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New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360

New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360.

24 MAR 2014: ANALYSIS

The draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the world faces serious risks from warming and that the poor are especially vulnerable. But it avoids the kinds of specific forecasts that have sparked controversy in the past.

by fred pearce

Batten down the hatches; fill the grain stores; raise the flood defenses. We cannot know exactly what is coming, but it will probably be nasty, the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will warn next week. Global warming will cause wars, displace millions of people, and do trillion-dollar damage to the global economy.

But careful readers will note a new tone to its discussion of these issues that is markedly different from past efforts. It is more humble about what scientists can predict in advance, and far more interested in how societies can make themselves resilient. It also places climate risks much more

IPCC cautious predictions

Rob Elliott/AFP/Getty Images
The draft IPCC report cites sea level rise and storm surges among eight “key risks.”

firmly than before among a host of other problems faced by society, especially by the poor. That tone will annoy some for taking the edge off past warnings, but gratify others for providing a healthy dose of realism.

The study, the result of a five-year review of published papers, is from the IPCC’s scientists working on the impacts of climate change. It complements an IPCC study late last year on the planetary science and will be followed next month by another that will focus on what we should do about it.

A leak of the final draft prepared by scientists at the end of October 2013 is circulating. It is not the final version, which will be a summary for policymakers that will be released on March 31, though there is unlikely to be much change. And, since government delegates at international talks in Japan this week will scrutinize the final draft before signing off

Hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts have often proved wrong.

for publication, what we have is effectively “the scientists’ cut.”

Past impacts reports from the IPCC were based around attempts to produce detailed forecasts of local climate in future decades and somewhat mechanistic assessments of what this would mean for society. But the new report is much more wary, especially of putting numbers on likely changes. Many previously firm-sounding forecasts have disappeared since the last major IPCC climate-impacts report in 2007, such as spreading droughts and crop losses in Africa and more violent hurricanes in the Atlantic.

The reason for avoiding precise forecasts is twofold. First, overly precise predictions got the authors of the 2007 report into trouble. The most famous faux pas was the claim that Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035, when 2350 is a more likely date. But there were other unsubstantiated forecasts, such as that “projected reductions in [crop] yield in some countries [in Africa] could be as much as 50% by 2020” — a misinterpretation of a paper, which was not peer-reviewed, that looked at rain-fed agriculture in just three North African countries.

The hundreds of authors of the draft report have been silent for some time, following IPCC rules by refusing to discuss their draft with journalists. But their chairman, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California, told me soon after taking on the job in 2009 that he recognized serious mistakes had been made last time and that he was “committed to sufficient checking and cross-checking to ensure a truly error-free product next time.”

Another reason for the more measured tone is that hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts than seven years ago have often proved wrong. For parts of the world, model forecasts of regional climate change are diverging rather than converging. The more we know, it seems, the less we know for sure.

Caution is the watchword. Take the treatment of Africa. Last time, the chapter on that continent began with a declaration that up to a quarter of a billion Africans “are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due

The draft report lays out eight ‘key risks,’ including sea level rise and storm surges that could affect hundreds of millions.

to climate change.” This time, the leaked draft states simply that while “a reduction in precipitation is likely over North Africa … projected rainfall change over sub-Saharan Africa is uncertain.”

The draft agrees that “climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability in Africa” and will “very likely” reduce cereal crop productivity. But this time the discussion is not about how big or small those reductions might be, but on how African farmers might cope with less water, through terracing and agroforestry for instance.

Asia has fallen into a similar forecasting limbo. Last time, the IPCC warned that there would be less water in most Asian river basins and up to a billion people could experience “increased water stress” as early as the 2020s. This time, “there is low confidence in future precipitation projections at a subregional level and thus in future freshwater availability in most parts of Asia.” Last time the IPCC predicted “an increase of 10 to 20% in tropical cyclone intensities” in Asia. This time it reports “low confidence in region-specific projections of [cyclone] frequency and intensity.”

Some certainties do remain. The leaked draft suggests growing agreement among climate modelers that Scandinavia and much of Canada will see more precipitation and that the southwestern U.S., southern Australia, the Middle East, southern Europe, and North Africa can expect more droughts and emptier rivers.

Southern Europe looks set to fry, with crops shriveling in the fields, reservoirs emptying, deserts spreading, tourists staying away, and demand for air conditioning going through the roof. Even its vineyards will suffer, though a reference in a March 2013 draft to Venice being “lost forever” beneath the waves has since been removed.

