Global Climate Crisis: Surge of Evidence Demands Action
“The actual rise in temperature is not as alarming as its speed. …The potential disruption to our traditional society could be disastrous.” Duke University’s environmental dean, Dr. William Schlesinger, in November testimony to the NC General Assembly.
Despite a well-funded public relations offensive by polluting industries, by 2001 scientific consensus was solid: Rising global temperatures are primarily caused by burning fossil fuels. Since then, evidence is mounting that 1) global warming is advancing rapidly; 2) rising temperatures are driving extreme weather; 3) the rate of warming is accelerating at a disturbing pace; and 4) we are rapidly approaching a point of no return.
The polluters’ PR machine has successfully stifled the national media and confused many reporters, who still frame climate disruption as “speculative” and/or “in the future.” Most of North Carolina’s media have been slow to address this crisis and its growing impact on this state.*
In February 2005, leading climate scientists assembled by British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned that time is running out; that dangerous climate change is taking place and; of catastrophic changes once dismissed as “improbable”. (The Independent/UK, 2/6/05)
Among the scientific findings since 2004:
FINAL PROOF: Rapid Warming Caused by Human Activity. Scientists have found the first unequivocal link – a “stunning” correlation – between human-made greenhouse gases and a dramatic heating of the Earth’s oceans over the past 40 years. The study destroys a central argument of global warming skeptics – that climate change could be a natural phenomenon. Team leader Tim Barnett, a marine physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said: “We’ve got a serious problem. The debate is no longer: ‘Is there a global warming signal?’ The debate now is what are we going to do about it?” Because the global climate is largely driven by heat locked up in the oceans, rising sea temperatures could have devastating effects for much of the world. (The Independent/UK, 2/19/05)
Tipping Point in 10 Years? A high-level international report released in January concluded that in 10 years or less, the world could reach the point of no return toward disastrous climate changes, with the added possibility of abrupt catastrophic events. “There is an ecological time bomb ticking away,” said Stephen Byers, Tony Blair’s ally who, with US Republican senator Olympia Snowe, co-chaired the task force of scientists that produced the report. The report urges all the G8 countries to agree to generate a quarter of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025. (The Independent/UK, 1/24/05)
Greenland Ice Melting 10 Times Faster Than Thought, according to the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. University of Reading (UK) researchers believe the ice sheet will completely disappear at the current rate of global warming, with the tipping point to runaway melting occurring as early as 2035. Because it contains 8% of the world’s surface freshwater, loss of Greenland’s ice sheet would raise sea level by 23 feet. As lead researcher Dr. Carl Boggild said, “There is no doubt that something very major is happening here.” (Sources: Various)
Antarctic Melting Could Cause Sea Level Surge: A Chilean/U.S. research team reported in June that glaciers along the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are melting eight times faster than in the 1990s, adding to fears that runaway melting of the sheet has begun. If the Western sea ice shelves, which border the continental ice sheet, break away, the continental iccould slide into the ocean and cause a global sea level rise of 17 feet. In 2002, a Rhode-Island sized chunk bounding the Western ice shelf disintegrated – the largest ice shelf collapse in 12,000 years. (New Scientist, 7/4/04)
Arctic study reveals profound changes: A comprehensive four-year study found that heat-trapping gases from tailpipes and smokestacks threaten millions of livelihoods and could wipe out polar bears by 2100. Commissioned by eight nations with Arctic territory, the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment by nearly 300 scientists concluded the Arctic “is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth … Over the next 100 years, climate change is expected to accelerate, contributing to major physical, ecological, social and economic changes, many of which have already begun.” (New York Times, 10/31/04 & Reuters, 11/8/04)
Spike in CO2 Is “Cause for Concern”: Over the last 50 years, Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory has recorded a steady rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, to current record levels. But no known natural events explain why CO2 levels jumped as they did in 2002 and 2003. Scientists theorize the cause is vegetation die-off due to unusually hot summers in Europe and increased forest fires in North America. A more disturbing possibility is that this could be the start of a runaway greenhouse effect. Lead researcher Dr. Charles Keeling said the rise “could be a weakening of the Earth’s carbon sinks … It is a cause for concern.” (The Guardian/UK, 10/11/04)
Steep Decline in Amphibians Shocks Scientists: The first comprehensive survey of amphibians found a steep decline across the globe, with 122 species disappearing since 1980 and another 1,900 in danger of extinction. The rapid drop – the equivalent of tens of thousands of years of extinctions in just a century – is due to factors including deforestation, pollution, habitat loss and climate change. The scientists warned that the broad environmental degradation may ultimately threaten humans and other animals, as well. Simon Stuart, leader of a global assessment team: “This has taken the scientific world completely by surprise.”(Washington Post, 10/15/04)
2004 Sets World Weather Records: It was the fourth warmest year on record; the other three occurring since 1998. All-time records include: warmest autumn in the northern hemisphere; worst-ever heat wave in eastern Australia; daily temperature records in Spain, Portugal, and Japan; Alaska’s warmest summer; highest one-day rainfall in Brazil and California; highest one-day snowfall in South Korea, Alaska, and parts of midwestern USA. Plus, 2004 saw the first-ever snowfall in the United Arab Emirates. Severe drought conditions continue in many places, including western U.S. states.
