Climate Change Alarm is Needed and Climate Scientists Aren’t Sounding it Loud Enough

Alarmist. It’s a term climate change deniers seem to bandy about often, these days, as if ‘alarm’ were some kind of bad word. As if alarm weren’t needed or necessary. As if climate change, a primary vehicle for a range of horrors ranging from mass extinctions to catastrophic Earth changes, were some kind of carnival ride or a happy walk in the park.

But what if alarm is entirely called for? What if, for example, you’re standing in or near a river and a massive glacial melt lake up-stream has suddenly released and an immense torrent is now rushing toward you (as happened to thousands in India this year). Would you want the person on the hill near shore who sees the onrushing water to say in a calm, steady voice:

“Hey, you might want to get out. That water could rise a little.”

Or, even worse, would you want them to say, as the deniers would:

“It’s all good. The water’s just fine for swimming.”

Is either of these responses appropriate?

How about just shouting:

“Megaflood on the way! Get the hell out!!”

The IPCC is version #1. The oil company dupes and lackeys are version #2. As for version #3 …

A Call For Climate Change Urgency

One fundamental point a rational observer of the ongoing catastrophe that is human-caused climate change should always keep in mind is that scientists are, by nature and as a group, very conservative. It’s one reason why science, in general, is not a very good indicator of alarm to an emerging crisis. Science is constantly checking itself, is rightfully uncertain about the nature of truth, is constantly challenging its own assumptions. This refinement is a needed part of the improvement of human knowledge. But this process, often, creates a marked underestimation of potentially large-scale events.

Take the cases of sea level rise, Arctic sea ice melt, human CO2 emissions, and ice sheet response over the last 30 years. The combined report of consensus science represented by the IPCC has consistently underestimated rates of loss or increase for all of the above. In short, the best description of past IPCC reports on climate change, and their related forecasts, could be that they were, overall, conservative, muted, and mild when compared to the changes that are being observed now.

The IPCC’s reports are so muted, in fact, that they tend to leave us very vulnerable to what can best be termed as catastrophic events that are ever-more likely as the vicious and violent pace of human greenhouse gas forcing continues to progress. In prognostication of these potential events, the IPCC is an abject failure. It does not take into account the very high likelihood that, if you push the world climate to warm faster than it ever has before, and if you hit temperature increases of 2, 4, 6 degrees Celsius within 30, 50, 100 years that set off Heinrich Events, large Earth system carbon responses (catastrophic CO2 and methane release), rapid sea level rise, and ocean anoxia (dead oceans) in the past, then you are likely to get at least some of these events coming into play over the next 100 years. Yet the IPCC does not issue a report on overall ocean anoxia, or the potential risk for catastrophic ice sheet collapse, or what might result from a massive methane and carbon release from a very rapidly thawing Arctic that is now liberating a massive carbon store to such violent processes as Arctic heatwaves, a raging pace of sea level rise, or a great and explosive outburst of wildfires.

Should the IPCC issue such reports, it might warrant the observation that it had sounded an alarm. But, then, it would be sounding a needed and necessary warning, one that was entirely outside the pejorative ‘Alarmist’ deniers so recklessly bandy at any hint of warning to an obvious and dangerous set of events. One entirely pertinent to the current age of rapid fossil fuel burning and rates of warming that are 30 times faster than at the end of the last ice age.

Sometimes, alarm is what is needed and absolutely called for.

In short, the scientists should be screaming at us to:

“Get the hell out!”


Related Reading:

NASA Scientist James Hansen:

“I suggest that a `scientific reticence’ is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control. I argue for calling together a panel of scientific leaders to hear evidence and issue a prompt plain-written report on current understanding of the sea level change issue.”

Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise

(Hat tip to Sourabh)

I Can Fight off 51 Climate Change Denialists at the Same Time, How About You?


Test How Many You Can Fight HERE.

My Response to Andrew Revkin’s Recent Article on Arctic Sea Ice

Well, we are finally having a few articles on this summer’s record Arctic sea ice melt start to trickle in. And one I’d like to focus on, in particular, comes from Andrew Revkin over at the New York Times.

