Update on Climate Change

This article is intended to give all of our readers an update on the current state of climate change and the more relevant future developments. This article is not intended to fear-monger but to warn. If it does frighten you, my recommendation is to do something other than complain about it being scary. The first part deals specifically with the contents of the new IPCC assessment, which will be released soon. The other data is from a variety of sources that are considered reliable including meteorologists, climatologists, and several world governments.

The International Panel on Climate Change is an international organization sponsored by the United Nation Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Council. They have been producing reports on what is known about Climate Change and the is believed to be an excellent representation of general scientific consensus for better than twenty years. These reported do not include the more outlying beliefs of some scientists, few if any of which are climatologists. Some of these more outlandish ideas include “nothing is happening” and “the Earth will end up like Venus.”

Their fourth assessment report will be coming out soon. It will include four scenarios for the consideration of government bodies, policy makers, and others, as well as detailing what information is known about our changing climate. Two of the most obvious points to be included are that the world as already experienced a temperature increase of about three quarters of a degree Celsius on average (enough to play with the weather) and a mean sea level rise of over half a foot.

Also, the it would seem now that most of the temperature increase is being experienced in the oceans. The significance of this is hard to overstate. Directly it will mean a lot of marine life will have trouble surviving, although it seems jelly fish may actually do very well, a fact sure to amuse fans of Daniel Quinn’s parables. Also it will increase the evaporation of water into the atmosphere. This does not mean the oceans will disappear. It means that there will be an increase of water vapor in the atmosphere which may lead to an increase number of storm systems and an increase in the severity of storm systems.

Also, the increasing temperature of the world’s oceans will tend to increase the rate at which the global temperature is increasing due to accelerating the melting of glacial ice.

Another point of concern is the Siberian Permafrost. Human action as approximately doubled the amount of carbon in the atmosphere of the course of the past one hundred years, causing a temperature increase over the arctic that is already enough to melt the permafrost. This is a problem for a number of reasons. For one, it is making many roads around the Arctic Circle impassable and damaging permanent structures such as homes and pipelines. But perhaps even worse, the Siberian Permafrost in particular holds sufficient carbon to once again double the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This is what climatologists call as run-away effect. Essentially, once the permafrost melts sufficiently, human input will no long be the driving force, but a subsidiary force.

The melting of the arctic glaciers, especially Greenland’s icecap, is likely to shut down the Atlantic Conveyor, which is one of the most important mechanisms for moving heat from the tropics to the arctic. If this was to happen Europe would likely see a dramatic decrease in average temperatures while the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding territories will see an increase in heat. This increase will further encourage evaporation increasing the severity of hurricanes and nor’easters. There will be other effects as well, but the further our predictions go from the root-cause the more unsure they are.

A frightening possibility from the perspective of education and prevention is that if human-caused global warming has not yet reached a definitive level, which can be hard to determine, we are about to enter into a cooler cycle in the general climate cycles. If our impact and the general cycle cancels, or if the cycle turns out to be stronger, people will tend to believe climate change is a joke. And then when both the human caused global warming and the general climate cycles both increase together the effect will be even more devastating.

Perhaps the very scariest possibility is the speed at which the most dramatic changes could happen. If the permafrost melts, precipitating a run away effect, the predictions dated for fifty or one hundred years away could happen much sooner. The effects could accumulate in a new climatic system in as little as three to five years from the tipping point, which maybe reached at any time due to the difficulty in determining exactly what would constitute such a point.

-Benjamin Shender

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