Global warming confirmed by panel on climate change

| September 29, 2013 | 2 Comments

 

global warming

Latest IIPC report warns that long-term global warming trends still pose serious threat to planet. Photo: Facebook/Stop Global Warming.

“Let us discuss intelligently the best mechanisms we should undertake rather than believing that the temporary warming slowdown means we can go back to sleep.” – Elder

By Phil Elder  

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its Fifth Assessment Report, a follow-up to its 2007 version on global warming.

It is both sobering and persuasive, and even stronger in stating that Earth’s climate is warming and that human activity is now the main driver.

global warmingAccording to the report’s summary, “most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. . . . Depending on the scenario, about 15 to 40 per cent of emitted CO2 will remain in the atmosphere longer than 1,000 years.”

In other words, things will get worse before they get better, so deniers can be expected to complain every decade that we should give up because nothing we did worked. But our descendants will simply have to soldier on if they are to solve the problem we have created.

Climate change deniers denying global warming

The usual sources are lining up to deny these claims. Some work in or are financed by the hydrocarbon energy industry, so their objections to the science are not surprising. Some deniers resist the analysis for ideological reasons – they believe in less government and more personal freedom and sometimes even that the market is the only credible decision-mechanism. Still others don’t want to accept human-induced (anthropogenic) global warming because responding to it may involve uncomfortable changes to the status quo.

When the denial industry claims the scientific community is split on this question, it’s not surprising that laypersons get confused. Yet there is a 97 per cent+/- consensus in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that anthropogenic climate change is real. (This figure is also challenged by climate sceptics.) And it’s not only the IPCC which warns us about anthropogenic climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency in the U. S. is on board too. And surely the precautionary principle dictates action even without 100 per cent certainty.

Let us acknowledge, however, that although the “greenhouse effect” accords with common sense, global climate is extremely complex. For example, even with the global warming, some parts of the globe will turn colder and trends need many years to allow conclusive certainty. Vigorous and informed scientific debate is healthy for those who want to better understand the global warming drivers and then to develop effective remedial measures.

It is also true that some people on both sides on the debate have exaggerated, which has increased public cynicism.

Naysayers tend to “cherry-pick” their data – for example, they seize on the fact that the warming trend has been cut in half in the past few years, even while greenhouse gas emissions continue. Therefore, they say, mainstream science is wrong.

There isn’t enough room to debunk all the challenges to climate change data have also been made. (Ed. Note: (For answers to many of them, download the IPPC summary, or click here)

Global warming scientific evidence

But let’s stay with this one for a minute. First, choosing an unusually warm year as the baseline to assess global warming distorts the evidence.

Given that climate change happens over generations, and that weather varies from year to year in a zigzag pattern, it’s no surprise that 15 years of relatively little rises in temperature should occur from an unusually high base line. Looking at greenhouse gas levels since 1900, the upward trend could not be clearer.

We must agree with the deniers that warming and cooling cycles occurred well before human activity could have had any discernible effect. Things like el Niño, la Nina, wobbles in the earth’s rotation and orbit, fluctuations in its magnetic field, or solar storms and cosmic rays have in the past influenced climate change.

Global warming – 3 observations

Let us note three things, however. First, the most powerful climate change cycles occurred slowly, perhaps over millennia, so many species were able to migrate fast enough to remain viable as temperature zones shifted. Today’s changes, however, are orders of magnitude faster, even considering the present slowdown of the warming.

Second, given these natural cycles, we are a couple of thousand years overdue for re-glaciation, yet temperatures have been moving in the opposite direction.

Third, radical physical changes on earth like the Ice Age and then de-glaciation resulted from comparatively small changes in temperature.

Climate experts acknowledge these natural cycles, but most believe that they have caused much less than half and more probably about 15 per cent of the present warming trend.

Explanations for pause in global warming

Are any explanations for this pause in warming since about the turn of the century consistent with global warming? Yes.

For one, oceans have absorbed more heat than expected, due to changes in wind and current patterns, and have thus reduced the impact on air temperatures. (This rise, by the way, threatens many ocean species and is ominous for coral reef ecosystems. Also, since much greenhouse gas is eventually sequestered in the oceans, their increased acidification will also be a major threat to marine life.)