The article entitled “Arctic Sea Ice Hits New and Early Summer Low for Satellite Era” does some justice to the current epic melt going on in the Arctic. However, it provides undue coverage for those claiming ‘natural variability’ may have influenced this record low. This is typical of current mainstream media coverage, which was rife with this false equivalency in recent papers on the 1000 year melt occurring in West Antarctica. And, going forward, it is very important to address this argument directly. When taken in context of the larger trend, any reasonable assertions for major events being caused by natural variability evaporate. But poor Andrew clings to it like a melting iceberg in a stormy Arctic Sea.

You can read his article here.

And below is my response to him:

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Andrew —

I think a more accurate prediction would be for about a 50% chance of an ice-free or nearly ice-free (less than 500,000 square kilometers extent, less than 300,000 square kilometers area) Arctic Ocean during summer months within 10 years.

I’d say, given the factors below, we are closer to 70-80% within the two decades you mentioned.

1. We have year-on-year volume declines.
2. We have a precipitous fall in sea ice extent and area for this decade and we are less than half the coverage seen in 1980.
3. The rate of decline is increasing for summer months.
4. The ice is fragile now, making it more susceptible to storms like the cyclone we saw this month. The fragile state of sea ice increases the kinds of events that can result in rapid melt.
5. The elongated atmospheric wave patterns created by Arctic melt enhance melt by transporting more warm air into the Arctic.
6. The loss of sea ice enhances Arctic methane release, adding to local warming and enhancing global warming.
7. The loss of sea ice reduces albedo, creating a powerful feedback for enhanced melt during the summer months.

As for the scientists who are taking the ‘complexity’ argument. Events on the ground seem to have vastly over-ridden these analysis. I think it is fair to say that the primary driver of global weather events and any radical change in environments around the world is via the mechanism of global warming. Variability is just the small noise happening on top of the larger trend — much like foam will form on the top of a violent wave.

You have to take things vastly out of context to make the variability argument. Those making that argument are looking at data-sets that are too narrow. One obvious proof of this is that we aren’t having any major anomalies on the ‘cold’ side of the equation. Everything, all the weather and climate data, points to warming and impacts and feedbacks caused by warming. The same people who are making the complexity argument were the ones who were saying Arctic sea ice would recover — it clearly hasn’t.

The only likely driver for an Arctic sea ice recovery would be something on the order of a large Greenland melt — dumping cold melt water and ice bergs at a very high rate into the northern oceans. This might slow down melt or even cause some freeze-back. But this really isn’t an event we want to witness, is it?

*          *         *         *          *          *           *

In general, the mainstream media has dropped the ball in a major way. The loss of Arctic sea ice for this decade is historic. It is both a major weather and climate event. And, as such, it should be covered by the major weather news sources. The 2007 record low for Arctic sea ice was historic and yet there was hardly a peep from the mainstream media. This year, we have had major melting events both for Greenland and for the Arctic sea ice. Within the Arctic was saw major wildfires throughout Siberia. And just last year we had a rather large pulse of methane coming from the ocean as well as the Arctic tundra.

Again, these are weather and climate related events. Yet the discussion is still at the level of denial. At the level of arguing over whether these events are normal or are they really happening. This is not the kind of coverage we need. We need an identification and a rational discussion of an ongoing problem. As yet, there are no adults in the room. Just a number of children who appear to be in varying states of trauma.

Revkin does give valid information on most days. And his prediction that there may be a 50% chance of an essentially ice-free Arctic within two decades is certainly movement on the issue. But his false equivalency given to those claiming ‘natural variability’ is unqualified given that these statements are entirely out of context.

The Price of Climate Change Denial: Drought to Cost $50 Billion, Increasingly Extreme Weather in Our Future.

The drought currently affecting the heartland is having a wide range of economic impacts. It is constraining river traffic, slowing trade and increasing shipping costs even on America’s largest waterways. Impacts to crops continue, with US production likely to significantly fall even after a growing season that included the greatest land area ever planted. Wells have run dry in many counties across the central US, forcing many to pay for water to be shipped in.

