Climate change – something that is possibly worth some consideration?
WASHINGTON—According to a report released this week by the Center for Global Development, climate change, the popular mid-2000s issue that raised awareness of the fact that the earth’s continuous rise in temperature will have catastrophic ecological effects, has apparently not been resolved, and may still be a problem.
While several years have passed since global warming was considered the most pressing issue facing mankind, recent studies from the Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and basically any scientific report available on the issue confirmed that it is not only still happening, but might also be worth stopping.
“Global warming, if you remember correctly, was the single greatest problem of our lifetime back in 2007 and the early part of 2008,” CGD president Nancy Birdsall said. “But then the debates over Social Security reform and the World Trade Center mosque came up, and the government had to shift its focus away from the dramatic rise in sea levels, the rapid spread of deadly infectious diseases, and the imminent destruction of our entire planet.”
“Last year’s federal budget included more than $200 million in funding for the Office of Personnel Management,” Birdsall said. “Since nobody really knows what that is, we suggest that money perhaps be spent making sure the oceans don’t turn into acid.”
I’ll let you read the rest of the article over the Onion (of course).
Naomi Oreskes will be in Brisbane next Tuesday the 16th November at the University of Queensland to give a free public lecture about her new book, ‘Merchants of Doubt – How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming’
Here’s the official blurb:
Famous for her research on the historical development and understanding scientific knowledge and dissent, Naomi Oreskes will roll back the rug on the dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.
The renowned professor from the University of California San Diego will discuss her latest book “Merchants of Doubt”, which tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades.
Make sure to RSVP to ensure your seat.
Theres not much to smile about in the run up to Copenhagen. However, I snapped up this piece of good news in August but haven’t had the time to post it. Its well worth a read. Basically, draining the water out of rice paddies during the growing season has led to dramatic reductions in methane emissions from Chinese rice-growing sector. Studies conducted by scientists from China and the United States estimate that methane emissions from rice paddies have fallen by a staggering 70% since 1980.
Farmers normally flood rice fields throughout the growing season, meaning that methane is produced by microbes underwater as they help to decay any flooded organic matter.
By studying experimental rice plots and real farmland, Chris Butenhoff and Aslam Khalil, physicists from Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, together with Xiong Zhenqin, an ecologist at Nanjing Agricultural University in China’s Jiangsu province, and their colleagues set out to identify the different factors that affect this process.
The team found that draining paddy fields in the middle of the rice-growing season — a practice that most Chinese farmers have adopted since the 1980s because it increases rice yields and saves water — stopped most of the methane release from the field. The team presented their results on 13 August at a meeting on climate science convened at a Beijing hotel by the US Department of Energy and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
Earlier this year, another team of scientists reported that global methane emissions from rice paddies could be cut by 30% if fields are drained at least once during the growing season. This is a great example of changes in farming practices that not only result in substantial improvements in local and regional yields, but could also have a significant effect in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
James Hansen on June 23, 2008
Tipping Points Near
Today, I will testify to Congress about global warming, 20 years after my June 23, 1988 testimony, which alerted the public that global warming was under way. There are striking similarities between then and now, but one big difference.
Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic. Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent.
The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next President and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.
Otherwise, it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity’s control. Continue reading
For some time now, I have been fascinated by the growing evidence that the earth’s climate has undergone extremely rapid changes over relatively short periods of time. Although very rare over the past million years, events such those associated with the Bølling-Allerød and Younger Dryas periods (11k to 15k BP) have attracted growing interest, especially in what they can tell us about the sensitivity of the climate to small shifts in forcing factors. Steffensen et al (2008) have just published a fascinating and detailed study of these phenomena within the Greenland NGRIP ice core. In this paper in Science, they report on the rapid switches between glacial and mild conditions that occurred periods as short as 1-3 years! Knowing what we know today, these periods must have been associated with vast disruptions to our planet’s climate and biological systems. It is fascinating to think that this disruption immediately preceded the rise of human civilizations in many parts of the world (adversity spawning invention?). While we do not have any clear understanding of why these events occurred (or for that matter, their impact), they serve as reminders of the volatility of the earth’s climate. Further investigation of these rapid spikes in the earth’s climate will no doubt yield some interesting yet foreboding science.
Mark Lynas is well known for his excellent book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet from 2007. In a recent edition of the Guardian (June 12 2008), he reports on the outcome of the Stockholm Network think tank examining current and future responses to climate change. The think tank concluded that the present scenario, which is called “agree and ignore”, and one which is referred to as “Kyoto Plus”, will not result in emission reductions before 2030.
The consensus within the modeling community is that we will exceed 450 ppm if global emissions do not begin to decline within the next 8 years. At this point, as argued here and elsewhere, we will lose coral reefs, wet tropical rain forests and many other high biodiversity systems. We will almost certainly enter in a period of very dangerous climate change at this point. Food and water security will decrease and conflicts will escalate.
The third scenario is termed “step change” and is particularly interesting and plausible. In this scenario, major catastrophes driven by climate change over the next decade lead to robust international commitments to cap emissions. Interestingly, this is done by regulating fossil fuel heavy companies as opposed to individuals and governments. Whatever the mechanism, however, many of us believe that this type of shock maybe required before any real action begins – a result of the apparently eternally optimistic nature of humankind.
Pity it has to be this way. Why can’t we just wake now and avoid all the pain? Read Mark Lynas’s account of why this will not happen.
