in the ecology, including an increasing sea level and modifying the quantity and pattern of rainfall. These modifications may boost the occurrence and concentration of severe climate events, such as floods, famines, heat waves, tornados, and twisters. Other consequences may comprise of higher or lower agricultural outputs, glacier melting, lesser summer stream flows, genus extinctions and rise in the ranges of disease vectors. As an effect of global warming species like golden toad, harlequin frog of Costa Rica has already become extinct. There are number of species that have a threat of disappearing soon as an effect of global warming. As an effect of global warming various new diseases have emerged lately. These diseases are occurring frequently due to the increase in earths average temperature since the bacteria can survive better in elevated temperatures and even multiplies faster when the conditions are favorable. The global warming is extending the distribution of mosquitoes due to the increase in humidity levels and their frequent growth in warmer atmosphere. Various diseases due to ebola, hanta and machupo virus are expected due to warmer climates. The marine life is also very sensitive to the increase in temperatures. The effect of global warming will definitely be seen on some species in the water. A survey was made in which the marine life reacted significantly to the changes in water temperatures. It is expected that many species will die off or become extinct due to the increase in the temperatures of the water, whereas various other species, which prefer warmer waters, will increase tremendously. Perhaps the most disturbing changes are expected in the coral reefs that are expected to die off as an effect of global warming. The global warming is expected to cause irreversible changes in the ecosystem and the behavior of animals.

Global Warming ProjectionsA group of scientists have recently reported on the surprisingly speedy rise in the discharge of carbon and methane release from frozen tundra in Siberia, now starting to melt because of human cause increases in earth’s temperature. The scientists tell us that the tundra is in danger of melting holds an amount of extra global warming pollution that is equivalent to the net amount that is previously in the earth's atmosphere. Likewise, earlier one more team of scientists reported that the in a single year Greenland witnessed 32 glacial earthquakes between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale. This is a disturbing sign and points that a huge destabilization that may now be in progress deep within the second biggest accretion of ice on the planet. This ice would be enough to raise sea level 20 feet worldwide if it broke up and slipped into the sea. Each day passing brings yet new proof that we are now in front of a global emergency, a climate emergency that needs instant action to piercingly decrease carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in order to turn down the earth's rising temperatures and avoid any catastrophe.

It is not easy to attach any particular events to global warming, but studies prove the fact that human activities are increasing the earth’s temperature. Even though most predictions focus on the epoch up to 2100, even if no further greenhouse gases were discharged after this date, global warming and sea level would be likely to go on to rise for more than a millennium, since carbon dioxide has a long average atmospheric life span.

Solar PanelsYou Can Help Fight Global Warming

Many efforts are being made by various nations to cut down the rate of global warming. One such effort is the Kyoto agreement that has been made between various nations to reduce the emissions of various green house gases. Also many non profit organizations are working for the cause. Al Gore was one of the foremost U.S. politicians to heave an alarm about the hazards of global warming. He has produced a significantly acclaimed documentary movie called "An Inconvenient Truth," and written a book that archives his advice that Earth is dashing toward an immensely warmer future. Al Gore, the former vice president of United States has given various speeches to raise an awareness of global warming. He has warned people about the ill effects of Global warming and its remedies.

But an interesting side of the global warming episode is that there are people who do not consider global warming as something that is creating a problem. Skeptics of global warming think that global warming is not an ecological trouble. According to the global warming skeptics, the recent enhancement in the earth's average temperature is no reason for alarm. According to them earth's coastlines and polar ice caps are not at a risk of vanishing. Global warming skeptics consider that the weather models used to establish global warming and to forecast its impacts are distorted. According to the models, if calculations are made the last few decades must have been much worse as compared to actually happened to be. Most of the global warming skeptics believe that the global warming is not actually occurring. They stress on the fact the climatic conditions vary because of volcanism, the obliquity cycle, changes in solar output, and internal variability. Also the warming can be due to the variation in cloud cover, which in turn is responsible for the temperatures on the earth. The variations are also a result of cosmic ray flux that is modulated by the solar magnetic cycles.

Global Warming Skeptics

The global warming skeptics are of the view that the global warming is a good phenomenon and should not be stopped. There are various benefits of global warming according to them. According to the skeptics, the global warming will increase humidity in tropical deserts. Also the higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere trigger plant growth. As predicted, due to the global warming the sea levels will rise. But this can be readily adapted. Another argument of global warming skeptics is that earth has been warmer than today as seen in its history. The thought is that global warming is nothing to get afraid of because it just takes us back to a more natural set of environment of the past. Animals and plants appeared to do just fine in those eras of warm climate on the earth. According to few skeptics, the present chilly climate on the earth is an abnormality when judged over the geographical scale. Over geologic time, the earth’s mean temperature is 22 degrees C, as compared to today's 15.5 degrees C.

Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate? Yes Indeed!

Skeptical Science
Getting Skeptical About Global Warming Skepticism

Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?

Al Gore's film was "broadly accurate" according to an expert witness called when an attempt was made through the courts to prevent the film being shown in schools.

The skeptic argument...

Al Gore got it wrong
"An Inconvenient Truth was criticised by a high court judge who highlighted 'nine scientific errors'. For example, Gore claimed two graphs plotting C02 and temperature showed 'an exact fit'. The judge said 'the two graphs do not establish what Mr Gore asserts'. Gore said the disappearance of snow on Mt Kilimanjaro was attributable to humans. The judge said that could not be established." (The Guardian)

What the science says...

Al Gore, certainly the most vilified proponent of climate change anywhere in the world, earned most of this enmity through the success of a film he presented called An Inconvenient Truth (AIT). The film was a staid presentation of climate science to date, a round-up of research, science and projections, with many cinematic sequences employed to harness the power of the medium.

The majority of the film, covering issues like Himalayan Glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica losing ice, the severity of hurricanes and other weather phenomena, was accurate and represented the science as it stood. Since the release of the film, considerably more evidence has been found in support of the science and projections in the film.

One claim was in error, as was one attribution of a graph. The error was in the claim that climate change had caused the shrinking of Mount Kilimanjaro, although the evidence that the shrinkage was most likely caused by deforestation did not appear until after the film was made. The error of attribution was in reference to a graph of temperature and attributes it mistakenly to a Dr. Thompson, when it was actually a combination of Mann’s hockey stick and CRU surface temperature data.

