JANUARY 15, 2013
The Multidimensional Reality of Climate Change
Inside the Latest Climate Reportby MANUEL GARCIA, JR.
A Federal Advisory Committee called the “National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee” or NCADAC, was established under the Department of Commerce in December 2010 and is supported through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NCADAC now oversees the activities of formulating the National Climate Assessment (NCA), and is funded through a program established by the Global Change Research Act of 1990.
NCADAC has just issued a 1,146 page draft report on climate change in the U.S., which is now available (for 3 months) for public review and comment. Following review by the National Academies of Sciences and by the public, NCADAC will revise its draft report and submit it to the Federal Government for consideration as the Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) Report. The first NCA Report was issued in 2000, and the second in 2009.
NCADAC describes the purpose of this draft NCA Report this way:
“The goal of this assessment report is to establish a scientific and credible foundation of information that is useful for a variety of science and policy applications related to managing risk and maximizing opportunities in a changing climate. The report also documents some societal responses to climate changes, and gives public and private decision-makers a better understanding of how climate change is affecting us now and what is in store for the future.”The draft report covers every region of the US, and all significant systems in them: water resources, energy, transportation, agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, biodiversity, human health, land use, urban systems, infrastructure, tribal lands, rural communities and biogeochemical cycles. Four chapters near the end of the report discuss the crucial question of “what to do?” These are: chapter 26 “Decision Support: Supporting Policy, Planning, and Resource Management Decisions in a Climate Change Context,” chapter 27 “Mitigation,” chapter 28 “Adaptation,” and chapter 29 “Research Agenda for Climate Change Science.” The last chapter, 30, describes the future plans for the NCA process, and this is followed by two appendices, which address commonly asked questions, and describe the science of climate change.
You can most easily savor the benefit of all the work that went into this report by reading the introductory “Letter to the American People,” which is three lines past a single page, and then reading at least the first ten pages of the 23 page Executive Summary. The 11 conclusions of this massive report are described in the Executive Summary (on pages 8-10), and these are very briefly listed here (as 11 direct quotes):
1. Global climate is changing, and this is apparent across the U.S. in a wide range of observations. The climate change of the past 50 years is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. (U.S. average temperature has increased by about 1.5°F since 1895, with more than 80% of this increase occurring since 1980.)The era of climate change denial is over. This report amply documents the multidimensional reality of climate change as a force requiring an extensive and sustained national response in order to protect the lives and maintain the livelihoods of Americans. That response must have two aspects:
2. Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and there is new and stronger evidence that many of these increases are related to human activities.
3. Human-induced climate change is projected to continue and accelerate significantly if emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase.
4. Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly challenging across the nation throughout this century and beyond. (Climate change is already affecting human health, infrastructure, water resources, agriculture, energy, the natural environment, and other factors – locally, nationally, and internationally.)
5. Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, diseases transmitted by insects, food, and water, and threats to mental health. (Food security is emerging as an issue of concern, both within the U.S. and across the globe, and is affected by climate change.)
6. Infrastructure across the U.S. is being adversely affected by phenomena associated with climate change, including sea level rise, storm surge, heavy downpours, and extreme heat. (Sea level is projected to rise an additional 1 to 4 feet in this century.)
7. Reliability of water supplies is being reduced by climate change in a variety of ways that affect ecosystems and livelihoods in many regions, particularly the Southwest, the Great Plains, the Southeast, and the islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific, including the state of Hawai’i.
8. Adverse impacts to crops and livestock over the next 100 years are expected. Over the next 25 years or so, the agriculture sector is projected to be relatively resilient, even though there will be increasing disruptions from extreme heat, drought, and heavy downpours. U.S. food security and farm incomes will also depend on how agricultural systems adapt to climate changes in other regions of the world.
9. Natural ecosystems are being directly affected by climate change, including changes in biodiversity and location of species. As a result, the capacity of ecosystems to moderate the consequences of disturbances such as droughts, floods, and severe storms is being diminished.
10. Life in the oceans is changing as ocean waters become warmer and more acidic. (Warming ocean waters and ocean acidification across the globe and within U.S. marine territories are broadly affecting marine life.)
11. Planning for adaptation (to address and prepare for impacts) and mitigation (to reduce emissions) is increasing, but progress with implementation is limited. (In recent years, climate adaptation and mitigation activities have begun to emerge in many sectors and at all levels of government; however barriers to implementation of these activities are significant. The level of current efforts is insufficient to avoid increasingly serious impacts of climate change that have large social, environmental, and economic consequences.)
“mitigation,” minimizing the amount of global warming in the future by minimizing the anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases now; andPractical planning requires a basis of factual data. This latest NCADAC draft report on climate change is a sterling example of that reality, and it makes evident that climate change is rapidly enveloping the horizons of government planners and forward thinking individuals.
“adaptation,” devising alterations (or alternatives) to the many systems we depend upon, so they continue to sustain us in a future with a different climate from that of previous centuries during which our prior economies and modes of living were developed.