Globally, the draft report lays out eight “key risks”: sea level rise and storm surges in coastal areas that could affect “hundreds of millions… by 2100”; food insecurity for the poor from warming and drought; inland flooding of cities; loss of access to water for drinking and irrigation; breakdown of infrastructure due to extreme events; loss of fisheries, due to a “global redistribution of maximum catch potential”; loss of terrestrial ecosystems such as

The idea that climate change is of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world has been rooted out.

“forest dieback … in the next one to three decades”; and extreme heat, especially for the poor in cities.

But it asks us to be grown-up about the uncertainties involved in what plays out when. “Responding to climate-related risks involves making decisions and taking actions in the face of continuing uncertainty about the extent of climate change and the severity of impacts in a changing world,” the draft report says. Or as Field put it to journalists in 2010: “Most people spend their lives making decisions under uncertainty, and that’s what dealing effectively with climate change demands — the same kind of decisions you make when you decide to buckle your seatbelt.”

The 2007 report was almost all about the impacts of climate change. Most of this report, and in particular most of the summary for policymakers, is about resilience and adaptation to inevitable climate change.

Central to that new take is setting climate change in a context of other risks, uncertainties and mega-trends such as poverty and social inequality, urbanization, and the globalization of food systems. What some call “climate exceptionalism” — the idea that climate change is something of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world — has been rooted out. Here climate change is painted as pervasive, since nobody can avoid it wholly, but as usually only one among many pressures, especially on the poor.

“Climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden to people living in poverty, acting as a threat multiplier,” it says. “Vulnerability is rarely due to a single cause.” Even for someone living on a sand spit in coastal Bangladesh, at constant risk of being washed away by rising tides and

On food security, the report is markedly more gloomy than the previous assessment in 2007.

superstorms, the country’s pervasive land inequality may be a bigger threat.

Thus climate will exacerbate and amplify pre-existing problems. The report notes how a drought in Australia in 2007 sent global food prices soaring in 2008. But it cannot answer whether we should blame climate change or a dysfunctional food system.

Food security is, nonetheless, one area where the report is markedly more gloomy that its immediate predecessor. The 2007 assessment argued that increases in crop yields in mid-latitudes could offset losses in hotter climates, at least for the next few decades. “Globally,” it said, “the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1-3 degrees C.” But that optimism has faded. The leaked draft forecasts that “local temperature increases of 1 degrees C or more… are projected to negatively impact yields.”

Average yields of major grains could fall by up to 2 percent a decade from here until the end of the century, it predicts. With demand for food crops likely to rise by 14 percent a decade, that sounds a daunting prospect — though it also suggests that climate change is only a small element in the emerging 21st century crisis over global food security.

Some nightmare scenarios are robustly defused. Past IPCC reports have warned that there might be as many as 50 million “climate refugees” around the world, who will flee drought, rising tides and spreading deserts. This report is set to dismiss that idea. “The current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental refugees’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather,” the draft

MORE FROM YALE e360

Has the U.N. Climate Panel
Now Outlived Its Usefulness?

sea level rise

Some scientists are saying the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is overly conservative and fails to mention some of the most worrisome possible scenarios. The panel, they contend, is no longer fulfilling its mission of informing policy makers of the risks of global warming.
READ MORE

says. “Predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.” It also points out that migration is a good “coping strategy,” often to be encouraged rather than feared.

The report may irritate politicians in poor countries who look to blame climate change caused by the rich world for the ills of their people and want to demand reparations. But it may also dismay those who want to cite other factors to “prove” that climate change is never to blame. The world is more complicated, the scientists who prepared the draft conclude. The lesson of their report is that climate change will be implicated in a vast array of global ills, but it will rarely be the sole cause.

Climate change skeptics may want to characterize the report as debunking what they regard as the scaremongering of past reports. They may latch onto statements such as that “for most economic sectors,” factors such as changing demography, technology, lifestyles, and governance “will be large relative to the impacts of climate change.” And the report is, on the face of it, more optimistic than the famous review of the economics of climate change by Britain’s Nicholas Stern in 2006.

Stern put the likely cost to the global economy of warming this century at 5-20 percent of GDP. The new IPCC draft says that a global average temperature increase of 2.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels may lead to a global loss of income of between 0.2 and 2 percent.

