Climate Change Deniers Compare Belief in Global Warming to Mass Murder

climate-change-unabomber-heartland-instituteThe Heartland Institute is the central, most powerful voice behind climate change denial. The Heartland Institute receives tens of millions of dollars in funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers to question the science behind climate change and global warming. Their latest effort to deny common sense scientific results was their most shocking and provocative attempt yet.

On May 5th, 2012, a giant effort was being made around the world by the Connect the Dots movement. Connect the Dots was a worldwide day of awareness scheduled for May 5th. Its intent was to create awareness about climate change through volunteerism, education, and protesting.

Just as Asia was experiencing the first hours of Connect the Dots day, the Heartland Institute decided to put up billboards around Chicago to promote their next large meeting. The billboards depicted Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, and Charles Manson, infamous cult leader, next to the quotation: “I Still Believe in Global Warming, Do You?” Kaczynski and Manson are both controversial figures and convicted mass murders.

The Heartland Institute’s message is intentional: people concerned with climate change are nut jobs and on the fringes of society.  The Heartland Institute conflated people who believe in global warming with serial killers, who are (or at least should not be) associated with society as a whole. By attempting to twist the climate change movement into something sick and twisted, this move by the Heartland Institute suggests they don’t have any real evidence to deny climate change. By comparing a belief in global warming to mass murders, the Heartland Institute merely signals they have to use desperate measures and blatantly provocative associations. The Heartland Institute could have chosen other figures that believe in climate change, like the pope or the Dalai Lama, but instead choose to align the climate change movement with notorious serial killers.

Rather than serial killers it is scientists and citizens who are concerned with climate change. Such scientists and citizens pressured the Heartland Institute so much, that within twenty-four hours the billboards were taken down. It is no surprise the Heartland Institute has gone to such measures, after all they are a libertarian think tank espousing free market environmentalism. In short, they support the efforts of corporations policing themselves and ensuing in mass environmental degradation in the name of profit and the free market. For instance, in the 1990s the group worked with tobacco company Philip Morris to question the science linking second hand smoking to health risks. The Heartland Institute opposes public health reforms that could negatively affect profits for corporations.

The Heartland Institute claims that the point of the billboards was to show that “believing in global warming is not ‘mainstream,’ smart, or sophisticated. In fact it is just the opposite of those things.” After they took their billboards down they responded to the scandal with more instigating words: “the leaders of the global warming movement are willing to break the law and the rules of ethics to shut down scientific debate and implement their left-wing agendas.” Their statement about the scandal also dictates that “The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society” and they claim that is why the most “prominent” global warming advocates are serial killers like Ted Kaczynski and Charles Manson, and dictators like Fidel Castro, another figure portrayed on the billboards.

People who are actually prominent members of the climate change movement shared their opposition to the Heartland Institute’s attack. Michael Mann is the climate scientist of Pennsylvania State University who originally published the graph depicting the rise in average global temperatures since the Industrial Revolution. He is a long time opponent of the Heartland Institute and called the stunt just one more of their “heinous actions” in a long history of despicability. Many mocked the serious accusations of the Heartland Institute, including Kevin Borgia, the director of the Illinois Wind Energy Coalition. He mocked their logic by tweeting: “#Heartland Institute believes in gravity. SO DID HITLER.”

But there is serious support behind the Heartland Institute, including companies like Microsoft. To sign a petition opposing the Heartland Institute’s continuous campaign of climate change denial click here.

Photo credit: nih.gov/catalyst/back/95.07/gifs/unabomb.gif

New Molecule Looks to Combat Global Warming

What if a molecule existed that could take atmospherics pollutants (known for disrupting and causing harm to the Earth’s ozone layer and rising global temperatures) and turn them into particles that could potentially have a cooling effect on the planet’s climate?  While taking a look at what are known as Criegee molecules, researchers have found that these naturally occurring biradicals are much more efficient than previously thought. 

Named after Rudolf Criegee, a German chemist who first brought these naturally occurring biradicals to light, the Criegee intermediate (as it went on to be called) is a “reactive molecule missing two chemical bonds” that can combine with particles of ozone to form less threatening compounds.  Existing naturally as an alkene—an organic compound commonly released from much of the world’s thriving ecosystems—the Criegee intermediate “could oxidise sulphur dioxide, which eventually turns into sulphuric acid, which has a known cooling effect,” explains Carl Percival, one of a number of authors of the study recently reported and  published in the journal Science.  