The Legal Case

The film is also subject to attack on the grounds that Al Gore was prosecuted in the UK and a judge found many errors in the film. This is untrue.

The case, heard in the civil court, was brought by a school governor against the Secretary of State for Education, in an attempt to prevent the film being distributed to schools. Mr. Justice Burton, in his judgement, ordered that teaching notes accompanying the film should be modified to clarify the speculative (and occasionally hyperbolic) presentation of some issues.

Mr. Justice Burton found no errors at all in the science. In his written judgement, the word error appears in quotes each time it is used – nine points formed the entirety of his judgement - indicating that he did not support the assertion the points were erroneous. About the film in general, he said this:

17. I turn to AIT, the film. The following is clear:

i) It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme.

22. I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that:
"Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate."

The judge did identify statements that had political implications he felt needed qualification in the guidance notes for teachers, and ordered that both qualifications on the science and the political implications should be included in the notes. Al Gore was not involved in the case, was not prosecuted, and because the trial was not a criminal case, there was no jury, and no guilty verdict was handed down.

Note: the vilification of Al Gore is best understood in the context of personalisation. When opponents attack something abstract - like science - the public may not associate with the argument. By giving a name and a face and a set of behavioural characteristics - being a rich politician, for example - it is easy to create a fictional enemy through inference and association. Al Gore is a successful politician who presented a film, his training and experience suitable to the task. To invoke Gore is a way to obfuscate about climate science, for which Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame.

Last updated on 7 October 2010 by gpwayne.

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Related Arguments

Further reading

  • Al Gore responds to the UK court case that questions An Inconvenient Truth.
  • William Connelley writes a good article The Boring Truth about the judge finding 9 errors in An Inconvenient Truth including links to other blog reactions.
  • Real Climate's Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann look at exactly what Gore said in each of his 9 errors in Convenient Untruths and find "the 9 points are not "errors" at all (with possibly one unwise choice of tense on the island evacuation point)".
  • Catherine Brahic at New Scientist wonders Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth: unscientific? She concludes "Gore oversimplified certain points, made a few factual errors and, at times, chose the wrong poster child (Mount Kilimanjaro should have been replaced by any number of Alaskan or Andean glaciers, for instance). It's unfortunate, but it remains the most comprehensive popular documentary on climate change science I have seen."
  • Greg Hoke has gone to the trouble of transcribing an unofficial transcript of An Inconvenient Truth - useful for reading Al Gore's exact words.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

US Obstinacy at Climate Talks Destroying Hope, Planet


Published on Tuesday, December 6, 2011 by Inter Press Service

DURBAN, South Africa - The United States has become the major stumbling block to progress at the mid point of negotiations over a new international climate regime say civil society and many of the 193 nations attending the United Nations climate change conference here in Durban.

Immediate funding for adaptation and mitigation will help countries to confront climate change. (Credit:Tinus de Jager/IPS) "The U.S. position leads us to three or four degrees Celsius of warming, which will be devastating for the poor of the world," said Celine Charveriat of Oxfam International.

"They are proposing a 10-year time out with no new targets to lower emissions until after 2020," Charveriat said.

At COP 15 in Copenhagen the U.S. committed to reducing its emissions 17 percent from 2005 by 2020. This is far short of what is widely agreed as necessary: cuts in fossil fuel emissions 25 to 40 percent below those in 1990 by U.S. and all developed nations.

Scientists have repeatedly warned that global emissions must peak by mid-decade and then decline every year thereafter. But U.S. negotiator Jon Pershing said their Copenhagen emission reduction pledge is sufficient until 2020.

"There is a huge failure of ambition. Nothing here will keep us out of catastrophic climate change," said Jim Leape, Director General of the World Wide Fund for Nature International. The U.S. has already suffered record- breaking losses due to severe weather this year with only 0.8 degrees Celsius of warming, Leape said.

"If they (U.S.) won't moderate this stance they should step aside," Leape.

That sentiment was echoed by Greenpeace's Kumi Naidoo who also said: "Delegates must listen to the people not to certain corporate interests."

The Obama White House is betraying the American people, as well as the municipalities and companies in the U.S. who are taking serious action to reduce their emissions, Naidoo said.

Pa Ousman Jaru of The Gambia, a delegate representing the Least Developed Countries block, also asked the U.S. to step aside and stop blocking progress for the rest of the final week.

Jaru reiterated the developing world's commitment to a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol after the first one expires in 2012. Under the Kyoto Protocol all industrialised nations, with the exception of the U.S., are legally bound to reduce emissions five percent from 1990 levels.

Canada's emissions are close to 30 percent higher than in 1990 and said they will not participate in a second phase. Japan and Russia will also not participate leaving the Kyoto Protocol to regulate only about quarter of current global emissions.

There had been expectations that the Kyoto Protocol would die here in Durban but United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change climate chief Christiana Figueres said it would live on.

Nadioo agreed that the Kyoto Protocol would live but it would be on "life support for the next two years" of additional negotiations.

Jaru said that the other "track" of negotiations to regulate and reduce the remaining 75 percent is vitally important and must result in ambitious reductions. That is the track the U.S. is reluctant to participate in beyond its Copenhagen commitments because China, the world's largest carbon emitter, refused to agree to binding reductions for itself.

Now, for the first time China said it will agree, a move that Figueres called "very positive". She said it was part of the progress being made in Durban, which she expected to escalate with the arrival of ministers for the high level negotiations beginning Tuesday.

Another major issue includes the establishment of a Green Climate Fund, which is to scale up to 100 billion dollars a year in funding to help developing countries adapt to climate change. That is bogged down in how to set up and structure the fund. The more difficult issue of where the money is going to come from is on the back burner.

There was progress on talks to reduce deforestation, a major source of emissions. The U.N. programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+) negotiation focused on thorny details of how to verify reductions with progress expected by end of the week. Decisions on financing for REDD+ have been postponed until COP 18 in Qatar next year.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Riot Police Block Most Affected by Climate Change from Entering Climate Conference


Published on Friday, December 2, 2011 by Agence France Presse

DURBAN, South Africa — Bearing the message that their livelihoods were in peril, hundreds of women farmers tried Friday to gatecrash UN climate talks in Durban, where they were peacefully held back by police.