But if Americans think this puts them in a good position, they are wrong. While the report is silent on whether there might be more or stronger hurricanes hitting North America from the Atlantic (and “Katrina aside,” saw no trend in U.S. hurricane deaths since 1970), it states that “much of North American infrastructure is currently vulnerable to extreme weather events.”

The message is clear. We may not be able to make hard and fast predictions, but prudency requires that we prepare for the worst.

Tomgram: Engelhardt, The End of History? | TomDispatch

Tomgram: Engelhardt, The End of History? | TomDispatch.

Ending the World the Human Way 
Climate Change as the Anti-News
By Tom Engelhardt

Here’s the scoop: When it comes to climate change, there is no “story,” not in the normal news sense anyway.

The fact that 97% of scientists who have weighed in on the issue believe that climate change is a human-caused phenomenon is not a story.  That only one of 9,137 peer-reviewed papers on climate change published between November 2012 and December 2013 rejected human causation is not a story either, nor is the fact that only 24 out of 13,950 such articles did so over 21 years.  That the anything-but-extreme Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers an at least 95% guarantee of human causation for global warming is not a story, nor is the recent revelation that IPCC experts believe we only have 15 years left to rein in carbon emissions or we’ll need new technologies not yet in existence which may never be effective.  Nor is the recent poll showing that only 47% of Americans believe climate change is human-caused (a drop of 7% since 2012) or that the percentage who believe climate change is occurring for any reason has also declined since 2012 from 70% to 63%.  Nor is the fact that, as the effects of climate change came ever closer to home, media coverage of the subject dropped between 2010 and 2012 and, though rising in 2013, was still well below coverage levels for 2007 to 2009.  Nor is it a story that European nations, already light years ahead of the United States on phasing out fossil fuels, recently began considering cutbacks on some of their climate change goals, nor that U.S. carbon emissions actually rose in 2013, nor that the southern part of the much disputed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to bring particularly carbon-dirty tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, is now in operation, nor that 2013 will have been either the fourth or seventh hottest year on record, depending on how you do the numbers.

Don’t misunderstand me.  Each of the above was reported somewhere and climate change itself is an enormous story, if what you mean is Story with a capital S.  It could even be considered the story of all stories.  It’s just that climate change and its component parts are unlike every other story from the Syrian slaughter and the problems of Obamacare to Bridgegate and Justin Bieber’s arrest.  The future of all other stories, of the news and storytelling itself, rests on just how climate change manifests itself over the coming decades or even century.  What happens in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 presidential elections, in our wars, politics, and culture, who is celebrated and who ignored — none of it will matter if climate change devastates the planet.

Climate change isn’t the news and it isn’t a set of news stories.  It’s the prospective end of all news.  Think of it as the anti-news.

All the rest is part of the annals of human history: the rise and fall of empires, of movements, of dictatorships and democracies, of just about anything you want to mention.  The most crucial stories, like the most faddish ones, are — every one of them — passing phenomena, which is of course what makes them the news.

Climate change isn’t.  New as that human-caused phenomenon may be — having its origins in the industrial revolution — it’s nonetheless on a different scale from everything else, which is why journalists and environmentalists often have so much trouble figuring out how to write about it in a way that leaves it continually in the news.  While no one who, for instance, lived through “Frankenstorm” Sandy on the East Coast in 2012 could call the experience “boring” — winds roaring through urban canyons like freight trains, lights going out across lower Manhattan, subway tunnels flooding, a great financial capital brought to its proverbial knees — in news terms, much of global warming is boring and repetitive.  I mean, drip, drip, drip.  How many times can you write about the melting Arctic sea ice or shrinking glaciers and call it news?  How often are you likely to put that in your headlines?

We’re so used to the phrase “the news” that we often forget its essence: what’s “new” multiplied by that “s.”  It’s true that the “new” can be repetitively so.  How many times have you seen essentially the same story about Republicans and Democrats fighting on Capitol Hill?  But the momentousness of climate change, which isn’t hard to discern, is difficult to regularly turn into meaningful “new” headlines (“Humanity Doomed If…”), to repeatedly and successfully translate into a form oriented to the present and the passing moment, to what happened yesterday, today, and possibly tomorrow.

If the carbon emissions from fossil fuels are allowed to continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the science of what will happen sooner or later is relatively cleareven if its exact timetable remains in question: this world will be destabilized as will humanity (along with countless other species).  We could, at the worst, essentially burn ourselves off Planet Earth.  This would prove a passing event for the planet itself, but not for us, nor for any fragment of humanity that managed to survive in some degraded form, nor for the civilizations we’ve developed over thousands of years.

