Saturday, November 8, 2014

DoD, IPCC, GOP – all spell out trouble

Iceberg in Ross Sea, Antarctica seen from bridge of 
icebreaker N.B. Palmer. Photo © Bruce Luyendyk

Over the last two weeks significant news has occurred on the Climate Change front. First was the report from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) on the security threat posed by Climate Change, second was the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and last was the takeover of the U.S. Senate by the Republican party (GOP).

The DoD report analyses the U.S. military’s place in combating and adapting to climate change. The U.S. has over 7000 bases around the globe all of which need to deal with Climate Change. Defense Secretary Hagel, who as senator once signed a resolution labeling Climate Change as more or less baloney, has come around. “… we will integrate Climate Change considerations into our planning, operations and training,” he told an audience recently.

The IPCC report follows on its last one in 2007 (AR4). (For a brief note on what, who the IPCC is go here IPCC .)

What has changed since the AR4 is that the situation has worsened and the time to address Climate Change has shortened.
I have selected and edited some excerpts from the Synthesis Report released November 2, 2014:

1. Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.
1.2 Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, …, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, … are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century...

2. Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks...
2.2 Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.
2.3 Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.
2.4 Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.

3. Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, …
3.2 Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence)...
3.4 There are multiple mitigation pathways that are likely to limit warming to below 2°C relative to pre- industrial levels. These pathways would require substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades and near zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived GHGs [greenhouse gases] by the end of the century...

4. Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales, and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives...

This report, the result of hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists synthesizing tens of thousands of research papers published over the last seven years, barely made a ripple in the media. Why? Because it was buried by the U.S. national elections and the non-stop frenzy of the media in covering it. (The N.Y. Times did manage a short news item on the report.)

What the election results mean for the future of addressing Climate Change is that any serious action is in serious trouble. Republicans have made known they intend to fast track the tar sands Keystone XL pipeline and squash the oversight of the EPA on greenhouse gases and power plant emissions. I’m guessing that’s for a start. The agenda will be more fossil fuels not less.

A direct result of the takeover of the Senate by the GOP is the change in the committee chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee that now goes to Senator James Inhofe, notorious for his statement, often repeated, that Climate Change is a hoax – he even wrote a book about it. We can expect useless Senate hearings and harassment of scientists by subpoenas to appear before his committee.

The GOP now is in charge of Congress and signs so far point to no action and even backwards steps on addressing climate change (See LA Times 11/8/14 ). In a subtle change of stance the party line has shifted from denying Climate Change is a real threat that needs to be confronted to the refrain “… I don’t know [if climate change is happening, ..or real, ..or we are causing it], I am not a scientist.” Sure they’re not scientists but why don’t they listen to scientists? They must realize they appear to be utter fools. Where is the courage? What happened to this party?

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