Between January 14 and April 12, you can tell Uncle Sam directly what you think about climate change by submitting your comments on the NCADAC draft report. more
Manuel García, Jr. is a retired engineering-physicist and has long been interested in energy, both natural and technological. He blogs at http://manuelgarciajr.com, and his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
While wandering around the Internet, I found this gem written by James Hansen. He has been trying to get folks to wake up to the disaster that is climate change and has suffered much public vilification for his efforts. He reminds me of the good Dr. Stockmann in Ibsen's The Enemy of the People. So the persecution for being right and having one's neighbor's best interests at heart is hardly new. Even so, I must congratulate Hansen for keeping up the good fight.
Now no one can deny that the world is getting warmerLast week's report by America's National Climate Assessment reveals the full horror of what's happening to our planet
The Observer, 12 January 2013
The draft version of the US National Climate Assessment, released on Friday, makes remarkable reading – not just for Americans but for all humanity. Put together by a special panel of more than 240 scientists, the federally commissioned report reveals that the US is already reeling under the impact of global warming. Heatwaves, droughts, floods, intense downpours, rising sea levels and melting glaciers are now causing widespread havoc and are having an impact on a wide range of fronts including health services, infrastructure, water supply, agriculture, transport and flood defences.
Nor is there any doubt about the cause of these rising temperatures. "It is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuel," the report states. As carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere soar, temperatures rise and chaos ensues. Air pollution intensifies, wildfires increase, insect-borne diseases spread, confrontations over water rights become more violent and storm surges rise. This is the near future for America and for the rest of the world. Earth is set to become a hotter, drier, unhealthier, more uncomfortable, dangerous and more disaster-prone place in coming years.
The language used in this exhaustive, carefully researched investigation is also worthy of comment. It includes the word "threat" or variations 198 times and versions of the word "disrupt" another 120 times. After poring over the 1,146 pages of the assessment, readers will be under no illusions about what is happening to our planet. The robustness of its rhetoric is especially striking because it contrasts so noticeably with the debate – or to be precise, lack of debate – on climate change that occurred during last year's presidential campaigning.
Neither President Obama nor his opponent, Mitt Romney, made more than a cursory mention of the issue, despite the fact that it now affects just about every aspect of existence on our planet today. As the assessment makes clear, global warming is not just about polar bears. It is about the lives of people today and about those of future generations.
A three-month period for public comment will now follow last week's publication of the draft assessment. The US National Academy of Sciences will also review the document before a final version is published later this year. The ensuing debate promises to be an intriguing and important one. The US is the world's greatest economy and a massive emitter of greenhouse gases. Until its political masters act, the planet has no chance of halting global warming or curtailing rising sea levels or dealing with the increasing acidification of our oceans or coping with the melting of Earth's icecaps.
Given the vehemence of opposition in the US to the suggestion that climate change is manmade, we should not be too hopeful of immediate action. Most of the Republican party believes the concept is a liberal hoax, for example, along with an array of rich and powerful industrial foundations and corporations. A bitter struggle lies ahead.
From this perspective, it might be tempting to sneer at the US over its response to the challenge of climate change. Britain has little to be smug about, however, a point that was demonstrated last week by media coverage of the Met Office's updated forecast of likely global warming over the next five years. In revising downwards, albeit slightly, its previous expectation for temperature rises from now until 2017, the Met Office found itself at the midst of a PR shambles. In their dozens, climate change sceptics charged forwards to claim this data showed that global warming has stopped, a completely misleading suggestion that was not properly challenged by journalists.
In fact, the Met Office's figures indicate that most of the years between 2013 and 2017 will be hotter than those of the hottest year on record. More to the point, British forecasters still stand by their longer-term projections that anticipate there will be significant warming over the course of the century.
The fact that this message was lost on the public suggests climate change denial is becoming entrenched in the UK, or that our media have become complacent about the issue, or both. Whatever the answer, there is little cause for cheer. Both sides of the Atlantic are dithering over global warming. Yet the issue is real, as the US climate assessment emphasises. In making that clear, the report should be welcomed. more
This report echoes my beliefs that USA environmentalists haven't helped much when it comes to doing something meaningful about climate change. But hey, I recently heard that the Sierra Club was going to resort to civil disobedience to draw attention to the problem. I would be more impressed if their president Carl Pope would stop driving his big ol' SUV.
Climate change is here — and worse than we thoughtBy James E. Hansen, August 03, 2012
When I testified before the Senate in the hot summer of 1988, I warned of the kind of future that climate change would bring to us and our planet. I painted a grim picture of the consequences of steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels.
But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic.
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.
In a new analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, which will be published Monday, my colleagues and I have revealed a stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers, with deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present.
This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened. Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.
The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahomalast year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data are gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now.
These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.
Twenty-four years ago, I introduced the concept of “climate dice” to help distinguish the long-term trend of climate change from the natural variability of day-to-day weather. Some summers are hot, some cool. Some winters brutal, some mild. That’s natural variability.