"We are the ones who suffer most of the consequences of climate change. We look after families. So why are we not there in the conference?" asked Lilian Kujekeko of Zimbabwe emphatically. (photo: AFP, Alexander Joe) The women, from 10 countries across southern Africa, converged on the conference to testify how storms and heatwaves, intensified by climate change, were wreaking havoc on an already meagre sustenance.

Many wore green-on-black T-shirts reading "Rural Women Assembly" and carried hand-scrawled banners, including one that said: "Women Are the Guardians of Seed, Life and Earth."

About 50 police in full riot gear prevented the women and other protesters from entering the venue.

There were no arrests or injuries, and the atmosphere was more festive than feisty. But the women -- from Angola to Zimbabwe -- had a serious appeal to make.

"We are getting a lot of difficulty and suffering with water," said 75-year-old Betty Nagodi, from an arid region of northern South Africa.

"Now we don't know when it will rain. And then when it does, the hail knocks down all the tomatoes, butternut and other things," she said, fanning herself under the shade of a towering acacia.

Rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns could adversely affect water flows on the Limpopo river system, leading to production shortfalls and conflict over water use, according to a report earlier this month by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

"We have seen how climate change has disrupted the seasons, completely changing agricultural production cycles. It affects our lives very directly," said Fatima Shabodien, an activist from Cape Town, South Africa, also taking part in the rally.

"We are here to call attention to the impact of climate change on the livelihoods of rural women."

For Lilian Kujekeko of Zimbabwe, the diplomats and politicians negotiating behind closed doors -- "most of them men" -- needed to know that global warming was not an abstraction, and that in Africa it was women who were bearing the brunt.

"We are the ones who suffer most of the consequences of climate change. We look after families. So why are we not there in the conference?" she asked emphatically.

Weather in her home region has become increasingly erratic in recent decades, she said, with one recent heatwave peak topping 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

The region's staple crop, maize (corn), is "very sensitive" to fluctuations in rainfall, she noted.

A report on climate change and extreme weather earlier this month by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts more droughts for large swathes of Africa, raising the spectre of famine in regions where daily life is already a hand-to-mouth experience for millions.

Factor in the biggest population boom of any continent over the next half-century and the danger of food "insecurity" in Africa becomes even greater, it cautions.

Some 15,000 diplomats, experts and campaigners at the talks under the 194-nation UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are trying to breathe life into international negotiations tasked with fighting the threat of climate change.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and local grassroots groups have announced a protest march under the banner of "climate justice" for Saturday, and said they expect a turnout of up to 20,000.

The 12-day talks enter a high-level phase next week with the arrival of ministers, ending on December 9.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Window Closing to Prevent Hotter, Stormier Planet Earth


by Stephen Leahy

CHANGWON, South Korea - The window to limit global warming to less than two degrees C is closing so fast it can be measured in months, a new scientific analysis revealed Sunday.

The International Energy Agency estimates that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in. (Credit:U.S. EPA/creative commons) Without putting the brakes on carbon emissions very soon, large parts of Africa, most of Russia and northern China will be two degrees C warmer in less than 10 years. Canada and Alaska will soon follow, the regional study shows.

"If one is sincerely committed to limit global temperature increase to below two degrees C... (governments) committing to a global peak emission level and peak year makes sense from a science perspective," said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich, who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Governments will be meeting in Durban, South Africa starting Nov. 28 to launch the next round of climate treaty negotiations, which so far have failed to ensure their goal of less than a two-degree C increase will be achieved.

IPS asked Rogelj if government delegates in Durban ought to set a specific year by which global emissions will peak and then decline to ensure the two-degree C target will be met.

"Committing to such targets would ensure that we embark globally on a technologically and economically feasible low-emission path," Rogelj said.

Rogelj and a group of leading experts show in this state-of-the-art analysis that to have a 66-percent or better probability of staying below two degrees C this century, global carbon emissions must peak before 2020. Global emissions ought to be around 44 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2020. That is four billion tonnes (also called gigatonnes, Gt) less than the estimated emissions for 2010.

After 2020 emissions must decline rapidly, about two to three percent less each year until they fall to 20 Gt by 2050, according to the computer models. This is an emissions "pathway that will be very challenging to achieve", Rogelj and colleagues conclude in their study.

"Very challenging" is scientist-talk for something that will be extremely difficult to do. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that 80 percent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today.

"This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than two degrees C," said Dr. Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA, last May.

The heating of the planet from burning fossil fuels is uneven since 70 percent of the planet is water, and most of that is cold water. For various reasons, the Arctic, Canada, Eurasia and parts of Africa are warming faster and will be substantially warmer now and in the coming decades. It also important to understand that returning the planet to pre-global warming temperatures is very unlikely.

Another new re-analysis also published in Nature Climate Change Sunday puts some dates on when much of the Northern Hemisphere and parts of Africa will cross the two degrees of warming threshold. Without major emission reductions, the African Sahel, including the Horn of Africa, along with northern Eurasia and the Arctic will cross that threshold very soon - between 2020 and 2030 - according to a study led by Manoj Joshi of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

They also found that by the time a child born today reaches 50 years old, it will be at least two degrees warmer everywhere except the oceans.

Even if carbon emissions cannot be cut fast enough to avoid two degrees C of warming in some parts of the world, urgent action will buy those regions valuable time - a decade or two - so they will have time to adapt, assuming they can.

Although two degrees C seems like a small amount, it is akin to a person running a high fever, with all kinds of consequences for the human body. On planet Earth, that amount of warming has serious consequences for food, water and biodiversity. It will guarantee more and stronger extreme weather events, including droughts and flooding.

Two degrees C puts humanity on a new hotter, stormier planet that is less compatible with human survival.

As for staying below 1.5 degrees C, as African nations, Pacific Island states and others believe is essential for survival, it may already be too late. In all the 193 scenarios examined by Rogelj et al, there were only two that suggest is it possible to stay below 1.5 C during this century. And that includes heavy use of bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration.

More extreme measures, such as a technical study called The Energy Report by Ecofys, a leading energy consultancy in the Netherlands that developed a plan to shift the world to 100-percent renewable energy by 2050, were not included, said Rogelj.

"The [two] scenarios we analyse indicate it would be technologically and economically possible to follow such a future path (1.5 degrees C). They do not take into account the fact that there could be political and societal barriers," he said.

