Climate Scientist: Even Without ‘Very Likely’ Feedback Loops, Warming Will Be ‘Substantial And Critical’

As the United States, like much of the rest of the world, bakes in record, killer heat, climate scientists continue to refine our understanding of the dire future of global warming in the years to come. The United Nations has named the 831 scientists who will author the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, to be published in 2013 with new model runs and observations of the ongoing destruction of our habitable environment. They do this work despite the endless assault from the fossil-fueled right wing, weathering death threats and media and politicians who ignore, downplay, distort, or lie about the science.

In yet another instance of this criminal deception, the First Post, a website of Great Britain’s The Week run by Tim Edwards, has claimed that new climate research from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry “is set to rock the boat again.” Edwards’ headline, promoted by climate propagandist Marc Morano, blares:

‘Runaway climate change’ ‘unrealistic’, say scientists

“Climate change skeptics might say the new study is yet another nail in the coffin of the IPCC report,” Edwards writes.

His headline and fevered speculation was based on a quote from the Max Planck researchers’ press release, which quoted Max Planck scientist Markus Reichstein saying, “Particularly alarmist scenarios for the feedback between global warming and ecosystem respiration (CO2 production) thus prove to be unrealistic.”

Via Twitter, Tim Edwards defended his piece as a “balanced story about an interesting development in climate change science.” However, by giving credence to conspiracy theorists who believe that mainstream science is a fraud, Edwards utterly misrepresented the research, which was published in a pair of papers in Science.

The researchers’ work in reality reduces uncertainties about how ecosystems respond to changes in temperature, precipitation, and solar input with respect to the carbon cycle, and will be very useful for improving the resolution of global climate models. Far from being “yet another nail in the coffin of the IPCC report,” this research is yet another building block in the vast edifice of climate science that underlies the IPCC work.

In an email interview with the Wonk Room, Dr. Reichstein excoriated the First Post story as a “very bad report,” saying that his research does not show that runaway climate change is “unrealistic.” In fact, Reichstein told the Wonk Room that “positive carbon-climate feedback is still very likely.”

This is indeed a very bad report about our research, strongly misinterpreted and with a unnecessarily sensational tone. In particular the statements in relation to the IPCC report are exactly opposite to what I said (and what is correctly reported in other newspapers). The 4th IPCC report is not challenged at all by our study, because it does not contain “alarmist” scenarios at all. On the contrary, the simulations therein still do not contain the carbon cycle feedback.

Our point is that now for the next IPCC report models are including this feedback and they are doing this in very different way, for example also with different temperature sensitivities. This will lead to a relatively large range of model predictions, a range which can hopefully be reduced by using our data for model improvement.

Reichstein’s research makes the speculative scenario of a feedback loop between warmer temperatures and faster CO2 production from plants less likely. However, as he explained to the Wonk Room, there are many other feedback loops that could give rise to runaway warming:

There are enough other feedbacks which are not touched in our studies. These include permafrost melting and subsequent CO2 and CH4 release to the atmosphere. The positive carbon-climate feedback is still very likely.

The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report’s predictions of climate catastrophe exclude these runaway feedback scenarios. “Even without a runaway feedback via the carbon cycle,” Reichstein said, agreeing with the IPCC assessment, “the warming will be substantial and critical.”

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