Wanting to take a closer look at these Criegee intermediates, researchers recently set out to discover if these biradicals could be produced in a lab setting.

Researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Bristol, as well as the Sandia National Laboratories in the United States, set out to find if they could successfully replicate these intermediates.  Because the reaction of the Criegee intermediate and a pollutant occur so rapidly in the environment, scientists needed to slow down the process in order to get a better look. However, in order to get their hands on an intermediate, they had to make one for themselves. They accomplished this by shining a powerful laser light on a compound of diiodomethane, forcing it to break off two bonds—thus giving them the biradical they needed. 

They then took the newly formed Criegee intermediate and added known pollutants, like sulphuric dioxide, nitric dioxide, water, or nitric oxide into the mix.  What happened next shocked even them.  When combined with nitric dioxide and sulphuric dioxide, the intermediate responded quicker than they expected, leaving a practically immediate cooling effect. 

While this new evidence has presented a breakthrough for many looking for more efficient ways to combat the effects of global warming, it is clear that science can in no way be a substitute for what nature does on its own.  The Earth’s ecosystem puts out 90 percent of the alkenes that produce these cooling intermediates, a feat not easily matched by science. “The ecosystem is negating climate change more efficiently than we thought it was,” states Percival. 

The solution, according to Alan Robock a climate scientist at Rutgers University, lies not in establishing science as a viable option to combat climate change but in preserving the environment: “The solution to global warming is mitigation, it’s not geoengineering…If anybody thinks this s a solution to global warming, it will take away that push there is now toward mitigation.”  What it all comes down to is preserving and taking care of the planet’s natural ecosystems and its natural way of balancing itself, and not to get distracted by breakthroughs in science like this. While it does offer great insight, the most significant thing to take from this study is the importance of taking care of our most precious ecosystems. 

Photo Credit: lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/assets/images/2005/Jan-20/green_plants.jpg

Flaws Found in Global Warming Hoax Hypothesis

The majority of the scientific community along with several respected media outlets have managed to discredit recently publicized conclusions by a NASA scientist that global warming theory is a hoax.

Dr. Roy Spencer, climate change scientist and a team leader for NASA’s Aqua satellite, recently publicized his findings, which indicate that the earth is releasing more heat into space than it is retaining.

His conclusions prompted headlines such as, “Global Warming a Hoax? NASA Reveals Earth Releasing Heat into Space,” which ran in the San Fransisco International Business Times.  Forbes Magazine ran the Op/Ed headline, “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole in Global Warming Alarmism.”

The study’s results would point to a fundamental flaw in the UN model for global warming and lend public credence to the idea that climate change theory is overly “alarmist.”

Spencer reportedly studied a decade’s worth of data collected from NASA’s Terra satellite.  He claims that new satellite findings indicate a higher efficiency of releasing heat from the atmosphere than previously thought.

Spencer explained, “The satellite observations suggest there is much more energy lost to space during and after warming than the climate models show…There is a huge discrepancy between the data and the forecasts that is especially big over the oceans.”

Published in the journal Remote Sensing, his hypothesis further “indicates far less future global warming will occur than United Nations computer models have predicted, and supports prior studies indicating increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide trap far less heat than alarmists have claimed.”

Spencer’s cross-examination of data allowed him to conclude that carbon dioxide emissions account for only a small portion of atmospheric warming.

Fortunately for environmental advocates, Spencer has been discredited by his peers in the scientific community.  According to an article in Discover Magazine, “they say Spencer’s model is ‘unrealistic’, ‘flawed’, and ‘incorrect’…A geochemist has shown that Spencer’s models are irretrievably flawed, ‘don’t make any physical sense,’ and that Spencer has a track record in using such flawed analysis to draw any conclusion he wants.”

Reportedly, Spencer did not account for statistical fluctuations or other variables while collecting data for his study.  Dr. Andrew Tessler, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, maintained: “He’s taken an incorrect model, he’s tweaked it to match observations, but the conclusions you get from that are not correct.”

