Global Boiling: Rising To The Threat — Or Not

The future of global warming — a world of extreme storms, floods, droughts, rising seas, catastrophic change, species loss — is upon us today. The Wonk Room looks at the startling new scientific evidence that has come out this week, as well as how top environmental organizations — the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation — have responded.


Each day brings new, troubling headlines: the drought in Australia has deepened; coral reefs are dissolving as the oceans acidify; global warming threatens giant sequoias with extinction; and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program reported that soot and smog pollutants from Asia could cause extreme heatwaves and drought in the United States by 2050. Further, September represents the height of the Atlantic hurricane season and the end of the Arctic summer — both of which are being catastrophically changed by global warming:


As the Wonk Room reported yesterday, top hurricane scientist Kerry Emanuel found that Hurricane Katrina would have been significantly weaker twenty-five years earlier. With storms Hanna, Ike, and Josephine following in Gustav’s wake, Nature published a stark new study that shows hurricanes are getting fiercer:

As this year’s Atlantic hurricane season becomes ever more violent, scientists have come up with the firmest evidence so far that global warming will significantly increase the intensity of the most extreme storms worldwide. . . . Rising ocean temperatures are thought to be the main cause of the observed shift. The team calculates that a 1 ºC increase in sea-surface temperatures would result in a 31% increase in the global frequency of category 4 and 5 storms per year: from 13 of those storms to 17. Since 1970, the tropical oceans have warmed on average by around 0.5 ºC. Computer models suggest they may warm by a further 2 ºC by 2100.

At Climate Progress, Joe Romm responds:

Actually, if we don’t sharply reverse our current emissions path soon, SSTs are likely to rise far more than 2°C by 2100. Indeed, we could easily see a 1°C increase in SSTs by 2050, and that means four more potential city-destroying super-hurricanes per year by mid-century.


The Arctic is boiling.

Sea Ice Loss: The 2007 IPCC report estimated total summer Arctic sea ice loss would happen no earlier than 2050, but observations soon pointed toward total loss by 2030. This year’s precipitous decline is leading scientists to predict the possibility of an ice-free Arctic ocean within four or five years.

Ice Shelves Disintegrating: Last month, a huge 19 square mile (55 square km) ice shelf in Canada’s northern Arctic broke away and the remaining shelves have shrunk at a “massive and disturbing” rate, the latest sign of accelerating climate change in the remote region, scientists said on Tuesday. Warwick Vincent, director of the Centre for Northern Studies at Laval University in Quebec, told Reuters, “These changes are irreversible under the present climate and indicate that the environmental conditions that have kept these ice shelves in balance for thousands of years are no longer present.”

Permafrost Boiling: BioScience published a study that found, “The thawing of permafrost in northern latitudes, which greatly increases microbial decomposition of carbon compounds in soil, will dominate other effects of warming in the region and could become a major force promoting the release of carbon dioxide and thus further warming.”

Greenland Melting: On Sunday, Nature Geoscience published a study that the rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet could raise global sea levels three times over than previous estimates.

Seas Rising: A study published by Science expects sea level rise of 0.8 to 2 meters (2.6 to 6.6 feet) by 2100; as Joe Romm writes, “Needless to say, a sea level rise of one meter by 2100 would be an unmitigated catastrophe for the planet, even if sea levels didn’t keep rising several inches a decade for centuries, which they inevitably would.”

In the words of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) geographer Peter Black, “We can’t afford to sit on our hands any longer on this issue.”


In an email sent last Sunday and revealed in full by Energy Smart, Fred Krupp, the leader of free-market environmental group EDF, told his colleagues to back off discussing global warming in the context of Hurricane Gustav — even though his own group has reported that “all evidence so far shows climate change began intensifying storms about 30 years ago.”


Romm called the email “illustrative of the catastrophic messaging failure of the environmental community on issues of climate, government action, and energy.”

In recent months, EDF has received criticism from progressive bloggers for pushing questionable farm bill reforms, moving the goalposts on global warming emissions standards, and for attacking Friends of the Earth for their criticism of the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill.

In contrast, the National Wildlife Federation sent out a press release as Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast, rightly noting:

Our dependency on oil is driving our global warming emissions and helping fuel these more intense storms, which in turn threaten our energy infrastructure and lead to higher prices for American consumers.

The time to act is now. Join the Green Jobs Now Day of Action on September 27 to build a clean economy and restore the health of our planet.