… abrupt shifts of northern hemisphere atmospheric circulation resulting in 2-4°K changes in Greenland moisture source temperature from one year to the next.
The article concludes that
… polar atmospheric circulation can shift in 1-3 years resulting in decadal to centennial scale changes from cold stadials to warm interstadials/interglacials associated with astounding Greenland temperature changes of 10°K. Neither the magnitude of such shifts nor their abruptnesses are currently captured by state of the art climate models.
The traditional media rarely discusses extreme weather events in the context of global warming. However, as the Wonk Room Global Boiling series has documented, scientists have been warning us for years that climate change will increase catastrophic weather events like the California wildfires, the East Coast heatwave, and the Midwest floods that have been taking lives and causing billions in damage in recent days.
Today, the federal government has released a report that assembles this knowledge in stark and unequivocal terms. “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate,” by the multi-agency U.S. Climate Change Science Program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the lead, warns that changes in extreme weather are “among the most serious challenges to society” in dealing with global warming. After reporting that heat waves, severe rainfall, and intense hurricanes have been on the rise — all linked to manmade global warming — the authors deliver this warning about the future:
In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.
Unfortunately, some of the cautions in this long-delayed report have come too late for the victims of the Midwest Flood:
Some short-term actions taken to lessen the risk from extreme events can lead to increases in vulnerability to even larger extremes. For example, moderate flood control measures on a river can stimulate development in a now “safe” floodplain, only to see those new structures damaged when a very large flood occurs.
Climate change is threatening our health, our lives, our economy, and our security already. Now the only question is when our media will take notice, and when our leaders will respond. Our future depends on it.
True, I didn’t think I would appear in Nature again. But Nature online asked me for my critique of the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner Bill bill, and they were open to a big-picture commentary based on the latest climate science. They even ran with a modified version of my proposed wedges solution (see below, longer version here). The central conclusion of the paper is the major theme of this blog:
The latest science suggests that national and global climate policy is seriously misdirected. We must aim at achieving average annual carbon dioxide emissions of less than 5 GtC [5 billion metric tons of carbon] this century or risk the catastrophe of reaching atmospheric concentrations of 1,000 p.p.m. A carbon price set by a cap-and-trade system is a useful component of a longer-term climate strategy. Implementing such a system, however, is secondary to adopting a national and global strategy to stop building new traditional coal-fired plants while starting to deploy existing and near-term low-carbon technologies as fast as is humanly possible.
What are the “series of aggressive strategies for technology deployment” we need?
… tax credits, loan guarantees or other incentives for low-carbon technology, demonstration projects of technologies such as carbon capture and storage, a standard for electricity generation involving renewable or low-carbon options, a low-carbon fuel standard, tougher standards for fuel economy and appliances, and utility regulations that create a profit for investments in efficiency. These are all features of the climate plan of the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, but are not part of the announced climate strategy of Republican presidential nominee John McCain, whose plan starts by allowing unlimited offsets.
I am especially delighted that they created a figure for me of the wedges (click to enlarge):
As for offshore drilling, it’s safe enough these days that not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from the battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston.
McCain is repeating a popular myth. As the hackish Newsweek and Washington Post editor Robert Samuelson wrote on April 30, 2008, “Despite extensive damage, there were no major spills, says Robbie Diamond of Securing America’s Future Energy, an advocacy group.” In the weeks following Katrina and Rita’s one-two strike in the summer of 2005, the Bush administration claimed there was “only minor sheening” from offshore oil spills.
In fact, the clear satellite evidence of major spills was borne out by final reports. In May 2006, the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) published their offshore damage assessment: “113 platforms totally destroyed, and 457 pipelines damaged, 101 of those major lines with 10″ or larger diameter.”
Unsurprisingly, this devastation caused significant spillage, according to the official report prepared for the MMS by a Norwegian firm:
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused 124 Offshore Spills For A Total Of 743,700 Gallons. 554,400 gallons were crude oil and condensate from platforms, rigs and pipelines, and 189,000 gallons were refined products from platforms and rigs. [MMS, 1/22/07]
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused Six Offshore Spills Of 42,000 Gallons Or Greater. The largest of these was 152,250 gallons, well over the 100,000 gallon threshhold considered a “major spill.” [MMS, 5/1/06]
In addition, the hurricanes caused disastrous spills onshore throughout southeast Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast as tanks, pipelines, refineries and other industrial facilities were destroyed, for a total of 595 different oil spills. The 9 million gallons reported spilled were comparable with the Exxon Valdez’s 10.8 million gallons, but unlike the Exxon Valdez, were distributed throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Gulf Coast states, many in residential areas. The most massive spills included:
The quantity and cumulative magnitude of the 595 spills, which were spread across four states and struck offshore and inland, rank these two hurricanes among the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
UPDATE: At the Think Progress mothership, Lee Fang notes that conservatives are repeating this false talking point:
– George Will: “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed or damaged hundreds of drilling rigs without causing a large spill.”
