Tag Archives: global climate change


Forget the brouhaha about the ideologically motivated hackers who combed through megabytes of e-mails in order to find some indicating that, horrors, scientists are humans too and some of them will jazz up their data to make a point. It means nothing in terms of the credibility of anthropogenic climate change. All that the climate deniers have proven is that their “position” is utterly bankrupt. In the language of the Internet, the hacking stunt was a fail. Hoping to find proof of a grand conspiracy to falsify data in favor of global climate change, their hackers simply uncovered a few e-mails in which a few scientists spoke about manipulating the presentation of the data that they had found. No secret coverups, no collective lying about what is contained in the data, no forged results, just a mere matter of data presentation. The data themselves are what’s really the issue. Considering how lackadaisical that the politicians of the world have been on this subject, and considering what their stalling seems to have done, I can’t say I’m against jazzing up the data to scare people.

A scientific study group led by British scientists has run the climate models again, and the group has found that we are on target for a global rise in temperature of 6°C by the year 2100. This is the worst-case scenario of the 2007 United Nations report on climate change, which even then was widely seen as being far too conservative. The odds are very strong that I wouldn’t live to see it, since I’d be 117 if I did, but the children and definitely grandchildren of my generation would see it.

This is not quite a repeat of the carbon- and methane-caused temperature spike that caused the massive Permian extinction and resulted in the loss of 95% of all species on Earth. It’s not quite the catastrophic mass extinction scenario of the Pixar movie WALL-E. (Yes, the real environmental damage portrayed in that film was caused by global warming, not just garbage.) But it’s close, and it isn’t an isolated result. For several years now, scientific studies of climate have been finding that the observed conditions are on the upper end of the range of predicted results for that period of time, or even exceed all estimates outright. Those people who have paid attention to global warming news probably saw this British result coming.

Life on Earth at +6°C would not be a pleasant affair, even if the description of it in The Independent is a bit sensationalized. The Gulf Stream Current of the Atlantic would have shut down, plunging Europe into coldness (and probably also much of the Atlantic coast) and cutting off the outward flow of hot water from the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Without a source of outflow for this tropical heat, hurricanes like Katrina could be brewed up in the Gulf every month in every hurricane season, theoretically. Tropical diseases and invasive species would have an easier time of spreading past their appropriate ranges. The Arctic ice would long ago have melted—indeed, the summer ice is very close to disappearing now, and mainstream scientific consensus is that it is too late to prevent this particular loss—and the resulting changes in air masses would have a profound impact on Northern Hemisphere climates. At 6°C, the Antarctic Ice Shelf likely would have melted as well, along with Greenland, resulting in the submerging of areas like the Florida peninsula and the marshes of Louisiana.

But even so, what the West will face in this brave new nightmare world is mild in comparison with what is coming Africa and Asia’s way. Africa, already suffering from critical food and disease problems, would see both exacerbated. The melting of glaciers and the sea-level-driven flooding would be climatic bombs dropped on east Asia. Imagine a scenario in which the ice of the Himalaya mountains—a source of fresh water for India, China, and Pakistan—melted away. Then add to that the seawater flooding of the Ganges, Yangtze, and other river basins in Asia that have port cities housing millions of people. Those people have to go somewhere, but resources would already be strained because of the decrease in usable fresh water. China, India, and Pakistan are all nuclear powers. (It suddenly makes “Global Zero,” a full nuclear disarmament movement, sound not at all hippie-idealistic, but critical.) Even the Bush-era Pentagon produced a report about the geopolitical effects of catastrophic global climate change, and its conclusions were chilling. It predicted a global resource war.

What scientist in his or her right mind would want to fabricate data to support such a horrific situation? The only people who enjoy dreaming of things like this are people like the scriptwriters for 2012. People who actually do deal in fantasy. Of course the stupid hackers did not find anything real. It is indicative of the level of media discourse in America that, to the extent that either news story is being discussed at all, their failed stunt garnered more attention than the scientific study of the Global Carbon Project. But the Global Carbon Project’s results are far more important.

