Blog Archive

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Marco Cony et al., Fewer Days of Extreme Cold and More Days of Extreme Heat in Europe

Fewer Days Of Extreme Cold And More Days Of Extreme Heat In Europe

ScienceDaily (Jan. 31, 2009) — Scientists from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) have selected 262 European observatories which analysed the series of minimum and maximum daily temperatures from 1955 to 1998 to estimate trend variations in extreme temperature events. According to the study, in Europe days of extreme cold are decreasing and days of extreme heat increasing. From 0.5ºC to 1ºC in the average minimum temperature, and from 0.5ºC to 2ºC in the average maximum temperature.

Continuous rises in annual temperatures in certain areas lead to “changes in the environment and significant increases in the frequency of values considered extreme temperatures,” SINC was told by Emiliano Hernández, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the UCM and one of the study's authors. To reach this conclusion, the scientists worked with 135 stations with a daily series of minimum temperatures and 127 stations with a daily series of maximum temperatures, located in 34 European countries.

The study, recently published in the journal Atmosfera, looked at temperatures from January 1, 1955 to December 31, 1998, and analysed the pattern of extreme temperature days in Europe. “All the series of temperatures have been homogenised to eliminate possible discontinuity points, and highlight any factor that is not meteorological or climatic,” the physicists pointed out.

Higher frequency of days of extreme heat

During the 44 years of analysis, the researchers recorded extreme cold events (between the months of November and March) and extreme heat events (from June to September) noting a slight decrease in days of extreme cold and increase in days of extreme heat,” commented Hernández.

65.2% of the stations that measured minimum temperatures showed that these temperatures have been increasing, while 40% of the stations that measured maximum temperatures showed that these temperatures have risen too. Observatories that detected these trends are located in Western Europe, including the British Isles and Iceland for both extreme cold days and extreme heat days.

“The reduction in days of extreme cold is due to an increase in the average minimum temperature from 0.5ºC to 1ºC during the analysis period, while for days of extreme heat, the increases in the average maximum temperature were from 0.5ºC to 2ºC,” the scientists explained.

The decrease in days of extreme cold and increase in days of extreme heat are due to both local and global factors, according to the scientists. Some of them include the heat island produced in cities or the change in the general circulation of the atmosphere which directly determines extreme temperature events.

The danger of heatwaves

Apart from their direct relationship with climate change, extreme temperatures (minimum and maximum) particularly affect human health. The scientific community has explained on numerous occasions that the impact of heatwaves is far greater than that of minimum temperatures.

Since 1860, the planet's average temperature has increased by 0.60ºC. “In particular, in the 2003 heatwave, which affected most of Europe, the average temperature was 3°C more than the normal value for the summers from 1961 to 1990 with the most significant increases being in central France, Switzerland, northern Italy and southern Germany,” stressed Marco Cony, co-author of the study and physicist at the UCM.

An example of the effects of days of extreme heat, which will increase in frequency, is the heatwave that hit Europe in 2003. That summer record maximum temperatures were recorded in monthly, weekly and daily scales. For example, in Switzerland a temperature of 41.50ºC was recorded while in Portugal, 47.30ºC.

Experts warn that excessive heat can cause stress, worsening of diseases and even death, such as in the summer of 2003, when over 30,000 people died throughout Europe from the high temperatures.

Journal reference:

  1. Cony, M.; Hernández, E.; Del Teso, T. Influence of synoptic scale in the generation of extremely cold days in Europe. Atmosfera, 21(4): 389-401, October, 2008
Adapted from materials provided by Plataforma SINC.

Link to article:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Monaco Declaration: Rising Acidity Threatens Oceans -- 30% increase since 17th century

Rising Acidity Threatens Oceans

by Cornelia Dean, New York Times, January 30, 2009

The oceans have long buffered the effects of climate change by absorbing a substantial portion of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But this benefit has a catch: as the gas dissolves, it makes seawater more acidic. Now an international panel of marine scientists says this acidity is accelerating so fast it threatens the survival of coral reefs, shellfish and the marine food web generally.

The panel, comprising 155 scientists from 26 countries and organized by the United Nations and other international groups, is not the first to point to growing ocean acidity as an environmental threat, but its blunt language and international credentials give its assessment unusual force. It called for “urgent action” to sharply reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

“Severe damages are imminent,” the group said Friday in a statement summing up its deliberations at a symposium in Monaco last October.

The statement, called the Monaco Declaration, said increasing acidity is interfering with the growth and health of shellfish and eating away at coral reefs, processes that would eventually affect marine food webs generally.

Already, the group said, there have been detectable decreases in shellfish, shell weights and interference with the growth of coral skeletons.

Jeremy B. C. Jackson, a coral expert at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said “there is just no doubt” that the acidification of the oceans is a major problem. “Nobody really focused on it because we were all so worried about warming,” he said, “but it is very clear that acid is a major threat.”

Carbon dioxide, principally from the burning of fossil fuels, is the major component of greenhouse gas emissions, which have risen steadily since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 18th century.

Oceans absorb about a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions, the group said, but as the gas dissolves in the oceans it produces carbonic acid.

The group said acidity of ocean surface waters has increased by 30 percent since the 17th century.

“The chemistry is so fundamental and changes so rapid and severe that impacts on organisms appear unavoidable,” according to James Orr, who headed the symposium’s scientific committee. Dr. Orr is a chemical oceanographer at the Marine Environmental Laboratory in Monaco, an affiliate of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations body.

According to the declaration, “ocean acidification may render most regions chemically inhospitable to coral reefs by 2050.” The group said that acidification can be controlled only by limiting future atmospheric levels of the gas. Other strategies, including “fertilizing” the oceans to encourage the growth of tiny marine plants that take up carbon dioxide might actually make the problem worse in some regions, it said.

Link to article:

Glacier Mass Balance Losses 1980-2007 data from University of Zurich's World Glacier Monitoring Service

From the University of Zurich's World Glacier Monitoring Service

Glacier Mass Balance Losses 1980-2007

1 Summary of the balance years

Preliminary mass balance values for the observation periods 2005/06 and 2006/07 have been reported now from more than 100 and 80 glaciers worldwide, respectively. The mass balance statistics (Table 1) are calculated based on all reported values as well as on the data from the 30 reference glaciers in 9 mountain ranges (Table 2) with continuous observation series back to 1980.

The average mass balance of the glaciers with available long-term observation series around the world continues to decrease, with tentative figures indicating a further thickness reduction of 1.3 and 0.7 metres water equivalent (m w.e.) during the hydrological years 2006 and 2007, respectively. The new data continues the global trend in accelerated ice loss over the past few decades and brings the cumulative average thickness loss of the reference glaciers since 1980 at almost 11.3 m w.e. (see Figures 1 and 2). All so far reported tentative mass balance values for the two observation periods are given in Table 3.

Link to data tables and website:

Figure 1: Mean annual specific mass balance of reference glaciers. Click on image to enlarge the details.