The two-degree C window, not to mention the 1.5 C window, is closing faster than most realise. There are less than 100 months left for governments, industry and the public to reduce global emissions by at least four Gt. It will be very difficult but it can be done, Rogelj et al note in their study.

Starting sooner is far easier than later. The Durban climate talks may be the last chance for governments to do what is necessary to keep their promise of less than two degrees.

The Rogelj study concludes with an uncharacteristically blunt warning to governments and the public.

"Without a firm commitment to put in place mechanisms to enable an early global emissions peak followed by steep reductions thereafter, there are significant risks that the two degrees C target, endorsed by so many nations, is already slipping out of reach."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New study confirms reality of global warming

New study confirms reality of global warming

By Muriel Kane
Friday, October 21, 2011


A broad-based new study of climate change has confirmed earlier evidence of a global rise in average land temperatures of 1 degree Centigrade since the 1950′s. However, it draws no conclusions as to whether this warming is man-made.

The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, released on Thursday, analyzed data from fifteen different sources, some going back more than two centuries, to answer doubts raised by climate change skeptics in response to earlier studies.

Previous studies had been able to rule out certain sources of possible error, including the urban heat island effect and poor station quality, but they had been based on a limited number of data sources, and skeptics had continued to claim that the results might have been skewed as a result. The new study, which includes almost all available data, is intended to counter that claim.

The preliminary results of the study, along with the entire database and other materials, are publicly available at the Berkeley Earth website.

According to the project’s founder, Professor Richard A. Muller, “Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the U.S. and the U.K. This confirms that these studies were done carefully and that potential biases identified by climate change skeptics did not seriously affect their conclusions.”

Project co-founder Elizabeth Muller added that she hopes the study will “cool the debate over global warming by addressing many of the valid concerns of the skeptics in a clear and rigorous way.”

The authors of the study point out that although 2/3 of the sites examined showed warming, another 1/3 — including much of the United States and northern Europe — had experienced cooling over the past 70 years, and they suggest that this could be responsible for widespread climate skepticism in those regions.

Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane

Muriel Kane is an associate editor at Raw Story. She joined Raw Story as a researcher in 2005, with a particular focus on the Jack Abramoff affair and other Bush administration scandals. She worked extensively with former investigative news managing editor Larisa Alexandrovna, with whom she has co-written numerous articles in addition to her own work. Prior to her association with Raw Story, she spent many years as an independent researcher and writer with a particular focus on history, literature, and contemporary social and political attitudes. Follow her on Twitter at @Muriel_Kane

Monday, October 17, 2011

Trees have a tipping point

Amount of forest cover can shift suddenly and unexpectedly

Web edition : Thursday, October 13th, 2011


Fires like this one in South Africa burn rapidly and regularly through savanna ecosystems, a process that allows grasslands to remain open and helps prevent trees from establishing themselves.

Like Coke versus Pepsi, tropical land ecosystems come in two choices: forest or grassland. New research shows these two options can switch abruptly, and there’s rarely any in-between.

If so, then many of these ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to future changes such as rising temperature, scientists say. With just slight shifts in rainfall or other factors, people living in what is now tropical rainforest might suddenly find themselves in scrubland populated by a different mix of plants and animals — where people’s livelihoods might have to change dramatically.

“That transition is not going to happen smoothly,” says Milena Holmgren, an ecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “The evidence is showing there are these big jumps.”

Holmgren and her colleagues describe the finding in the Oct. 14 Science. Another group, from Princeton University and South Africa’s national research council, report similar conclusions in a second paper in the same journal.

In theory, the relationship between rainfall and tree cover should be straightforward: The more rain a place has, the more trees that will grow there. But small studies have suggested that changes can occur in discrete steps. Add more rain to a grassy savanna, and it stays a savanna with the same percentage of tree cover for quite some time. Then, at some crucial amount of extra rainfall, the savanna suddenly switches to a full-fledged forest.

But no one knew whether such rapid transformations happened on a global scale. Separately, both research groups decided to look at data gathered by the MODIS instruments on board NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, which sense vegetation cover and other features of the land surface. This information included how much of each square kilometer of land was covered by trees, grasses or other vegetation. Both teams focused on the tropics and subtropics of Africa, South America and Australia, because those areas are thought to be least disturbed by human activity.

Looking at the numbers, Holmgren’s group identified three distinct ecosystem types: forest, savanna, and a treeless state. Forests typically had 80 percent tree cover, while savannas had 20 percent trees and the “treeless” about 5 percent or less. Intermediate states — with, say, 60 percent tree cover — are extremely rare, Holmgren says. Which category a particular landscape fell into depended heavily on rainfall.

Fire may be another important factor in determining tree cover, as the second group found. Led by Princeton ecology graduate student Carla Staver, this team studied how fire helped differentiate between forest and savanna. Fire spreads quickly in savannas because of all the grasses and slowly in tree-dense forests. “There’s a tipping point between where you get fires spreading easily and where you don’t,” Staver says.

That point, she and her colleagues found, sits at a tree cover of about 40 to 45 percent. Below that number, fires spread easily and prevent new trees from establishing themselves. Above that number, trees work to maintain a thick canopy that acts as a barrier to stop fire from spreading.

“These two papers tell us that these feedbacks really do operate at all scales,” says Audrey Mayer, an ecologist at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. “They’ll make us have to redo some of our assumptions about how things are going to change in the future.”

Many global climate models, for instance, assume a smooth transition between savanna and forest as temperature and rainfall change. But the new work suggests that forests could appear or disappear quickly, Mayer says, especially if people complicate the picture. “You can’t just plant a couple of trees and they’ll grow up and the forest will come back,” she says. “You have to fight those internal feedbacks.”

Staver and her colleagues are now searching for savanna-forest transitions that are occurring right now. “These things are definitely happening,” she says, “and the new work tells us it could be even more widespread than we’d thought.” Studying where landscapes are changing could help the scientists better understand what causes ecosystems to tip from one category to the other.

For their part, the Dutch scientists have developed “resilience maps” that show which places are most likely to tip from savanna to forest or vice versa. Farmers scratching out a living in western Africa or ranchers running cattle on the fringes of the Amazon might use such maps to learn how viable their livelihoods are likely to be in coming decades.

Locals could thus spend more time and energy working to keep the ecosystem the way it is, perhaps by building extra capacity for storing water or by cutting back on logging. Or residents could cut down more trees to tip a forest into a grassy rangeland for their animals. “These maps can be a tremendous tool for all kinds of organizations,” Holmgren says.