I’ve said it before and I will reiterate it in the face of this ugly report. I do not believe that energy efficiency and conservation will be enough to forestall this. I am absolutely in favor of moving in that direction, if for no other reason than because it is cheaper in the long run and it is not advisable to power a world economy on fuels that will someday run out. However, I am utterly convinced that we will need to develop geoengineering techniques that can remove the greenhouse gases that we have already put into the atmosphere. Technology created this problem, yes, but it is a fallacy to extrapolate from this that technology must be avoided in finding a solution. In fact, I think that the judicious use of technology to clean up the atmosphere is the real solution.

Global Warming Now Messing with El Nino?


Scientists have recently discovered a positive relationship between an alternative type of El Nino, called El Nino Modoki, and Atlantic hurricane activity. The connection had largely slipped under the radar because the scientists in Japan and Korea who knew the most about Modoki did not connect it with Atlantic hurricanes. (It would just figure. This has happened before with respect to ENSO and hurricanes; the ENSO specialists didn’t work with the hurricane specialists, and so that connection wasn’t known for years either.) This type of El Nino involves warming in the central and/or western Pacific rather than the Pacific coast of South America, and it is associated with increased Atlantic hurricane activity and increased landfalls—unlike the traditional El Nino, which tends to suppress activity in this basin.

2004 (of Ivan infamy) was an El Nino Modoki year. 2006 was a traditional El Nino year. 2009… may be a split:

“We spent all last week trying to figure that out,” [Peter] Webster [meteorologist of Georgia Tech] said. ‘It looks like it might be a hybrid,” with warming starting in the east and them moving west, possibly meaning more hurricanes late in the season.

Webster speculates that the Modoki phenomenon may be caused by global warming. Then again, it may not be. I’m rather interested, in fact, in the year 1969, which was an El Nino year for most months but still had a highly active hurricane season, including record Hurricane Camille. General consensus is that we are just now seeing the effects of climate change in our weather, so 1969 may (or may not) be out of the window of opportunity for global warming to have had an effect on El Nino.

As far as that “increased late-season hurricane activity” is concerned, though… that’s about what I figured. I’ve been seeing parallels between the oceanic setup of this year and 2004, and that rather reinforces my belief.

Geoengineering Is On the Table!

It gratifies me to read that the President’s science advisor, John Holdren, is a proponent of geoengineering as a possible option to counter atmospheric global warming. I have long held the position that going green is not going to be sufficient, and for two reasons: Granting that I am a pessimist, I still don’t think that humanity as a whole can do it fast enough, and secondly, global warming would still continue because of the carbon dioxide that is already in the atmosphere. It’s going to be there for centuries, because it takes that long for the earth to filter it out in the absence of geoengineering techniques.

We as a species created this mess, and it’s our responsibility to clean it up. The earth can clean itself up, eventually, but in the meantime, countless other inhabitants of the planet could die off. The most recent TIME Magazine, in fact, has a cover story about the “mass extinction” that some scientists say has already begun here. The most recent National Geographic has an article about vanishing amphibian populations. The earth could indeed clean up the mess that Homo sapiens made of its atmosphere, but at what cost? No, this is our moral imperative. Continue reading Geoengineering Is On the Table!

Carbon Dioxide Emissions Are Accelerating

Despite several years of intensive focus on anthropogenic climate change, including a media blitz about “green” technologies that regular people could adopt (e.g., CFL bulbs) easily, carbon emission rates are accelerating. In fact, the current rate of CO2 emission was apparently not even considered in the IPCC climate change report of two years ago.

Carbon emissions have been growing at 3.5 percent per year since 2000, up sharply from the 0.9 percent per year in the 1990s, Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“It is now outside the entire envelope of possibilities” considered in the 2007 report of the International Panel on Climate Change, he said. The IPCC and former vice president Al Gore received the Nobel Prize for drawing attention to the dangers of climate change.

The worst-case scenario of global warming is thought to be a mass extinction comparable in scope to the great Permian extinction of about 251.4 million years ago. (Think of the lack of almost all life in the Pixar cartoon WALL-E. Global warming was a strong undercurrent of that movie, despite the stated focus on garbage.) Indeed, current research into that event is strongly suggestive of its also being triggered by a form of CO2-induced global warming, albeit volcanic in origin. That is not thought to be a risk today because the earth’s mantle is much less active today than it was then, but it looks as though the human species can more than make up the difference with our own activities.