In other words, unlike “the news,” climate change and its potential devastations exist on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species.  Great devastations and die-offs have happened before.  Give the planet a few million years and life of many sorts will regenerate and undoubtedly thrive.  But possibly not us.

Nuclear Dress Rehearsal

Here’s the strange thing: we went through a dress rehearsal for this in the twentieth century when dealing (or not dealing) with nuclear weapons, aka the Bomb — often capitalized in my youth as a sign of how nuclear disaster was felt to be looming over life itself.  With the dropping of that “victory weapon” on two Japanese cities in 1945, a new era opened.  For the first time, we humans — initially in Washington, then in Moscow, then in other national capitals — took the power to end all life on this planet out of God’s hands.  You could think of it as the single greatest, if also grimmest, act of secularization in history.  From 1945 on, at least prospectively, we could do what only God had previously been imagined capable of: create an End Time on this planet.

In itself, that was a remarkable development.  And there was nothing figurative about it.  The U.S. military was involved in what, in retrospect, can only be considered operational planning for world’s end.  In its first “Single Integrated Operational Plan,” or SIOP, in 1960, for instance, it prepared to deliver more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities which would then, if all went well, cease to exist. Official estimates of casualties ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured.  (Those figures undoubtedly underestimated radiation and other effects, and today we also know that the exploding of so many nuclear weapons would have ended life as we know it on this planet.)  In those years, in the most secret councils of government, American officials also began to prepare for the possibility that 100 Russian missiles might someday land on U.S. targets, killing or injuring 22 million Americans.  Not so many years later, the weaponry of either of the superpowers had the capability of destroying the planet many times over.

The U.S. and the USSR were by then locked in a struggle that gained a remarkably appropriate acronym: MAD (for “mutually assured destruction”).  During the Cold War, the U.S. built an estimated 70,000 nuclear warheads and bombs of every size and shape, the Soviet Union55,000, and with them went a complex semi-secret nuclear geography of missile silos, plutonium plants, and the like that shadowed the everyday landscape we knew.

In 1980, scientists discovered a layer of particularly iridium-rich clay in sediments 65 million years old, evidence that a vast asteroid impact had put such a cloud of particulates into the atmosphere as to deprive the planet of sunshine, turning it into a wintry vista, and in the process contributing to the demise of the dinosaurs.  In the years that followed, it became ever clearer that nuclear weapons, dispatched in the quantities both the U.S. and USSR had been planning for, would have a similar effect.  This prospective phenomenon was dubbed “nuclear winter.”

In this way, nuclear extermination would also prove to be an apocalyptic weather event, giving it an affinity with what, in the decades to come, would be called “global warming” and then “climate change.”  The nuclear story, the first (and at the time the only imaginable) tale of our extinction by our own hands, rose into the news periodically and even into front-page headlines, as during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as into the movies and popular culture.  Unlike climate change, it was a global catastrophe that could happen at any moment and be carried to its disastrous conclusion in a relatively short period of time, bringing it closer to the today and tomorrow of the news.

Nonetheless, nuclear arsenals, too, were potential life-enders and so news-enders.  As a result, most of the time their existence and development managed to translate poorly into daily headlines.  For so many of those years in that now long-gone world of the Cold War stand-off, the nuclear issue was somehow everywhere, a kind of exterminationist grid over life itself, and yet, like climate change, nowhere at all.  Except for a few brief stretches in those decades, antinuclear activists struggled desperately to bring the nuclear issue out of the shadows.

The main arsenals on the planet, still enormous, are now in a kind of nuclear hibernation and are only “news” when, for instance, their very backwater status becomes an issue.  This was the case recently with a spate of headlines about test cheating and drug use scandals involving U.S. Air Force “missileers” who feel that in their present posts they are career losers.  Most of the major national arsenals are almost never mentioned in the news.  They are essentially no-news zones.  These would include the gigantic Russian one, the perhaps 200 weapons in theIsraeli arsenal, and those of the British, French, Indians, and Pakistanis (except when it comes to stories about fears of future loose nukes from that country’s stock of weapons).

