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February 05 2014


Seeing Over the Horizon: Sharp Rise in Ocean Temperatures in 2013


What the recently stalled polar vortex over much of the eastern half of the United States makes clear is that we humans are, by nature, not well equipped to think globally. At least not when it comes to their physical surroundings. After all, cold is cold. So, for instance, if there is two inches of snow outside my Atlanta home and a city brought to its knees because of it, then global warming must be false, right? Just look outside!

It isn’t our fault. It’s the way we were made. To respond to our immediate surroundings and shut out the rest. Long ago, in the mists of time, it was a matter of survival. Times have changed. Our ability to see beyond our own horizon, both in time and space, is critical for our survival. We’ve gotten a lot better at it. But for some, it falls apart when considering global climate vs. local weather.

Where does global warming go?Ocean surface temperatures – where does the heat go?

All this by way of saying that, despite the repeated claims of a “global warming pause,” the climate system continues to absorb more and more heat energy. If land surface temperature hasn’t risen as much as some models predicted, then were is all this energy going? Consider that oceans cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface and you’ll have your answer.

In fact, oceans are 1000 times better at retaining heat than the atmosphere and for the past several decades (not just the past few years) the oceans have absorbed more than 93 percent of the CO2 released by human activity.

Figures released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (see the chart above), show a sharp rise in ocean surface temperatures in 2013. As noted in Skeptical Sciencethe recent NOAA data doesn’t necessarily portend a sharp acceleration in global ocean temperatures  due to “substantial year-to-year variation in heat uptake by the oceans.” But it does remind us that heat energy in the global climate system continues to accumulate. There is no “pause” in global warming.

The significance of warming oceans is more than data points on a chart. From bleached coral to disrupted fisheries, acidifying oceans and rising seas, the impact of heating oceans do not happen over some distant horizon, it is here and now, even as some dig out from a snowstorm.

Featured and secondary image credit: Skeptical Science
Ocean temperature graph: NOAA


The post Seeing Over the Horizon: Sharp Rise in Ocean Temperatures in 2013 appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

December 05 2013


Massive US Temperature Fluctuations and Climate Change

The increasingly wide temperature fluctuations over short periods of time indicate we could be approaching climate tipping points. What are the implications of wild swings in temperature for the veracity of climate change? Everyone who follows climate science knows that the planet is warming, but many are unaware of how temperature fluctuations may also be a part of the climate change picture. Scientific observations provide an overwhelmingly compelling body of evidence for global warming. Many lines of scientific evidence show that as a consequence of global warming, the Earth’s climate is changing,  however, increasing global mean temperature is only one element of observed climate change phenomena.

Evidence of global warming can be seen in a number of scientific observations including melting ice and sea level rises. Anomalies like increased precipitation and extreme weather events support the data generated by climate models. However, radical temperature fluctuations are another dimension of climate change that is often overlooked.

Both Dallas and Colorado recently experienced some of the most extreme temperature fluctuations on record. After enjoying balmy temperatures, Dallas was hit with a powerful cold front that caused temperatures to plummet below freezing. On Wednesday December 4, the observed high was 80 degrees, on Saturday December 7, the temperature plunged to just over 30 degrees. That is a temperature change of 50 degrees. Similarly, Denver went from being 67 degrees on Monday to 14 degrees on Wednesday. This represents a temperature difference of 53 degrees.

During the first week of December, 33 million Americans in 27 states were hit by a cold spell. Deniers have commonly looked at cold weather as evidence that disproves global warming. However, when examined over much longer time spans we see a clear warming trend. Further, high and low temperature data from recent decades show that new record highs occur nearly twice as often as new record lows.

Of course, individual temperature readings over the course of a few days cannot be taken as evidence for or against climate change. However, the anomalous temperature fluctuations are part of a trend that is consistent with what many scientists predict will occur as the planet warms.

As H.J. Weaver and his colleagues at the Australian National University explained, “Climate change is predicted to alter the physical environment through cumulative impacts of warming and extreme fluctuations in temperature and precipitation, with cascading effects on human health and well being, food security and socioeconomic infrastructure.”

A NOAA report (PDF) on the 2009/2010 Cold Season stated that a changing climate produced “Extreme fluctuations in temperature and precipitation in the mid-latitudes in 2009 and 2010.”

The winters of 2010 and 2011 in the northern hemisphere have resulted in the record-setting freezes and warm spells. According to an analysis of the past 63 winters from the American Geophysical Union, the warm extremes were more widespread and severe than the cold extremes in the winters of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. Natural variability may explain the cold temperatures, but researchers concluded the extreme warmth cannot be explained by natural cycles, suggesting a possible role of climate change. The report’s co-author Alexander Gershunov and Scripps climate researchers indicated that these temperature swings are consistent with global warming trends.

In Nowata Oklahoma, in the winter of 2011,  the temperature went from a low of -31 degrees on February 10 (the all-time coldest temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma) to a record high of 79 degrees on February 17. According to the National Weather Service in Tulsa, Okla., this 110-degree temperature rise is the greatest change within seven days in Oklahoma history.

A 2011 report out of the UK examined the possible infrastructure impacts of climate change and indicated that extreme temperature fluctuations are likely.

A July 2013 study on plant physiology and climate change talked about “expected extreme fluctuations in temperature and global warming in general.”

It is important to understand as we approach irreversible tipping points that the impacts of climate change may at times appear to be counterintuitive. Far from disproving global warming, radical fluctuations in temperature are another dimension of the same problem.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Ted Eytan, courtesy flickr

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November 21 2013


Extreme Weather and Existential Reflections on Life in the Anthropocene

Extreme weather is a harbinger of life in a climate-changed worldThe recent spate of deadly tornadoes in the U.S. and the carnage of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines are poignant opportunities for us to reflect on the future of civilization. These events are tangible reminders of the sometimes intangible reality of human existence in the anthropocene. Extreme weather affords an opportunity to come to terms with the evidence that shows how human activities are degrading the Earth’s ecosystems.

