Another day, another (accurate) apocalyptic review of climate science. Joining recent articles in the New York Times and New Scientist is a terrific piece in Scientific American by science writer John Carey.
Carey has collected an assortment of epic quotes and nightmare scenarios from leading climatologists. As he explains (behind a paywall):
The latest data from across the globe show that the planet is changing faster than expected. More sea ice around the Arctic Ocean is disappearing than had been forecast. Regions of permafrost across Alaska and Siberia are spewing out more methane, the potent greenhouse gas, than models had predicted. Ice shelves in West Antarctica are breaking up more quickly than once thought possible, and the glaciers they held back on adjacent land are sliding faster into the sea. Extreme weather events, such as floods and the heat wave that gripped much of the U.S. in the summer of 2012 are on the rise, too. The conclusion? “As scientists, we cannot say that if we stay below two degrees of warming everything will be fine,” says Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor of physics of the oceans at the University of Potsdam in Germany.
Looks like the 350 ppm crowd was right all along!
The X factors that may be pushing the earth into an era of rapid climate change are long-hypothesized feedback loops that may be starting to kick in. Less sea ice, for example, allows the sun to warm the ocean water more, which melts even more sea ice. Greater permafrost melting puts more CO2 and methane into the atmosphere, which in turn causes further permafrost melting, and so on.
The potential for faster feedbacks has turned some scientists into vocal Cassandras.
Well, let’s hope faster feedbacks haven’t turned climatologists into Cassandras. That would mean we are doomed to be seduced by the Trojan horse of fossil fuels with the civilization-destroying carbon pollution hiding inside, to extend the metaphor (see “Will Sandy Be Short For Cassandra, Another Warning We Ignore?“).
This isn’t the only blunt climate article in Scientific American. They just published:
Climate Change Threatens to Create a Second Dust Bowl
Rising temperatures, persistent drought, and depleted aquifers on the southern Great Plains could set the stage for a disaster similar to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, scientists say
Anyone who saw the grim, gripping Ken Burns documentary on the original Dust Bowl knows how disastrous that would be (see also “My Nature Piece On Dust-Bowlification And the Grave Threat It Poses to Food Security“).
Carey’s piece lays out one of the main reasons climate scientists are concerned about abrupt, catastrophic change driven by greenhouse gases — it has happened in the past: