The New Middle is Old and Should be Laid to Rest

Realclimate has a post critiquing a recent Andy Revkin article in the New York Times that was titled “A New Middle Stance Emerges in Debate over Climate.”

I must side with Realclimate here. The Revkin article begins:

Amid the shouting lately about whether global warming is a human-caused catastrophe or a hoax, some usually staid climate scientists in the usually invisible middle are speaking up.

This is a bizarre statement for three reasons. First, it is the media which insists on quoting the extreme opinions on both sides. So this lede is truly the pot calling itself boiling mad: “I’m shocked, shocked that the media has polarized the issue.”

Second, the “invisible middle” is in fact the highly visible consensus created by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments–the starting ground for all arguments.

Third, global warming will be “a human-caused catastrophe” if we fail to act within the next decade. What is emerging among the dozens of climate scientists that I talked to for my book Hell and High Water, is the exact opposite of what Revkin wrote. Louis Fortier, Canada Research Chair on the Response of Arctic Marine Ecosystems to Climate Change at Universite Laval, echoed the thinking of many when he said at a June 15, 2006 transatlantic conference I attended:

The ongoing Arctic warming corresponds to the predictions of the more pessimistic climate models. By extension, the pessimistic scenarios of climate change can be expected to unfold in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.

ClimateProgress has posted on this subject many times, including “Ten Reasons Why Climate Change May Be More Severe than Projected” and “The Permafrost is not so Perma.” It is always a surprise to people when I tell them that no IPCC models include the feedback from a melting permafrost, and thus all the models severely underestimate likely future impacts.

Ironically, then, if we listen to the people telling us we don’t have to act urgently now, we will be guaranteeing the worst-case scenario of global warming impacts and thus proving the “extremists” were right.

4 Responses to The New Middle is Old and Should be Laid to Rest

  1. CarlD says:

    What is so special about the “next decade” that we must act on global warming then? What happens if it’s not for 11 years?

  2. Kari says:

    Already we have experienced a .8ºC rise in global temperatures. The level of greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere is predicted to cause another .6ºC rise that cannot be prevented. With a 1.4ºC rise under our belt, continuing business as usual until 2015 will lock in an additional and eventual 1ºC rise. By not acting, in 2015 we will be looking to a 2.4ºC rise.

    When we reach an increase of 3ºC and meet 550 ppm of carbon dioxide equivalent (essentially double pre-industrial levels) in the atmosphere, we will trigger the likely irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Consequently, sea levels will rise 20 feet.

    Therefore, our actions in the next decade are a momentous factor in the survival of the Greenland ice sheet, one among an incalculable number of things that will suffer from global warming.

    If we don’t act in less than a decade, we are cutting it dangerously close to the outcome described above. One year may seem minor, but the truth is that every year that we do not use to our advantage will act against us.

  3. readyforchange says:

    Let’s see, over 70 million tons of carbon dioxide are emitted by human activities into the atmosphere every year. So yes even one year could have quite an impact.

  4. […] Further discussion on this piece is available: Matthew Nesbit, John Fleck, Roger Pielke Jr, David Roberts and Andrew Dessler. Also Joseph Romm. […]