The only exceptions in the twenty-first century have been Iran, a country in the spotlight for a decade, even though its nuclear program lies somewhere between prospective and imaginary, and North Korea, which continues to develop a modest (but dangerous) arsenal.  On the other hand, even though a full-scale nuclear war between Pakistan and India, each of which may now have about 100 weapons in their expanding arsenals, would be a global catastrophe with nuclear-winter effects that would engulf the planet causing widespread famine, most of the time you simply wouldn’t know it.  These days, it turns out we have other problems.

The End of History?

If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial.  The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of both the nuclear situation and climate change.  Each is now woven into our lives in essential, if little acknowledged, ways and yet both remain remarkably recessive.  Add to that a fatalistic feeling among many that these are issues beyond our capacity to deal with, and you have a potent brew not just for the repression of news but also for the failure to weave what news we do get into a larger picture that we could keep before us as we live our lives.  Who, after all, wants to live life like that?

And yet nuclear weapons and climate change are human creations, which means that the problems they represent have human solutions.  They are quite literally in our hands.  In the case of climate change, we can even point to an example of what can be done about a human-caused global environmental disaster-in-the-making: the “hole” in the ozone layer over Antarctica.  Discovered in 1985, it continued to grow for years threatening a prospective health catastrophe.  It was found to be due to the effects of CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) compounds used in air-conditioning units, refrigerators, and aerosol propellants, and then released into the atmosphere.  In fact, the nations of the world did come together around CFCs, most of which have now been replaced, while that hole has been reduced, though it isn’t expected to heal entirely until much later this century.

Of course, compared with the burning of fossil fuels, the economic and political interests involved in CFCs were minor.  Still, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer is evidence that solutions can be reached, however imperfectly, on a global scale when it comes to human-caused environmental problems.

What makes climate change so challenging is that the carbon dioxide (and methane) being generated by the extraction, production, and burning of fossil fuels supports the most profitable corporations in history, as well as energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are, in essence, national versions of such corporations.  The drive for profits has so far proven unstoppable.  Those who run the big oil companies, like the tobacco companies before them, undoubtedly know what potential harm they are doing to us.  They know what it will mean for humanity if resources (and profits) aren’t poured into alternative energy research and development.  And like those cigarette companies, they go right on.  They are indeed intent, for instance, on turning North America into “Saudi America,” and hunting down and extracting the last major reserves of fossil fuel in the most difficult spots on the planet.  Their response to climate change has, in fact, been to put some of their vast profits into the funding of a campaignof climate-change denialism (and obfuscation) and into the coffers of chosen politicians and think tanks willing to lend a hand.

In fact, one of the grim wonders of climate change has been the ability of Big Energy and its lobbyists to politicize an issue that wouldn’t normally have a “left” or “right,” and to make bad science into an ongoing news story.  In other words, an achievement that couldn’t be morecriminal in nature has also been their great coup de théâtre.

In a world heading toward the brink, here’s the strange thing: most of the time that brink is nowhere in sight.  And how can you get people together to solve a human-caused problem when it’s so seldom meaningfully in the news (and so regularly challenged by energy interests when it is)?

This is the road to hell and it has not been paved with good intentions.  If we stay on it, we won’t even be able to say that future historians considered us both a wonder (for our ability to create world-ending scenarios and put them into effect) and a disgrace (for our inability to face what we had done).  By then, humanity might have arrived at the end of history, and so of historians.

Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, isTerminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

[Note: I would like to thank Jonathan Schell for loaning me the term “anti-news” in relation to climate change.]

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

Technology offers no ‘un-do’ switch for global warming — Transition Voice

Technology offers no ‘un-do’ switch for global warming — Transition Voice.

seeing through car dashboard

Can we cool down the Earth? Don’t count on it, say scientists. Photo: KristinaDragana.

In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), among the most conservative scientific organizations on Earth, issued a report concluding that global warming is irreversible without geo-engineering.

Yet, as Earth System Dynamics recently pointed out, known strategies for geo-engineering are unlikely to succeed and that “climate geo-engineering cannot simply be used to undo global warming.”

Meanwhile, in December, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences announced that gradual change of the climate is not guaranteed: “The history of climate on the planet — as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores — is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.”

Indeed, Earth has witnessed a five-degree Celsius rise in global-average temperature during a span of 13 years.

Writing for the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, John Davies concludes: “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.” Davies considers only atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, not the abundant self-reinforcing feedback loops triggered on the climate-change front.