Tropical Storms, Damage Set Records: 2004 saw the most August tropical storms in the Atlantic. Nine tropical storms and a record number of tornados hit the U.S., causing an unprecedented $42 billion in damage. Alex was the strongest hurricane ever recorded north of 38-degrees latitude. The first hurricane ever recorded in the South Atlantic made landfall in Brazil, and a record number of typhoons struck Japan. In February 2005, a cyclone with winds up to 190 mph struck the Samoan islands.
A Ticking Time Bomb in the Deep Ocean? Vast quantities of frozen methane on the ocean floor exist in areas where temperatures and pressures keep it locked up in hydrate form. Scientists believe a small rise in ocean temperature could release the methane gas, which is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Even a small release to the atmosphere could lead to a rapid increase in greenhouse warming. (Hadley Center for Climate Research, January 2005)
Fifty-fifty Chance of “Abrupt” Climate Change: The probability of the Gulf Stream shutting down is now greater than 50%, University of Illinois climate researchers told a scientific conference called by Tony Blair. A series of new research shows that climate change is speeding up and is worse than expected only five years ago. The Gulf Stream has weakened by about 10% since 1970, possibly due to natural causes, but the chance of it halting completely due to global warming was previously considered remote. Such changes to earth’s climate control system could have disastrous effects on global weather over a period of just a few years; geologic records show this has happened many times in the past. Illinois’ Mike Schlesinger said even if strict carbon taxes were imposed to reduce emissions, there is still a 25% chance of the current being turned off. “Waiting 30 years to act increases the odds to more than one in three,” he said. (The Guardian, 2/2/05)
Economists stressed there is little time for delay. If action is put off for a decade, it will need to be twice as radical … The good news is that it can be done with existing technology, by cutting energy waste, expanding the use of renewable sources, growing trees and crops (which remove carbon dioxide from the air) … The better news is that it would not cost much.
(Geoffrey Lean, The Independent/UK, 2/6/05)
What’s Being Done?
The Kyoto Protocol is a very small step forward, but many countries are moving more aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Contrary to industry propaganda, relicensing aging nuclear plants – and building unproven “new” reactors – is the wrong direction, and could have no impact on climate change for many years. With the Bush administration solidly intertwined with polluters, and the national media neglecting its duty to the public, changes must rise from the grassroots.
North Carolina has an opportunity to join other states taking action, but only if our elected leaders are persuaded to stand up to Progress Energy and Duke Energy. This state can dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions, save ratepayers money, and stimulate jobs and the economy by:
1) committing to a vigorous program of electrical energy use reduction (the most immediate means to reduce greenhouse gases) that aggressively pushes for and rewards energy saving practices, improves efficiency of existing buildings, and mandates smart planning and sustainable architecture, and
2) switching to readily available renewable energy technologies by: promoting and expanding existing programs such as NC Green Power; requiring electric utility monopolies to rapidly phase in renewable energy to replace hazardous generation (in line with many other states); expanding financing and tax credits for renewable energy projects; and allowing net metering of private renewable energy systems.
What You Can Do to Help
☼ Urge local and state officials to provide leadership – and commit to major reductions in energy usage.
☼ Call on the news media to convey accurate information about the urgency of climate change and the
availability of feasible measures to address this crisis.
☼ Contact NC WARN about ongoing efforts – right here in North Carolina – to take charge of our future.
“Saving electricity is much cheaper than making it … The most effective climate protection measures are things we should be doing for economic reasons anyhow.” Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute
* For more on the “carbon lobby,” see Ross Gelbspan’s Boiling Point, and http://www.ucsusa.org/global_environment/global_warming/page.cfm?pageID=499
** Photographs courtesy Gary Braasch http://www.worldviewofglobalwarming.org/