Mayer says she’d like to see the analysis extended into the Northern Hemisphere, where she suspects the results might be the same. Across parts of Illinois and Indiana, for instance, stretches a narrow strip of tallgrass prairie surrounded by forests dubbed the “prairie peninsula.” The peninsula was probably kept grassy by centuries of fire and grazing management — because otherwise it, too, would revert to forest.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Winter 2011-2012: Brutal for the Midwest, Great Lakes

By , Meteorologist
Oct 11, 2011; 7:53 AM ET

Hands down, AccuWeather.com's long-range experts agree that the Midwest and Great Lakes region will be dealt the worst of winter this year.

In terms of both snow and cold, this winter is expected to be the worst in Chicago.

AccuWeather.com Long-Range Meteorologist Josh Nagelberg even went so far as to say, "People in Chicago are going to want to move after this winter."

However, for the worst of winter's cold alone, the AccuWeather.com Long-Range Forecasting Team points to Minneapolis.

The team also highlights Buffalo, N.Y., Indianapolis and Omaha, Neb., as cities that will have to deal with a hefty amount of snow.

Bitterly cold blasts of arctic air are expected to invade the northern Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes December through January, while snowfall averages above normal. "A couple of heavy hitters are possible [during this time]," Pastelok said in relation to the snow.

Snowfall is predicted to be above normal from Minnesota and Iowa into Michigan, Ohio and parts of West Virginia and Kentucky. Above-normal snowfall is also likely in areas farther east into Pennsylvania and New York due to a lake-effect snow season.

This buildup of snow cover across the Midwest and Great Lakes could act to prolong the colder-than-normal weather beyond February and into early spring.

Full AccuWeather.com Winter 2011-2012 Forecast

Brutal Winter Predicted for U.S.

Scientific American

AccuWeather | More Science

Brutal Winter Predicted for U.S.

Another La Nina in the Pacific Ocean will make it a cold and snowy winter in most parts of the country

| October 6, 2011

Image: AccuWeather.com

The AccuWeather.com Long-Range Forecasting Team is predicting another brutally cold and snowy winter for a large part of the country, thanks in large part to La Niña... yet again.

La Niña, a phenomenon that occurs when sea surface temperatures across the equatorial central and eastern Pacific are below normal, is what made last year's winter so awful for the Midwest and Northeast. Monster blizzards virtually shut down the cities of New York and Chicago. Last winter was one of New York City's snowiest on record.

La Niñas often produce a volatile weather pattern for the Midwest and Northeast during winter due to the influence they have on the jet stream. The graphic below shows the position the jet stream typically takes over the U.S. during La Niña.

This graphic illustrates the common position the jet stream takes over the United States during La Niña.

The way the jet stream is expected to be positioned during this winter's La Niña will tend to drive storms through the Midwest and Great Lakes. Last year, the jet stream steered storms farther east along the Northeast coast, hammering the Interstate 95 corridor.

Therefore, instead of New York City enduring the worst of winter this year, it will likely be Chicago.

"The brunt of the winter season, especially when dealing with cold, will be over the north-central U.S.," stated Paul Pastelok, expert long-range meteorologist and leader of the AccuWeather.com Long-Range Forecasting Team.

Chicago, which endured a monster blizzard last winter, could be one of the hardest-hit cities in terms of both snow and cold in the winter ahead.

AccuWeather.com Long-Range Meteorologist Josh Nagelberg even went so far as to say, "People in Chicago are going to want to move after this winter."

While winter's worst may not be focused over the major cities of the Northeast this year, the region will not get by unscathed. Pastelok warns there could be a few significant snow and ice storms that could pack a punch.

Ice events could also be a problem for areas farther south from the southern Plains to the southern Appalachians this season, while a significant severe weather threat develops in the Lower Mississippi Valley in February. This threat is extremely concerning for the areas in Mississippi and Alabama that were devastated by tornadoes in the spring.

The West is expected to be split between mild and dry conditions in the Southwest and highly-variable, frequently-changing weather elsewhere.

Chances that Texas pulls out of its epic drought this winter are extremely slim with below-normal precipitation predicted for a large portion of the state.

Brutal Winter Ahead for the Midwest, Great Lakes
Hands down, AccuWeather.com's long-range experts agree that the Midwest and Great Lakes region will be dealt the worst of winter this year.

Bitterly cold blasts of arctic air are expected to invade the northern Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes December through January, while snowfall averages above normal. "A couple of heavy hitters are possible [during this time]," Pastelok said in relation to the snow.

In terms of both snow and cold, this winter is expected to be the worst in Chicago.

Full Winter Forecast for the Midwest and Great Lakes

More Monster Snowstorms for the Northeast This Winter?
Overall, this winter is not expected to be as extreme as last winter for the Northeast's major cities. However, there could still be a few snow or ice storms that have a significant impact.

Snowfall is forecast to average near or even slightly above normal in areas south and east of the mountains from Virginia to Maine.

For areas north and west of the Appalachians, however, snowfall for the season is expected to be much higher. An early, heavy lake-effect snow season will put northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York into the zone of winter's worst snow and cold, according to the team.

Full Winter Forecast for the Northeast

Ice Zone Sets Up Across Southern States; Severe Threat Develops in February
The Long-Range Team expects areas from northeastern Texas and Oklahoma into Kentucky and Tennessee to deal with more ice than snow events this winter, especially from early to mid-season.

Occasionally, icing could affect areas farther east into the western Carolinas and northern parts of Alabama and Georgia. This would be most likely in January.

The team also expects a significant risk for severe weather and flood events to develop over the lower Mississippi Valley in February. Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, which were devastated by tornadoes in the spring, will be extremely sensitive to any severe weather outbreaks.

Full Winter Forecast for the Southeast

Southwest, Texas Stay Parched and Warmer than Normal
"Mild and dry" will unfortunately be the mantra this winter for much of Texas and the Southwest, a region that desperately needs rain. Texas continues to suffer through the worst drought in its history.

Precipitation is expected to remain below normal in southern and western Texas and the interior Southwest this season. "The interior Southwest will be the driest area of the country through winter," Pastelok said.

Northern and eastern Texas, however, could fair a bit better with higher chances for precipitation as cold fronts "make it there with ease", as Pastelok stated. The downside to these higher precipitation chances, however, will be the risk of ice events, especially from late December into January.

