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Earth could warm up fast

Robert C. Cowen, Christian Science Monitor
Recent studies of some of nature’s environmental “records” show that global warming can penetrate deep into the ocean faster than scientists have realized. In fact, some such penetration may have already begun.

The record keepers are foraminifera – “forams” for short – creatures so tiny that several could sit together on a pinhead. The mineral composition of their shells reflects the environmental conditions under which they grow. Flavia Nunes and Richard Norris at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., reported earlier this month in Nature that the foram record includes a global warming event that provides a warning for our own times. Although it occurred 55 million years ago, they consider it a good analogue for studying the causes and consequences of our own global warming.

…Meanwhile, David Field, another Scripps researcher who has been working with several Mexican and US colleagues, has found evidence that global warming is beginning to penetrate the ocean today. Dr. Field, now at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and his co-researchers described that warming earlier this month in Science.

They looked at foram records off southern California for the past 1,400 years. Those records show considerable climate variations, decade by decade. Nevertheless, the 20th century stands out. Its later years brought what they call indications of “a deep, penetrative warming not observed in previous centuries.” They document extensive changes in small animal and plant species with cold-loving forms giving way to warmer-water types. “These results imply that 20th-century warming, apparently anthropogenic, has already affected lower trophic [nutritional] levels of the California Current,” they report.
(26 January 2006)

Nightmare vision of a world 200 years on

Ian Johnston, The Scotsman
ONE of Britain’s leading environmentalists will today sound a doomsday warning to the world: humanity’s very existence is under threat from climate change and, even if we survive, the population will crash to about a third of its current level.

Sir Crispin Tickell, the man who convinced former prime minister Margaret Thatcher that global warming was a real problem, predicts that, in 200 years, there could be as few as 2.3 billion people because rising sea levels and temperatures will make some areas uninhabitable and, coupled with social factors, depress birth rates.

But he also says our survival is “not guaranteed” and that the presence of humans on the planet could be “no more than a somewhat messy episode in the history of the Earth”.

…Sir Crispin, a former British ambassador to the United Nations who is now chancellor of Kent University and director of the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy and Understanding, is the third major figure in the field this month to sound a warning of massive changes in the years ahead. The others were James Lovelock, who developed the Gaia theory of the planet as a living organism, and Chris Rapley, the director of the British Antarctic Survey.
(27 January 2006)

Suzuki: climate change has unexpected effects

Dr. David Suzuki, ENN
On the surface, global warming may seem like a pretty simple process. Excess “greenhouse” gases trap heat in the atmosphere, making the world warmer. But that’s not all that happens. Our climate is actually very complex and intimately connected to life on Earth. Seemingly minor changes can have profound repercussions.

Consider ocean currents. Remember that big blockbuster movie a few years ago based on the theory of rapid climate change? Well, it wasn’t exactly rocket science, but it was based on a kernel of truth. In the movie, global warming triggers a collapse of the “thermohaline circulation,” a system of currents including the Gulf Stream that circulate water in the Atlantic. Eastern North America and Western Europe depend on this circulation to bring warmer water up from the tropics and help moderate their climates.

According to the Hollywood version, a collapse of the thermohaline circulation would thrust New York and London into an instant ice age. Reality is less dramatic, of course, but recent evidence has found that this massive system can indeed be disrupted and it has happened fairly recently.
(27 January 2006)

Plan to build gas pipeline through Amazon rain forest catches environmentalists off guard

Michael Astor, Associated Press via ENN
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Environmentalists were caught off guard when South American leaders announced plans to build a massive natural gas pipeline through the Amazon rain forest.

Proponents say the $20 billion project, still in early planning stages, will help satisfy the growing regional demand for gas and help make South America less dependent on outside sources.

But environmentalists say it could damage part of the Amazon — the world’s largest wilderness — by polluting waterways, destroying trees and creating roads that could draw ranchers and loggers.
(26 January 2006)

Union of Concerned Scientists’ Knobloch on the state of climate research
OnPoint, E&E TV
Many scientists agree that greenhouse gas emissions from man-made sources are at least partially responsible for global climate change.

But is the science really in about the best methods to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions? Could the climate be near a tipping point, where a slight temperature increase causes drastic changes? And can new climate research ever trump the politics that govern the global warming debate? During today’s OnPoint, Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, answers these questions and more.
(25 January 2006)
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Oceans in peril

Editorial, Washington Post
THE BUSH administration remains in denial about climate change and sometimes treats environmental protection as an inconvenience. Yet there was reason to hope, when the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy issued its report more than a year ago, that President Bush would seize the issue of the dire threat to this country’s coastal waters. The commission was the second major task force in recent years to detail the rapidly deteriorating ecology of America’s oceans. All serious looks at the issue have reached similar conclusions: that current human use of oceans is unsustainable and that without dramatic changes in the ways the waters are exploited and enjoyed, the seas will die out. The magnitude of the crisis offers an opportunity for the president to lead on a preeminent environmental issue.

So far, it is an opportunity Mr. Bush has largely passed up.
(23 January 2006)