Another factor reducing the warming impact of greenhouse gases is, counter-intuitively, the burning of huge amounts of coal, because it produces vast amounts of particulates which in the short term help shield the earth from solar radiation. Unfortunately, this apparently benign effect lasts only months or years, while the increased greenhouse gases from that combustion will remain in the atmosphere for centuries. So coal has to be phased out fast.

Also worthy of note is the cooling effect observed from 2008-11 because of volcanic eruptions and aerosols in the air and perhaps lower solar radiation at the present stage of the solar cycle.

I do not doubt the sincerity of many people who reject the scientific consensus, but urge undecided readers to check out the affiliations and academic qualifications of the few ostensible “experts” who debunk anthropogenic climate change.

True, climate change is extraordinarily complex and not all its mechanisms are entirely understood. But as a legally-trained layman, I have weighed the evidence (as I was taught to do) and conclude both that anthropogenic climate change is occurring and that it poses an existential threat to modern civilization.

I say this, not to induce panic or hopelessness, but to urge all interested citizens (is anyone dull enough to believe that such a threat should just be ignored?) to inform themselves and then insist that our political leaders respond with ingenuity and vigour.

As not all past efforts to respond have been effective or efficient, let us discuss intelligently the best mechanisms we should undertake rather than believing that the temporary warming slowdown means we can go back to sleep.

Already arctic temperatures have increased by double the global average and melting of land-based ice and of methane-rich tundra could bring about rapid (in climate terms, over a generation or two) and nasty results. As the IPCC summary says, it “is virtually certain that near-surface permafrost extent at high northern latitudes will be reduced as global mean surface temperature increases.”

And we have already seen forest fires in Russia which were attributed to methane released from melting permafrost.

Phil Elder is Emeritus Professor of Environmental and Planning Law with the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary.

 

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Category: Environment

Comments (2)

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  1. Clifford Malcolm Fedosa says:

    We lived in the N.E. BC Peace River region for 30 years. We still have properties there. Now we reside in Burnaby BC. I have worked on environmental issues for decades involving the oil and gas and forestry industries as they relate to the environment…i.e. the air, the water and the soil. Everything is connected. Alternative measures to secure energy for our homes and transportation and industries must be developed and a.s.a.p. We have to face reality. We have to provide a safe and healthy future for our future generations. Greed and power searching will not provide the answers.

  2. Michel Gourd says:

    IPCC: to condemn polluters

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last reports confirms that man is responsible for climate change. It’s now a necessity to create an international legal structure to force those who cause climatic change to pay its costs for the victims.
    After the 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes report, there is no more doubt. It’s extremely likely that human is the main cause of the reheating observed since the middle of the XXe century. In the previous 2007 reports, this level-of certainty was 90%. Now it is 95%. The polluter’s responsibility makes no doubt. The average Earth temperature should increase from 0,3 to 4,8 degrees and the sea from 26 to 82 centimetres in 2100. Not only, climatic change is real, but it occurs in an alarming rhythm because of human activities. These conclusions are based on more than 9000 scientific papers and 110 government’s delegates also moderated the report. Europe’s climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that “If your doctor was 95% sure you had a serious disease, you would immediately start looking for the cure.” It is now the time to look at legal ways to curb climatic changes.
    Information contained in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports is sturdy enough to be used as a legal base for possible legal pursuits. This legal way to curb climatic is needed because of the lack of binding links between the victims of these climate changes and those that create the pollution and conditions that create it. Major delays to counter these climatic changes are already caused by individuals benefiting from the activities creating this warming of the planet. Actually, countries that did not cause these climatic changes are destroyed by it and justice is nowhere in sight. In the Doha 18-th Climate Change Conference, Alliance of Small Island States represented by Marlene Moses denounced a gigantic proportions disaster coming. Those that cause these changes must be legally obliged to take their responsibilities in front of individuals who suffer from them.
    The 2015 climate summits will be held in France. Leaders of 195 countries will meet there to try to find a binding agreement to counter the impact of these climatic changes. One has now to consider as a crime against humanity the act to pollute without vital need. Inactivity itself to counter climatic change, if it is motivated by personal gain must be seen as a crime. Nobody should be able to take financial advantage of creating these changes.

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