Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Climate Change & Tipping Points

Terschelling, the Netherlands
Last Friday several prominent speakers on climate developments presented their case on the Springtij festival in Terschelling. This was the same day that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was going to present its long awaited report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.

The morning session moderated by Jan Paul van Soest, a Dutch sustainability expert involved in a multitude of projects dealing with sustainability and the environment (he is also one of the co-authors of Earth Fever, Living Consciously with Climate Change published by undersigned's publishing company) and started with a presentation by Bernice Notenboom, climate journalist, author and explorer, who is well-known in the Netherlands for her television show Klimaat Jagers (i.e. "Climate Hunters") in which she travels around the world from Africa to Alaska and from South-America to Greenland, to show the effects of climate change on the environment and on its inhabitants, humans and wildlife. In the most recent episode Bernice Notenboom travels to Greenland, a crucial place for climate research as that's where the impact of  climate change is most visible. In this episode you will see how ice covering Greenland is retreating in great volume and how the local Inuit population, mostly hunters, tell us how they have witnessed firsthand this ice retreat over the last decade. You can view the Dutch episode here.  

For those of you in the U.S., the Weather Channel will broadcast this series under the name Tipping Points starting on October 19. During the Greenland episode, Bernice Notenboom is joined by Tim Lenton, Professor of Climate Change at the University of Exeter.  He is well-known for his research 

on tipping points and climate change (you can view his slideshow below.) 

Early warning of climate change tipping points
The next speaker was Dim Coumou, climate scientist at the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. His talk was about the increased incidence of extreme weather around the world
(examples are Europe with in 2003 the hottest summer in over 500 years; the U.S. where several states in 2011 had the wettest weather recorded ever; Russia which in 2010 had the hottest summer in centuries;and this year major floodings in Pakistan and in Colorado.) In research at the Potsdam Institute their conclusion is that this extreme rainfall and heat can be linked to man-made climate change. My understanding of the more technical explanation is that due to the increased heating of the Arctic, this causes the jet stream to freeze in its tracks for several weeks at a time, which in turn results in long periods of extreme heat or floodings. (for those readers scientifically inclined see this article "Extreme Weather of Last Decade Part of Larger Pattern Linked to Global Warming" and more information about jet streams)

The Potsdam Institute also released a report for the World Bank last June, Turn Down the Heat, Climate Extrems, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience.

See below what the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim had to say about climate change:

So, here we have an explorer who travels around the globe and shows through her own eyes and those of the local population how our climate is changing; a scientist who explains why we are experiencing increasingly extreme weather patterns; and a World Bank President expressing his concerns for the consequences of climate change for especially the poor people around the world. If there is still any doubt about a changing climate and its causes - and yes there are still quite a few powerful parties who are not convinced - then the fifth assessment report by IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) should offer conclusive arguments.  This fifth IPCC report, Climate Change 2013 The Physical Science Basis , is the result of a collaborative effort of 209 Lead Authors and 50 Review Editors from 39 countries and more than 600 Contributing Authors from 32 countries and will be released in four parts between September 2013 and November 2014. Here are some of the headline statements from the summary of the first part of this report just released:

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.................
Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).

The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.

The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.....................

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system..............."

Climate change is happening, many of its causes are evident as is human's influence. However, the international community in the shape of the U.N. climate conference system has been stalling over the last few years. In the meanwhile, rather than waiting for consensus on action to be reached among the world's governments, it's up to organizations such as Springtij, scientists such as Tim Lenton and Dim Coumou, journalists such as Bernice Noten, and many other individuals, organizations, and businesses to come up with initiatives and with a sense of urgency to show the way to a sustainable future for our climate and for our planet before all tipping points are reached.

In addition to the reports mentioned above, some further background reading:

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