According to a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Kevin Trenberth, “the paper has been published in a journal called Remote Sensing which is a fine journal for geographers, but it does not deal with atmospheric and climate science, and it is evident that this paper did not get an adequate peer review. It should not have been published.”

Stephanie Pappas, senior writer for LiveScience, distinguishes Spencer’s radical and “politically motivated” opinions from the mainstream scientific community and points to his past promotion of climate change skepticism.

Although largely discredited, the notions of conspiracy surrounding global warming clearly still manage to garner media and public attention.  Moreover, this could prove to be a particularly significant threat to green enthusiasts, given the current conservative political tide that is seeking to deregulate domestic industry at the expense of the environment.  For more on this, see appropriations bill HR 2584.

Photo credit: maine.gov/dep/air/emissions/ghg-equiv.htm

Study Shows Sea Level to Rise by 1 Meter

On Monday, a new Australian study showed that sea levels could rise by up to a meter by the end of the century.  The study also showed that “once-a-century” flooding could happen almost yearly due to the climate change.

In the government’s first Climate Commission report, the study showed that the warming of Earth’s surface was “beyond doubt”, and that data from the most up-to-date climate science around the world showed that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities were the most probable cause of rising temperatures, warmer oceans, and rising sea levels. 

Though the study has been reviewed by climate scientists from the CSIRO, an Australian science body, and the Bureau of Meteorology and academics, some judgements, like the amount of sea level rising, were the assessment of the author Will Steffen.

“I expect the magnitude of global average sea-level rise in 2100 compared to 1990 to be in the range of 0.5 to 1.0 meter,” Steffen said in his study.

The report said that a rise of 0.5 meters in sea level would have a large impact on the country, such as flooding of large coastal areas around major cities like Sydney and Melbourne. 

Also, the climate change is affecting Australia’s risk for natural disasters.  With the rise in sea level, there has also been a decline in rain, as well as a doubling of the number of record hot days that has led to increased risk of bush fires and heat waves. 

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is trying to introduce a carbon tax to curb greenhouse gas emissions, seized on the report.

“We don’t have time for false claims in this debate. The science is in, climate change is real,” she said.

Photo Credit: rst.gsfc.nasa.gov/Sect6/sydney-australia.jpg

Clouds of Black Carbon Accelerating the Rate of Climate Change in the Arctic

Although carbon dioxide gets most of the attention, a major contributor to climate change is soot, or “black carbon.” A recent study looked at soot particles in the Arctic region, and the effects those particles might be having on the climate.
The Arctic region in particular is of special concern to scientists, as the rate of warming in that region has been substantially faster than global averages. In the past 100 years, the surface air temperature in the Arctic has risen about twice as quickly as the global average.
Unfortunately, a warming Arctic could speed up the effects of climate change. This is because the Arctic acts as the “air conditioner” of the planet, noted study participant Patricia Quinn of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Heat from other parts of the Earth moves to the Arctic in the circulating air and ocean water, and at least some of that warmth can radiate into space.” Furthermore, the snow and ice present in the Arctic acts as a giant reflector, sending much of the sun’s heat bouncing back out into space.
The presence of soot in the atmosphere above the Arctic, as well as deposited on the top of the snow and ice, is increasing the heating process. The black soot allows the region to absorb more heat, thereby increasing the amount of ice melt, which thereby decreases the region’s cooling capacity. It is a vicious warming cycle.
Fortunately, unlike carbon dioxide, which remains in the atmosphere for many years, airborne soot has a short atmospheric lifespan. Researchers note that by decreasing soot emissions, this major cause of warming could quickly be removed. Soot is most commonly produced by gas burning engines such as cars, planes and cargo ships, in addition to fossil fuel based electricity generation, the burning of forests and the use of wood or coal burning stoves.

Photo credit: princeton.edu/~mkopacz/research.html

Study Meant to Challenge Science of Climate Change Ends up Reinforcing It

climate-Muller-Berkley-analysisA study initiated by a skeptic of mainstream climate change models, and partly funded by one of the nation’s most notorious oil billionaires, is so far serving to enforce the view most climate scientists have held all along, that climate change is real and caused by human activity.  The study, titled the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project, was initiated by UC Berkeley professor of physics Richard Muller, who has been a longstanding critic of the analyses climate scientists have used to show how global temperatures have increased.  Climate change deniers in Congress and the mainstream media hoped Muller’s study might cast doubt on the scientific evidence for a warming planet, but so far this has not happened.

