Tuesday , December 11, 2018

GLOBAL WARMING: Already Inevitable… Irreversible?

In May of 2006, the Brookings Institute published a working paper titled Case Closed: The Debate about Global Warming is Over. It set forth three basic findings with regard to climate change.

First, the consensus of the scientific community has shifted from skepticism to near-unanimous acceptance of the evidence of an artificial greenhouse effect. Second, while artificial climate change may have some beneficial effects, the odds are we’re not going to like it. Third, reducing greenhouse gases may turn out to be much more practical and affordable than assumed.

While many people to this day remain skeptical about global warming and climate change, many nations around the world are worried enough that they have continued to seek further consensus as well as formal agreement and an actual business plan that addresses global warming and reducing greenhouse gases.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of what happened at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (the yearly session of the Conference of the Parties or COP21) in Paris in December 2015. Basically, official representatives from 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding agreement to fight climate change. The Paris Agreement or Accord, as it has come to be called, aims to help the world abandon fossil fuels in this century and, specifically, stop global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, if possible, below 1.5 degrees.

And while the Paris Agreement will be dissected and discussed every way imaginable, it represents a key shift in the climate movement: A global consensus that something significant needs to be done, and a pathway to do it.

One of the most respected voices on climate change is James Hansen, a former NASA scientist now climate activist that has been studying changes in the Earth’s climate since the 1970s. At a benchmark Congressional hearing in 1988, he described the “greenhouse effect” where heat-trapped gases are released into the atmosphere causing global warming with a 99 percent certainty. He advocated the radical suggestion that there should be a “sharp reduction in the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide.”

It was Hansen and 16 others who released a report in July 2015 announcing that the Earth’s huge icebergs and ice sheets, such as those found in Greenland, are melting faster than expected. It stated, “The sea level could soon be up to five meters higher than it is today by the latter part of this century, [if] greenhouse gases aren’t radically slashed. This would inundate many of the world’s cities, including London, New York, Miami and Shanghai.”

As these scientists describe it, there is a great deal of excess energy already in the “system.” So far, the oceans have been absorbing a huge amount of this excess heat. However, this will not continue forever, and when it stops, the heat will go into the atmosphere.

Evidently, the Arctic has been heating up much faster than other places. The volume of sea ice has been drastically reduced, so that there is less and less multi-year ice. Sometime in the next few years, there will likely be a period late in the summer when all the sea ice will disappear.

The ice reflects most of the sunlight that hits it regardless of whether it is 3 inches thick or 3 meters. So, when light reflection is diminished by melting ice, the oceans warm. The next great fear is that as the oceans warm, methane that is now held in ice crystals deep on the ocean floor will be released. This is especially true at the Siberian continental shelf. Methane gas has a much stronger greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide.

Virtually every aspect of climate change that we have seen has occurred much, much, much faster than previously predicted. This is true of the Arctic sea ice melting, glaciers shrinking, sea level rising, and ocean warming. There’s no reason to believe any of this will slow down. In fact, it is only likely to accelerate.

Of course, many big questions remain, but having the Paris Accord in place is a collective first step. Implementing the agreed-upon assessment mechanisms and action plans will be essential to meet the longer term challenge. Making sure that nations fulfill their obligations under this agreement is also vital to the prospect of slowing and reversing the greenhouse effect.

What is most important is to learn all we can to take individual ownership of climate change. This is not an effort won by any one person or any one nation. It will only be won with every effort we can put forward. Even if you refuse to accept these concepts for your own generation, then make it your commitment for future generations.

As Chief Seattle is frequently quoted, “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints!”

I believe that we need to apply that same premise to our lives here on this earth. I challenge you to follow that fundamental premise.

First, the consensus of the scientific community has shifted from skepticism to near-unanimous acceptance of the evidence of an artificial greenhouse effect. Second, while artificial climate change may have some beneficial effects, the odds are we’re not going to like it. Third, reducing greenhouse gases may turn out to be much more practical and affordable than assumed.

While many people to this day remain skeptical about global warming and climate change, many nations around the world are worried enough that they have continued to seek further consensus as well as formal agreement and an actual business plan that addresses global warming and reducing greenhouse gases.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of what happened at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (the yearly session of the Conference of the Parties or COP21) in Paris in December 2015. Basically, official representatives from 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding agreement to fight climate change. The Paris Agreement or Accord, as it has come to be called, aims to help the world abandon fossil fuels in this century and, specifically, stop global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and, if possible, below 1.5 degrees.

And while the Paris Agreement will be dissected and discussed every way imaginable, it represents a key shift in the climate movement: A global consensus that something significant needs to be done, and a pathway to do it.

One of the most respected voices on climate change is James Hansen, a former NASA scientist now climate activist that has been studying changes in the Earth’s climate since the 1970s. At a benchmark Congressional hearing in 1988, he described the “greenhouse effect” where heat-trapped gases are released into the atmosphere causing global warming with a 99 percent certainty. He advocated the radical suggestion that there should be a “sharp reduction in the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide.”

It was Hansen and 16 others who released a report in July 2015 announcing that the Earth’s huge icebergs and ice sheets, such as those found in Greenland, are melting faster than expected. It stated, “The sea level could soon be up to five meters higher than it is today by the latter part of this century, [if] greenhouse gases aren’t radically slashed. This would inundate many of the world’s cities, including London, New York, Miami and Shanghai.”

As these scientists describe it, there is a great deal of excess energy already in the “system.” So far, the oceans have been absorbing a huge amount of this excess heat. However, this will not continue forever, and when it stops, the heat will go into the atmosphere.

Evidently, the Arctic has been heating up much faster than other places. The volume of sea ice has been drastically reduced, so that there is less and less multi-year ice. Sometime in the next few years, there will likely be a period late in the summer when all the sea ice will disappear.

The ice reflects most of the sunlight that hits it regardless of whether it is 3 inches thick or 3 meters. So, when light reflection is diminished by melting ice, the oceans warm. The next great fear is that as the oceans warm, methane that is now held in ice crystals deep on the ocean floor will be released. This is especially true at the Siberian continental shelf. Methane gas has a much stronger greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide.

Virtually every aspect of climate change that we have seen has occurred much, much, much faster than previously predicted. This is true of the Arctic sea ice melting, glaciers shrinking, sea level rising, and ocean warming. There’s no reason to believe any of this will slow down. In fact, it is only likely to accelerate.

Of course, many big questions remain, but having the Paris Accord in place is a collective first step. Implementing the agreed-upon assessment mechanisms and action plans will be essential to meet the longer term challenge. Making sure that nations fulfill their obligations under this agreement is also vital to the prospect of slowing and reversing the greenhouse effect.

What is most important is to learn all we can to take individual ownership of climate change. This is not an effort won by any one person or any one nation. It will only be won with every effort we can put forward. Even if you refuse to accept these concepts for your own generation, then make it your commitment for future generations.

As Chief Seattle is frequently quoted, “Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints!”

I believe that we need to apply that same premise to our lives here on this earth. I challenge you to follow that fundamental premise.

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