Full Winter Forecast for the Southwest, Texas and Southern Plains

West to Experience Big Swings This Winter
Apart from the Southwest, people across the western U.S. can expect large swings in weather conditions this winter, according to the Long-Range Team.

December is likely to feature above-normal warmth across much of the entire West. However, from late December into January, the team expects a transition where cold fronts will drop farther south along the West Coast, reaching northern and central California. This transition should bring temperatures back near normal, away from the interior Southwest.

The famed "Pineapple Express", a phenomenon that occurs when a strong, persistent flow of tropical moisture sets up from the Hawaiian Islands to the West Coast of the U.S., could develop for a time this winter. This phenomenon often leads to excessive rain and incredible snow events.

Full Winter Forecast for the West

The AccuWeather.com 2011-2012 Winter Forecast runs in line with meteorological winter, which begins on Dec. 1 and runs through the end of February. Astronomical winter, on the other hand, begins on Dec. 22 this year and runs through March 20.

From AccuWeather.com (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Global warming facts: What We Know

Environmental Defense Fund

Global warming facts

Basic facts are well-understood and accepted by the scientific community

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence, popular myths and misinformation abound. Here are some of the facts of what we know about global warming.

  1. There is scientific consensus on the basic facts of global warming.

    The most respected scientific bodies have stated unequivocally that global warming is occurring, and people are causing it. Read their statements »

  2. Scientists are certain that the Earth is warming.

    Scientists are certain the Earth has been warming for 100 years. Here's how they know »

  3. Human activity is causing the Earth to get warmer.

    Only CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activities explain the observed warming now taking place on Earth How we know »

  4. The effects of warming can be seen today.

    We can already see the effects of global warming in our world through disappearing habitat, shrinking arctic sea ice and extreme weather. Impacts we can see today »

Basics of global warming

The greenhouse effect: A natural balance

The atmosphere has a natural supply of "greenhouse gases." They capture heat and keep the surface of the Earth warm enough for us to live on. Without the greenhouse effect, the planet would be an uninhabitable, frozen wasteland.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere was in a rough balance with what was absorbed in natural sinks. For example, plants take in CO2 when they grow in spring and summer, and release it back to the atmosphere when they decay and die in fall and winter.

Industrial age increases greenhouse effect

Industry took off in the mid-1700s, and people started emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases. Fossil fuels were burned more and more to run our cars, trucks, factories, planes and power plants, adding to the natural supply of greenhouse gases. The gases—which can stay in the atmosphere for centuries—are building up in the Earth’s atmosphere and, in effect, creating an extra-thick heat blanket around the Earth.

The result is that the globe has heated up by about one degree Fahrenheit over the past century—and it has heated up more intensely over the past two decades.

If one degree doesn't sound like a lot, consider this: the difference in global average temperatures between modern times and the last ice age—when much of Canada and the northern U.S. were covered with thick ice sheets—was only about 9 degrees Fahrenheit. So in fact one degree is very significant—especially since the unnatural warming will continue as long as we keep putting extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

How much is too much?

Today, people have increased by nearly 40 percent the amount of CO2, the chief global warming pollutant, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Today, there is more CO2 in the atmosphere than at any time in the last 800,000 years. Studies of the Earth’s climate history show that even small changes in CO2 levels generally have come with significant shifts in the global average temperature.

Scientists expect that, in the absence of effective policies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, the global average temperature will increase, on the low end, 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit , and on the high end, 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

That might not sound like a lot, but even if the temperature change is at the small end of the predictions, the changes to the climate are expected to be serious: more intense storms, more pronounced droughts, coastal areas more severely eroded by rising seas. At the high end of the predictions, the world could face abrupt, catastrophic and irreversible consequences.

The science is clear

Scientists are no longer debating the basic facts of climate change. In February 2007, the thousands of scientific experts collectively known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there is greater than 90 percent likelihood that people are causing global warming. (IPCC, 2007)

How we know the Earth is warming

Scientists are certain the Earth has been warming for 100 years. Here's how they know.

As far back as the 1850s, a small number of weather stations around the world were compiling temperature records. These numbers grew during the 20th century and today there are thousands of land-based weather stations and ocean buoys in every corner of the world monitoring temperatures.

Temperature records since 1850

These temperature records clearly show a warming of the Earth over the past century, with particularly rapid heating over the past few decades.

  • World Global Temperature Departure Datasets
    View graph Source: NYT
    Global temperature data

    Each of the four agencies that report global temperature trends—NOAA, NASA, HADCRU, and JMA—show the warming trend.

  • Average U.S. temperatures

    Annual average temperatures in the United States since 1880 also show the warming trend.

Satellite measurements since 1979

Atmospheric temperature measurements taken from orbiting satellites also show warming. Weather satellites have been monitoring global atmospheric temperatures since 1979.

  • Atmospheric temperatures

    Trend in tropospheric temperatures (the lowest part of Earth's atmosphere) from 1979 to 2005 shows warming.

Sea level rise in the 20th century

During the 20th century, sea level rose an average of 7 inches after 2,000 years of relatively little change.

  • Global sea level rise

    Satellite altimeter and coastal tide gauge data show rising sea levels since 1870.

Before 1850: proxy records

Proxy records are sophisticated ways of inferring surface temperatures over previous centuries and millennia. Taken together, these independent records show widespread warming over the 20th century, with a particularly sharp uptick in temperature over the last few decades.

  • National Academies proxy record temperatures
    View graph Source: NAP
    Temperature reconstructions

    Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 2,000 years from proxy records show a warming trend.

While proxy records are, by definition, not as accurate or precise as direct measurements, they provide a robust picture of thousands of years of the Earth's history. Three main types of proxy records used to create this picture are:

  • Ice cores

    One proxy method is to drill into glaciers and ice sheets to extract ice samples. Since the ice was formed from snow that fell over the centuries, the deeper you drill, the farther back in time you are looking.

    The chemical composition of the ice correlates very strongly with temperature. Scientists have constructed temperature records from ice cores taken from Tibetan and Andean glaciers, an ice cap in the Canadian Arctic, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. These records show that, at low latitudes, 20th century climate was unusually warm compared to the previous 2,000 years.

