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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Joseph Romm: Washington Post story about impact of global warming on Greenland never mentions sea level rise

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, May 13, 2011

And the winner of the worst climate story of the week is:

As Clinton works against global warming in Greenland, some there don’t mind it

NUUK, Greenland — Few places on Earth have seen starker changes in weather than this icebound island straddling the Arctic Circle. With that in mind, America’s top diplomat arrived here this week intent on calling attention to the perils of climate change. 
The problem was that Greenlanders aren’t exactly complaining... 
Rather than questioning global warming, many of this island’s 60,000 inhabitants seem to be racing to cash in.
I know the Washington Post thinks it is doing some clever contrarian story on the Arctic Council meeting:  Ooh, look at how Clinton is fighting against global warming in a place that (supposedly) isn’t complaining about global warming.

But this story is not merely unoriginal, it completely misses a key point:  The biggest contribution that Greenland itself is going to make to climate change will devastate it.

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, which advises the Council, concluded a major assessment last week:  “Global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9–1.6 meter by 2100.″ Shouldn’t the Post story on the Council meeting in Nuuk and how Greelanders just love warming at least mention that report and the fact that “The average elevation of Nuuk, Greenland is 1 meters.”  Doh.

It is perfectly reasonable to point that many Greenlanders stand to benefit from warming in the short term — lots of people want to visit and see one of the places on the planet where the warming is occurring  the fastest.  And yes there are minerals and oil to be had.

Of course, this isn’t news in the least bit. Outside magazine did a major piece on this a couple of years ago, and the UK Independent, among others, wrote about it then, “It’s getting hot up here: Why Greenland sees global warming as a way to gain independence…and make money:  Could global warming have an upside? Greenlanders seem to think so: the ice that surrounds them is melting to reveal vast mineral resources. Now all they must do is gain independence, cash in… and cope with their guilt.”

Greenlanders did nothing to bring upon itself this climate change, so they are going to have to cope with whatever happens.  Why shouldn’t they try to take advantage of whatever short-term “opportunities” are being forced down their throats by the greed and myopia of the rest of the world?

What’s news is the recent research on accelerated Greenland ice sheet melt and the implications for sea level rise.

It is just lame for a story on the supposedly beneficial impact of warming on Greenland to never mention even once the fact that the loss of the Greenland ice sheet is projected by science to become essentially irreversible this century on our current emissions path — and the resulting sea level rise would be devastating to Greenland itself (and the rest of the world).  I reviewed the literature on this last year:
As John Cook of Skeptical Science has noted, the last time global temperatures were just 1–2 °C higher than today (with polar temps ~3–5 °C warmer) was 125,000 years ago.  A December 2009 Nature study of that time, “Probabilistic assessment of sea level during the last interglacial stage” (subs. req’d), concluded:
We find a 95% probability that global sea level peaked at least 6.6 m higher than today during the last interglacial; it is likely (67% probability) to have exceeded 8.0 m but is unlikely (33% probability) to have exceeded 9.4 m… The results highlight the long-term vulnerability of ice sheets to even relatively low levels of sustained global warming.
That is, sea levels were probably more than 26 feet (!) higher when it was as warm as most models suggest it will be by mid-century if we stay near our current emissions path.

These 2009 studies are also worth noting:
And let’s remember the March study from JPL bombshell saying we are on pace for 1 foot sea level rise by 2050:  “The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace, according to a new NASA-funded satellite study. The findings of the study — the longest to date of changes in polar ice sheet mass — suggest these ice sheets are overtaking ice loss from Earth’s mountain glaciers and ice caps to become the dominant contributor to global sea level rise, much sooner than model forecasts have predicted.”

By 2100, seas could be rising 1 foot a decade!  That’s clear form new AMAP estimate.  See also,  Sea levels may rise 3 times faster than IPCC estimated, could hit 6 feet by 2100.

So yes, while some in Greenland will no doubt work hard to benefit from the climate impacts they have no control over — who wouldn’t? — within a few decades at most they’re won’t be many stories about how Greenlanders aren’t “questioning” global warming.  Cursing global warming — and cursing the failures of our generation, including the media — will be pretty commonplace everywhere if we don’t listen to the US National Academy of Sciences and start reducing greenhouse gas emissions ASAP.

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