I have long been pessimistic that we humans can stave this (“this” meaning whatever scenario we are creating for ourselves, up to and including a mass extinction event) off by energy efficiency and conversion to green power. I just don’t think there is enough time, and moreover, even if we could do it in time, global warming would still continue. The reason is that the carbon dioxide would remain in the atmosphere for many, many years. And ironically enough, the CO2-containing emissions that are causing all this are actually mitigating themselves to a certain degree. Smoke particles and other particle-matter pollutants create misery for those of us who are prone to asthma and allergies, but when released in large enough amounts, they have an atmospheric cooling effect by blocking sunlight. It’s much shorter-term than the warming effect of CO2, because these are heavy particles, but it does exist. If we stop using these technologies, then we would indeed drastically cut our CO2 emissions, but we’d also cut the cooling particle pollution. What is currently in the atmosphere would be filtered out relatively quickly, but the CO2 that is currently there would not. Because of this phenomenon, it’s distinctly possible, even likely, that global warming might hit an exponential rate if we somehow cut CO2 emissions down to a safe level. I have read, in fact, that the CO2 that is currently in the atmosphere is likely to be there for one thousand years. That’s how long it takes to filter back to earth.

What, then, can we do?

The climate change mitigation community is becoming divided into the “go green” people and the “geoengineering” people. Given my pessimistic outlook on it (and my general inclination in favor of technology), I am firmly in the geoengineering camp. What is geoengineering, you may ask? Here is an overview of it. The general idea is to take active, rather than passive, measures to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon capture/sequestration is one example of what it might entail. Personally, I think that geoengineering technology will be necessary if we want to prevent a catastrophe. Strong language, but I’m convinced of it.

I also am very strongly in favor of what I’d call “disaster engineering.” The purpose is to shore up communities against the weather disasters that are thought to be most likely for them—hurricanes for the Gulf coastal cities, drought for the interior of the Southeast, etc. It is possible to model this for large areas, and it seems reasonable that as science develops a greater understanding of the climate change process, these predictions can be further refined.

Needless to say, geoengineering and disaster engineering would create countless jobs, many in the sci-tech arena, but many also in construction and production.

None of this is to say that I think “going green” is a waste of time. Certainly, it should be attempted, if for no other reason than because the types of energy that generate the most CO2 are also the most likely to be nonrenewable. Even if climate change wouldn’t nab us, we would eventually run out and have to find some other way of producing energy. But as a panacea for curing the ills of anthropogenic climate change, I think going green by itself is far too passive. Too much damage has already been done, I think. We made this mess, and it won’t clean itself up—at least, not in a short enough period of time for us to feel confidence that we actually saved the planet.

Global Warming Would Drown the Coastal Hurricane Defenses

The barrier islands of the Gulf Coast are an important defense against hurricanes. Mostly uninhabited, they are the first landforms that a Gulf Coast hurricane strikes. While they do not weaken the hurricanes (they aren’t large enough), the islands take the brunt of the hurricane’s storm surge, diffusing it somewhat before the eye makes landfall on the mainland. They are also an important defense against tsunami, a real (if little-known) threat. Significant seismic activity has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico fairly recently.

Global warming is predicted to melt part of Greenland and/or West Antarctica, raising sea levels worldwide up to 20 feet (more if all of Greenland and some of West Antarctica melted). This would have horrific consequences on coastal cities around the globe, of course. This blog, however, will focus on one specific area — the United States Gulf Coast. (Ha, doesn’t it always?)

If global warming raised sea levels as predicted, most of low-lying Louisiana — as well as the critical barrier islands — would be underwater. The low-lying swampland of Louisiana, which has been receding for years now, is another natural barrier for the coast, as well as an environmental treasure. It too would be covered in water.

The coastline would lose its natural defenses against hurricanes.

And, as research is indicating, global warming would also intensify the hurricanes themselves.
The EPA produced a series of pictures showing the coastal areas that are most at risk from global warming-induced inundation. Red indicates areas that are less than 1.5 meters above sea level. The images can be clicked on to show a larger view.

