I have been covering and studying the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) ”situation” (science, media, politics) for over a decade now, yet I am continually amazed at the twists-n-turns of the topic and the complexity of diagnosing changes in the climate.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the failure of the political process to solve anything. As I highlighted several times in the past, the Kyoto Accord was very flawed from the start. I (and many others)suspected it would do more harm than good. There was no shared sacrifice built into it. Some countries had to cut emissions while others were given a free ride. In the end, about the only countries that successfully reduced carbon emissions were those in eastern Europe, but that is not really something to crow about. Eastern European countries would have had reduced emissions even without Kyoto because they retired all of their old inefficient Soviet-era coal power plants. No other countries hit their emission targets, except ironically, the U.S which never ratified the Kyoto Accord. Emissions in the U.S. are now at a 20 year low! China and India, who were exempt from Kyoto, naturally are now the biggest emitters. Many people could see the flaws in Kyoto and predicted exactly what would happen, so I am surprised to see some people were surprised by the failure of the Accord. In retrospect, I suppose compromises have to be made when trying to put a world-wide regulation into place so negotiators did the best they could, but unfortunately came up with a document that did more harm than good. The current climate negotiations are more direct. It is proposed that advanced nations support a fund that would go to pay poor countries for damages related to AGW.
On the media side of things, there are still signs of over-hyping. Ever since I can remember, it is always “AGW is worse than we thought” (or warmer than most climatoloiogists think). I recall reading a similar headline eight years ago. AGW theory, if substantially correct, would certainly cause problems in the environment and some things are changing in line with some predictions, but it is 2013 the world hasn’t ended. I am unsure how much all of the apocalyptic “it is worse than we thought” headlines (for 20 years) have turned people off to the topic, but I am sure there are some. What usually happens is that people DO heed warnings, adjust their behaviors, and take corrective measures, it is just not as visible or as fast as environmentalists would like.
Even though many proponents for “climate action” highlight the worst possible scenarios, there is some evidence that AGW will not be as bad as forecast. A familiar skeptic, James Delingpole, relates some recent information on why AGW might be on the very low end of estimates - that temperature rise in the next century will not be that much different than the rise last century. It has to do with some basic assumptions of how much heat the oceans have taken up in the past and will take up in the future.
In a similar manner, some of the catastrophic drought predictions might not be as bad as originally thought due to a flaw in how drought has been monitored and calculated throughout the last few decades. Many of you might be familiar with the Palmer Drought Severity Index. I have referenced it a few times as a fairly good measure to look at past dry and wet years in Wisconsin. The problem is that the PDSI is not as good as it could be. There are better ways of measuring precipitation and evaporation and determining how much drought is occurring around the world. Using the more precise formula/calculation, it has been found that world-wide drought hasn’t increased much in the last few decades and it might not in the future either.
This also relates somewhat to the recent drop in in sea levels around the world. I know that you have heard about how the sea level will go inexorably higher, swamping coastlines and islands, but in 2010 and early 2011 the average sea level around the globe actually fell by a significant amount – only to rise once again toward the long term trend in 2012. One of the reasons for the reverasal in sea level rise was increased precipitation over land. Warmer oceans led to more moisture in the air which generally leads to more precipitation. This might counteract some of the drought predictions for coming decades.
A receding glacier in Alaska
In regards to ice around the world, you could understandably become confused by the expansion of sea ice around Antarctica and the reduction of sea ice around the arctic. It seems every other headline says there is catastrophic melting vs. it is not melting as much as thought (especially in Greenland). The headlines from last Summer that “all of Greenland has melted” might have been one of the real head scratchers. Believe it or not, this has happened before when warm winds have blown over the island. It wasn’t all of the ice that melted, it was just the surface snow/ice that had melted. Think of it like a frozen lake here in Wisconsin during the Winter. During much of the winter the lakes have a thick sheet of ice with a some snow on top. When some warmer weather hits (like last week’s January thaw) the snow on top of the ice melts and the surface becomes wet. That is what happened last Summer in Greenland. Only the top layer of snow melted, which is still significant because that does not happen over the entire island very often. As far as ice goes around the rest of the world, some glaciers are melting while others are expanding (another article here).
One of the more significant developments recently is that more climatologists are now on board with the ‘AGW has ground to a halt theme’ – citing the fact that natural forcing still plays a role and that ocean circulations have probably put the brakes on AGW at least in a small way at least for the last decade or so. In “my AGW position” blog post from a couple years ago, I mentioned that the climate changes we have seen recently are a combination of natural cycles and human influence, so I am pleased to hear of some agreement on this thought recently. Lately, I would say that there is enough evidence to say that the human influence has grown, but natural climate cycles will still throw a wrench in even the best programmed climate models in future years. Even though most climatologist would say changes in the sun’s energy output are too minor to make a difference, I still have a suspicion that the extremely low sun cycle we are in could have some cooling influence over the next few years.
None other than James Hansen has also stated that there could be a significant cooling trend over the next decade or two. Not because AGW has stopped, but because it might be affecting the planet quicker than expected. So how could faster warming cause cooling? Doesn’t seem to make much sense. He says that recent modeling shows that if the ice melts faster than expected, then that could cause some cooling to occur in the oceans which could then cause a temporary cooling trend for the planet as a whole. So the forecast that it is only going to get hotter in the U.S. (and elsewhere) might be off by a bit. I hope so, not only do I NOT like too much heat and humidity (like last Summer) but more of a cooling trend (either by a low sun cycle, ocean currents changing, or increased ice melting) would give us time to develop cleaner energy technology and more control over the weather and climate. A decade or two is A LOT of time in today’s fast changing world.
Have a nice Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under AGW, Arctic climate, Climate Change, Oceans
This post was written by jloew on January 14, 2013