But in the end, those who will pay most are the American people. Food prices will continue to increase and fuel prices will likely be pushed higher due to constraints on US ethanol production.

In all, some sources are estimating that this drought could cost the US as much as $50 billion dollars. And if we are making a tally for climate change we can add in the cost of fires and extreme weather like the Derecho earlier this year. We can also add in the cost of invasive species, like the pine and ash bore beetles. In total, we will likely see impacts this year alone, without any other unforeseen impacts, around the $100 billion mark. This is a hefty price to pay for an already expensive fossil fuel addiction.

In context, this is the second severe drought in as many years. Last year’s drought impacted Texas and Oklahoma, killing 500 million trees and 100,000 cattle. And in the middle of the last decade, the southeast experienced a historic drought that lead to a water war between Georgia and Florida. In 2006, the US experienced a deadly heatwave only to be struck again by a much more intense heatwave this year. Internationally, Russia experienced a terrible drought and heatwave in 2010 that killed 56,000 people and resulted in epic fires raging across that country. Australia suffered from a years-long drought that finally broke at the end of the last decade. In 2003, Europe experienced a heatwave that killed over 70,000 people.

According to NASA scientists, these are the kinds of extreme events that we can expect as a result of global warming. In fact, James Hansen has noted that the events we are experiencing now would not have happened with such frequency and intensity without the added forcing provided by global warming.

“But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic,” Hansen stated in a recent editorial to the Washington Post. “My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.”

Hansen is often derided by global warming deniers as being the most alarming of the global warming alarmists. But if Hansen, by his own admission, was being too optimistic, then we are likely in for much more drastic, powerful, and damaging changes than current climate models seem to indicate.

Though scientists have been rightly conservative and cautious when making these predictions, in an attempt to provide a solid basis for a rational response, climate change deniers and the agencies that support them have been the very definition of irresponsibility, imprudence, callousness, blindness, bull-headedness, rank stupidity, ignorance, greed, and ill-conceived risk-taking. Their arguments consistently have been proven false and yet they still speak as if they hold a monopoly on both righteous authority and truth.

Yet their failure is visited upon us with increasing pain, harm, loss of life and damage with each passing year. So one wonders why there are even still a sad few who listen to their nonsensical, mangled, and twisted claims. If they are to hold the wheel of our ship and continue to force its turn toward climate change disaster, then they should bear the blame for our misguidance and loss.

But stepping away from those who would have us continue to allow our situation to deteriorate, it is worth noting what the climate models, what the prudent, conservative, often overly-optimistic scientists predict. In short, it is nothing less than a horrendous drying out of the American heartland within the next 50-100 years. The drought models show worsening droughts occurring with greater and greater frequency. The coming decade will be worse than the last. The decade after that worse than the one before. By the end of this sad story, US agriculture would be a mere ghost of its past greatness, existing only on the fringes of a once-fertile land.

This is, likely, the ‘optimistic’ forecast. Events could happen much faster than scientists predicted. And single, catastrophic events, worthy of the term ‘natural disaster’ are certainly possible.

This summer’s drought was the worst since 1956. It happened in a land that has been made more resilient against drought by some of the best farming, resource conservation, soil use, and land management practices in the modern industrial world. We learned the terrible lessons of the dust bowl and, as a result, turned America into a fortress against future drought. Our vegetation growth and land use encourage rain and help to prevent moisture loss. But even these revolutionary practices have not prevented the current drought. Climate change has besieged America’s drought fortress and some of the gates have been breached. And far in the distance we can see the forces of climate change massing for another, more powerful, assault.

With each passing year, we add to the growing climate change horde. With each passing year, we add more to that monster force through our burning of fossil fuels. And if we do not decide to reduce that burning, it will be we who will be over-run, who will suffer the most terrible consequences. The consequences our optimistic, faithful, diligent, accurate, and cautious scientists are trying to warn us away from.

As for the climate change deniers. Their opinions are worth nothing more than a bowl full of dust.

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