So it seems like Walther Starck (with his post graduate training and “professional experience in fisheries biology“) has come running to the rescue with a critique entitled “The Great Barrier Reef prophets of doom”, in response to a recent online piece by Charlie Veron (“The plight of the Great Barrier Reef”):
Although Charlie Veron is a highly respected coral taxonomist many of the statements he made regarding climate change are at best doubtful. Like most biologists he appears to have accepted the “consensus” view of catastrophic climate change without being aware of a vast body of peer reviewed non-biological research that casts doubt on or directly refutes all of the major climatic claims he asserts as unqualified facts.
Good to see Starck again criticising someone else on the lack of peer-reviewed research whilst failing to cite anything in response. Perhaps a reference or two from the peer reviewed scientific literature would help us evaluate the veracity of his claims.
Living, subfossil and fossil corals all indicate that bleaching associated with high temperatures is a common occurrence in reef corals. There is no evidence to indicate that either the frequency or severity of such events has increased.
Huh? Where are the papers to back up those rather sweeping statements?
The fact that Starck responds to Veron’s comment “(Corals)… once survived in a world where carbon dioxide from volcanoes and methane was much higher than anything predicted today. But that was 50 million years ago. The accumulation of carbon dioxide then took millions of years, not just a few decades.” by using the throw-away sentence “Many current reef coral genera survived this event” highlights his complete ignorance of the geological history of reefs. I’m fascinated by statements like these – corals have survived throughout geological history (over 500 million years) and have indeed gone through several extinction events. However, what interests me is that this fact is often used as support for coral longevity. Don’t worry about the loss of entire reef systems (as we are seeing world-wide) – Starck implies that as long as some species of coral within a genera survive, we can ignore the issue. Even though reefs as we know them today (and as Charlie points out) will be long gone – “survival” simply isn’t enough.
It seems like the same old story all over again. As a final point worthy of mention, Walther doesn’t seem to have a full grasp of the scientific literature:
Although there is credible evidence for past carbon dioxide levels greater than any increase we may experience before all fossil fuel is consumed there is no evidence to indicate that past such increases took place much slower than the present one or that slower or faster would make any real difference
Starck again confuses the rate of change with the limit of change. I would direct him to Table 1 in our recent Science article. Here we calculated the rate of change over the past 420,000 years and found that the rate of change over the past 136 years was up to 1000 fold higher any previous rate of change. Stands to reason given that it took 30,000 years for atmospheric carbon dioxide to change by 100 ppm in the past, and we have just changed the atmosphere by a similar amount in only 100 years!
Coral reefs could be dying out because of changes to the microbes that live in them just as much as from the direct rise in temperature caused by global warming, according to scientists speaking today (Wednesday 2 April 2008) at the Society for General Microbiology’s 162nd meeting being held this week at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.Tropical ecosystems are currently balanced on a climate change knife edge. Corals in coral reefs, which are made up of animals called polyps that secrete hard external skeletons of calcium carbonate, are living perilously close to their upper temperature limits. This makes them very vulnerable to even small temperature rises of 1-2oC above the normal summer maximum.
“Many of the deaths we see in the coral reefs, which occur following coral bleaching events, when huge areas of reef die off like in 1998 when 17% of the world’s reefs were killed, can be put down to changes in the microbes which live in and around the reefs,” says Dr John Bythell, a biologist from Newcastle University. “These microbes can be thought of as being similar to the bacteria that normally live in our guts and help us digest our food.”
Changes in sea temperature caused by climate change and global warming affect corals, but they also affect the types of bacteria and other microflora that live with them. When the water warms up, some disease-causing bacteria are more successful and can attack the corals. The corals themselves suffer from heat, which reduces their defences. Also, some of the friendly bacteria that normally live in the corals’ guts become weakened, allowing other harmful bacteria to multiply and cause diseases or other problems.
For a long time the New Scientist has waged an ongoing battle with the climate change “skeptics”, and have produced some thorough articles such as “Climate change: a guide for the perplexed“, a round-up of the 26 most common climate myths and misconceptions. Time and time again I see people use similar myths and misconceptions regarding corals and coral reefs that are used as an argument as to why global warming is clearly a hoax, how warm water is good for corals (and the list goes on). In response to recent debates, below is the first part of a series called “Are the impacts of climate change on coral reefs exaggerated? Questions and Answers” in which I hope to address these misconceptions following the scientific evidence. Over the coming weeks I will aim to add more in the series: please feel free to add or ask any further questions in the comments below or email me at climateshifts @ gmail.com
1. “Warm water is good for corals”
Corals are locally adapted to the water temperature that they live in. This has taken many hundreds if not thousands of years to occur. It does not happen over decades, which would be the requirement if corals were to tolerate and survive the very rapid changes in sea temperature that we are currently facing.
The statements that “corals calcify faster in warmer waters” and “hotspots of coral diversity are found in warm waters close to the equator” are indeed true, but these conditions are only good for those corals that have adapted to these warmer conditions. For example, if you take corals from the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef and put them at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef, these corals will suffer from being exposed to warmer than normal conditions and will die.
Although corals thrive within the upper limits of their thermal tolerance (within 1-2ºC), coral bleaching occurs when this tolerance is exceeded, resulting in loss of photosynthetic function, expulsion of symbiotic algae, and ultimately death of the coral. Clearly warm water is beneficial to those corals that are adapted to these warmer temperatures, although exceeding these thresholds results in mortality – a precarious balance.
With respect to the statement “corals in Moreton Bay are regularly stressed as the water is too cold” – it is well-known that corals in Moreton Bay (and other high latitude regions) where conditions that drop below 18°C in the winter lead to coral death. Just like they are sensitive to being too hot, they are also sensitive to becoming too cold. This is called the physiological range or tolerance of species. Conditions at places like Moreton Bay are marginal and therefore an outlier in global coral reefs and are restricted by their latitudes by cold winters.