While it is difficult to attribute any individual extreme weather event to global warming, when looked at over time, we see an interesting pattern emerge.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), from 1953 to 1983, the U.S. Averaged 26.65 disasters per year. In the last 29 years, the average number of U.S. disasters has risen to 91.4 per year, representing an increase of more than 240 percent.

According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, whether or not global warming is responsible for this increase in natural disasters, it does speak to our future. As stated in the Earth Observatory website, climate change will impact future catastrophes, “changes in climate not only affect average temperatures, but also extreme temperatures, increasing the likelihood of weather-related natural disasters.”

The intense thunderstorms that swept across the U.S. Midwest on Sunday are yet another warning calling us to deal with climate change. This storm follows on the heals of the devastating Typhoon that recently wreaked havoc in the Philippines.

On Sunday, November 17th, a large number of violent thunderstorms and as many as 77 tornadoes touched down in 12 U.S. states. These events killed at least 8 people, wounded many others and left a trail of destruction. Entire towns have been decimated and scores of homes have been wiped off the face of the earth. As terrible as this is, it is nothing compared to Typhoon Haiyan which has killed between four and ten thousand and rendered four million people homeless.

Scientists like Professor Will Steffen, a researcher at the ANU and member of the Climate Council, have linked Typhoon Haiyan to climate change, others describe it as being exacerbated by global warming. The relationship between tornadoes and climate change is more complex and harder to predict than hurricanes (typhoons, cyclones).

Understanding convective available potential energy, (CAPE) may offer us insights into the relationship between tornadoes and climate change as this measure represents the energy that powers storms. It is determined by the combination of moisture and temperature differences between the ground and higher regions of the atmosphere. It is known that global warming leads to an increase in CAPE and this in turn leads to an increase in thunderstorms which can spawn tornadoes.

The relationship between global warming and tornadoes was discussed in a 2007 Scientific American interview with climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. While he predicted more hurricanes due to global warming he also suggested there may be an impact on tornadoes.

“Of course, tornadoes are very much a weather phenomenon. They come from certain thunderstorms, usually supercell thunderstorms that are in a wind shear environment that promotes rotation,” Trenberth said. “The main climate change connection is via the basic instability of the low-level air that creates the convection and thunderstorms in the first place. Warmer and moister conditions are the key for unstable air. The oceans are warmer because of climate change.”

Grady Dixon, an associate professor of geosciences at Mississippi State University who studies tornado climatology also weighed in on the connection between tornadoes and global warming.  ”The most common finding is a warming environment leads to more storms and more intense storms.” Paradoxically, Dixon also pointed out that a warming climate means warmer temperatures in the north which should decrease wind shear and may lead to fewer tornadoes.

Harold Brooks of the National Weather Center recently talked about a condensing effect, meaning more tornadoes could occur on fewer days of the year.  Jeff Trapp, a professor of atmospheric science at Purdue University said the tornado season may be expanded by a warming world. ”We would see an increase in the number of days that could be favorable for severe thunderstorm and tornado formation,” he said.

Trapp also said that the “CAPE increases with time in a globally warmed world, mainly because the temperature near the ground and lower parts of the atmosphere increases and becomes more humid…In a globally warmed future world, that thunderstorm should be more intense.”

Applied environmental geoscience major Derrek Davey said the devastation from the storms has a lot to do with global warming.

“We have measured that we have increased our global temperature 1 degree. This does not seem like much, but it is a huge factor with ice caps melting. More water equals . . . more devastation from storms.”

We know that storms and weather-related events are clearly connected to temperature. “So it should not be a big surprise to find that the rapid average global warming we’ve seen since the Industrial Revolution would affect them.” said Alice Mulder, chair of the Environmental Issues Committee.  “[G]lobal warming does change the base conditions that make some of these events more likely.”

It is important to note that the exact relationship between climate change and tornadoes is still not very well understood. Scientists do not know how global warming will impact the frequency or intensity of tornadoes. However, the absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.

In 2011, the U.S. suffered through 1,700 tornadoes which is the second-deadliest tornado season in history. But 2012 and 2013 did not see elevated numbers of tornadoes. However, just as looking at one extreme weather event does not prove or disprove climate change, looking at tornado data over the course of a few years does not necessarily contradict the notion that there is a trend.

Over the course of a few years we can expect to see some variability, science looks at weather trends over much larger time frames. While the nature of science will always entertain a degree of uncertainty, more than 95 percent of climate scientists are in agreement about anthropogenic global warming. They also acknowledge that this will have serious implications for the health of the planet.

It remains to be seen whether seas will rise by 3 feet or by 10 feet, we also are not certain if the average global temperature will climb by 4 degrees or by 7. What we do know is that it is getting warmer and seas are rising. We know that warming is related to extreme weather.

We should leave investigation of the details to climate scientists and the public should be focusing on what we do know and its implications for the planet. The relationship between global warming and extreme weather should not be derailed by the few remaining — albeit powerful – skeptics who try to undermine the veracity of the vast body of climate science by pointing to examples of uncertainty.

These impacts of climate change are catastrophic. This is not some theoretical notion for the distant future, this is a fact here and now. People are already dying due to disease, food shortages, heat waves and air quality. As reported in the Daily Beast, a 2012 Climate Vulnerability Monitor report indicates that global warming is already killing four-hundred thousand people each year.

Anthropogenic climate change adversely impacts the health of humans and many other species of animal and plant life. This is a fact borne out in numerous studies and reports including those published by the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In March, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, told security and foreign policy specialists in Cambridge, Mass., that global climate change is the greatest threat the United States faces — more dangerous than terrorism, Chinese hackers and North Korean nuclear missiles.

Extreme weather events help people to see what climate change looks like. People in the U.S., even those that belong to the Republic party, traditionally a bastion of climate denial, are coming to terms with the veracity of global warming. As reported in the Guardian, a new study from Stanford University’s social psychologist Jon Krosnick found that “a vast majority of red-state Americans believe climate change is real and at least two-thirds of those want the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether or not Typhoon Haiyan or the tornadoes in the U.S. are directly caused by climate change is not the point. The issue that is highlighted by these phenomenon encourages us to embrace the scientific evidence. We know that extreme weather events are expected to intensify as global warming proceeds.