Figure 2: Mean cumulative specific mass balance of all reported glaciers (dotted line) and the reference glaciers (blue line). Click on image to enlarge the details.

RealClimate, Inhofe, Morano, and Steig et al.'s Antarctic Warming paper

Text below lifted in its entirety from post of January 27, 2009

Warm reception to Antarctic warming story

Filed under: Arctic and Antarctic
Climate Science— gavin @ 11:15 PM

What determines how much coverage a climate study gets?

It probably goes without saying that it isn't strongly related to the quality of the actual science, nor to the clarity of the writing. Appearing in one of the top journals does help (Nature, Science, PNAS and occasionally GRL), though that in itself is no guarantee. Instead, it most often depends on the 'news' value of the bottom line. Journalists and editors like stories that surprise, that give something 'new' to the subject and are therefore likely to be interesting enough to readers to make them read past the headline. It particularly helps if a new study runs counter to some generally perceived notion (whether that is rooted in fact or not). In such cases, the 'news peg' is clear.

And so it was for the Steig et al. "Antarctic warming" study that appeared last week. Mainstream media coverage was widespread and generally did a good job of covering the essentials. The most prevalent peg was the fact that the study appeared to reverse the "Antarctic cooling" meme that has been a staple of disinformation efforts for a while now.

It's worth remembering where that idea actually came from. Back in 2001, Peter Doran and colleagues wrote a paper about the Dry Valley's long-term ecosystem responses to climate change, in which they had a section discussing temperature trends over the previous couple of decades (not the 50 years' time scale being discussed this week). The "Antarctic cooling" was in their title and (unsurprisingly) dominated the media coverage of their paper as a counterpoint to "global warming." (By the way, this is a great example to indicate that the biggest bias in the media is towards news, not any particular side of a story.) Subsequent work indicated that the polar ozone hole (starting in the early 80s) was having an effect on polar winds and temperature patterns (Thompson and Solomon, 2002; Shindell and Schmidt, 2004), showing clearly that regional climate changes can sometimes be decoupled from the global picture. However, even then both the extent of any cooling and the longer term picture were more difficult to discern due to the sparse nature of the observations in the continental interior. In fact, we discussed this way back in one of the first posts on RealClimate back in 2004.

This ambiguity was of course a gift to the propagandists. Thus, for years, the Doran et al. study was trotted out whenever global warming was being questioned. It was, of course, a classic 'cherry pick' — find a region or time period when there is a cooling trend and imply that this contradicts warming trends on global scales over longer time periods. Given a complex dynamic system, such periods and regions will always be found, and so as a tactic it can always be relied on. However, judging from the take-no-prisoners response to the Steig et al. paper from the contrarians, this important fact seems to have been forgotten (hey guys, don't worry you'll come up with something new, soon!).

Actually, some of the pushback has been hilarious. It's been a great example for showing how incoherent and opportunistic the 'antis' really are. Exhibit A is an email (and blog post) sent out by Senator Inhofe's press staff (i.e., Marc Morano). Within this single email there are misrepresentations, untruths, unashamedly contradictory claims, and a couple of absolutely classic quotes. Some highlights:

Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville slams new Antarctic study for using [the] “best estimate of the continent's temperature.”
Perhaps he'd prefer it if they used the worst estimate? [Update: It should go without saying that this is simply Morano making up stuff and doesn't reflect Christy's actual quotes or thinking. No one is safe from Morano's misrepresentations!][Further update: They've now clarified it. Sigh….]

Morano has his ear to the ground, of course, and in his blog piece dramatically highlights the words "estimated" and "deduced" as if they were signs of a nefarious purpose, rather than a fundamental component of scientific investigation.

Internal contradictions are par for the course. Morano has previously been convinced that "…the vast majority of Antarctica has cooled over the past 50 years," yet he now approvingly quotes Kevin Trenberth, who says, "It is hard to make data where none exist.” (It is, indeed, which is why you need to combine as much data as you can find in order to produce a synthesis like this study). So, which is it? If you think the data are clear enough to demonstrate strong cooling, you can't also believe there is no data (on this side of the looking glass anyway).

It's even more humourous, since even the more limited analysis available before this paper showed pretty much the same amount of Antarctic warming. Compare the IPCC report, with the same values from the new analysis (under various assumptions about the methodology).

(The different versions are the full reconstruction, a version that uses detrended satellite data for the co-variance, a version that uses AWS data instead of satellites, and one that use PCA instead of RegEM. All show positive trends over the last 50 years.)

Further contradictions abound: Morano, who clearly wants it to have been cooling, hedges his bets with a "Volcano, Not Global Warming Effects, May be Melting an Antarctic Glacier" Hail Mary pass. Good luck with that!

It always helps if you haven't actually read the study in question. That way you can just make up conclusions:
Scientist adjusts data — presto, Antarctic cooling disappears
Nope. It's still there (as anyone reading the paper will see) — it's just put into a larger scale and longer term context (see figure 3b).

Inappropriate personalisation is always good fodder. Many contrarians seemed disappointed that Mike was only the fourth author (the study would have been much easier to demonise if he'd been the lead). Some pretended he was anyway, and just for good measure accused him of being a 'modeller' as well (heaven forbid!).

Others also got in on the fun. A chap called Ross Hays posted a letter to Eric on multiple websites and on many comment threads. On Joe D'Aleo's site, this letter was accompanied with this little bit of snark:
Icecap Note: Ross shown here with Antarctica’s Mount Erebus volcano in the background was a CNN forecast meteorologist (a student of mine when I was a professor) who has spent numerous years with boots on the ground working for NASA in Antarctica, not sitting at a computer in an ivory tower in Pennsylvania or Washington State.

This is meant as a slur against academics of course, but is particularly ironic, since the authors of the paper have collectively spent over 8 seasons on the ice in Antarctica, 6 seasons in Greenland and one on Baffin Island in support of multiple ice-coring and climate-measurement projects. Hays' one or two summers there, his personal anecdotes and misreadings of the temperature record, don't really cut it.

Neither do rather lame attempts to link these results with the evils of "computer modelling." According to Booker (for it is he!) because a data analysis uses a computer, it must be a computer model — and probably the same one that the "hockey stick" was based on. Bad computer, bad!

The proprietor of the recently named "Best Science Blog," also had a couple of choice comments:
"In my opinion, this press release and subsequent media interviews were done for media attention."

This remarkable conclusion is followed by some conspiratorial gossip implying that a paper that was submitted over a year ago was deliberately timed to coincide with a speech in Congress from Al Gore that was announced last week. Gosh these scientists are good.

All in all, the critical commentary about this paper has been remarkably weak. Time will tell of course — confirming studies from ice cores and independent analyses are already published, with more rumoured to be on their way. In the meantime, floating ice shelves in the region continue to collapse (the Wilkins will be the tenth in the last decade or so) — each of them with their own unique volcano no doubt — and gravity measurements continue to show net ice loss over the Western part of the ice sheet.