“Our aim is to resolve current criticism of the former temperature analyses,” states the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project web site, “and to prepare an open record that will allow rapid response to further criticism or suggestions. Our results will include not only our best estimate for the global temperature change, but estimates of the uncertainties in the record.”  In announcing the Berkeley Project, co-chair Muller said it would be an independent analysis of temperature data that would help determine whether objections to other studies are justified.

Yet if climate change deniers hoped the Berkeley Project would magically erase decades of scientific consensus, they have so far been sorely disappointed.  In fact preliminary findings confirm the scientific bodies that warned of human-induced global warming have got it right after all.  Though much of the analysis remains to be completed, so far it enforces the views of research hubs like the National Air and Space Administration (NASA) and the UK-based Met Office, which have concluded global warming is unequivocally real.  Muller himself testified before Congress last week to say his findings show the integrity of other studies to be “excellent.” 

Even those who have always accepted NASA’s and Met Office’s findings are likely to be surprised by Muller’s—not because most climate scientists thought the Berkeley Project was likely to find major flaws in previous temperature studies, but because many observers predicted Muller’s analysis would itself be biased.  Earlier this year climate blogger Joe Romm characterized Muller as a denier with little understanding of the depth of the scientific consensus for climate change.  “Muller seems completely unaware that the Hockey Stick [a climate model Muller has criticized, which shows the recent increase in global temperatures] has been replicated and strengthened by numerous independent studies,” Romm wrote.

More worrying still was the source of the Berkeley Project’s financing.  The biggest funder of the study is the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, founded by oil billionaire and CEO of Koch Industries, Charles Koch.  For years Koch’s company has come under fire from environmental groups for pouring millions of dollars into campaigns to prevent action on climate change and blur the reality of climate science.  Last year Charles Koch and his brother David helped fund an unsuccessful state ballot measure that would have overturned California’s climate law.  “It’s hard to imagine a more irresponsible or anti-scientific person than Charles Koch,” wrote Romm in February.

Yet Muller has insisted the views of his study’s funders will have no impact on the Berkeley Project’s analysis of temperature data.  At least so far it seems this may turn out to be true.  The project’s initial findings contradict Charles Koch’s assertions that climate change isn’t real, and actually support other studies which the oil billionaire has spent years trying to refute.  In fact the Berkeley Project makes the case for human-induced climate change even stronger.  If a study led by a skeptic like Muller and funded by a denier like Charles Koch can’t cast doubt on the science of climate change, it’s unlikely that anything else will.

Photo credit: Thomas Kriese

Three Studies Name 2010 Among Two Warmest Years

January 23, 2011- Nick Engelfried

The world’s three leading scientific bodies that research climate change now all agree 2010 was one of the two warmest years since modern record keeping began.  This month the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the UK-based Met Office on climate change each completed independent analyses of the planet’s overall surface temperature in 2010.  Though the findings of the different researcher bodies differ slightly, all three are in agreement that last year was one of the warmest ever due to human activities causing climate change.

As economies continue to burn fossil fuels the planet’s warming is predicted to increase.  “If the warming trend continues as expected, if greenhouse gases continue to increase, the 2010 record will not stand for long,” said Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. 

In 2010 climate researchers gathered data collected at hundreds of weather record stations around the world, and combined this information with ocean temperature records captured by satellites.  In this way they gained as accurate a portrait as possible of the average temperature of the Earth.  NASA and NOAA concluded 2010 had tied with 2005 for the title of warmest year on record, with 1998 ranking a close second.  The Met Office still considers 1998 the warmest year, with 2010 coming in second. 

These differences may be due to the slightly different ways researchers estimate global temperature, and underscore the complexities involved in trying to assign a single average temperature measurement to the Earth.  However almost every year since 1998 has been exceptionally warm, and the decade from 2000 through 2009 is the warmest on record.  According to NASA, 2010 was 1.34 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the planet’s average temperature between 1951 and 1980. 

