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Chilling (global warming and irresponsibility)

Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker
…The new argument making the rounds of conservative think tanks, like the National Center for Policy Analysis, and circulating through assorted sympathetic publications goes something like this: Yes, the planet may be warming up, but no one can be sure of why, and, in any case, it doesn’t matter—let’s stop quibbling about the causes of climate change and concentrate on dealing with the consequences. A recent column in the Wall Street Journal laid out the logic as follows: “The problems associated with climate change (whether man-made or natural) are the same old problems of poverty, disease, and natural hazards like floods, storms, and droughts.” Therefore “money spent directly on these problems is a much surer bet than money spent trying to control a climate change process that we don’t understand.” Sounding an eerily similar note, a column published a few days later in the National Review Online stated, “We can do more to help the poor by combating these problems now than we would by reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

The beauty of this argument is its apparent high-mindedness, and this, of course, is also its danger. Carbon dioxide is a persistent gas—it lasts for about a century—and once released into the atmosphere it is, for all practical purposes, irrecoverable. Since every extra increment of CO2 leads to extra warming, addressing the effects of climate change without dealing with the cause is a bit like trying to treat diabetes with doughnuts. The climate isn’t going to change just once, and then settle down; unless CO2 concentrations are stabilized, it will keep on changing, producing, in addition to the “same old problems,” an ever-growing array of new ones. The head of the Goddard Institute, James Hansen, who first warned about the dangers of global warming back in the nineteen-seventies and recently made headlines by accusing the Bush Administration of censorship, has said that following the path of business-as-usual for the remainder of this century will lead to an earth so warm as to be “practically a different planet.” In a world thus transformed, the only sure bet is that there will be no sure bets.
(13 March 2006)

Rewriting the science (NASA’s Hansen and censorship)

CBS News
As a government scientist, James Hansen is taking a risk. He says there are things the White House doesn’t want you to hear but he’s going to say them anyway.

Hansen is arguably the world’s leading researcher on global warming. He’s the head of NASA’s top institute studying the climate. But this imminent scientist tells correspondent Scott Pelley that the Bush administration is restricting who he can talk to and editing what he can say. Politicians, he says, are rewriting the science.

But he didn’t hold back speaking to Pelley, telling 60 Minutes what he knows.

Asked if he believes the administration is censoring what he can say to the public, Hansen says: “Or they’re censoring whether or not I can say it. I mean, I say what I believe if I’m allowed to say it.”

What James Hansen believes is that global warming is accelerating. He points to the melting arctic and to Antarctica, where new data show massive losses of ice to the sea.

Is it fair to say at this point that humans control the climate? Is that possible?

“There’s no doubt about that, says Hansen. “The natural changes, the speed of the natural changes is now dwarfed by the changes that humans are making to the atmosphere and to the surface.”

Those human changes, he says, are driven by burning fossil fuels that pump out greenhouse gases like CO2, carbon dioxide. Hansen says his research shows that man has just 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming reaches what he calls a tipping point and becomes unstoppable. He says the White House is blocking that message.
(19 March 2006)

Chilling proof that glacier meltdown is getting faster

Steve Connor, The Independent
Many of the world’s mountain glaciers are melting at a faster rate than at any time in the past 150 years, according to the latest assessment by glaciologists.

Scientists believe that the Alps, in particular, are experiencing a rapid disappearance of glaciers formed during the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

The scale of the phenomenon is revealed in photographs of dozens of glaciers, taken several decades apart, which show how they have shrunk over the past century. Glaciers as far apart as Alaska and Austria, from Greenland in the north to the Andes in the south, are showing signs of an accelerating retreat that appears to be linked to climate change.

Michael Zemp and colleagues from the World Glacier Monitoring Service at the University of Zurich in Switzerland believe that warmer air temperatures in Europe in recent decades is behind the rapid loss of Alpine glaciers.

“Glaciers have been shrinking since 1850 but there has been a definite acceleration over the past two decades,” Dr Zemp said.
(20 March 2006)

Changing climate threatening development

Mark Stevenson, Associated Press via LA Times
MEXICO CITY — Droughts, floods, changing rain patterns and rising sea levels are threatening development in the world’s poorest countries, experts and aid workers said Monday at an international water forum.

Regions including Africa and South Asia — home to most of the 1.1 billion people who live without clean water — will be among the hardest hit by changing weather patterns, experts at the 4th World Water Forum said. They blamed the threats largely on changes in the global climate.

“Droughts will worsen. We will see deforestation, forest fires, a loss of biodiversity and degradation of the environment,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization. “The least developed countries are the most affected. Often, developing countries don’t have the resources to mitigate the impact.”
(20 March 2006)