– Wall Street Journal editorial: “Hurricanes Katrina and Rita flattened terminals across the Gulf of Mexico but didn’t cause a single oil spill.”
– Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne: “When Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast where we have about 4,000 oil and gas platforms, 3,000 were in the direct line of the storms – the most significant storms we’ve seen ever – and 3,000 of those had to be shut down. We had no significant oil spill. The system worked.”
– Fox News’ Dick Morris: “And by the way, the safety concerns, Hurricane Katrina didn’t cause any leakage or any spill in the Gulf of Mexico oil wells.”
Given the biased way they did the poll (details here), I’m surprised the number was so low.
The first question they asked: “How concerned are you about rising gas and energy prices?”
Pretty much everybody is concerned. Duh. But in a flawed poll, almost a push poll, the point of the first question is to get people thinking about about the pain of gasoline prices, rather than, say, the coastal environment or global warming.
Second question: “In order to reduce the price of gas, should drilling be allowed in offshore oil wells off the coasts of California, Florida, and other states?”
I kid you not. That was the question. And Rasmussen is supposedly a serious polling firm. I’m just surprised that only 67% answered that loaded question “yes.”
Why not just ask, “In order to reduce the price of gas, should we elect John McCain who wants drilling offshore — did we mention that would reduce the incredibly high price of gasoline that you are paying?” How about somebody do a poll where the question in “In order to risk our precious coastlines, which provide great economic value to the country, should we allow offshore drilling even though the Bush administration projects that would not significantly change oil production or prices through the year 2030 and beyond?”
On Tuesday, Rush Limbaugh went on a blatantly racist rant comparing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina to that of the Midwest floods, saying, “I look at Iowa, I look at Illinois — I want to see the murders. I want to see the looting. I want to see all the stuff that happened in New Orleans.” He continued:
I see devastation in Iowa and Illinois that dwarfs what happened in New Orleans. I see people working together. I see people trying to save their property . . . I don’t see a bunch of people running around waving guns at helicopters, I don’t see a bunch of people running shooting cops. I don’t see a bunch of people raping people on the street. I don’t see a bunch of people doing everything they can . . . whining and moaning, “Where’s FEMA, where’s Bush?” I see the heartland of America. When I look at Iowa and when I look at Illinois, I see the backbone of America.
Limbaugh also claimed “we all know why” we didn’t see “Shepard Smith or Geraldo or anybody else” in Mississippi following Katrina:
This was an excellent opportunity to bash Republicans and conservatives under the time-honored and old-hat cliche that they are racists and that they are sexists and that they are bigots and that they are homophobes, and when a flood happens to minorities, “Republicans don’t care. Bush doesn’t care. I mean, Bush might have even steered the hurricane right in there! Bush wanted half the residents of New Orleans to leave so that the Republicans could win the state in future elections,” da-da-da-da-da.
FEMA has admitted it is applying lessons learned from its abysmal response to Katrina to the present disaster. Sadly, as the Iowa City Press Citizen reports, “Unfortunately for public safety officials, crime and fires don’t take a break during a natural disaster” — even in the heartland of America. Although the Midwest floods are responsible for a much smaller loss of life, their economic impact will likewise be tremendous — unlike Rush, deadly weather does not care about party, race, or media coverage.
Technology Review asked me to comment about the hype over the new Honda fuel cell car, which the company optimistically calls “the world’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production.” The key word here is “intended.” Here it is:
Would you buy a car that costs 10 times as much as a hybrid gasoline-electric, like the Prius? What if I told you it had half the range of the hybrid? What if I told you most cities didn’t have a single hydrogen fueling station? Not interested yet? This should be the deal closer: what if I told you it wouldn’t have lower greenhouse-gas emissions than the hybrid?
Other than the traditional media, which is as distracted by shiny new objects as my 16-month-old daughter, nobody should get terribly excited when a car company rolls out its wildly impractical next-generation hydrogen car. Too many miracles are required for it to be a marketplace winner.
Edited by Joe Romm, we cover climate science, solutions and politics. Columnist Tom Friedman calls us "the indispensable blog" and Time magazine named us one of the 25 "Best Blogs of 2010." Newcomers, start here.