Arctic Tipping Point? It Won’t Be Televised

 

Every year, Arctic sea ice melts during summer months and then refreezes during the colder winter months. On September 16th of this year, sea ice extent fell to 3.41 million square kilometers ( 1.32 square miles), the lowest summer minimum on satellite record.

As temperatures increase, and sea ice melts, this accelerates the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Melting of the Greenland ice sheet results in sea level rise.

We are now in uncharted territory,” said National Snow and Ice Data Center Director Mark Serreze. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”

As global warming impacts the Arctic region, more ice melts. The albedo of the Arctic is reduced, meaning less solar energy is reflected and more is absorbed. More energy absorbed means greater warming, causing more ice melt. This compounding process is called a positive feedback. In the Arctic, we call this process the ice-albedo feedback. And many are concerned that this rapid melt of the Arctic may translate into a tipping point for our global climate.

Co-founder of the Weather Underground, Dr. Jeff Masters blogged, To me, seeing the record Arctic sea ice loss of 2012 is like discovering a growing fire burning in Earth’s attic. It is an emergency that requires immediate urgent attention. If you remove an area of sea ice 43% the size of the Contiguous U.S. from the ocean, it is guaranteed to have a significant impact on weather and climate. The extra heat and moisture added to the atmosphere as a result of all that open water over the pole may already be altering jet stream patterns in fall and winter, bringing an increase in extreme weather events…. The house all of humanity lives on is on fire. The fire is certain to spread, since we’ve ignored it for too long. It is capable of becoming a raging fire that will burn down our house, crippling civilization, unless we take swift and urgent action to combat it.

But in a study published by Media Matters late last week, TV news covered Paul Ryan’s workout over three times more than Arctic sea loss. And the three major cable outlets covered Ryan’s workouts over six times more than Arctic sea loss; mentioning it only eight times in four months. According to Media Matters, three of these mentions were in the context of how ice impacts drilling expeditions in the Arctic, and the one mention on Fox News dismissed the problem entirely. Meanwhile, the cable outlets have discussed Ryan’s workouts 53 times.

 

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James Hansen on Cap-and-Trade, Tipping Points and Where We Go From Here

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In a recent interview, post- the COP15 Conference, the nation’s top climate scientist and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen discussed his views on cap and trade, tipping points and how we can move forward in the aftermath of Copenhagen.

Hansen also has a new book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity where he discusses these issues at length.

The entire interview with Amy Goodman is visible at the end of this post. I’ve pulled out some highlights.

Hansen says, “I’m actually quite pleased with what happened at Copenhagen, because now we have basically a blank slate. We have China and the United States talking to each other, and it’s absolutely essential. Those are the two big players that have to come to an agreement. But it has to be an honest agreement, one which addresses the basic problem. And that is that fossil fuels are the cheapest source of energy on the planet. And unless we address that and put a price on the emissions, we can’t solve the problem.”

On Cap and Trade: “Cap and trade, they attempt to put a cap on different sources of carbon dioxide emissions. They say there’s a limit on how much a given industry in a country can emit. But the problem is that the emissions just go someplace else. That’s what happened after Kyoto, and that’s what would happen again, if—as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, they will be burned someplace. You know, the Europeans thought they actually reduced their emissions after Kyoto, but what happened was the products that had been made in their countries began to be made in other countries, which were burning the cheapest form of fossil fuel, so the total emissions actually increased.”

But what you need to do—and many people call that a tax, but in fact the way that it should be done is to give all of the money that’s collected in a fee, that should be across the board on oil, gas and coal, collect that money at the mine or at the port of entry from the fossil fuel companies, and then distribute that to the public on a per capita basis to legal residents of the country. Then the person that does—that has less than average carbon emissions would actually make money from the process, and it would stimulate the economy. It would give the public the funds that they need in order to invest in low-carbon technologies. The next time they buy a vehicle, they should get a low-emission one. They should insulate their homes. Such actions. And those people who do that will come out ahead. That’s—the economists agree that that’s the way you should address the problem, with a price on carbon. Otherwise, the emissions will just continue to go up.”

On Tipping Points: “Well, there are tipping points in the climate system, where we can push the system beyond a point where the dynamics begins to take over. For example, in the case of an ice sheet, once it begins to disintegrate and slide into the ocean, you’ve passed the point where you can stop it. So that’s what we have to avoid.

Another tipping point is in the survival of species. As we begin to put pressure on species and move the climate zone so that some of the species can’t survive because they can only live within certain climate parameters, because species depend upon each other, you can drive an ecosystem such that when some species go extinct, then the entire ecosystem will collapse. So you don’t want to push the system that far.

And these tipping points are not hypothetical. We know from the earth’s history that these have happened in the past, especially when we’ve had large global warmings. We’ve driven more than half the species on the planet to extinction. And then, over hundreds of thousands and millions of years, new species come into being. But for any time scale that we can imagine, we would be leaving a much more desolate planet for our children and grandchildren and future generations. So we don’t want to pass those tipping points.”

On Atmospheric CO2:What we have now is 387 parts per million. But we’re going to have to bring that down to 350 parts per million or less. And that’s still possible, provided we phase out coal emissions over the next few decades. That’s possible. We would also have to prohibit unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and oil shale.”

On Moving Forward: “What needs to happen right now—we have this great opportunity this spring, I would say, to have discussions in the House and Senate about what really needs to be done to solve this problem. And it’s not cap and trade with offsets. We can prove that that’s completely ineffectual. What we have to do is put a price on carbon, and the money that’s collected needs to be given to the public, not used for boondoggles, like Congress is taking—plans to take the money from cap and trade that’s collected in selling the permits to pollute and to use that money for things like clean coal or to give the money back to the polluters. That won’t solve the problem. We have to give the money to the public.”

“There were a couple of encouraging things in Copenhagen. For one thing, Al Gore made a clear statement that a carbon price is a better solution than cap and trade. And John Kerry also indicated that he had an open mind on that question. So that’s why I say the discussions in the next few months are very important, because the way the United States goes is going to determine the way the world goes, I think.”

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350: The Most Important Number on the Planet

Data collected from ice cores, shows us that CO2 levels have been below 300 parts per million (ppm) for over 800,000 years. We are currently at almost 390ppm. Dr. James Hansen of NASA stated “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350ppm.”

Above 350ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere we risk tipping points- or points of no return and are in danger of losing the climate that sustains us. Some of these include, loss of Arctic sea ice, rising sea levels, shifting climatic zones, ocean acidification and loss of alpine water supplies that provide food and water to millions of people.

No one knows for sure how we get back to 350ppm. There are a myriad of ways to lower our carbon footprints. Once we all agree upon the goal and start working together, the path will emerge. Everyday we delay means we are adding more CO2 into to our atmosphere.

“If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is our defining moment.”Rajendra K. Pachauri, International Panel on Climate Change.

The best time to act is as soon as possible. The best action to take is as much as possible–individually, nationally & globally.

Check it out @ 350.org

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