Violent climatic occurrences are consistent with climate models which predict increasingly severe extreme weather events as the earth warms. While we may not be able to be certain about the attribution of specific weather events, we know the earth is warming, we know that the oceans are rising as well. We also know that a warmer world increases the likelihood of precipitation, storm surges, flooding and extreme weather.

As the Prince of Wales said recently, ‘The devastating impact of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines should surely have been a poignant and telling reminder of the intimacy and interdependence of man’s relationship with the natural world.”

Despite critics who claim Charles overstated the case, we have good reason to question the ways in which we relate to the planet. Even if we are foolish enough to ignore climate models that predict more extreme weather, we will still be subject to sea level rise and ocean acidification among other adverse affects.

Extreme weather demands that we face the civilization-altering impacts we are having on the planet. The challenge of the Anthropocene forces us to reflect on what it means to be human. This is the great existential question of our times.

To quote the immortal words of Shakespear’s Hamlet:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,”

We are destroying the Earth upon which all life depends, and we must reconcile ourselves to the implications of our actions. As Roy Scranton commented in the Times, “If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.”

Regardless of the causal attribution for Typhoon Haiyan and the recent U.S. Tornadoes, it is no exaggeration to say that climate change poses a threat to life on earth. Extreme weather events offer a glimpse into the future and this provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the choice between accepting our impending death or collectively resolving to change our ways.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Ingo Meironke, courtesy flickr

The post Extreme Weather and Existential Reflections on Life in the Anthropocene appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 08 2013


Climate Change Exacerbates Social Tensions and Leads to Conflict

The consequences of climate change will lead to greater conflict, social change and violence. A wide array of research reveals that climate change plays a salient role in social change, violence and war. This research summary is one of the most comprehensive surveys of the social impacts of climate change ever assembled.

Climate change and conflict

The relationship between climate change, social tensions and conflict is well laid out by Kate Johnson. She provides a good overview of many of the ways in which climate impacts human behavior. She explains how climate change has the potential to increase conflict in environmentally and politically vulnerable states.

Johnson does not believe that climate change will necessarily lead directly to conflict, rather, she suggests that climate is a factor in the outbreak of conflict. According to this author, climate change will exploit preexisting ethnic, nationalist and religious divisions.

Johnson does not share the view that climate change is a causal factor in terrorism. She states that, “Climate change in less developed countries is not likely to lead to terrorism, but to conflict.” Climate change will cause inter-communal conflict when communities cannot meet their basic needs as a function of the Earth’s diminished carrying capacity or as a result of competition over specific resources.

She expects competition for water resources to be a major source of strife. With over 200 river basins touching multiple nations, “The potential for conflict over water is huge.” Johnson predicts that we will see “water-wars” as demand from growing populations outpace supply. One example could involve Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan, all of which draw their water from the River Jordan.

Violence may also occur as a consequence of states or groups within a given state who wish to draw attention to life threatening climate change impacts. In eco-terrorism environmental extremists may use violence to demand ecological actions and safeguards.

As resources become more scarce due to climate change, people will be forced to migrate to meet their basic survival needs. These migrations between and within states may increase existing tensions and/or create new ones, potentially leading to conflict. The Bangladeshi migration to India in the 1980′s is a good example of how such movement can cause civil unrest. As far as migrations to Western European states are concerned, racial tensions could lead to racially motivated violence.

International Alert nations at risk

In a 2009 report titled “Climate Change, Conflict and Fragility,” the peace-building organization known as International Alert explores the relationship between climate change and conflict. It highlights the ways in which social and political realities interact with the impacts of climate change.

Policy makers are urged to look beyond technical fixes and to address the interlinked political, social and institutional aspects of the issues.

The report identifies a total of 61 countries at risk from climate change and conflict. However, more recent research suggests this estimate may be low.

AAAS statistical research

According to an August 1, 2013 study titled “Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict” published in The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), there is a clear statistical link between climate change and conflict. This research indicates that increases in temperature and precipitation are correlated with higher risks of social upheaval, as well as personal violence.

These researchers drew on a wide array of disciplines from archaeology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science, and psychology. They assembled and analyzed the 60 most rigorous quantitative studies and document a “substantial” correlation between climate and conflict. These studies explored the connection between weather and violence around the world from about 10,000 BCE to the present day.

The study showed that climate change exacerbated existing social and interpersonal tensions. Extreme rainfall, drought and hotter temperatures increased the frequency of interpersonal violence and inter-group conflict.

Going forward the researchers anticipate more conflict as the world is expected to warm 2 to 4 degrees C by 2050. They estimate that a 2C (3.6F) rise in global temperature could see personal crimes increase by about 15 percent, and group conflicts rise by more than 50 percent in some regions.

Climate change has been specifically correlated with a rise in assaults, rapes and murders, as well as group conflicts and war. These researchers point to the observation of an increase in domestic violence in India and Australia during recent droughts, and a spike in assaults, rapes and murders during heat waves in the US and Tanzania. They also report a relationship between rising temperatures and larger conflicts, including ethnic clashes in Europe and South Asia as well as civil wars in Africa.

It would appear that changes in the economic conditions caused by climate change are one of the main mechanisms at play. There may also be a physiological basis to the relationship between warming and conflict as higher temperatures appear to cause people to be more prone to aggression.

These research findings are succinctly summarized by Solomon Hsiang, one of the scientists that contributed to the research:

“[T]here is a causal relationship between the climate and human conflict…People have been skeptical up to now of an individual study here or there. But considering the body of work together, we can now show that these patterns are extremely general. It’s more of the rule than the exception…Whether there is a relationship between climate and conflict is not the question anymore. We now want to understand what’s causing it. Once we understand what causes this correlation we can think about designing effective policies or institutions to manage or interrupt the link between climate and conflict.”

United Nations Security Council

As noted in Resolution 1625, the UN Security Council is concerned with the prevention of armed conflict. Climate change is increasingly under scrutiny as a salient factor in the genesis of conflict.

In 2007, the United Nations Security Council was meeting to discuss the security implications of climate change. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon talked about resource scarcity, fragile ecosystems and severe strains placed on the coping mechanisms of groups and individuals, potentially leading to “a breakdown of established codes of conduct, and even outright conflict.”