But as the climate warms, natural variability is altered, too. In a normal climate without global warming, two sides of the die would represent cooler-than-normal weather, two sides would be normal weather, and two sides would be warmer-than-normal weather. Rolling the die again and again, or season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.
But loading the die with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal. Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you. more
Climate change inaction the fault of environmental groups, report saysAcademic paper largely clears President Obama of blame over failure to pass climate legislation through Congress
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 January 2013 15.04 EST
A Harvard academic has put the blame squarely for America's failure to act on climate change on environmental groups. She also argues that there is little prospect Barack Obama will put climate change on the top of his agenda in his second term.
In a research paper, due to be presented at a Harvard forum next month, scholar Theda Skocpol in effect accuses the DC-based environmental groups of political malpractice, saying they were blind to extreme Republican opposition to their efforts.
Environmental groups overlooked growing opposition to environmental protections among conservatives voters and, underestimated the rising force of the Tea Party, believing – wrongly, as it turned out – they could still somehow win over Republican members of Congress through "insider grand bargaining".
That fatal misreading of the political realities – namely, the extreme polarisation of Congress and the Tea Party's growing influence among elected officials – doomed the effort to get a climate law through Congress. It will also make it more difficult to achieve climate action in the future, she added.
Skocpol, meanwhile, lets Obama off the hook for the political inaction on climate change, overturning the conventional wisdom among environmental leaders that political cowardice by the White House ultimately doomed climate legislation.
Her paper is likely to cause a stir among environmental groups hoping to see action on climate change during Obama's second term. Skocpol, in her analysis, does not offer much cause for optimism.
"Whatever environmentalists may hope, the Obama White House and congressional Democrats are unlikely to make global warming a top issue in 2013 or 2014," she writes.
The extreme weather events of the 2012, from superstorm Sandy to an historic drought, are unlikely to shift their priorities, she said.
"The stark truth is that severe weather events alone will not cause global warming to pop to the top of the national agenda," Skocpol went on. "Fresh strategies will be needed, based on new understandings of political obstacles and opportunities. "
Skocpol, a political scientist, compares the failed push for a climate law unfavourably to the ultimately successful effort to pass healthcare reform.
She interviewed key players in the push for climate legislation in 2009 and 2010, as well as activists from the Tea Party groups who helped sink those efforts.
The biggest mistake of the environmental groups, Skocpol said, was their failure to appreciate the extreme polarisation of Congress since the mid-90s, or fully appreciate that Republicans in Congress were softening in their support for environmental issues from 2007 – even before the emergence of the Tea Party.
That political blindness was far more damaging to the effort to pass a climate law than the economic downturn, the language used to frame the climate change debate, or even the lack of full-throated leadership from Obama, she argues. A deal that may have been possible in the 90s was going to be a non-starter amid the political conditions in 2008, she said.
Nevertheless, the US Climate Action Partnership, which Skocpol describes as a coalition of "CEOs and Big Enviro honchos", continued to believe it could wrangle exactly such a deal out of Congress.
That strategy overlooked how the political reality outside clubby Washington had turned against their cause. Skocpol attributes much of that shift to the well-funded effort by conservative thinktanks to undermine climate science. The 90s and onwards saw a sharp increase in the publication of reports and books questioning climate change, which eventually got picked up by mainstream media outlets.
The USCAP never understood the shift in conservative popular opinion, she writes. They also failed to build the broad grassroots organisations needed to push for change.
"The USCAP campaign was designed and conducted in an insider-grand-bargaining political style that, unbeknownst to its sponsors, was unlikely to succeed given fast-changing realities in US partisan politics and governing institutions," Skocpol writes. And she warns the failed attempt "did much to provoke and mobilise fierce enemies and enhance their populist capacities and political clout for future battles".
A number of prominent Republicans who had support climate legislation had already turned away by 2007 – not least John McCain, who was Obama's opponent in 2008. McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his vice-president, who is famous for her "drill, baby, drill" comments, should have alerted environmental groups to changing politics around the environment, Skocpol writes.
The writing was on the wall even more starkly after 2010, when a number of Republicans who had previously compromised on environmental issues were defeated by more conservative primary challengers, and by the stunning wins for Tea Party-supported candidates in the congressional elections.
Skocpol's recommendations for environmental groups are stark. "Climate change warriors will have to look beyond elite manoeuvres and find ways to address the values and interests of tens and millions of US citizens," she writes.
"Reformers will have to build organizational networks across the country, and they will need to orchestrate sustained political efforts that stretch far beyond friendly congressional offices, comfy board rooms, and posh retreats."
She concludes: "The only way to counter such right wing elite and popular forces is to build a broad popular movement to tackle climate change."
Climate activist Bill McKibben said Skocpol's analysis mirrored his experiences in building the grassroots organisation 350.org.
"Basically, we need a movement, and we need something a movement can get behind," he said in an email. "Something people as compared to corporations might care about."
McKibben wrote a more detailed response on the environmental news site, Grist. more