Nonetheless, the loss of the Antarctic cooling meme is clearly bothering the contrarians much more than the loss of 10,000 year old ice. The poor level of their response is not surprising, but it does exemplify the tactics of the whole 'bury one's head in the sand" movement — they'd much rather make noise than actually work out what is happening. It would be nice if this demonstration of intellectual bankruptcy got some media attention itself.

That's unlikely though. It's just not news.

Link to realclimate blog post and comments

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Global warming from CO2 will increase 5-fold over the next millennium, University of Liverpool scientists predict

Global warming from CO2 will increase 5-fold over the next millennium, University of Liverpool scientists predict

ScienceDaily (Jan. 29, 2009) — Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that heating from carbon dioxide will increase five-fold over the next millennium.

Scientists studied the impact that current carbon emissions have on the delicate balance between air and sea carbon exchange. They found that the ocean’s ability to store excessive amounts of carbon dioxide over thousands of years will affect the long-term heating of the planet.

The ocean acts as an enormous carbon sink which naturally absorbs any extra carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere. Its ability to store more carbon dioxide than both the atmosphere and land provides long-term storage for the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities.

Scientists at Liverpool, however, have found that if all conventional coal, oil and gas carbon reserves are exhausted, the excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will begin to alter the ocean’s natural chemistry and hinder its ability to absorb and exchange the gas.

Professor Ric Williams, from the University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, explains: “It is accepted that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations lead to an increase in heating around the globe. It was, however, unclear as to how the ocean’s ability to store carbon could affect the future overall heating of the earth.

“The excessive amount of carbon in the atmosphere will make the oceans more acidic and hamper the ability of the oceans to absorb further carbon from the atmosphere. The extra carbon dioxide remaining in the atmosphere will lead to an increase in the overall heating of our planet, making sea levels rise and exacerbating the melting of the Arctic ice caps.

“To prevent a situation like this from happening scientists are working to develop carbon-capture techniques, which aim to remove excess carbon from identifiable sites, such as the atmosphere around fossil fuel plants, and permanently store them away.”

The research, in collaboration with the University of East Anglia, The University of Bristol and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council.

Prescription for Arctic Melting: Clear the Air Down South

Prescription for Arctic Melting: Clear the Air Down South

The quickest way to curb Arctic melting now underway may be to turn off the tap of short-lived pollutants swirling north from cities and industry far to the south

by Elizabeth Grossman, Scientific American, January 29, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO—The quickest way to curb Arctic melting now underway may be to turn off the tap of short-lived pollutants swirling north from cities and industry far to the south, say scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Preliminary data suggest that these pollutants can increase Arctic surface temperatures as much as 3 °C—an effect equal to what scientists expect from carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. But unlike carbon dioxide, these pollutants accumulate seasonally and dissipate far more quickly than CO2, suggesting that reducing these emissions represents one of the best hopes for staving off further unprecedented retreats of Arctic sea ice.

"At least it gives us something that we have a chance to mitigate, as opposed to something like [CO2], which has a much longer time scale given the rapid changes in the Arctic," said Patricia Quinn, an atmospheric chemist at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

These pollutants include hydrocarbons like solvents and benzene, nitrogen oxides from motor vehicles and power plants, sulfates from coal-fired power plants and soot from industry and agriculture. They are the scourge of urban areas, contributing to asthma and other health problems. But in the Arctic, their effects are profoundly magnified—particularly for soot, or black carbon, Quinn said.

"There's a huge temperature inversion in the Arctic during the winter," Quinn said. "You don't get much vertical mixing, and you don't get much precipitation, so stuff that gets in there just sits. It can be in there for weeks."

The Arctic winter extends pollution's lifetime. In sunnier, more temperate regions, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons readily combine to form ground-level ozone, or smog—a greenhouse gas. But sunlight both builds and destroys, and in those regions the compounds are short-lived, lasting for days or even hours. In contrast, the dark of the Arctic winter acts like an ice chest, storing and preserving pollutants as they gradually accumulate over the season.

When the sun returns in the spring, several things happen at once, all to the detriment of the Arctic in particular and the global climate in general, researchers say.

* The sun bakes the accumulated ozone precursors into climate-warming smog. "You have all the precursors sitting there, and then when the sun comes up, you have all these ingredients for ozone," Quinn said. "And because it's dark, you can get ozone transported up there without it being destroyed."

* Particulate pollutants—also called aerosols—accumulate in and form clouds and haze, enhancing the clouds' ability to insulate and increasing surface warming.

* The atmosphere starts to mix again and precipitation returns, washing black carbon, or soot, from the air. It lands on the icepack just as the ice is starting to melt and creates a devastating feedback loop, Quinn said. "If you're now taking the ice and covering it with something black, it accelerates (the melting) even further."

Other than smelters in northern Russia and an increasing shipping presence, the Arctic has very few sources of localized industrial pollution. Most pollution gets carried north by air currents from sources in urban centers across North America, Asia and Europe. The net result, said John Burkhart, a scientist at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, is that "the Arctic is poised to be as polluted as other places."

The effect, researchers say, is comparable to that of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases combined. Preliminary data presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting last month indicates short-lived pollutants have increased Arctic surface temperatures up to 3 °C in winter.

So while reducing CO2 remains a vital part of any global warming mitigation strategy, inertia and political hurdles associated with CO2 have experts suggesting that the fastest way to put the brakes on Arctic warming is to curb emissions of short-lived pollutants far to the south.

Furthermore, researchers say, CO2's long lifespan and inertia means even an immediate and substantial reduction in CO2 emissions will take years to alter Arctic warming trends. Yet the same reduction in short-lived pollutants, they note, could substantially reduce Arctic warming now -- and bring numerous health benefits to people throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

"We have very little leverage to affect the effects of CO2," said Drew Shindell of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. "This is not so for short-lived pollutants."

Elizabeth Grossman is a Portland-based writer and author, most recently, of "High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health."

This article originally ran at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.

Link to article:

Al Gore's Statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, January 28, 2009

Statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

As Prepared
Hon. Al Gore

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We are here today to talk about how we as Americans and how the United States of America as part of the global community should address the dangerous and growing threat of the climate crisis. We have arrived at a moment of decision. Our home – Earth – is in grave danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, of course, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.

Moreover, we must face up to this urgent and unprecedented threat to the existence of our civilization at a time when our country must simultaneously solve two other worsening crises. Our economy is in its deepest recession since the 1930s. And our national security is endangered by a vicious terrorist network and the complex challenge of ending the war in Iraq honorably while winning the military and political struggle in Afghanistan. As we search for solutions to all three of these challenges, it is becoming clearer that they are linked by a common thread – our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels.

As long as we continue to send hundreds of billions of dollars for foreign oil – year after year – to the most dangerous and unstable regions of the world, our national security will continue to be at risk.