In 2011, the Security Council agreed to a statement expressing “concern that the possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security.”

Extreme weather in 2012 added a sense of urgency to UN discussions leading to the following statement, “The impacts of climate change, such as sea-level rises, drought, flooding and extreme weather events, can exacerbate underlying tensions and conflict in part of the world already suffering from resource pressures.”

Information presented to the Security Council earlier this year explicitly made the link between climate change and conflict. A February 2013 Bloomberg News article reviews the research presented by Joachim Schellnhuber to the security Council. Schellnhuber is the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Angela Merkels’ chief climate advisor. Schellnhuber’s research shows the connection between climate change and global security challenges.

The Security Council session was evidence of the increased focus on the link between climate change and global security. As articulated in notes prepared for diplomats at the council’s session, “There is growing concern that with faster than anticipated acceleration, climate change may spawn consequences which are harsher than expected.”

Either rich nations will find a way to supply needy nations suffering from damaging climate effects “or you will have all kinds of unrest and revolutions, with the export of angry and hungry people to the industrialized countries,” Schellnhuber said.

Center for American Progress on migration and security

The Center for American Progress has released a series of reports on how climate change, migration and security factors will play out in different regions of the world. This series of reports examines the relationship between climate change, security and conflict.

A January 2012 report titled “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict,” reviews the growing evidence of links between climate change, migration, and conflict.

An April 2012 report called “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in Northwest Africa,” explores the overlays and intersections of climate change, migration, and security create an arc of tension in Northwest Africa comprising Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and Morocco.

A December 2012 report called “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in South Asia,” analyzes South Asia through the prism of climate, migration, and security. The report details the underlying trends shaping the entire region and elucidates the risks posed by current long-term trajectories.

A June 2013 video titled, “Climate Change, Migration, and Security in South Asia,” shows how climate shifts have the potential to create complex environmental, humanitarian, and security challenges in South Asia.

US Intelligence Community on Security Threats

In the U.S. intelligence communities, there is an emerging consensus that conflicts ensuing from global warming constitute a bonafide threat to American security.

A February 2012 National Intelligence Assessment titled Global Water Security indicates that over the next two or three decades, vulnerable regions (particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia) will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises, and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change.

In addition, the depletion of groundwater in agricultural areas will pose risks to national and global food markets in the next decade, threatening “social disruption.” The U.S. intelligence community has also identified water management, particularly the mitigation of trans-border riparian risks, as a source of major concern in the next three decades.

A November 2012, National Research Council (NRC) report commissioned by the CIA, titled “Climate and Social Stress: Implications for Security Analysis”, found that climate change causes considerable stress to the people of affected areas.

“Security analysts should anticipate that over the next decade, droughts, heat waves, storms, or other climate events of surprising intensity or duration will stress communities, societies, governments, and the globally integrated systems that support human well-being.”

According to a December 2012 National Intelligence Council report titled “Global Trends 2030,” climate change will force migration and exacerbate existing social tensions surrounding resources and other environmental factors, which will in turn lead to conflicts.

The report notes that critical resources of food, water and energy will be adversely impacted. Climate change along with water shortages will impact agricultural production at the same time as increased energy demands may limit the amount of raw materials available to make fertilizers.

Climate change will constrain natural resources, drive migration, and exacerbate tensions globally. The report says that climate change and extreme weather will be key factors fueling tensions over access to food, water, and energy.

“…many developing and fragile states-such as in Sub-Saharan Africa- face increasing strains from resource constraints and climate change, pitting different tribal and ethnic groups against one another and accentuating the separation of various identities. Ideology is likely to be particularly powerful and socially destructive when the need for basic resources exacerbates already existing tensions between tribal, ethnic, religious, and national groups.”

According to the report, the impacts of climate change will be particularly acute in Asia where monsoons are crucial to the growing season. The report further predicts that increasing global temperatures could provoke conflict between Europe and Russia.

A March 2013, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, reiterates the idea that a changing climate and competition for natural resources can fuel tensions and conflicts.

The report reviews how competition for scarce resources (food, water, minerals, and energy) “are growing security threats.” It also explores how extreme weather events can cause a host of problems ranging from disruptions in the food and energy supply, human migrations, riots, civil disobedience and vandalism, all of which can exacerbate state weakness.

Not only can climate change increase the price of food, when combined with population growth it can also increase the risk of conflict between farmers and livestock owners. This is especially true in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. We can also expect to see more disputes over fisheries as water scarcity becomes a growing problem in major river basins, and as marine fisheries are depleted.

The growing scarcity of freshwater due to climate change and extreme weather are expected to combine to harm the economic performance of important US trading partners. As noted in the report,”many countries are using groundwater faster than aquifers can replenish in order to satisfy food demand.”

Global population increases, a burgeoning middle class and an increased proportion of the world’s population living in urban areas will put intense pressure on food, water, minerals, and energy.

DoD, Military and National Security

A number of leading U.S. Defense officials have declared that climate change is a national security issue including Thomas Fingar, the former chairman of National Intelligence Council and Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of Defense.  Another former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, said “Over the next 20 years and more, certain pressures-population, energy, climate, economic, environmental-could combine with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to produce new sources of deprivation, rage, and instability.”

Other top military officials that have also directly linked climate change to instability. This includes General Gordon Sullivan, Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, General Anthony Zinni, Brig. General Bob Barnes and General Chuck Wald.

Brig. General Steven Anderson, USA (Ret.), former Chief of Logistics under General Petraeus and a self-described “conservative Republican added, “I think that [climate change] increases the likelihood there will be conflicts in which American soldiers are going to have to fight and die somewhere.”

The relationship between climate change and conflict is not new in military circles. A  2007 report titled “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change”  by a U.S. based think tank known as the Military Advisory Board of the CNA Corporation, links climate change and terrorism.  As stated by retired Admiral T. Joseph Lopez, “climate change will provide the conditions that will extend the war on terror”. This statement is based on the premise that greater poverty, increased forced migration and higher unemployment will create conditions ripe for extremists and terrorists.