Here is an image of Louisiana and Texas:

And here’s one of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida:

It’s hard to see on these maps, but the barrier islands are the thin trail of red south of the main coastline. They would be underwater.

More disturbingly, from the National Environmental Trust, here is a QuickTime movie of how Biloxi, MS (and its barrier island) would be affected by a rise in sea level. (WARNING for dial-up users: 3 MB file!) I’ve linked to the movie from this graphic I’ve made showing how the coastline would be inundated.

The barrier island protecting the city would no longer exist. Sure, the projection of the land would still exist underwater, and would serve to slightly lessen the impact of a storm surge, but it isn’t at all the same as having a true island above the sea. A dry, projecting landmass stops the flow of water, at least temporarily, and breaks the waves. A former island that has gone underwater obviously doesn’t keep the water from flowing.

Also, as you can clearly see, the city itself would be partially underwater. This includes the glitzy new development that is taking place on this part of the coast in response to Hurricane Katrina — very shortsightedly, I ought to add. Whether this is because of the government of Haley Barbour, who is very likely a global warming skeptic, or because the businesses are aware of the risk but decided to hedge their bets, I do not know.

The Katrina recovery and rebuilding process is not taking global warming into account at all. When the next really bad hurricane strikes, its impact could be compounded by the effects of global warming. The coast will be farther inland due to rising waters, there will be fewer natural barriers, and the hurricane itself is likely to be stronger and wetter than it would be without global warming. And, as unfortunate as it is for me to say this, at this point it’s not enough to simply drive less, replace incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent, cross our fingers, and hope that we’ve stopped the problem.

I absolutely support cutting carbon emissions. If we don’t, the consequences will be even more horrendous than the scientists are daring to predict right now. But we’ve reached a point where it would be nothing short of grossly irresponsible to fail to look into preparation for the potentially disastrous changes that we have brought upon ourselves.

Global Warming and Methane Under Pressure

When I first watched An Inconvenient Truth, I went to the special features on the DVD and watched the follow-up interview with Al Gore. He spoke about recent research about global warming that had come out since the shooting of the film, such as information about a link between hurricane intensity and global warming. But far more disturbing than that was a discussion of how global warming could cause the tundra to thaw enough to release methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, further compounding the problem.

Think of it as twisting the cap too fast on a soda bottle that has been shaken. After that seal is broken, the carbon dioxide in the bottle rapidly bubbles up, and nothing can stop the inevitable horrid mess. You just want to get out of the way of it.

Obviously, that’s not an option for us if the permafrost thaws.

But I wanted to see for myself. Gore’s interview didn’t go into great detail about what might happen if this occurred, and I wanted to see just what the ramifications of it could be.
This article from the Energy Bulletin was written in late 2004, so the science isn’t brand-new by any means. But the article was far more horrifying than Gore’s interview:

A temperature increase of merely a few degrees would cause these gases to volatilize and “burp” into the atmosphere, which would further raise temperatures, which would release yet more methane, heating the Earth and seas further, and so on. There’s 400 gigatons of methane locked in the frozen arctic tundra – enough to start this chain reaction – and the kind of warming the Arctic Council predicts is sufficient to melt the clathrates and release these greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Once triggered, this cycle could result in runaway global warming the likes of which even the most pessimistic doomsayers aren’t talking about.

An apocalyptic fantasy concocted by hysterical environmentalists? Unfortunately, no. Strong geologic evidence suggests something similar has happened at least twice before.

The most recent of these catastrophes occurred about 55 million years ago in what geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), when methane burps caused rapid warming and massive die-offs, disrupting the climate for more than 100,000 years.

The granddaddy of these catastrophes occurred 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian period, when a series of methane burps came close to wiping out all life on Earth.

Uh, what?

The great Permian extinction was nothing new to me. Although less famous among the non-geologist non-paleontologist set than the Cretaceous extinction that killed the dinosaurs, anyone who’s ever read many National Geographics knows about this event. And I knew it was probably triggered by a rapid change in climate. However… methane releases causing it? I had to see if this was based in fact.

