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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Global warming roundup

The parties to the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are meeting in Montreal, Canada this week. Unsurprisingly, there is lots of disturbing news about global warming.

First, the volume of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is clearly higher than normal. This is from an AP story November 28:
A team of European researchers analyzed tiny air bubbles preserved in Antarctic ice for millennia and determined there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now than at any point during the last 650,000 years.

The study by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica, published Friday in the journal Science, promises to spur "dramatically improved understanding" of climate change, said geosciences specialist Edward Brook of Oregon State University.
Think about that again: highest level in 650,000 years.

2. Global warming isn't merely an hypothetical future problem. The effects may already be quite dramatic: Reuters, November 16
Whether it is an increase in poor health from diseases such as malaria or shrinking water supplies, nations in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America are vulnerable to the consequences of changes in global temperatures.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that climate change leads to more than 150,000 deaths every year and at least 5 million cases of illness.
150,000 deaths per year, now, according to the WHO!

3. Global warming isn't merely a problem faced by the developing world. Europe may, in fact, feel a "big chill" from melting polar ice caps and changed flow of the warming Gulf Stream. LA Times, December 1:
In the new study, published today in the journal Nature, a group of British oceanographers surveyed a section of the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Africa to the Bahamas that has been studied periodically since 1957. They found the overall movement of water had slowed 30% in the past five decades, particularly in the flow of cold water back to the south.

The findings are the first evidence of such a slowdown.

"The result is alarming," Detlef Quadfasel, a climate expert at the University of Hamburg, wrote in a commentary accompanying the research. The findings provide "worrying support for computer models" predicting that global warming could disrupt the way the planet regulates heat, he said.

Computer models have long predicted that warming of the oceans and "freshening" of the seas with water from melting glaciers and increased precipitation — all linked to warming of the Earth by greenhouse gases — could slow down the currents. But scientists did not expect to see such changes so soon.

Scientists differ on the potential effect. Some say weaker currents would cool Europe by several degrees, causing problems for agriculture and ecosystems and ushering in far more severe winters. Others say the cooling would probably balance out the effect of global warming in Europe, which is expected to raise temperatures globally by several degrees over the next century.

"My personal guess is there would be no overall cooling, just a slowdown of the warming," Quadfasel said in an interview.
It's a "large scale geophysical experiment" on the planet earth, as oceanographer Roger Revelle remarked in 1957.

4. China, surprisingly, has declared that it is reducing its production of greenhouse gases -- and criticized the American withdrawal from the Kyoto process. Japanese Mainichi Daily News, December 1:
The Chinese government said Wednesday that despite being one of the world's worst polluters, it was already cutting greenhouse gases and called on the United States to join the global community under the Kyoto Protocol to protect the earth's atmosphere....

"We really feel pity that the U.S. has not yet, and is not going to join the Kyoto Protocol, not only because of the size of its total emissions, but also because of its higher per capita emissions," said Sun [Guoshun, director of the Department of Treaty and Law at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs].

...He noted that China's annual production of carbon dioxide was 2.6 tons per 1,000 people, while the average was 19 tons per capita in the United States.
China has been exempt from Kyoto because it is a developing country, which means that per capita emissions are historically low.

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