    In the Canadian Arctic, warming over the past 150 years is unprecedented compared to the previous millennium. In Greenland and coastal Antarctica, there is clear evidence of warming over the past century. Ice cores from Antarctica's interior do not show warming over the past century.

  • Tree rings

    In temperate regions, trees generally produce one ring a year, and some tree species are extremely long-lived. (A bristlecone pine, for example, can live more than 4,000 years.) Patterns in the width and density of tree rings provide year-by-year temperature information.

    Scientists have tree ring records from more than 2,000 sites on all inhabited continents, though most of the records are from temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere. These records show that 20th century warming was unusual compared to at least the past 500 years.

  • Coral reefs

    Corals build their hard skeletons with annual bands of calcium carbonate. The geochemical composition of each annual band varies depending on the temperature of the water at the time the band was formed. Scientists have coral proxy records from the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans, with most of these going back 400 years. Coral proxy records indicate sea surface warming in most tropical locations over the past century.

How we know human activity is causing warming

We know the planet is warming — scientists have a clear understanding why

The theory of global warming is nothing new. The Nobel Prize-winning chemist Svante Arrhenius first proposed the idea of global warming in 1896. Carbon dioxide, he knew, traps heat in the Earth's atmosphere. He also knew that burning coal and oil releases carbon dioxide (CO2).

Arrhenius speculated that continued burning of coal and oil would increase concentrations of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere, making the planet warmer. It's called the greenhouse effect.

What warms the Earth?

To determine what is causing today's rapid global warming, scientists have examined all the factors that can affect the Earth's temperature. There are essentially three factors that could be responsible for recent rapid global warming:

  1. The sun
  2. Earth's reflectivity
  3. Greenhouse gases

Which of these is causing our current global warming?

It's not the sun: cause of little warming since 1750, none since 1980s

Ultimately, the climate system is powered by the sun: all else being equal, if you turn up the sun, you'll warm up the Earth. According to IPCC estimates, the sun has accounted for just a small portion of warming since 1750. A study of more recent solar activity has demonstrated that since about 1985 the sun has changed in ways that, if anything, should have cooled the planet—even as global temperatures have been rising. So the sun is not causing global warming.

It's not reflectivity: changes point to cooling, not warming

Around 30% of the sun's energy that reaches the Earth is reflected back into space. Changes in how much sunlight is absorbed, and how much is reflected, can affect global temperatures. Using satellite and land-based observations and computer models, scientists have calculated how Earth's reflectivity has changed over time.

These calculations suggest that human-produced particulate pollution, especially reflective sulfur-containing particles, have had a cooling effect on the climate, masking some of the warming effect of greenhouse gases. In fact, the slight decrease in global temperature between 1945 and 1975 was likely caused by a combination of rising particulate pollution and natural factors. Warming resumed after 1975 when industrialized countries began to clean up their particulate pollution while continuing to increase their greenhouse gas emissions.

As for human land use changes (primarily forest clearing for agriculture), they have on balance brightened the planet since 1750. This would have a cooling effect, yet we've seen warming. Changes in the frequency of volcanic eruptions, which can send reflective particles up into the stratosphere, also cannot explain the observed warming trend. So reflectivity is not causing global warming.

All the evidence points to greenhouse gases

That leaves the greenhouse effect as the only remaining scientific explanation for the rise in global temperatures in recent decades. We have direct measurements of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere going back more than 50 years, and indirect measurements (from ice cores) going back hundreds of thousands of years. These measurements confirm that concentrations are rising rapidly.

Historic CO2 levels
Historic CO2 Levels
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in measurable history, and predicted to increase dramatically this century. Source: GlobalChange.gov

Though natural amounts of CO2 have varied from 180 to 300 parts per million (ppm), today's CO2 levels are around 390 ppm. That's 30% more than the highest natural levels over the past 800,000 years. Increased CO2 levels have contributed to periods of higher average temperatures throughout that long record. (Boden, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center)

We also know the additional CO2 in the atmosphere comes mainly from coal and oil, because the chemical composition of the CO2 contains a unique "fingerprint."

As far as scientists are concerned, it's case closed: human activity is causing the Earth to get warmer, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels, with a smaller contribution from deforestation. All other scientific explanations for why the Earth is getting warmer have been eliminated.

World View of Human Impact on Temperature Since 1900
IPCC - Global and Continental Temperature Change Since 1900
Continental and global temperatures modeled with and without human influence show the impact of human activity on global warming. View full-size. Source: IPCC 2007: WG1 AR4 Figure SPM.4

Climate change impacts

The effects of warming on our world can be seen today

The Earth could warm another 2 to 11.5°F this century if we fail to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation—devastating our livelihoods and the natural world we cherish.

Impacts on the world around us

Biodiversity loss

Thousands of species risk extinction from disappearing habitat, changing ecosystems and acidifying oceans. According to the IPCC, climate change will put some 20% to 30% of species globally at increasingly high risk of extinction, possibly by 2100.

  • Decline in polar bears

    Arctic sea ice is the polar bear's feeding habitat. As sea ice disappears, bear mortality rises. In 2008, the polar bear became the first animal to be added to the Endangered Species Act list of threatened species because of global warming.

    The U.S. Geological Survey has warned that two-thirds of the world's polar bear populations could be lost by mid-century as sea ice continues to retreat.

  • Acidifying oceans

    About one-third of the CO2 pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes is absorbed by the world's oceans, where it forms carbonic acid. A 2010 study published in Nature Geoscience warns that unchecked greenhouse gas emissions could cause oceans to acidify at a rate unprecedented in at least the last 65 million years.

  • Coral bleaching

    Coral reefs are highly sensitive to small changes in water temperature. Heat triggers corals to shed the algae that nourish them—a bleaching event that leaves coral white.

    In 1998, the world's coral suffered its worst year on record, which left 16% bleached or dead. (ISRS statement [PDF]) Continued warming could cause mass bleachings to become an annual event within the next few decades, wiping out many reef ecosystems.

    Coral bleaching from warming waters. Photo: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR

    Photo: Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR.

    Coral bleaching from warming waters.
  • Shifting habitat

    As the mercury rises, plants and animals are shifting their ranges toward the poles and to higher altitudes, and migration patterns for animals as diverse as whales and butterflies are being disrupted.

  • Threats to Western forests

    The U.S. Geological Survey reports that slight changes in the climate may trigger abrupt ecosystem changes that may be irreversible.