Considering only one feedback loop among many, methane release from the Arctic Ocean is expected to increase global-average temperature by more than 4°C by 2030 and 10°C by 2040, according to Sam Carana’s research (see especially Image 24).

Humans have not occupied Earth at 3.5°C above baseline. If this seems problematic to you, I believe you’re paying attention.

– Guy McPherson, Transition Voice

Mystery of the ‘Missing’ Global Warming – Bloomberg

Mystery of the ‘Missing’ Global Warming – Bloomberg. (source)

Have you heard the one about how global warming stopped in 1998? It’s been called a “pause,” a “hiatus,” a “slowdown” and a “siesta.” Above all, it’s a red herring, and it isn’t difficult to find where some of the ‘missing’ heat has gone.

First, in case you haven’t been paying attention: 97 percent of climate scientists agree about global warming and its man-made causes, now with 95 percent certainty, according to a report this month by the IPCC, the world’s most authoritative body of climate scientists. Greenhouse gases trap heat, which melts ice, raises seas and floods cities; this fundamental equation is not in doubt.

What has raised a few eyebrows recently is that temperatures on the surface of Earth have increased at a slower rate since 1998 than in previous decades. Scientists have largely chalked this up to the short-term variability of climate. However, climate skeptics have taken the surface-temp slowdown acknowledged by the IPCC to mean that global warming itself has stopped — that somehow the physics has changed.

It hasn’t.

“The planet is warming,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a reviewer for the IPCC report. “The warmth just isn’t being manifested at the surface.”

The chart below, from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows what’s going on beneath the surface. The red line shows a half-century of temperatures for the first 700 meters of ocean water below the surface; the black line shows temperatures of waters to a depth of 2000.

Source: National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC)Source: National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC)

The warming at the ocean’s surface layer may have slowed a bit, but ocean temperatures in aggregate have continued to rise unchecked during the so-called hiatus, according to the IPCC. That’s important because while the atmosphere accounts for just 1 percent of planetary heat, the oceans carry 93% of the stored energy from climate change (melting ice and warming continents make up the rest).

In fact, there is mounting evidence that deeper regions of the ocean, down to 2000 meters, are absorbing heat faster than ever, Trenberth said in a phone call. His research shows the oceans began taking on significantly more heat at around the same time the surface warming began to slow in 1998. His widely cited work was published just after the cutoff to be included in the IPCC report.

The irony, says Trenberth, is that when the surface of the planet is unusually sweltering, the Earth actually radiates more heat into the atmosphere, in effect slowing the long-term warming of the planet. And in “hiatus” years, when the surface is cooler, the Earth absorbs more of the sun’s heat deep the oceans, slowly cooking the planet. What you see isn’t always what you get.

Ocean temperatures are just one of many independent lines of evidence showing that climate change continues to speed ahead on an alarming course. Need more? Look to the seas that are rising faster than previously anticipated, the imbalance of energy measured entering and exiting the upper atmosphere, and the melting glaciers and permafrost. I could go on.

But the next time you’re at a barbecue and someone tries to tell you global warming stopped in 1998, just throw some cold (ocean) water on the debate. And don’t sell your getaway ark just yet.

Read the full IPCC report here. Warning: It’s 2,200 pages and not for the scientifically faint of heart. The more digestible 30-page summary for policy makers is available here.

More by Tom Randall:

Harper’s 5 Stages of Grief Over Climate Change | John McKay

Harper’s 5 Stages of Grief Over Climate Change | John McKay. (FULL ARTICLE)

The IPCC published an intensely detailed report on climate change last week. Even the 36 page executive summary is packed with detail, graphs and data all of which drives any reasonable person to the conclusion that climate change is real and largely driven by human activity. Consider its first conclusion: “Global mean surface air temperatures over land and oceans have increased over the last 100 years.”

There is no denying it, “we” have a problem. Admitting that you have a problem is probably the most difficult first step for a Prime Minister addicted to “bull horn diplomacy,” intolerance of dissent, and dumbed down public policy. Yet, even for PM Harper it is difficult to deny a 95 per cent certainty.

You have to have some sympathy for the Minister of the Environment who is obliged to maintain the Harper fiction regardless of the evidence and how foolish that it may make her look. To do so would be to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change and the fact that her government has done little to deal with that reality. That would be counterproductive to the PM’s efforts to secure approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. So, poor Minister Aglukkaq is left to dangle in the winds of non-sequiturs and contradictions….

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