As long as we continue to allow our economy to remain shackled to the OPEC rollercoaster of rising and falling oil prices, our jobs and our way of life will remain at risk. Moreover, as the demand for oil worldwide grows rapidly over the longer term, even as the rate of new discoveries is falling, it is increasingly obvious that the roller coaster is headed for a crash. And we’re in the front car.

Most importantly, as long as we continue to depend on dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil to meet our energy needs, and dump 70 million tons of global warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, we move closer and closer to several dangerous tipping points which scientists have repeatedly warned – again just yesterday – will threaten to make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable destruction of the conditions that make human civilization possible on this planet. We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change.

For years our efforts to address the growing climate crisis have been undermined by the idea that we must choose between our planet and our way of life; between our moral duty and our economic well being. These are false choices. In fact, the solutions to the climate crisis are the very same solutions that will address our economic and national security crises as well.

In order to repower our economy, restore American economic and moral leadership in the world and regain control of our destiny, we must take bold action now.

The first step is already before us. I urge this Congress to quickly pass the entirety of President Obama’s Recovery package. The plan’s unprecedented and critical investments in four key areas – energy efficiency, renewables, a unified national energy grid and the move to clean cars – represent an important down payment and are long overdue. These crucial investments will create millions of new jobs and hasten our economic recovery – while strengthening our national security and beginning to solve the climate crisis.

Quickly building our capacity to generate clean electricity will lay the groundwork for the next major step needed: placing a price on carbon. If Congress acts right away to pass President Obama’s Recovery package and then takes decisive action this year to institute a cap-and-trade system for CO2 emissions – as many of our states and many other countries have already done – the United States will regain its credibility and enter the Copenhagen treaty talks with a renewed authority to lead the world in shaping a fair and effective treaty. And this treaty must be negotiated this year. Not next year. This year.

A fair, effective and balanced treaty will put in place the global architecture that will place the world – at long last and in the nick of time – on a path toward solving the climate crisis and securing the future of human civilization.
I am hopeful that this can be achieved. Let me outline for you the basis for the hope and optimism that I feel.

The Obama Administration has already signaled a strong willingness to regain U.S. leadership on the global stage in the treaty talks, reversing years of inaction. This is critical to success in Copenhagen and is clearly a top priority of the administration.

Developing countries that were once reluctant to join in the first phases of a global response to the climate crisis have themselves now become leaders in demanding action and in taking bold steps on their own initiatives. Brazil has proposed an impressive new plan to halt the destructive deforestation in that nation. Indonesia has emerged as a new constructive force in the talks. And China’s leaders have gained a strong understanding of the need for action and have already begun important new initiatives. Heads of state from around the world have begun to personally engage on this issue and forward-thinking corporate leaders have made this a top priority.

More and more Americans are paying attention to the new evidence and fresh warnings from scientists. There is a much broader consensus on the need for action than there was when President George H.W. Bush negotiated – and the Senate ratified – the Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992 and much stronger support for action than when we completed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

The elements that I believe are key to a successful agreement in Copenhagen include:
• Strong targets and timetables from industrialized countries and differentiated but binding commitments from developing countries that put the entire world under a system with one commitment: to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants that cause the climate crisis;
• The inclusion of deforestation, which alone accounts for twenty percent of the emissions that cause global warming;
• The addition of sinks including those from soils, principally from farmlands and grazing lands with appropriate methodologies and accounting. Farmers and ranchers in the U.S. and around the world need to know that they can be part of
the solution;
• The assurance that developing countries will have access to mechanisms and resources that will help them adapt to the worst impacts of the climate crisis and technologies to solve the problem; and,
• A strong compliance and verification regime.

The road to Copenhagen is not easy, but we have traversed this ground before. We have negotiated the Montreal Protocol, a treaty to protect the ozone layer, and strengthened it to the point where we have banned most of the major substances that create the ozone hole over Antarctica. And we did it with bipartisan support. President Ronald Reagan and Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill joined hands to lead the way.

Let me now briefly discuss in more detail why we must do all of this within the next year, and with your permission, Mr. Chairman, I would like to show a few new pictures that illustrate the unprecedented need for bold and speedy action this year.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am eager to respond to any questions that you and the members of the committee have.

Link to Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog post at the New York Times:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

S. Solomon, G.-K. Plattner, R. Knutti, P. Friedlingstein, PNAS: Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 28, 2009;

Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions

Susan Solomon¹ (Chemical Sciences Division, Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, CO 80305, U.S.A.), Gian-Kasper Plattner (Institute of Biogeochemistry and Pollutant Dynamics, ETH, CH-8092, Zurich, Switzerland), Reto Knutti (Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH CH-8092, Zurich, Switzerland), and Pierre Friedlingstein (Institut Pierre Simon Laplace/Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, Unité Mixte de Recherche 1572 Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique–Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique–Université Versailles Saint-Quentin, Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique-Saclay, l'Orme des Merisiers, 91191 Gif sur Yvette, France)

¹Contributed by Susan Solomon, December 16, 2008 (sent for review November 12, 2008)


The severity of damaging human-induced climate change depends not only on the magnitude of the change but also on the potential for irreversibility. This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop. Following cessation of emissions, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide decreases radiative forcing, but is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years. Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450–600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the “dust bowl” era and inexorable sea level rise. Thermal expansion of the warming ocean provides a conservative lower limit to irreversible global average sea level rise of at least 0.4–1.0 m if 21st century CO2 concentrations exceed 600 ppmv and 0.6–1.9 m for peak CO2 concentrations exceeding ≈1,000 ppmv. Additional contributions from glaciers and ice sheet contributions to future sea level rise are uncertain but may equal or exceed several meters over the next millennium or longer.

  • 1To whom correspondence should be addressed. e-mail:
  • Author contributions: S.S., G.-K.P., R.K., and P.F. designed research; S.S., G.-K.P., and R.K. performed research; G.-K.P. and R.K. analyzed data; and S.S., G.-K.P., R.K., and P.F. wrote the paper.

Link to abstract:

Link to complete paper (pdf file):

Link to supplementary information:

NYT Dot Earth: John Sterman's analysis of the Susan Solomon et al. PNAS paper on irreversible climate change already in the pipeline

Dr. Sterman’s reaction to the Solomon et al. paper:

"I have read the Solomon paper.

It’s an excellent demonstration of the bathtub principle — the concept of stocks and flows, which prior research shows many people, even many highly educated people, don’t understand. Our mental models suggest that if we stop the growth of emissions, we will stop global warming, and if we cut emissions, we’ll quickly return to a cooler climate. We tend to think that the output of a process should be correlated with — look like — its input. If greenhouse gas emissions are growing, we think, the climate will warm, and if we cut emissions, we imagine that the climate will cool. In systems with significant accumulations, however, such correlational reasoning does not hold. Rather, it’s more like filling a bathtub. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is like the level of water in a bathtub. The level grows as long as you pour more water in through the faucet than drains out. Right now, we pour about twice as much CO2 into the atmospheric tub than is removed on net by natural processes.

