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The Earth today stands in imminent peril

Steve Connor, The Independent
…and nothing short of a planetary rescue will save it from the environmental cataclysm of dangerous climate change. Those are not the words of eco-warriors but the considered opinion of a group of eminent scientists writing in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Six scientists from some of the leading scientific institutions in the United States have issued what amounts to an unambiguous warning to the world: civilisation itself is threatened by global warming.

They also implicitly criticise the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for underestimating the scale of sea-level rises this century as a result of melting glaciers and polar ice sheets.

Instead of sea levels rising by about 40 centimetres, as the IPCC predicts in one of its computer forecasts, the true rise might be as great as several metres by 2100. That is why, they say, planet Earth today is in “imminent peril”.

In a densely referenced scientific paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A some of the world’s leading climate researchers describe in detail why they believe that humanity can no longer afford to ignore the “gravest threat” of climate change.
(19 June 2007)
Comment by Sharon Astyk.

Saving Holland, Part I

David Talbot, Technology Review (MIT)
With much of its land below sea level, the Netherlands is charting a course around ominous climate-change trends.

…The country faces ominous trends as global temperatures rise. Already, 55 percent of the Netherlands’ land area is below sea level, protected by a vast system of seawalls, storm-surge barriers, and thousands of dikes that crisscross the countryside. Dutch scientists say sea levels in the region will rise between 25 and 85 centimeters (10 and 33 inches) this century. In addition, weather worldwide is expected to become more extreme, on average. This means a higher likelihood of flooding along the Rhine and other rivers, and a greater risk of droughts. All the while, Dutch land will continue to sink–at a rate of 0.2 centimeters annually in some areas–as the peat soil underlying much of it decomposes, exposed to air by Dutch drainage efforts.

Now, in an effort being watched around the world, the Dutch government and several prominent research institutions are trying to figure out how to adapt a whole country to the realities of climate change. The Zuidplaspolder is one of several regions under consideration for developments that float–or can float, or at least are flood resistant. Apart from one well-hyped residential demonstration project elsewhere in the country, though, no actual construction has yet begun. Behind the scenes, the Dutch are taking a hard look at their growing vulnera­bilities, conducting new analyses and running computer simulations. The researchers hope to submit a plan for adapting to climate change to the Dutch parliament this fall and to take action on it by next year
(18 June 2007)
Part II

Cockburn’s form

Gavin A. Schmidt, RealClimate
Alexander Cockburn (writing in the Nation) has become the latest contrarian-de-jour, sallying forth with some rather novel arithmetic to show that human-caused global warming is nothing to be concerned about. This would be unworthy of comment in most cases, but Cockburn stands out as one of only a few left-wing contrarians, as opposed to the more usual right-wing variety. Casual readers may have thought this is a relatively recent obsession of his (3 articles and responses over the last month), however, Cockburn has significant form* and has a fairly long history of ill-informed commentary on the subject of global warming.

There may be more elsewhere, but while he was writing for New York Press he had at least two articles on the subject: Global Warming: The Great Delusion (March 15, 2001) and Return to Global Warming (June 21, 2001). After both articles, I wrote letters to the editor (here and here) gently pointing out the misconceptions and incorrect statements (though obviously to little avail). To whit, the deliberate confusion of weather and climate, guilt by association (he linked climate modelling to biological warfare research!), the complete mis-understanding of the Harries et al (2001) paper showing satellite evidence for the increased trapping of long wave radiation by greenhouse gases etc.

Rather than simply rehashing the obvious mistakes in his current ‘science’, it’s worth taking a step back and looking at all of the pieces together. The first thing one notices is that Cockburn always tries to shy away from giving the impression he came up with any of his anti-global warming theories himself. In each case, there is a trusted ‘advisor’ or acquaintance who is available to inform Cockburn of the latest foolishness.

…In common with the right-wing contrarians, Cockburn’s opinions are not formed from a dispassionate look at the evidence, but come from a post hoc reasoning given his dislike of the purported implications.