Well, it appears that it was.

The Wikipedia article on the Permian-Triassic extinction offers a list of explanations for it, along with descriptions of the likelihood and evidence for each. Here they are:

  • Continental drift: When the continents joined into one massive landmass, this affected the oceans, causing extinction of some marine life. However, it’s considered insufficient to account for close to 95% of life on Earth dying.
  • Impact of a celestial body: An asteroid, meteor, or comet may have struck Earth, as happened at the end of the Cretaceous era. There is no direct evidence of this, though, and apparently everything claimed as evidence has fallen into serious question.
  • Supernova: A star could have supernova’d relatively close to the solar system, causing radiation that would wipe of most of the life on the planet. It’s possible, but there is no astronomical evidence that one occurred.
  • A spike in volcanic activity, causing global warming that disrupted the climate system, shut off oceanic currents, deprived the ocean of oxygen, and triggered the release of methane trapped in the sea. That Energy Bulletin article says that methane is far stronger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and it would have caused an additional 5 degrees Celsius rise in temperature on top of what the volcanism-induced global warming had already caused. What’s more, there is considerable geological evidence to support this theory, as compared with the rest of the extinction theories. It’s all in the article, and it would amount to quoting the entire piece if I put the relevant parts here. It’s there; read it for yourself and be freaked out just as I was.

Of course, nothing like that could happen again.


Well, realistically, that probably is a doomsday scenario. It’s only happened once in the entire history of life on Earth, although there was another pretty bad event that took place in the Cenozoic Era. However, the central theory behind the foreign and domestic security policy of the United States has been to prepare for the most minuscule possibility of a worst-case scenario. Ron Suskind wrote a book about this idea called The One Percent Doctrine. I don’t know about you, but — without any intention of minimizing terrorist activity — as far as I’m concerned, the mass extinction of most life on Earth is a bit larger of a potential problem than a terrorist attack. If ever there’s an appropriate use of “the one percent doctrine,” it would be to prevent a mass extinction.

In Al Gore’s interview about this problem, he says that “it’s not a good thing” when methane is released into the atmosphere. I would nominate that for understatement of the year.

The New, Improved, Super-charged El Niño

Also, African Rain Moves Westward?

UPDATED, 1/10/2007:
2006 was the warmest year on record, it was reported today, ahead of the previous title holder, 1998. 1998 was influenced heavily by the El Niño that began in 1997. And, sure enough, scientists have concluded that this year’s Niño was, effectively, super-charged by global warming. From the right-leaning Chicago Tribune:

In 1998, record high temperatures were driven by an unusually powerful El Nino current that disrupted weather patterns worldwide. The current El Nino, a periodic warming current that took shape last summer, is far weaker and has had only a moderate effect on global climate, several experts said.

“What we are seeing is much more than El Nino,” said climate analyst Kevin Trenberth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. “The overall pattern is consistent with our concepts of global warming.”

The original blog entry:
Part 1: El Niño 2006-07: Overachiever or Cheat?

As most people are aware, an El Niño formed in autumn of 2006 and has continued to this date. This event was basically single-handedly responsible for cutting off the 2006 hurricane season at the knees. El Niños do that — the last time we had one, it developed in late autumn of 2004 and ended a two-month streak of damaging hurricanes. And that one wasn’t even very strong. It was weak enough, in fact, that most articles in the popular press that talk about this year’s event don’t even refer to 2004; they say that the last El Niño was in 2002. The one this year is a moderate Niño.

This NOAA site shows the Oceanic Nino Index, an indicator of the temperature departure from the average for various three-month periods, going back to 1950. Positive values indicate El Niño-like conditions and negative values indicate La Niña. The site isn’t updated to reflect the new values, but they have increased past the levels of the 2004 Niño event.

The bottom line, though, is that this year’s event is not even close to the strength of the notorious 1997-1998 event. It is moderate. Mild.

Yet, during the most recent period of warmth for the Eastern United States, heat records were set in numerous eastern cities. The most common date for the old records?

Yep, 1997. There was a winter “heat wave” during the same time period during that year’s Niño as well. Continue reading The New, Improved, Super-charged El Niño