Climate Change Alarm is Needed and Climate Scientists Aren’t Sounding it Loud Enough

Alarmist. It’s a term climate change deniers seem to bandy about often, these days, as if ‘alarm’ were some kind of bad word. As if alarm weren’t needed or necessary. As if climate change, a primary vehicle for a range of horrors ranging from mass extinctions to catastrophic Earth changes, were some kind of carnival ride or a happy walk in the park.

But what if alarm is entirely called for? What if, for example, you’re standing in or near a river and a massive glacial melt lake up-stream has suddenly released and an immense torrent is now rushing toward you (as happened to thousands in India this year). Would you want the person on the hill near shore who sees the onrushing water to say in a calm, steady voice:

“Hey, you might want to get out. That water could rise a little.”

Or, even worse, would you want them to say, as the deniers would:

“It’s all good. The water’s just fine for swimming.”

Is either of these responses appropriate?

How about just shouting:

“Megaflood on the way! Get the hell out!!”

The IPCC is version #1. The oil company dupes and lackeys are version #2. As for version #3 …

A Call For Climate Change Urgency

One fundamental point a rational observer of the ongoing catastrophe that is human-caused climate change should always keep in mind is that scientists are, by nature and as a group, very conservative. It’s one reason why science, in general, is not a very good indicator of alarm to an emerging crisis. Science is constantly checking itself, is rightfully uncertain about the nature of truth, is constantly challenging its own assumptions. This refinement is a needed part of the improvement of human knowledge. But this process, often, creates a marked underestimation of potentially large-scale events.

Take the cases of sea level rise, Arctic sea ice melt, human CO2 emissions, and ice sheet response over the last 30 years. The combined report of consensus science represented by the IPCC has consistently underestimated rates of loss or increase for all of the above. In short, the best description of past IPCC reports on climate change, and their related forecasts, could be that they were, overall, conservative, muted, and mild when compared to the changes that are being observed now.

The IPCC’s reports are so muted, in fact, that they tend to leave us very vulnerable to what can best be termed as catastrophic events that are ever-more likely as the vicious and violent pace of human greenhouse gas forcing continues to progress. In prognostication of these potential events, the IPCC is an abject failure. It does not take into account the very high likelihood that, if you push the world climate to warm faster than it ever has before, and if you hit temperature increases of 2, 4, 6 degrees Celsius within 30, 50, 100 years that set off Heinrich Events, large Earth system carbon responses (catastrophic CO2 and methane release), rapid sea level rise, and ocean anoxia (dead oceans) in the past, then you are likely to get at least some of these events coming into play over the next 100 years. Yet the IPCC does not issue a report on overall ocean anoxia, or the potential risk for catastrophic ice sheet collapse, or what might result from a massive methane and carbon release from a very rapidly thawing Arctic that is now liberating a massive carbon store to such violent processes as Arctic heatwaves, a raging pace of sea level rise, or a great and explosive outburst of wildfires.

Should the IPCC issue such reports, it might warrant the observation that it had sounded an alarm. But, then, it would be sounding a needed and necessary warning, one that was entirely outside the pejorative ‘Alarmist’ deniers so recklessly bandy at any hint of warning to an obvious and dangerous set of events. One entirely pertinent to the current age of rapid fossil fuel burning and rates of warming that are 30 times faster than at the end of the last ice age.

Sometimes, alarm is what is needed and absolutely called for.

In short, the scientists should be screaming at us to:

“Get the hell out!”


Related Reading:

NASA Scientist James Hansen:

“I suggest that a `scientific reticence’ is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control. I argue for calling together a panel of scientific leaders to hear evidence and issue a prompt plain-written report on current understanding of the sea level change issue.”

Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise

(Hat tip to Sourabh)


National Center for Atmospheric Research Uncovers Growing Risk of a Fire Age: Doubling CO2 Equals More Than 7 Degrees of Warming

A study released last week from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) showed that for each doubling of atmospheric CO2 content, the Earth’s climate warms by about 7-8 degrees Fahrenheit or around 4.5 degrees Celsius. The authors, John Fasullo and Kevin Trenberth found that the models predicting the greatest degree of warming were the most accurate. These models took into account the complex interplay of cloud formation and increasing levels of atmospheric water vapor due to heating.

This study’s findings more closely parallel indications seen in the geological record where CO2 doublings pushed temperature warming in the range of 5-6 degrees Celsius or more. It is also another indicator that persistent CO2 at current levels of near 400 ppm are enough to push global warming above the, very dangerous, 2 degree threshold. In fact, geological evidence has pointed to recent periods in Earth’s past when 400 ppm CO2 resulted in temperatures 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter than they are now.

The study’s findings are important due to the fact that scientists believe very damaging climate impacts begin to occur at 2 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average. However, massive Arctic sea ice melt, expanding desertification, extreme fire seasons, extreme heat waves, and increasingly intense storms show that very damaging effects are beginning now, at just less than a 1 degree Celsius global temperature increase.

Fast forward to the end of the 21rst century and we, under business as usual fossil fuel emissions, find ourselves at 1,400 ppm CO2 or more. The NCAR study would indicate that average world temperatures under such a situation will increase by 12-15 degrees Celsius. This massive temperature increase would be three times that of the difference between the current age and an ice age — but on the side of hot. An extreme fire age, if you will. This potential is also three times the current maximum temperature increase predicted in the most recent IPCC model scenarios.

Given this prospect and the growing clarity coming from climate model analysis, it is becoming ever more obvious that our fossil fuel consumption has already burned us out of the safe zone and is increasingly pushing us into a dangerous era of devastating climate impacts. A recent Discovery Magazine article analyzing the NCAR report somewhat joking called for climate change alarmism in an article entitled: Wanted: Global Warming Alarmists.

And it is true that global warming alarmism is indeed called for because, well, the world need a proper warning for what’s in store. Especially if we continue to subsidize fossil fuel production to the tune of half a trillion dollars each year and growing.


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