…It is probably inevitable that, as dealing with climate change becomes an established concern, those who make a habit of reflexively being anti-establishment will start to deny there is a problem at all, coincidentally just as the original contrarians are mostly moving in the other direction (i.e. there is a problem but it’s too expensive to do anything about it). It is a shame, because as some oil companies and their friends are finding, it is difficult to get a place at the table where solutions are being discussed if you have claimed for years the whole thing was a hoax. As some left-wingers start to follow in the footsteps of these unlikely bedfellows, they too will find their association with specious arguments and simple nonsense reduces their credibility – and along with that lost credibility goes the opportunity to shape policy in ways that might be more to their liking.
(9 June 2007)

Burundi: shrinking lakes and denuded forests

UN Integrated Regional Information Network via
..Burundi is one of several African countries to have signed conventions such as the National Plan of Action for Adaptation to Climate Changes and the Framework Convention for National Communication on Climate Change. The first aims to improve seasonal climate forecasts for early warning purposes; rehabilitating degraded agricultural areas; protecting natural ecosystems; capacity-building in the prevention and management of natural disasters due to climate change; and, community sensitisation.

To mark World Environment Day on 5 June, the government has organised weeklong activities. These include rubbish collection and tree-planting in the city as well as in all the provinces, and clean-up exercises in rural and urban areas.
The NBD, the national forum for the regional Nile Basin Initiative (NBI), covering 10 countries that share in the management of resources from the River Nile, is also planning several activities to mark World Environment Day.

“We want to move away from the speeches and the workshops and go directly to the affected populations,” Albert Mbonerane, NBI national coordinator and former environment minister, told IRIN.

“We will be in Muramyva Province, mobilising the people in building gabions on the hilly slopes in efforts to stem soil erosion,” he said. “By involving the communities in actions like these aimed at curbing soil erosion, we hope to cover the whole country in two years, and hopefully reverse the damage already caused.”

..Sensitisation of the population in environmental conservation and the need for sustainable development is the only option if the effects of climate change are to be reversed in Burundi, Mbonerane said.

“On the national level, sensitisation of the people is the main thing right now,” he added. “This will help us achieve sustainable socio-economic development.”
(5 June 2007)
Title is grim but article not without its hopeful notes. I wonder if the NBI plan to focus on sensitising people might be influenced by the resources available for the job – media being cheaper to make than energy infrastructure. Hopefully carbon credits for remaining and replanted forests will fund solar ovens and charcoal burners.-LJ

“It is hard to imagine carbon as an illegal substance”

Ashok Sharma & Chris Rapley, Financial Express India
.. On a recent visit to India to attend the 30th Antarctic Treaty consultative meeting in New Delhi, Chris Rapley, president of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), UK and director of British Antarctic Society, analyses the causes of climate change and finds its impact being acutely felt in the polar regions. In an interview with Ashok B Sharma, he urges all concerned to eliminate their disciplinary “silos” and work in an unprecedented manner to find out a “techno-optimist” solution. ..

What are your views on the report of the IPCC saying that the concentration of greenhouse gases far exceeds the levels of the last 650k years?

The conclusions of the IPCC tend to be conservative. They are based on an evaluation of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific publications and have been agreed upon by the politically appointed delegates of 113 nations, including whose governments are climate sceptic. Over-exploitation of natural resources is another area of concern.

What are the threats caused by global warming?
Most significant is the melting of glaciers, ice caps and consequent rise in the mean sea level which may ultimately lead to submergence of islands and vast land mass. Palaeco comparisons of global temperature and sea level show that whenever the world is warmer, sea levels rise. ..

What needs to be done?
We need to eliminate disciplinary “silos” and work to understand the Earth. It is difficult to imagine carbon being declared an illegal substance, but this is effectively what must happen sooner than later. The approach adopted to arrest the depletion of stratospheric ozone caused due to human emissions of chlorofluorocarbons has worked. The other imperative is to find cost-effective and energy-effective means of sequestering carbon during its use and of “sucking” back carbon out of the atmosphere.
(4 June 2007)