Stabilizing atmospheric concentrations requires emissions to fall to the net removal rate. Further, because of the processes highlighted in the Solomon paper and other analyses, including the IPCC AR4, the net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere is likely to fall as the stocks that absorb all that carbon, particularly the oceans, fill up. There are other key “bathtubs” — accumulations — that contribute to the irreversibility of climate change Solomon highlights. First, global mean surface temperature depends on the quantity of heat stored at the surface of the earth (earth, lower atmosphere, and the mixed layer of the oceans). That stock of heat is increased by net radiative forcing, the difference between the flow of energy coming in (primarily from the sun) less the flow of energy radiated back to space and the flow of heat transfered to the deep ocean. Today that inflow exceeds the outflow, so the average temperature is rising. Stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may stop the growth in net radiative forcing, but will not reduce the net inflow of energy (net radiative forcing) to zero. So temperatures will continue to rise until the planet warms enough to restore radiative balance. Solomon’s paper points out that the heat currently absorbed by the oceans does not disappear, but eventually returns to warm the surface. Thus temperatures won’t fall quickly even if atmospheric GHGs peak and eventually drop. And so on. Land-based ice in glaciers and ice-sheets will keep contributing to sea level rise as long as melting exceeds snowfall accumulation; stopping the growth of temperature would not stop the net melting.

What all this means is that the rate at which the climate returns to “normal” — say, early 20th century conditions — is so slow that, for key factors like sea level, precipitation patterns, ice sheets, and so on, the flow out of the bathtub is very very slow. So climate is a bit like the national debt. The US federal deficit has exploded in recent years, and the national debt has exploded as well. But suppose we could instantly cut the deficit to zero — drop it from about a trillion dollars per year to zero. What would happen to the debt? Of course it would not fall, but would instead stop growing at its all time peak value. Because the drains out of the various bathtubs involved in the climate — atmospheric concentrations, the heat balance of the surface and oceans, ice sheet accumulations, and thermal expansion of the oceans — are small and slow, the emissions we generate in the next few decades will lead to changes that, on any time scale we can contemplate, are irreversible.

One more critical point: it’s important that people not react to Solomon’s work with despair. Yes, a certain amount of climate change, due to past emissions, is inevitable, and will not be reversible. But it would be tragic if people concluded that therefore there is nothing we can do, that it is futile to reduce emissions, and that therefore all efforts should shift to adaptation. To the contrary: if nothing is done to cut emissions, and soon, the climate our children and grandchildren will face will almost certainly be far less hospitable, and there will be no turning back. By the time we know for certain how bad it will be it will be too late to take any corrective action. The Solomon paper should finally bury the idea that we can wait and see. It further strengthens the case for immediate, strong mitigation. The good news is that it’s getting cheaper every day to cut carbon emissions. Through learning, scale economies, R&D, and other forms of innovation, new technologies for carbon-neutral renewable energy are becoming more available and less expensive. Each megawatt of solar or wind capacity we build lowers the cost of the next and the next — a positive feedback we need to strengthen if we are to avoid irreversible harm to the ability of the planet to sustain us.


John Sterman

Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management
Director, MIT System Dynamics Group
MIT Sloan School of Management"

Link to Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog post:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stéphanie Jenouvrier et al., PNAS, 2009, "Demographic models and IPCC climate projections predict the decline of an emperor penguin population"

Demographic models and IPCC climate projections predict the decline of an emperor penguin population

  1. Stéphanie Jenouvrierab1,
  2. Hal Caswella1,
  3. Christophe Barbraudb,
  4. Marika Hollandc,
  5. Julienne Strœved and
  6. Henri Weimerskirchb

+Author Affiliations

  1. aDepartment of Biology, MS-34, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543;
  2. bCentre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, F-79360 Villiers en Bois, France;
  3. cOceanography Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80305; and
  4. dNational Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO 80309
  1. Edited by Joel E. Cohen, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY, and approved December 2, 2008 (received for review July 10, 2008)


Studies have reported important effects of recent climate change on Antarctic species, but there has been to our knowledge no attempt to explicitly link those results to forecasted population responses to climate change. Antarctic sea ice extent (SIE) is projected to shrink as concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) increase, and emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) are extremely sensitive to these changes because they use sea ice as a breeding, foraging and molting habitat. We project emperor penguin population responses to future sea ice changes, using a stochastic population model that combines a unique long-term demographic dataset (1962–2005) from a colony in Terre Adélie, Antarctica, and projections of SIE from General Circulation Models (GCM) of Earth's climate included in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report. We show that the increased frequency of warm events associated with projected decreases in SIE will reduce the population viability. The probability of quasi-extinction (a decline of 95% or more) is at least 36% by 2100. The median population size is projected to decline from ≈6,000 to ≈400 breeding pairs over this period. To avoid extinction, emperor penguins will have to adapt, migrate or change the timing of their growth stages. However, given the future projected increases in GHGs and its effect on Antarctic climate, evolution or migration seem unlikely for such long lived species at the remote southern end of the Earth.

  • 1To whom correspondence may be addressed. E-mail: or
  • Author contributions: S.J., H.C., C.B., and H.W. designed research; S.J., H.C., C.B., M.H., J.S., and H.W. performed research; S.J. and H.C. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; S.J., H.C., C.B., M.H., J.S., and H.W. analyzed data; and S.J. and H.C. wrote the paper.

Link to abstract:

From Earth Observatory -- more on the Antarctic Warming Trends

Antarctic Warming Trends

from NASA's Earth Observatory, January 23, 2009
Antarctic Warming Trends
Color bar for Antarctic Warming Trends
download large image (2 MB, JPEG) acquired 1957-2006

For a long time, it seemed that Antarctica was immune to global warming. Most of the icy southern continent, where temperatures can plummet to -80 °C (-112 °F), seemed to be holding steady or even cooling as the rest of the planet warmed. But a new analysis of satellite and weather station data has shown that Antarctica has warmed at a rate of about 0.12 °C (0.22 °F) per decade since 1957, for a total average temperature rise of 0.5 °C (1 °F).

This image, based on the analysis of weather station and satellite data, shows the continent-wide warming trend from 1957 through 2006. Dark red over West Antarctica reflects that the region warmed most per decade. Most of the rest of the continent is orange, indicating a smaller warming trend, or white, where no change was observed. The underlying land surface color is based on the Landsat Image Mosaic of Antarctica (LIMA) data set, while the topography is from a Radarsat-based digital elevation model. Sea ice extent in the Southern Ocean surrounding the continent is based on data from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) collected on May 14, 2008 (late fall in the Southern Hemisphere).