    All told, the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the U.S. have seen nearly 70,000 square miles of forest die – an area the size of Washington state – since 2000 due to outbreaks of tree-killing insects.

Thinning ice, rising seas

Rising seas are one of the most certain effects of global warming as warming ocean waters expand and melting glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets add more water to the oceans. The IPCC estimates that melting ice caps and glaciers—which are some of our most visible indicators of climate change—accounted for about 25% of sea level rise from 1993 to 2003.

  • Arctic sea ice is shrinking

    Satellite images show that the extent of Arctic summer sea ice has decreased by almost 9% per decade since 1979. The Arctic summer could be ice-free by mid-century, according to a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The three lowest minimum extents of Arctic sea ice were reached in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Source: NOAAVisualizations

  • Sea level rise

    During the 20th century, sea level rose an average of 7 inches after 2,000 years of relatively little change. The 2007 IPCC report conservatively predicts that sea levels could rise 10 to 23 inches by 2100 if current warming patterns continue.

    In the U.S., roughly 100 million people live in coastal areas within 3 feet of mean sea level. Low-lying cities such as Boston, Miami and New York are vulnerable.

    The U.S. Geological Survey, EPA and NOAA issued a joint report in 2009 warning that most mid-Atlantic coastal wetlands from New York to North Carolina will be lost with a sea level rise of 3 feet or more. North Carolina's barrier islands would be significantly breached and flooding would destroy the Florida Everglades.

  • Melting glaciers

    A 2005 survey of 442 glaciers from the World Glacier Monitoring Service found that 90% of the world's glaciers are shrinking as the planet warms.

    Glacier National Park now has only 25 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. At the current rate of retreat, the glaciers in Glacier National Park could be gone in a matter of decades, according to some scientists.

    Photos show the disappearance of Grinnell Glacier.
    Photos from 1938, 1981, 1998 and 2009 show the disappearance of Grinnell Glacier. Credit: 1938 T.J. Hileman photo, Courtesy of GNP Archives; 1981 Carl Key photo, USGS; 1998 D. Fagre photo, USGS; 2009 Lindsey Bengtson photo, USGS. Source: USGS

Threats to people around the globe

Extreme weather will become more frequent—and more dangerous.

The World Meteorological Organization reported that 2000-2009 was the hottest decade on record, with eight of the hottest 10 years having occurred since 2000.

It's not just the heat that poses threats. Scientists say global warming is speeding up the cycling of water between the ocean, atmosphere and land, resulting in more intense rainfall and droughts at the same time across the globe.

  • A surge in wildfires

    Hot, dry conditions create a tinderbox ideal for wildfires. This could have a devastating impact on America's Southwest.
  • Increased flooding

    The 2007 IPCC report concludes that intense rain events have increased in frequency during the last 50 years and that human-induced global warming has been a factor.
  • Increased drought

    There have also been increased periods of drought, particularly in famine-stricken areas of Africa and Asia. According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the percentage of Earth's surface suffering drought has more than doubled since the 1970s. In Africa alone, the IPCC projects that between 75 and 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.
  • More intense hurricanes

    As the oceans warm, scientists predict that hurricane intensity could increase. The associated storm surge poses particular risk to low-lying coastal cities like Miami, Charleston (SC) and Wilmington (NC).

Threats to human health

A warming planet threatens people worldwide, causing deaths, spreading insect-borne diseases and exacerbating respiratory illnesses. Extreme weather will also put more people in harm's way.

The World Health Organization believes that even the modest increases in average temperature that have occurred since the 1970s are responsible for at least 150,000 extra deaths a year—a figure that will double by 2030, according to WHO's conservative estimate.

  • Devastating heat waves

    Recent studies show extreme heat events that now occur once every 20 years will occur about every other year in much of the country, if current trends continue.

    In 1995, Chicago suffered a heat wave that killed more than 700 people. Chicagoans could experience that kind of relentless heat up to three times a year by 2100.

  • Spread of disease

    Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever could become more difficult to control in areas where it's currently too cold for them to spread year-round. The malaria parasite itself is generally limited to certain areas by cooler winter temperatures since it is not able to grow below 16°C. As temperatures rise, diseases can grow and disease vectors (the carriers that transmit disease, such as mosquitoes) will mature more rapidly and have longer active seasons.

  • Worsening air quality

    More hot days mean ripe conditions for ground-level ozone, or smog, which forms when pollutants from tailpipes and smokestacks mix in sunny, stagnant conditions. Higher temperatures cause higher emissions of one type of pollutant, namely hydrocarbons and other volatile organic compounds, as well as speeding up the chemical reactions that form ozone smog.

    Smog triggers asthma attacks and worsens other breathing problems. The number of Americans with asthma has more than doubled over the past two decades to 20 million. Continued warming will only worsen the problem.

Scientific consensus on global warming

Science community concurs warming is happening — and people are the cause

The most respected scientific bodies have stated unequivocally that global warming is occurring, and people are causing it by burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests.

This conclusion is shared by the national science academies of developed and developing countries (read the statement [PDF]), plus many other organizations, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was established by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization to provide the world with "a clear scientific view" on climate change.

The only real debate is about how fast warming will occur, and how much damage will be done, as a result of human activities that produce heat-trapping CO2 and other greenhouse-gas emissions.

Peer review ensures sound science

Climate scientists, like all scientists, are professional skeptics. They welcome — in fact, rely upon — rigorous challenges to their work from colleagues. Through this process of peer review and independent verification, scientists critique and double- (and triple- and quadruple-) check each others work.

This can lead to debate and controversy, but over time, solid research is validated, errors are discarded, and a body of reliable facts is created. In addition, science advances by focusing on what is not yet known. In the case of climate change, for example, there is an extremely good general understanding of the phenomenon, but many details are not yet understood. These gaps in the research, as they come to light, are systematically tackled by the scientific community.

In this context, the kind of material used by climate-change skeptics to cast doubt on global warming — whether it be a handful of emails stolen from an East Anglian research facility or a few errors in an IPCC report — are meaningless. The mountain of climate data assembled over decades by the scientific community as a whole is irrefutable. The records collected and analyzed by independent scientists from many disciplines and thousands of locations, paint a consistent, verifiable picture of a rapidly warming world.

Make no mistake: Science has given us unequivocal warning that global warming is real. The time to start working on solutions is now.