A 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review report called climate change a threat to national security that “may spark or exacerbate future conflicts.” This report indicated that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world. As reviewed in the report, climate change was expected to cause devastating droughts, crop failures, and mass migrations, all of which will coalesce to create the kind of dangerous conditions that breed violent extremism.

On June 21, 2013, the University of Maryland announced that the Department of Defense (DoD) is providing a $1.9 million grant for a new 3 year research project that will model the relationship between climate change and conflict.

The research is being led by a team of researchers from the University of Maryland. They are at the head of a team of policy experts and scientists that are developing new models based on the relationship between conflict, socio-economic conditions and climate. These statistical models and case studies will identify the best predictors of climate-related conflict. These models will also be used to project future conflict and develop military and policy interventions.

“It’s likely that physical and economic disruptions resulting from climate change could heighten tensions in sensitive areas of the world,” says lead researcher Elisabeth Gilmore, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland’s (UMD) School of Public Policy. “We hope to develop an integrated model to help researchers and policy makers better anticipate civil conflict under a range of climate change scenarios.”

In regions with ongoing conflicts such as sub-Saharan Africa, additional changes in food and water availability, public health crises, and disruptive migration could further destabilize civil order.

PNAS Research on Africa

The notion that climate change can lead to tension and even war is not a matter of speculation. In Africa, climate already drives armed conflict. What could be described as the world’s first war caused by climate change has already occurred in Darfur, Sudan.

In Darfur land degradation (drought and desertification) as a result of climate change has led to protracted conflicts.  As explained in 2006 by former British Defense Secretary Dr. John Reid, “the blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur.”

These climate conflicts can take a terrible toll on human life. According to UN figures, the war in Darfur has killed 200,000 people and forced two million from their homes.

A comprehensive examination bears out a strong link between climate change and armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. According to 2009 research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), titled “Warming Increases the Risk of Civil War in Africa,” warming causes war.

The report notes that conflict was about 50 percent more likely in Africa in years when it was unusually warm. Overall, this research demonstrates how conflict arises in conjunction with scarce food supplies and warm conditions.

The research revealed “strong historical linkages between civil war and temperature in Africa, with warmer years leading to significant increases in the likelihood of war.”

Over the last two decades, conflicts have increased by 50 percent. Even smaller skirmishes have been linked to food scarcity and warmer temperatures in Africa. The research reveals that even if we see economic development and more responsible governance, we can still expect to see a rise in strife from climate change.

“We were very surprised to find that when you put things like economic growth and better governance into the mix, the temperature effect remains strong,” said Dr Marshall Burke, one of the studies authors.

As temperatures continue to rise on the continent, the research shows that conflicts are also expected to increase.

“When combined with climate model projections of future temperature trends, this historical response to temperature suggests a roughly 54 percent increase in armed conflict incidence by 2030, or an additional 393,000 battle deaths if future wars are as deadly as recent wars.”

Center for Climate & Security on Syria

As reviewed in a March 2012 report from the Center for Climate & Security titled “Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest,” the current conflict in Syria has been linked to climate change. According to the hypothesis put forth by these authors, climate change has caused internal displacement, rural disaffection and political unrest that ultimately contributed to the state of civil war we have today in Syria.

“Syria’s current social unrest is, in the most direct sense, a reaction to a brutal and out-of-touch regime and a response to the political wave of change that began in Tunisia early last year. However, that’s not the whole story. The past few years have seen a number of significant social, economic, environmental and climatic changes in Syria that have eroded the social contract between citizen and government in the country, have strengthened the case for the opposition movement, and irreparably damaged the legitimacy of the al-Assad regime. If the international community, and future policy-makers in Syria, are to address and resolve the drivers of unrest in the country, these changes will have to be better explored and exposed.”

This research cites water shortages, drought, crop-failures and displacement as contributing factors to Syria’s civil war. Syria’s farmland has collapsed due to climate change.

As explained in the report from 2006-2011, up to 60 percent of Syria suffered from “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.” In the northeast and the south nearly 75 percent of crops failed. Herders in the northeast lost around 85 percent of their livestock, and 1.3 million people were directly impacted.

Over 800,000 Syrians have lost their entire livelihood as a result of the droughts. A total of one million Syrians were made “food insecure”and two to three million were driven to extreme poverty. Overuse of groundwater is seriously depleting the aquifer stocks which further complicates the issue.

In response to these events, there has been a massive exodus of farmers, herders and agriculturally-dependent rural families from the countryside to the cities. In the farming villages around the city of Aleppo alone, 200,000 rural villagers left for the cities.

The fact that the rural farming town of Dara’a was the focal point for protests in the early stages of the Syrian civil war illustrates how climate change induced drought was a central issue in the initial uprisings.

Of course, there were other factors adding to Syrian instability, they include Influxes of Iraqi refugees which have added to the strains and tensions of an already stressed and disenfranchised population. Over-grazing of land and a rapidly growing population also compounded the land desertification process. However, climate does appear to have been a factor leading to the civil war we see in the country today.

Climate models predict that the situation in Syria will worsen as climate change impacts intensify. Yields of rainfed crops in the country are expected to decline between 29 and 57 percent from 2010 to 2050.


Taken together, these reports provide irrefutable evidence that climatic events can increase social tensions and conflict. From the dawn of human civilization to the present the research shows a clear causal link between climate and strife. Climate change not only fans the flames of social tensions, it is a pivotal catalyst in they dynamics of conflict.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: CIFOR, courtesy flickr


The post Climate Change Exacerbates Social Tensions and Leads to Conflict appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 22 2012


Polar Bears are Suffering from the Ravages of Climate Change

As climate change advances in the Arctic, polar bear populations continue to sufferThe polar bear is emblematic of the Canadian wilderness, but as an apex predator, they are also one of the species most at risk from climate change. The Arctic is experiencing the effects of global warming more than any other place on Earth. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at almost twice the rate of the rest of the world, and this is causing the early break-up of sea ice. Polar bears are dependent on the ice for their survival, which they use as a hunting platform, to secure mates and to travel.