The image paints a different picture of temperature trends in Antarctica than scientists had previously observed. Limited weather station measurements had recorded a dramatic warming trend along the peninsula, which juts into warmer waters in the Southern Ocean, but the few stations that dotted the rest of the continent reported that temperatures there had not changed or had cooled. It has been difficult to get a clear picture of temperature trends throughout Antarctica because measurements are so scarce. Few weather stations exist, and most of these are near the coast where they are relatively accessible. These coastal locations left vast regions of the continent’s interior where the temperature has never been monitored routinely. Satellites can measure the ground temperature of the entire continent, but only on clear days, when clouds don't obscure the view. Since satellite measurements are always taken in the same sort of weather conditions, they can be skewed.

Eric J. Steig (University of Washington), David P. Schneider (National Center for Atmospheric Research), Scott D. Rutherford (Roger Williams University), Michael E. Mann (Pennsylvania State University), Josefino C. Comiso (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), and Drew T. Shindell (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University) collaborated to combine the day-to-day accuracy of weather stations with the continental coverage of satellite measurements. Led by Steig, the team compared 26 years of temperature measurements from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), a satellite sensor run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, with simultaneous weather station measurements.

This allowed the group to map out the relationship between ground measurements and satellite measurements so that they knew roughly what the satellite temperature would be when the thermometer at a weather station registered -5 °C, for example. The team used this relationship to extrapolate what the satellite would have recorded over the whole continent had it been in orbit when the weather station record began in 1957. Once the group reached the period when the satellite was in orbit, they checked the extrapolated values against the actual measurements to confirm that the method was sound. In the end, they generated a 50-year record of temperatures across Antarctica. Their work was published in the January 22, 2009, issue of Nature.

  1. References

  2. Hansen, K. (2009, January 22). Satellites confirm half-century of West Antarctic warming. NASA. Accessed January 22, 2009.
  3. Steig, E., Schneider, D., Rutherford, S., Mann, M., Comiso, J., and Shindell, D. (2009, January 22). Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year. Nature, 457, 459-463. doi:10.1038/nature07669.
  4. Steig, E. (2009, January 21). State of Antarctica: red or blue? RealClimate. Accessed January 22, 2009.

Image courtesy Trent Schindler, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

Link to article:

BBC: Obama aims for oil independence, will not allow the US to be held "hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes, and a warming planet"

Obama aims for oil independence

BBC, January 26, 2009

Obama on the three steps to energy independence

President Barack Obama has called for the US to become energy independent, saying its reliance on foreign oil and global warming posed threats.

Outlining his energy priorities, he said the country would not be held "hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes, and a warming planet."

He called for greater fuel efficiency and an "energy economy" aimed at creating millions of jobs.

He also ordered a review of whether states can set car emission standards.

This challenges a Bush administration decision which favoured a national standard for vehicle pollution.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked Todd Stern -- who took part in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations on climate change from 1997 to 1999 -- as her envoy for climate change, the state department said.

Mr Stern, who served under former President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001, will be the Obama administration's principal adviser on international climate policy and strategy as well as its chief climate negotiator.

"Containing climate change will require nothing less than transforming the global economy from a high-carbon to a low-carbon energy base," said Mr Stern after Mrs Clinton announced his appointment.

"But done right, this can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and become a driver for economic growth in the 21st Century."

Crossroads of history

At his first White House news conference since becoming president, Mr Obama said he would reverse America's dependence on foreign oil while creating jobs, but warned there was no "quick fix."

A customer at a petrol pump

Reverse US dependence on foreign energy. Review of decision to block states from setting own emission targets.
Orders the transportation department to come up with new short-term rules on how carmakers can improve fuel efficiency. Federal buildings to become more efficient. Double 'green' energy from wind, sun and biofuels over next three years

"We will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is freed from our energy dependence, and empowered by a new energy economy that puts millions of our citizens to work."

He added: "Now is the time to meet the challenge of this crossroads of history, by choosing a future safer for our country, prosperous for our planet, and sustainable."

Mr Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review its refusal of a waiver which had previously allowed California to set its own -- stricter -- vehicle emission and fuel efficiency standards.

He said California had taken bold moves in implementing the standards.

Mr Obama said: "The days of Washington dragging its heels are over.

"My administration will not deny facts. We will be guided by them."

His statement that the US would lead on climate change was a clear swipe at his predecessor's sceptical view of global warming, says the BBC's James Coomarasamy in Washington.

Energy efficiency drive

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had asked Mr Obama to reverse the Bush administration's insistence on a single, national standard.

California wants a 30% reduction in motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 2016, achieved by improving fuel efficiency standards.

President Obama also ordered the transportation department to come up with new short-term rules on how carmakers can improve fuel efficiency.

A 2007 law required that new cars and trucks produced by 2020 obtain 35 miles per gallon of fuel (about 15km/litre).

However, then-President George W Bush did not put in place the regulations to enable the law to be carried out.

Emissions from car exhaust (file photo)
Car exhaust is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions

The new rules Mr Obama wants to put in place would mean the new standard is reached by 2011, the New York Times said.

The president also announced plans to make all federal government buildings more energy efficient, and pledged to cut families's energy bills by "weatherising" 2.5 million homes.

He also said the US would double its capacity for "green" energy generation, from sources such as wind, sun, and biofuels, over the next three years.

More than 3,000 miles of transmission lines would be established to transmit the energy.

In the European Union, a recently agreed climate package set out average emission targets for the whole car industry of 120g of CO2 per kilometre by 2012 for new cars, compared with current levels of 160g/km.

The EU target for 2020 is 95g/km. But CO2 emissions vary from car to car, and manufacturers have been given until 2015 to meet their specific targets for each model.

Link to article:

BBC: Emperor penguins face extinction

Emperor penguins face extinction

Gentoo penguins (file photo)
Less ice could spell bad news for a great many species

Emperor penguins, whose long treks across Antarctic ice to mate have been immortalised by Hollywood, are heading towards extinction, scientists say.

Based on predictions of sea ice extent from climate change models, the penguins are likely to see their numbers plummet by 95% by 2100.

That corresponds to a decline to just 600 breeding pairs in the world.

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Emperor penguins, the largest species, are unique in that they are the only penguins that breed during the harsh Antarctic winters.

Colonies gather far inland after long treks across sea ice, where the females lay just one egg that is tended by the male. That means that the ice plays a major role in their overall breeding success.

What is more, the extent of sea ice cover influences the abundance of krill and the fish species that eat them -- both food sources for the penguins.

Hal Caswell of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and his colleagues used projections of sea ice coverage from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) last report.

In addition, they used a "population dynamics" model describing the mating patterns and breeding success of emperor penguins.

The model has been honed using 43 years' worth of observations of an emperor colony in Antarctica's Terre Adelie.

Slow learners

While there are a number of models and scenarios in the IPCC report, the team used only 10 of them -- those that fit with existing satellite data on sea ice.

They then ran 1,000 simulations of penguin population growth or decline under each of those 10 climate scenarios.

They are to Antarctica what the polar bear is to the Arctic
Joel Cohen, Rockefeller University

The results suggest that by the year 2100, emperor penguins in the region are likely to experience a reduction in their numbers by 95% or more.

