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The ongoing rise in greenhouse gas emissions may trigger a rapid, irreversible collapse in an Antarctic ice sheet the size of Mexico, with potentially catastrophic consequences, a study published last week in the journal Nature found.
Extreme temperatures linked to climate change can be expected to cause a significant increase in the number of premature deaths, according to a report released Monday by the Obama administration.
A new report nearly doubles previous predictions for sea level rise if global emissions continue unabated, portending a doomsday scenario for many of the world’s coastal cities.

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News of Climate Change

Scientists say catastrophe not yet inevitable
15th November 2015 | The Cape Cod Times
If climate change were a killer asteroid hurtling toward Earth, scientists, politicians and people of the world would be united in finding a way to prevent impending doom.

If climate change were a killer asteroid hurtling toward Earth, scientists, politicians and people of the world would be united in finding a way to prevent impending doom. To Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and other scientists who live with the reality that global warming will soon change the world into a profoundly different place, it’s hard to understand how others can live normal lives. “This is nothing like anything that human evolution has ever seen,” Romm warned at the Association of Climate Change Officers Rising Seas Summit that met Nov. 3-5 in Boston. “Fifty to 60 years from now, billions of people are going to find they are in places they wouldn’t have picked.” “The decisions we make today will determine if we can live here,” Romm said. Climate change officers deal with global warming and sea level rise issues for private and public corporations, municipal, state or federal government, and at colleges, universities and nonprofit agencies. Some of them also spoke at a climate change seminar for journalists run by The Metcalf Institute that was held on the second day of the summit. Scientists invited to speak at the summit shared bleak realities about the future effects of global warming. But they also expressed hope that the United Nations Conference on Climate Change scheduled to be held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 would take some major steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. is second to China in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, with Russia, India and Japan rounding out the top five, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. In advance of the summit, nations have agreed to cuts or other measures that some scientists believe will curb those emissions enough to keep the global temperature increase to 6.3 F (3.5 C) by 2100. Further cuts will be needed to reduce emissions enough to reach the goal of limiting warming to less than 3.6 F (2 C) by 2100, a mark agreed upon by many of the top polluters that some believe will avoid catastrophic damage to the planet’s ecosystems and inhabitants. Many have advocated for emissions reductions strict enough to limit warming to less than 2.7 F (1.5 C) to maintain a world closer in climate to the one we currently know. Speaking at the summit, Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University and director of the university’s Earth Science System Center, warned about maintaining the status quo with predictions of an air temperature rise of 7 to 9 degrees Farenheit by the end of the century and 4 to 5 degrees in the ocean. “At that point we are looking at a completely different planet.” Mann was one of a group of scientists who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, but is best known for helping to develop the “hockey stick” graphic that showed global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions heading straight up with the advent of industrialization and fossil fuels.

What ensued after the publication in 1998 and 1999 of two scientific papers that made the link between fossil fuels and climate change, was what he has called a war on science. His emails were stolen and posted on the Internet, he was sued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, received death threats and white powder in the mail, and was threatened with federal prosecution by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Mann defended climate science from its skeptics and detractors, saying it was not driven by computer modeling, but by centuries-old basic chemistry and physics. “The globe should actually have cooled. Only by including human factors do you get warming,” he said. Mann said the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was a consensus report that resulted in a lowest common denominator that he said underestimates the reality already on display. “Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than we predicted it to. The Greenland, West Antarctic ice sheets are all losing ice faster than we expected,” Mann said, noting that a nearly 20-foot rise by the end of the century couldn’t be ruled out. “The scientific community is too conservative,” he concluded. Ben Strauss, vice president of Sea Level and Climate Impacts at Climate Central, has testified on climate change before the U.S. Senate. He said there is much uncertainty about what is happening in the Antarctic, which has enough ice for a 200-foot rise in sea level were it to fully melt.