There is a strong correlation between the decline in polar bears and the reduction in sea ice. The loss of sea ice is making it harder for polar bears to find enough seals to meet their dietary requirements. The result is leaner females that are less capable of successfully reproducing and less able to nurture their cubs once they are born.

As explained by the David Suzuki Foundation, the sea ice cover has declined by approximately nine per cent per decade since 1978, and the rate of melting appears to increase each year.

In 2009, polar bear biologists reported that declining sea ice in the Arctic was already harming some populations. At a meeting in Copenhagen, the Polar Bear Specialist Group made the claim that an increasing number of bear populations were in decline. The only population that was known to be doing well was the one in the Canadian high Arctic.

While more than half of the world’s polar bears live in Canada they can also be found in Alaska, Russia, Greenland and Norway. Many of Canada’s bears can be found in western Hudson Bay. In that part of the world ice is breaking up on average seven to eight days earlier with each passing decade. Melting sea ice is forcing the bears ashore where there is little prey for them to hunt. Increased time on land is leading to weight loss, physical deterioration and decreased rates of reproduction.

A recent aerial survey conducted on behalf of the Nunavut government suggests that there are about 1,013 polar bears in Canada’s western Hudson Bay. This number is similar to a 2004 mark-and-recapture or tagging study. Taken together these studies suggest that the number of polar bears is stable.

Andrew Derocher is one of many who do not agree with this assessment. Derocher is Professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta, he has studied polar bears for 40 years. As he explained in a phone interview with The Star.com, the study actually revealed substantially reduced numbers of cubs and yearlings.

Derocher believes that two to five times more cubs were born in the 1980s through to the 1990s.

In recent years, Derocher and others have documented a decline in body weight of the bears, leading to less cubs being born and a smaller number surviving to adulthood.

“The science of the effects of climate change on polar bears in Hudson Bay is absolutely profound” Derocher said, “the loss of sea ice reduces the body conditions of bears and bears with lower body condition produce fewer cubs and the bears collectively have lower survival rates.”

Being on land where there is no prey, females end up being 30 to 40 kilograms lighter than they were in the early 1980s and they are producing fewer cubs.

“When you put it all together it summarizes a population that is not reproducing sufficiently to maintain the current abundance and that means the population is in decline,” Derocher said. He concludes by saying that the pattern observed in western Hudson Bay is being replicated in other parts of the Arctic.

This summer, in addition to less ice, the polar bears near Hudson Bay had to contend with high heat and even wildfires. As reported by Reuters, these fires encroached on areas where females make their dens.

A polar bear scientist named Steven Amstrup is concerned about the loss of habitat. Amstrup is a former polar bear specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey and now chief scientist at the nonprofit conservation organization, Polar Bears International.

“Not only is the permafrost no longer permanent, tree roots needed to stabilize the den structure are disappearing,” Amstrup said. “The kinds of habitats where mother polar bears in this area give birth to their cubs are simply disappearing as the world warms and [the cubs] survival depends upon the shelter of the den to protect them from the elements.”

As reviewed in another Reuters article, a 2011 study suggests that increasing mortality rates of polar bear cubs is due to the fact that with less ice they are forced to swim long distances. While adult animals can swim vast distances, this study suggests that protracted swims can prove deadly for the cubs.

Starving polar bears may even be cannibalizing each other. Discovery News reported an incident of cannibalism that was captured on film in Hudson Bay in 2009. This was but one of 8 cases alleged to have taken place in the area that year. In 2011, the journal Arctic published another account of cannibalism witnessed by photojournalist Jenny Ross of the Svalbard archipelago last year. Although not unprecedented, polar bear cannibalism is likely to increase as the bears find it increasingly difficult to gain access to their prey.

A 2010 Reuters article reviewed a study which concluded that significant reductions in carbon emissions could cool the planet and rebuild sea ice.

“This is very much scientific evidence that there is hope,” said Amstrup. “If people think that there’s nothing they can do, they will do nothing. Here we’ve demonstrated that we can conserve polar bears.”

Global warming is threatening the entire Arctic ecosystem and jeopardizing the fate of the polar bear. It is not too late to save these majestic creatures, but to do so we must get serious about reducing emissions.

March 29 2012


Closing in on Climate Tipping Points: Irreversible Climate Change, Managing the Risk and Learning to Adapt

Could the warnings be any clearer? Climate tipping points are upon us and adaptation as will as mitigation are key to grappling with global warmingIn the past days and weeks several scientific reports indicate that, even while advocating a 1.5 to 2 C degree rise in average global temperatures over the next century, we may now be at or even passed critical tipping points and heading into a world of irreversible global warming.

Earlier this month the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report warning that without more ambitious climate policies to counter the rising dominance of global fossil fuel in the energy mix, greenhouse gas emissions could rise 50 percent by 2050. By mid-century energy demand will increase by 80 percent from what it is today. But without aggressive action to adopt to more sustainable energy sources, the energy mix will look much as it does today.

“Unless the global energy mix changes, fossil fuels will supply about 85 percent of energy demand in 2050, implying a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening urban air pollution,” the OECD said in its environment outlook to 2050.

The OECD report states that international climate action needs to begin in earnest by 2013. The cost of inaction far outweigh the cost of climate action, says the report, and a business-as-usual approach could lead to a reduction of global economic output of 14 percent by mid-century. Also at risk is political stability in climate and resources-stressed areas of the world as well as an increase in human suffering, much of it in the developing world.

Climate scientists this week reinforced the OECD findings, warning that we are now in a “critical decade” beyond which tipping points will likely be crossed, making irreversible dramatic climate shifts such as melting ice caps and loss of rainforest.

Indeed some of  tipping points may have already been crossed, especially for the world’s glaciers and ice caps. Oceans are now so saturated with carbon that they are now more acidic than at any time in the past 60 millions years and can’t absorb much more carbon.

“This is the critical decade,” said Will Steffen, one of the 2800 climate scientists attending the Planet Under Pressure Conference this week in London. “If we don’t get the curves turned around this decade we will cross those lines. The last 50 years have without doubt seen the most rapid transformation of the human relationship with the natural world in history,” says Professor Steffen.