The likelihood of this occurring, according to the researchers, is at least a one-in-three chance and possibly more than eight out of 10.

Though the penguins could avert disaster by shifting their breeding patterns with the climate, the study's lead author Stephanie Jenouvrier said that was unlikely.

"Unlike some other Antarctic bird species that have altered their life cycles, penguins don't catch on so quickly," she said.

"They are long-lived organisms, so they adapt slowly. This is a problem because the climate is changing very fast."

'Conservative approach'

Several prior studies have shown that climate change can affect the reproduction and geographic distribution of species, but this is the first that makes predictions about the ultimate fate of a species as a whole.

"I don't see any reason not to take these predictions very seriously," said Dan Reuman, a population biologist at Imperial College London.

Larsen ice sheet (Nasa)
Particularly warm seasons cause Antarctic ice to break up early

"The study is based on a wide range of climate forecasts, it takes a conservative approach, it's based on a large amount of data on penguin demography, and the model accurately forecasts the data that already exist."

Dr Reuman suggests that more of this kind of work should be done to understand the species-by-species effects of climate change, and thereby the influence on whole communities.

It is an idea echoed by Joel Cohen, head of the Laboratory of Populations at Rockefeller University.

"The emperor penguin is an important species in its own right, but the whole communities in which it's embedded are also of importance," he told BBC News.

The penguins also serve as a species that particularly draws attention to the crisis in their region, he added.

"They are to Antarctica what the polar bear is to the Arctic.

"This study takes our knowledge, puts it together, gives us some insights, arouses concern and suggests that we ought to be understanding this situation a lot better."

Link to article:

Joseph Romm (on Salon): Real science comes to Washington

Real science comes to Washington

Myopic conservatives and the media still don't get global warming. But if anybody can preserve a livable climate, Obama's amazing energy team can.

by Joseph Romm

Obama's green dream team: Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA chief Lisa Jackson and energy czar Carol Browner. Reuters/Stephen J. Carrera

Jan. 26, 2009 | The greatest task of the Obama administration -- and the next 10 presidents -- is to avoid catastrophic global warming. The latest science warns that the unstable West Antarctic ice sheet has been warming significantly since the 1950s, the rate of Greenland summer ice loss tripled last year, and the planet as a whole lost 2 trillion tons of ice in the last five years. The best mid-range estimate for sea level rise by the year 2100 is 5 feet, much higher than U.N. scientists projected just two years ago.

Fortunately, Obama clearly gets it. He devoted more of his inaugural address to clean energy and global warming than even the strongest advocate could have imagined, asserting, "We will work tirelessly to ... roll back the specter of a warming planet." More important, he has assembled a team with unmatched knowledge and commitment to solve the climate problem.

But the path toward a carbon-reduced future will not be an easy one. President Obama will be challenged by a lack of awareness by the media and major opinion makers, who still don't grasp the scope of the problem, and by the majority of GOP politicians who refuse to accept the dire facts of climate science. If Obama is going to lead this country and the world in the fight to preserve a livable climate, he will be forced to do so in a partisan fashion. That task can't be underestimated. But it's a huge relief to see the energy team that Obama has assembled for the battle.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Obama himself all campaigned on putting in place a cap and trading system that would cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This is the same target New Jersey adopted under the prodding of New Jersey environmental chief Lisa Jackson, named by Obama to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Science advisor designee John Holdren co-authored a major report for the United Nations in 2007, setting a target for global warming this century of no more than 2°C to 2.5°C, which requires global emissions to peak within a decade, and necessitates a U.S. target at least as strong as that on which Obama campaigned. Carol Browner, who will oversee Obama's energy and climate policy from the White House, has endorsed the same temperature and greenhouse gas targets.

Achieving the Obama target would require replacing the country's entire multitrillion-dollar energy infrastructure -- including the vast majority of power plants and cars -- in four decades. I would call this policy "radical," but in fact it is pragmatic. Failing to act quickly will most likely result, by century's end, in 5°C to 7°C global warming, sea levels rising 10 inches a decade or more, widespread desertification, the loss of the inland glaciers that provide water to a billion people and an ocean that is one large, hot, acidic dead zone.

Obama signaled he understands the dire consequences of failing to pursue his campaign promise when he named Holdren and picked Nobelist Stephen Chu for energy secretary. Holdren has more combined expertise on both climate science and clean energy technology than any other person who could plausibly have been named science advisor. Holdren has said "the evidence makes clear that civilization has already generated dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system. What keeps me going is my belief that there is still a chance of avoiding catastrophe."

I have been on the same conference dais as Chu and can attest that he gets it. As one news report noted, "Chu's views on climate change would be among the most forceful ever held by a cabinet member." He has also endorsed a 2°C target, and noted that "the climate is much more sensitive than we thought," which is a central reason climate scientists have become so desperate in recent years.

While Obama understands the paramount nature of the climate issue, the media still does not. In the Washington Post, David Ignatius writes, "Obama continued this political reformation in recruiting his cabinet, which is so centrist it almost resembles a government of national unity." A recent front-page Post headline read, "For Obama Cabinet, A Team of Moderates: In Picks, Few Hints About Policy Plans." The story states:

On climate change, will the policy push be overseen more by Steven Chu, the nuclear physicist nominated to be energy secretary, or by Carol M. Browner, a close confidant of Al Gore's who served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton and who will serve in the new role of White House energy czar? Where will this leave Obama's EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson.

Note to the Washington Post: All of those people agree on the same radically pragmatic climate policy. The Post further editorialized that Obama should be called "pragmatist in chief." Maybe so. But then, as Chris Hayes explained in the Nation, "pragmatism requires an openness to the possibility of radical solutions." Obama himself explained his brand of pragmatism with crystal clarity when discussing why he picked Chu: "His appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action."

Pragmatists believe in science and make fact-based decisions. That's why modern pragmatists like Obama and his Cabinet support the strongest energy and climate policy imaginable.

And yet here we have the New York Times declaring, "In Obama's Team, Two Camps on Climate," a statement that ignores the entire Cabinet, focusing only on Browner and National Economic Council chair Larry Summers. It attempts to recast the Obama administration as a replay of the Clinton administration.

It is true that when the Clinton administration was forming its position for the Kyoto climate treaty talks in 1997, Summers "argued that the United States would risk damaging the domestic economy if it set overly ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions." But the Times claims, "His view prevailed over those of officials arguing for tougher standards, among them Carol M. Browner," then EPA administrator.

That is simply wrong. Clinton went with the toughest standard being considered by the administration. And then in Kyoto, Vice President Gore agreed to an even tougher standard than that!

I was one of the point persons for the Department of Energy in these discussions. The economists from the NEC, Council on Economic Advisers, and Treasury did everything in their power to weaken the targets. Those of us pushing for the strongest targets thought there were two camps. I figured the economists would win, since their economic models inevitably overestimate the cost of action and underestimate the cost of inaction

During 1997, I helped oversee a study by five U.S. national laboratories that examined what an aggressive technology-based strategy built around energy efficiency and renewable energy could achieve in terms of emissions reductions. That "Five Lab Study" concluded that the United States could meet the most aggressive Kyoto target being considered without raising the nation's overall energy bill.