Most of that ice is “locked up where it couldn’t melt for a long, long time,” Strauss said, but the West Antarctic ice shelf, with 10 to 13 feet of potential sea rise, is in a much more precarious state. Last year, scientists from NASA and the University of California Irvine warned that the Thwaites Glacier was irreversibly collapsing into the sea. It had been thought it would be stable for thousands of years. “Thwaites Glacier is the cork in the mouth of the bottle,” Strauss said. “Unplug that cork and the rest of the West Antarctic collapses into the sea.”  Inches per century of sea level rise could become feet per decade, Strauss said. But there is uncertainty. “We don’t know if climate change is the driver. It’s not straightforward,” Strauss said. Warm ocean water attacking the ice shelf from below is what is eating at the glacier, but it’s still unknown whether that is due to changes in ocean circulation driven by a shift in wind direction or warming by a hole in the ozone layer, Strauss said. The West Antarctic is a bomb with a long fuse, Strauss said, noting scientists just weren’t sure that fuse had been lit.

“It’s hard to work there. It’s far away and there’s only a short-term record,” Strauss said. But even under a best-case scenario, the world’s coastlines will be flooded, Strauss said. Boston will become a series of islands like it was in the 1700s before the marshes were filled to make the present city. Shanghai, the world’s largest megacity, will shrink dramatically, Strauss said. Flooding, the result of sea level rise, is happening already, said Amir AghaKouchak, of the University of California at Irvine. With higher sea levels there’s less freeboard, high ground or even sea wall heights, protecting property against even small surges from what is known as king tides or nuisance flooding, the annual or semiannual highest tides of the year that occur when the earth, moon and sun align. Although these tides generally haven’t caused major damage, they are overwhelming current infrastructure built for lower sea levels and can impact important services such sewer, water and electricity, and can flood basements and roadways. That is what happened Oct. 27 when a king tide flooded the Southeast. They are happening all around the world, AghaKouchak said, and have increased as much as 300 percent in frequency in recent years. “This has serious coastal economic impacts such as business interruptions, road closures, public health impacts as sewer systems release pollutants into the streets,” AghaKouchak said. Combining a king tide with a storm surge could create an extremely dangerous and costly situation, he added.

“Small businesses have a narrow margin (of profitability), and losing even a couple of days means a lot of money,” said Quinton Zondervan, president of Green Cambridge, a nonprofit company working on environmental and climate change issues. “Fifty percent of small businesses don’t have a disaster recovery plan, and 40 percent do not reopen following a disaster.” In July, James Hansen, former lead climate scientist at NASA, released a study with 16 co-authors that claimed the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica were melting at a rate 10 times faster than previously believed. The report concluded that could result in a 10-foot sea level rise within as little as 50 years. The study was controversial because it was released before its methodology and conclusions were reviewed by other climate scientists. Hansen has been quoted as saying he wanted it published in time for the Paris climate talks. Hansen was behind one of the first climate computer models that he used to predict changes due to global warming. His dire predictions were heavily criticized at the time, but have mostly proved true. Strauss said he cannot be dismissed even if his latest study is far outside what most ice sheet scientists believe. “There could be a lot of surprises out there,” he said.

“There’s no question we are in a coastal property value bubble,” said Romm, who predicts a crash in coastal property values as homes are repeatedly flooded, then abandoned when the insurers finally decide they will no longer write mortgages or insurance. “The smart money will get out of coastal properties before the middle class does,” he said. But Romm and others do find there is still room for optimism and action. A 99 percent drop in the price of solar voltaic panels in the past 25 years with another 30 to 40 percent price cut likely, along with improvements in battery technology, means an expansion of solar power, Romm noted. “Advances in technology have occurred faster than we conceived of 20 years ago,” Romm said. “We can avoid the worst of this problem at minimal cost.” Romm said he was was hopeful the Paris talks would finally bend the curve of greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. is going to Paris with a proposed 26 percent to 28 percent cut by 2025, with China committing to a 60 percent to 65 percent drop in its emissions, and India with measures that would bring down its emissions by 30 percent to 35 percent. Together, the commitments by countries scheduled to meet next month in Paris are projected to bring the temperature increase down to 6.3 F (3.5 C). It’s a start, scientists at the ACCO conference said. “I’m optimistic about Paris,” Mann said, believing nations might forge an agreement that would be a significant first step toward avoiding catastrophe.

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