“Many human activities reached take-off points sometime in the 20th Century and sharply accelerated towards the end of the century. It is the scale and speed of the Great Acceleration that is truly remarkable. This has largely happened within one human lifetime.” Steffen is executive director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University.

Despite the mounting evidence and urgency of the message, the international community remain mostly stalled on climate action. The latest round of international negotiations at the COP17 conference late last year in South Africa leaves nations until 2015 to sign any binding agreement that won’t take effect until 2020 – that’s the best case scenario and clearly not enough if the world is to heed scientists’ warning.

 IPCC report on managing climate risk, learning to adapt

Where mitigation fails, adaptation must become a core strategy. Once seen by some climate activists as a “cop-out” in lieu real action, adaptation is now an inevitability, says the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), released yesterday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Evidence suggests that climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century,” the IPCC said in a press release.

“Climate extremes, or even a series of non-extreme events, in combination with social vulnerabilities and exposure to risks can produce climate-related disasters,” says the SREX report.

“While some extreme weather and climate events lead to disasters, others do not. Policies to avoid, prepare for, respond to and recover from the risks of disaster can reduce the impact of these events and increase the resilience of people exposed to extreme events.”

Building resilient communities able to withstand and recover from severe storms, floods, drought, and heat waves are now a critical component in dealing with long-term climate change. Mitigation is needed to offset the most disastrous consequences of global warming, but to a large extent, the “horse has already left the barn.” Without effective adaptation policies, there is a much higher risk of catastrophic economic loss and social collapse.

“The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not,” said Chris Field, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group II, which together with Working Group I produced the report. “The challenge for the future has one dimension focused on improving the knowledge base and one on empowering good decisions, even for those situations where there is lots of uncertainty.”

We guard against many risks in our daily lives. The convergence of messages just in the past few weeks of climate scientists from across the globe serve as a clear warning that now is the time to meet the challenge of an unsustainable energy economy and climate change through cooperation and action, to both mitigate and adapt to a warming world.

Image credit: Celsias.com

January 31 2012


The Oceanic Conveyor Belt: Climate Change Tipping Points Being Reached in the Arctic, Western Boundary Ocean Currents

Accelerated changes in the Arctic are moving ocean currents poleward and threaten the oceanic conveyor belt

Two new research papers by authoritative climate research teams were announced this week — one on climate change tipping points being reached in the Arctic and a second on warming of long-distance, poleward-moving ocean currents. The results of the studies show that warming of both the Arctic and western boundary currents is happening faster than has been anticipated, prompting the researchers to publicly urge that efforts to adapt to abrupt climate change be intensified globally.

Climate Change Tipping Points in the Arctic

In “Abrupt climate change in the Arctic,” University of Western Australia (UWA) Ocean Institute researchers lead by director and Winthrop Professor Carlos Duarte found that the Arctic is warming at a rate three times faster than the global average, which has caused Arctic summer sea ice to melt and recede at a pace faster than researchers have forecast.

Arctic summer sea ice may be limited to the the waters off northern Greenland and Ellesmere Island in as short a period as the next decade, and is likely to disappear entirely by the middle of the century, according to a WA News report. The warming’s occurring so fast that it’s not only threatening Arctic ecosystems and traditional ways of life, the Arctic may change from being a net carbon sink to a net source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The fast warming Arctic is opening up new sea lanes and a bonanza of resource exploration and exploitation, as well as political controversy over resource rights. However, faster than anticipated warming and melting will also have “abrupt knock-on effects” across major world cities in northern mid-latitudes, a list that includes Beijing, Berlin, London, Moscow, New York and Tokyo. Tentatively linked is the occurrence of much colder winters in Europe.

Warming of Western Ocean Boundary Currents

Also published in Nature Climate Change, “Enhanced warming over the global subtropical western boundary currents,” is a global study of fast-moving, long-distance ocean currents, such as the Gulfstream, that distribute heat and moisture from warming tropical ocean waters globally.

Moving along the western boundaries of the world’s ocean basins, changes in water temperature of these currents also have significant, large-scale effects on climate globally. Releasing heat and moisture on their way from the equator to the poles, they affect atmospheric jet streams and mid-latitude storms and patterns, as well as ocean absorption of carbon dioxide.

Reconstructing and re-examining data sets using new methods, the research team found that “the post-1900 surface ocean warming rate over the path of these currents is two to three times faster than the global mean surface ocean warming rate. The accelerated warming is associated with a synchronous poleward shift and/or intensification of global subtropical boundary currents in conjunction with a systematic change in winds over both hemispheres.”

The faster than expected warming of these long-distance, poleward moving ocean currents “may reduce the ability of the oceans to absorb anthropogenic carbon dioxide over these regions,” according to the report’s authors. “Uncertainties in detection and attribution of these warming trends remain,” they note, “pointing to a need for a long-term monitoring network of the global western boundary currents and their extensions.”

The Oceanic Conveyor Belt and Climate Change

Though not stated by the authors, the increasing incidence of unusual extreme storms, such as 2011′s Hurricane Irene, which carried as far north as the US’ mid-Atlantic and New England regions, and Typhoon Washi, which struck the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, may be evidence of the faster than expected melting of Arctic ice and faster than expected warming of western ocean boundary currents.

Moreover, the changes in both Arctic sea ice and western boundary currents are both aspects of what’s now known as the “oceanic conveyor belt” – scientific knowledge that’s come to us thanks to groundbreaking hypothesizing, testing and research performed by Wallace Broecker.

The abruptness and scale of the climate changes that increasingly appear to be headed our way warrant much greater attention by world leaders and policy makers. While exaggerated for dramatic effect, they bring to mind the popular disaster film, “The Day after Tomorrow,” the science of which is based on a shutting down of the oceanic conveyor belt Broecker first theorized, and the occurrence of world-changing super-storms that bring on a new Ice Age in a matter of months.

As UWA’s Prof. Duarte was quoted as saying, “We need to stop debating the existence of tipping points in the Arctic and start managing the reality of dangerous climate change.”