I remember Bill Clinton explaining at an October 1997 Georgetown conference why he ultimately ignored the advice of his economists. Clinton said his economic team had assured him that his balanced budget plan would be a job killer, so he pretty much took everything they said from that point on with a grain of salt. He concluded, "I'm convinced that the people in my Energy Department labs are absolutely right."

The story goes that Abraham Lincoln once said to his Cabinet, "Seven nays and one aye; the ayes have it." There never were two camps. And there still aren't.

But the question remains: Can radical pragmatists preserve a livable climate? They can if we stop digging the hole we're in. That means stopping the construction of coal plants that don't capture and store most of their carbon dioxide. Fortunately, the Supreme Court decided against the Bush administration in 2007, declared carbon dioxide a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to start regulating it. So Obama almost certainly has all of the authority he needs now to block new dirty coal plants.

Obama needs to pass in 2009 the mother of all energy bills. Once and for all, we must begin the process of changing utility regulations that encourage overuse of electricity, and instead strongly encourage energy efficiency. We need a nationwide standard that requires all utilities to draw a significant percentage of power from renewable energy sources. We need an effort, comparable to Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System, to build a smart, 21st-century grid that can enable concentrated solar thermal power from the Southwest and wind from the Midwest, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles everywhere.

Obama must begin high-level bilateral negotiations with China (or trilateral negotiations that include the European Union) to get a national commitment from the world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter to cap their emissions no later than 2020. Such a deal would presumably be contingent on U.S. action, but would enable a much stronger domestic climate bill. We simply can't solve the climate problem without Chinese action. And absent Chinese action in the next decade, the developed countries could never sustain the price for carbon dioxide needed to achieve meaningful reductions.

Obama must begin serious negotiations with both houses of Congress to write a climate bill that will reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990 levels by 2020, and then to low levels by mid-century. The goal would be to bring this legislation to a vote in early 2010, ideally in conjunction with a China deal.

The goal of deferring the climate bill to 2010 is not merely to allow time to get China on board, but to undo the last eight years of disinformation and muzzling of scientists by the Bush administration. The American public -- and media and cognoscenti -- are not prepared for the scale of effort needed to preserve a livable climate. The Obama team needs to spend a considerable amount of time giving public speeches, holding informal meetings with key opinion makers, researching and publicizing major reports on the high cost of inaction and the relatively low cost of solutions. That simply can't be done over the next few months, when the administration's focus must be -- and the media's focus will be -- on the grave economic crisis.

Moreover, 2009 needs to be focused on what can be achieved in a bipartisan fashion. If, as seems likely, conservatives remain stubbornly blind to the scientific reality, then passing the climate bill will likely descend into a traditional partisan fight. A pragmatist like Obama should relish the fight. After all, if the GOP wants to put itself on the side of humanity's self-destruction, then that political battle is best held in an election year, after a lengthy public education campaign.

Obama's Cabinet has been called a team of rivals, but in fact it is a team of the unrivaled -- unrivaled in its knowledge of climate science, clean energy climate solutions and experience in getting things done.

I never imagined anyone would have the confidence and commitment to assemble such a group. Every one of these individuals understands that the future of the nation, the world and their place in history rests squarely on whether we prevent a climate catastrophe, whether the biggest polluting nations replace their entire energy systems in a few decades. I honestly don't know if it is politically possible to preserve a livable climate -- but if it is, these are the people to make it happen.

Link to article:

Irreversible climate change locked in -- radical reductions needed to prevent catastrophic events. New study by Susan Solomon et al., PNAS

Emissions Cut Won’t Bring Quick Relief, Scientists Say

by Cornelia Dean, New York Times, January 26, 2009

Many people who worry about global warming hope that once emissions of heat-trapping gases decline, the problems they cause will quickly begin to abate.

Now researchers are saying that such hope is ill-founded, at least with regard to carbon dioxide.

Because of the way carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere and in the oceans, and the way the atmosphere and the oceans interact, patterns that are established at peak levels will produce problems like “inexorable sea level rise” and Dust-Bowl-like droughts for at least a thousand years, the researchers are reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“That peak would be the minimum you would be locking yourself into,” said Susan Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who led the work.

The researchers describe what will happen if the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide — the principal heat-trapping gas emission — reaches 450 to 600 parts per million, up from about 385 p.p.m. today. Most climate researchers consider 450 p.p.m. virtually inevitable and 600 p.p.m. difficult to avoid by midcentury if the use of fossil fuels continues at anything like its present rate.

At 450 p.p.m., the researchers say, rising seas will threaten many coastal areas, and Southern Europe, North Africa, the Southwestern United States and Western Australia could expect 10 percent less rainfall.

“Ten percent may not seem like a high number,” Dr. Solomon said Monday in a telephone news conference, “but it is the kind of number that has been seen in major droughts in the past, like the Dust Bowl.”

At 600 p.p.m., there might be perhaps 15% less rain, she said.

In 1850, atmospheric carbon dioxide was roughly 280 p.p.m., a level scientists say had not been exceeded in at least the previous 800,000 years.

In their paper, Dr. Solomon and her colleagues say they confined their estimates to known data and effects. For example, they based their sea level estimates largely on the expansion of seawater as it warms, a relatively straightforward calculation, rather than including the contributions of glacial runoff or melting inland ice sheets — more difficult to predict but potentially far greater contributors to sea level rise.

The new work dealt only with the effects of carbon dioxide, which is responsible for about half of greenhouse warming. Gases like chlorofluorocarbons and methane, along with soot and other pollutants, contribute to the rest. These substances are far less persistent in the atmosphere; if these emissions drop, their effects will decline relatively fast.

Michael Oppenheimer, a geoscientist at Princeton, praised the report in an e-mail message as a “remarkably clear and direct” discussion of whether it would be possible to temporarily exceed a level like 450 p.p.m. and then reduce emissions in time to avoid catastrophic events like the collapse of a major inland ice sheet.

Dr. Oppenheimer said the new analysis showed that “some dangerous consequences could be triggered and persist for a long, long time, even if emissions were cut radically.”

“Policy makers need to understand,” he continued, “that in some ways once we are over the cliff, there’s nothing to stop the fall.”

Dr. Solomon said it would be wrong to view the report as evidence that it was already too late to do much good by reducing carbon emissions. “You have to think of this stuff as being more like nuclear waste than acid rain,” she said.

Acid rain began to abate when pollution contributing to it was limited. But just as nuclear waste remains radioactive for a long time, the effects of carbon dioxide persist.

“So if we slow it down,” she said, “we have more time to find solutions.”

For example, engineers may one day discover ways to remove the gas from the atmosphere. But “those solutions are not now in hand,” Dr. Solomon said. “They are quite speculative.”

Link to article: