Wednesday, October 24, 2007

So much for those carbon dioxide "sinks"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I haven't blogged about the climate crisis in some time, except to comment on Al Gore's Nobel win -- as J. Kingston Pierce and J. Thomas Duffy did, too -- but it's been in the news, of course, along with yet more, and more extensive, natural disasters, and the news seems to keep getting worse and worse. There has been Bush's substantial negligence on the political side, including his "victory" at June's G8 summit in Germany, with the U.S. proving yet again to be a malevolent hegemon, proposing a hollow framework for dealing with the crisis that will do nothing of the kind, preferring short-term self-interest, along with the shameful avoidance of reality, to the long-term well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, human and otherwise.

Meanwhile, the evidence keeps pouring in:

The capacity of the world's oceans and land to absorb carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by industrial activity is diminishing, raising the possibility that global warming will happen more rapidly and will be more dramatic than is currently anticipated, a new research paper says.

The paper, by an international team of scientists and published yesterday in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says nature's reduced ability to remove carbon dioxide that humans are adding to the atmosphere, along with surging world economic growth, explain why atmospheric concentrations of the gas rose in the 2000-2006 period at the most rapid seven-year pace since modern record keeping began in 1959.

"All of these changes characterize a carbon cycle that is generating stronger-than-expected and sooner-than-expected climate forcing," the paper concludes.

Carbon dioxide concentrations are at the highest level in the past 650,000 years, and probably the past 20 million years, according to the paper.

About half of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activity is later absorbed by water in the ocean and plants on land, a process that has led scientists to dub them "sinks." This natural process has blunted the full impact of greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity on the world climate.

The failure of the oceans and land to absorb as much carbon dioxide as they once did is being attributed to global warming, and is raising the worrisome possibility that this could lead to a cycle of weather destabilization that could cause the pace of warming to accelerate, according to one of the study authors.

The deniers, and there are still many of them, and they continue to be highly influential, particularly in the U.S., where a denier sits in the Oval Office, will argue that this is all somewhat abstract and theoretical, based on projections, a possibility, cyclical, if anything, hardly certain, little cause for concern. And yet it is the totality of the evidence, the ever-expanding evidence, that matters in this respect, and the totality of the evidence presents an astonishingly clear picture of where we are now and where we are heading in a future that is getting closer and closer. We are not talking about generations down the road, maybe, we are talking about this generation, within decades, if not sooner. We are talking about a steady increase in global temperatures, but also about droughts, storms, flooding, enormous natural disasters, potentially millions dead and many millions more displaced. Yes, we are talking about genocide and chaos.

Our planet has the natural ability to regulate itself, to balance itself out, but that ability has been weakened by irresponsible and excessive human activity and now may be unable to operate effectively. In other words, we have literally destroyed the Earth's own natural defences, and we will have no one but ourselves to blame when we are destroyed in turn.

The evidence is out there. It is clear. It is a call to action. Some are acting, but too many aren't, and too many don't care, and too many live in abject denial and willful ignorance.

It is, as the saying goes, now or never.

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  • Michael, fair warning, this will not give you comfort:

    White House cut warming impact testimony by H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer, Tue Oct 23, 7:07 PM ET

    WASHINGTON - The White House severely edited congressional testimony given Tuesday by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the impact of climate change on health, removing specific scientific references to potential health risks, according to two sources familiar with the documents.

    Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Atlanta-based CDC, the government's premier disease monitoring agency, told a Senate hearing that climate change "is anticipated to have a broad range of impacts on the health of Americans."
    Her testimony before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee had much less information on health risks than a much longer draft version Gerberding submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review in advance of her appearance.

    "It was eviscerated," said a CDC official, familiar with both versions, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the review process.

    The deletions directed by the White House included details on how many people might be adversely affected because of increased warming and the scientific basis for some of the CDC's analysis on what kinds of diseases might be spread in a warmer climate and rising sea levels, according to one official who has seen the original version.

    They include fatalities from heat stress and heart failure, increased injuries and deaths from severe weather such as hurricanes; more respiratory problems from drought-driven air pollution; an increase in waterborne diseases including cholera, and increases vector-borne diseases including malaria and hantavirus; and mental health problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress.

    Link to the complete article

    The deliberate suppression of scientific testimony to Congress, now this pisses me off!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:09 AM  

  • Thanks for the bad news.

    But it's hardly surprising, is it? The Bush Administration is all about toeing the line and rewarding hackery. The former Surgeon General was gagged, too, much like this. He wasn't even allowed to attend the Special Olympics, which are seen by the White House as a Kennedy event. And he certainly wasn't allowed to talk openly about birth control and other health-related issues the right finds objectionable.

    One of the key elements of Bush's legacy will be the anti-science orientation of his administration. On stem-cell research, on abortion and birth control, and, of course, on climate change.

    This is the willful suppression of the truth. In front of Congress! (Is this not an impeachable offence?)

    Democrats, where are you on this issue?

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 1:18 AM  

  • Unfortunately, MJ, you may have just written man's epitaph here.

    By Blogger Carl, at 5:20 PM  

  • I'm here from Shakesville. A science note about how "tentative" this all is:

    The carbon-fixing reactions in plants and in the ocean (they're very different) are both temperature dependent. That's simple chemistry. And unless Karl Rove has cancelled the laws of thermodynamics, there is nothing tentative about it.

    The warmer it gets, the less carbon is fixed. It's a feedback loop. Once the feedback loop starts moving too fast for anything we do to affect it, ... well, then we can't affect it. It'll be out of our hands. Cutting back ALL the CO2 we produce won't save us then.

    There's nothing tentative about that either.

    By Blogger quixote, at 5:44 PM  

  • Its been proven that CO2 traps heat. Increase the gas in any greenhouse, and the temperature goes up. More CO2 means a hotter planet, period.

    The increase in average temperatures almost perfectly matches the increase in CO2 emissions.

    Gore's thesis is correct. However, he goes wrong when he implies that the changes in our behavior and policy will be painless.

    Farther complicating things is that some areas might benefit from the warmer world. Why, after all, should Siberia, Alaska and Northern Canada fight global warming if it means longer growing seasons and lower heating costs?

    It is also dubious if even sever cutbacks in CO2 emissions will be enough to make much of a dent.

    Also, many people in this country are still consuming energy like there is no tomorrow

    The ultimate solution is to build giant solar mirrors in space and beam CO2 free power to the world and/or a significant improvement in fusion technology(NOT to be confused with fission)

    Even if Global Warming were a myth, we would have to develop these technologies because Oil, Coal and Natural Gas will run out someday.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:30 PM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:44 PM  

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