Image credit: NASA Ocean Motion

December 20 2011


US Needs to Be Better Prepared for Extreme Weather, Ecological Changes Resulting from Climate Change

Ecological changes in the 21st Century

Climate change will cause changes in plant communities across nearly half the Earth’s land surface by 2100, driving conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type – forest, grassland or tundra – toward another, according to a new computer study conducted by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

The study’s results may put what’s been a record year for US weather-related disasters in a much broader perspective. While it’s impossible to draw a causal link between any one weather event and global warming or climate change, climate change is probably increasing the intensity of some disasters, such as the Texas drought, according to experts from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Addressing attendees at a briefing on Capitol Hill, AAAS’s representatives said that regardless of cause, the frequency and intensity of weather-related disasters is increasing, which is causing greater financial losses than ever. They cautioned that governments and societies need to be better prepared, according to an Insurance News Net report.

Mounting Financial Costs of Climate Change

It’s not useful to debate whether or not climate change exacerbated by humans caused or causes any particular weather event Jay Gulledge, a senior scientist at the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), told Insurance News Net, adding that statistical trends are consistent with scientists’ expectations of climate change.

Texas state climatologist and Texas A&M professor of atmospheric science John Nielsen-Gammon noted that La Niña was the triggering event for this year’s drought in Texas, which is expected to last through next summer. He added that climate change likely intensified the drought by adding about 1 degree Fahrenheit to annual average temperatures in the state. Drought as severe as this year’s could be more likely as a result of ongoing climate change, he added, although more research is needed to confirm that.

Ultimately, increasingly severe and frequent weather events pose a serious risk management problem for public officials and society, and we need to be better prepared, Gulledge said. “This is a risk problem, and we have to manage it as a risk problem,” he said at the 2 December briefing, which was entitled, Drowning and Drought: Extreme Weather Impacts on Our Economy and Society.

JPL-Caltech Climate Change Study

The parts of Earth not covered by land or desert are projected to undergo a 3o percent change in plant cover at minimum, and that means humans as well as plants and animals will need to adapt and in many cases relocate.

JPL and Cal Tech researchers, who investigated how plant life on Earth is likely to react over the next three centuries in response to rising levels of greenhouse gases, published their findings in the journal Climatic Change.

The results show rising emissions will increase ecological stress and change in Earth’s biosphere, with growing numbers of plant and animal species competing for survival. Species turnover will be significant, as some species invade areas occupied by others, according to the researchers’ report.

Besides altering plant communities, “the study predicts that climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth’s water, energy, carbon and other element cycles,” according to JPL’s news release.

“For more than 25 years, scientists have warned of the dangers of human-induced climate change,” said Jon Bergengren, a scientist who led the study while a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. “Our study introduces a new view of climate change, exploring the ecological implications of a few degrees of global warming. While warnings of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and other environmental changes are illustrative and important, ultimately, it’s the ecological consequences that matter most.”

Image Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

June 21 2011


State of the Oceans Report: Sending Out An SOS

State of the Oceans report sends stark warning for health of marine ecosystemsA preliminary report released today by an international panel of interdisciplinary marine scientists on behalf of the International Programme on the State of the Oceans gives a stark warning that unless the combined threats facing the world’s ocean are not curbed soon, a marine mass extinction could occur on a scale unprecedented in human history.

“The findings are shocking,” said IPSO Scientific Director Alex Rogers. “As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications become far worse that we had individually realized. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

The conclusions of the report are the product of a first-ever workshop bringing together marine experts and scientist from various disciplines to assess the latest ocean stresses and impacts, and to determine the effects of those multiple stresses on current and future ocean health. The workshop enabled these experts and scientists to engage a comprehensive, global view of the cumulative threats facing the ocean, and how they impact the future viability of ocean ecosystems.

From the report:

“This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater tha thte sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than expected”

The preliminary report posits seven key points to “drive a common sense rethink”:

  • Human actions have resulted in warming and acidification of the ocean and are now causing increased hypoxia (low oxygen)
    Studies of the Earth’s past indicate these three symptoms (warming, acidification, hypoxia) indicate “disturbances of the carbon cycle” associated with all five previous mass extinctions on Earth. The rate of carbon absorption by the ocean is already far greater than what it was at the time of the last globally significant marine mass extinction when up to half of some marine deep-sea species where wiped out.
  • The speeds of many negative changes to the ocean are near to or are tracking the worst-case scenarios from the IPCC and other predictions. Some are as predicted, but many are faster than anticipated, and many are still accelerating
  • The magnitude of the cumulative impacts on the ocean is greater than previously understood
  • Timelines for action are shrinking
    The longer we take to get serious about reducing carbon emissions, the more it will cost and the harder it will be to effectively make meaningful reductions. In the meantime, environmental damage will accrue causing greater socioeconomic impacts. The problem isn’t going away.
  • Resilience of the ocean to climate change impacts is severely compromised by the other stressors from human activities, including fisheries, pollution, and habitat destruction
  • Ecosystem collapse is occurring as a result of both current and emerging stressors
    Among those stressors are chemical pollutants, overfishing, agricultural runoff, and sediment loads.
  • The extinction threat to marine species is rapidly increasing

The report cites a wholly inadequate approach to management of marine resources and activities that impact the ocean, all of which have led to “intense multiple stressors acting together in many marine ecosystems.” These impacted ecosystems lack the resilience to withstand increased pressures from expanding human populations and increasing rates of CO2 emissions.

A spate of other research supports the findings of the IPSO study, all showing an ocean under severe threat, including disappearing coral reefs, rapidly increasing acidification, and growing incidences of marine life extinctions.

The IPSO report urges a change of human interaction with the ocean and adoption of a “holistic approach to sustainable management of all activities that impinge marine ecosystems.”

“This has to be part of a wider re-evaluation of the core values of human society and its relationship to the natural world and the resources on which we all rely.”

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March 03 2010



“Simon may have done more than any other living author to help us understand and appreciate the beauty of our planet and our universe.” – Kirkus Reviews GLOBAL WARMING By Seymour Simon Award-winning science writer Seymour Simon teams up with the Smithsonian Institution for GLOBAL WARMING, a full-color photographic introduction to the causes and effects of global warming [...]
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