An ‘Unsolvable Problem’

December 4, 2013

Dali_paintingClear and really-cold this early Wednesday here on California’s north coast with the air getting colder the closer to dawn.
Away from the ocean and into the interior, temperatures could drop into the single digits, but even with us on the beach, it’s going to be a record-setting cold snap.

However, since I leave for work prior to sun up, the air then is warmer: Actually, the lowest air temperature tends to occur within the hour after sunrise, before the input of energy from the Sun equals the continuing loss of energy from the ground and the air.
That’s something, anyway.

Climate change, though, throws all that shit out a cold, open window.

(Illustration: Salvador Dali’s ‘Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus‘ found here).

One the earliest warnings about climate change came from James Hansen, formerly of NASA and now a full-time global warming guy at Columbia’s Earth Institute, and that was nearly 30 years ago. Yesterday, he and his cohorts have released another frightful warning — and it ain’t pretty. Originally published at PLOS One, this some snips from a review at Scientific American:

Their paper further underscores other recent studies showing that even small delays in shrinking the industrial output of carbon dioxide (CO2) could steeply complicate not only attempts to temper climate change but also any attempts by future generations to adapt to it.
Without abrupt action to restrict higher emissions “it will become exceedingly difficult to keep warming below a target smaller than 2° C” they write.
Furthermore, they say, the supposedly safe “limit” for warming of 2 degrees Celsius—which has driven global climate negotiations for years—is too high.
Anything more than 1 degree C could imperil the Earth’s ecosystems and societies.
Hansen in particular is concerned about inaction imposing a crushing burden on today’s children, as reflected in the paper’s title: “Assessing Dangerous Climate Change: Required Reductions of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature.”

The PLOS One paper calls the safety of that compromise into question, however.
Not only might the long-term effects of a 2 degrees C rise be worse than is commonly recognized, the authors say, but any circumstances that bring the world close to that limit by 2100 will most likely commit the world to further increases that might exceed 3 degrees C within another century.
Such temperatures would make large segments of the globe virtually unlivable for humans.

Hansen remarked at a press conference: “If we go another decade or two just charging ahead business as usual, then we leave people a possibly unsolvable problem.”
Yep, another problem that can’t be fixed.

Meanwhile and also yesterday, the National Academy of Sciences released a report on the most-scariest of the climate change agenda, that of “abrupt” or quick shift in the environment due to “tipping points” and other factors, which means bad-shit-hitting-the-fan nearly overnight.
From Aljazeera:

The report repeatedly warns of potential “tipping points” where the climate passes thresholds, beyond which “major and rapid changes occur.”
And some of these quick changes are happening now, said study chairman James White of the University of Colorado.
The study says abrupt changes like melting ice in the Arctic Ocean and mass species extinctions have already started and are worse than predicted.
The panel of scientists called on the government to create an early warning system.
“The time is here to be serious about the threat of tipping points so as to better anticipate and prepare ourselves for the inevitable surprises,” said the report by the Academy, a research arm of the federal government that enlists independent scientists to look at major issues.
It says thousands of species are changing their ranges, seasonal patterns or, in some cases, are going extinct because of human-caused climate change.
Species in danger include some coral, pika, a rabbit-like creature, polar bears and the Hawaiian silversword plant.
At the bottom of the world in Antarctica, the melting ice in the west could be more of a wild card than originally thought.
If the massive ice sheet melts, it may happen relatively rapidly and could raise world sea levels by 13 feet.
But researchers aren’t certain how soon that may occur.

Study co-author Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University compared the threat of abrupt climate change effects to the random danger of drunk drivers.
“You can’t see it coming, so you can’t prepare for it. The faster it is, the less you see it coming, the more it costs,” Alley told The Associated Press.
“If you see the drunk driver coming, you can get out of the way.”

Donald Wuebbles, a University of Illinois climate scientist who wasn’t part of the academy study, called it important, especially the call for better warning systems.
However, outside scientist Michael Mann of Penn State said he doesn’t see the need for a new warning system.
“The warning is already there, loud and clear,” Mann said in an email.
“The changes we are seeing in the Arctic are unprecedented in thousands of years, and they are already having a catastrophic impact on human civilizations, animals, and ecosystems there.”

And it will rapidly continue.

Mainly because the vast, vast majority of humans really don’t grasp the horror coming quickly — and they will, dude, hopefully sooner than later.
A major reason is greed, and the very concept of “reality.”
From the UK’s Guardian:

The head of the World Coal Association (WCA) has accused UN climate chief Christiana Figueres of ‘ignoring reality’, following her call to the coal industry to invest in more efficient technologies.
In an interview, World Coal chief executive Milton Catelin told RTCC that Figueres’ lack of expertise in the mining and energy sectors meant she “misses some of the fundamentals about the energy sector”.
He was responding to a speech Figueres made to a ‘Climate and Coal Summit’ on the sidelines of UN negotiations in Warsaw two weeks ago, where she told the audience that “coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.”
Figueres called for the closure of all low-efficiency subcritical plants, a roll out of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and a collective decision to leave most coal reserves in the ground.

Catelin equated Figueres’ call for the closure of older coal power stations to telling her home country of Costa Rica it could no longer have access to electricity: “to suggest that you can close all subcritical [coal-fired] plants tomorrow totally ignores reality,” he said.
“She comes from a perspective where the only challenge in the world today is global warming,” he said.
“I think what we say is there’s more than one challenge – other things are almost as important or equally important, such as global poverty and the need to maintain economic development.”

According to the International Energy Agency, 43 percent of all CO2 emissions from fuel combustion were produced by coal in 2010, a figure that is expected to rise between now and 2035.

Yes, indeed.
Yet, it already might be too late — it’s cold right now, but heat always finds a way.
An “unsolvable problem” with a terrible end.

(Illustration out front found here).

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