“The three leading global temperature datasets show that 2010 is clearly warmer than 2009,” said Dr. Adam Scaife of the Met Office. “They also show that 2010 is the warmest or second warmest year on record.”

2010 broke another kind of weather record as well: NOAA researchers say the world experienced more rainfall than in any year since record keeping began.  Unfortunately some of this rain came in the form of massive floods in countries like Pakistan and Australia.  This kind of flooding, ironically interspersed with periods of long drought, is one of the types of impact climate scientists have long predicted would occur as the world grows warmer. 

Other notable weather events in 2010 that might have been tied to climate change included large numbers of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, and a strong jet stream wind current that contributed to both the Pakistan floods and a severe summer heat wave in Russia.  There were nineteen named tropical storms in the Atlantic in 2010, including twelve hurricanes.  By fortunate coincidence no major storm hit a highly populated area in the United States, but it was the second most active Atlantic hurricane season on record.  Meanwhile in the Arctic, sea ice near the pole melted to the third-lowest level recorded, ranking behind only 2007 and 2008.

Of course the overall warm temperatures in 2010 don’t mean every country had a similar experience.  Parts of the world like the eastern United States and Britain actually had a colder, snowier year than usual.  This local and regional variation again emphasizes the complications involved in trying the get an accurate picture of global temperature.  To decipher long-term climate trends, it is necessary to look beyond local weather patterns and take into account the temperature data from all over the globe. 

Similarly global temperatures will always vary from year to year, and there’s no guarantee yet that 2011 will turn out to be a record breaker.  However climate scientists have clearly identified an overall trend of global warming.  The latest studies from NASA, NOAA, and the Met Office simply confirm that in 2010 this pattern well-established pattern continued.

Photo credit: Matt and Kim Rudge

Coming Winter Cold May be Traced to Global Warming

December 31, 2010

By: Nick Engelfried 

As many parts of the US gear up for what looks to be another cold and snowy winter, it seems counterintuitive to believe the planet is growing warmer.  However the findings of climate scientists over the last couple years have shown that colder winters in parts of the North America, Europe, and Asia can actually be expected to occur partly as a consequence of climate change.  Rather than undermining the scientific data in support of global warming, the harsh winter season facing many highly populated areas are more likely a preview of how climate change is re-shaping the world we live in.

The key to understanding colder winters in a time of global warming is realizing the overall warming of the planet will affect global weather patterns in strange and sometimes paradoxical ways.  For example the winter of 2005 and ’06 was an exceptionally cold one for Japan and several eastern European countries.  Yet globally 2005 was among the warmest years on record, and this may in fact have contributed to winter storms in these temperate regions.  According to Japan’s Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, relatively warm temperatures over the Arctic in 2005 caused northern wind patterns to shift, meaning cold Arctic air blew down into Japan and Europe and contributed to a colder winter.

Similarly as ice continues to melt in the Arctic, there is more liquid water available to evaporate and fall back on the Earth as precipitation.  This has caused an increase in winter snowfall in Siberia—a vast area that affects global weather patterns.  More white snow cover in Siberia means more heat is reflected back into space, causing a local cooling affect that again changes wind and weather patterns around the world.  The growing cool patch above Siberia has been shown to impact the flow of the jet stream—one of the most important wind currents on the planet.  Changing energy patterns in the atmosphere tip the jet stream in such a way that it blows Arctic air down into eastern North America and parts of Eurasia.

Meanwhile as climate change causes cold and snowy winters at a local level, the overall trend of global warming continues.  The decade spanning the ten years from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest since record keeping began in 1880.  In November the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 2010 is on-track to be the warmest year on record, and will certainly end up being counted as one of the top few warmest.  A certain amount of year to year variation in temperature will always occur, but the overall trend toward increased warming due to human activities is clear.

So why are so many local impacts of changes in global weather patterns traced back to a warming Arctic?  At least part of the reason is that the Arctic is feeling the effect of global warming much faster than most other parts of the world, with the result that dramatic changes in Arctic conditions reverberate throughout the globe.  Climate scientists have long predicted the Arctic would warm faster than other parts of the planet as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.  This is already happening, and scientists say the Arctic has warmed about two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. 

The cold winter which many parts of the US are likely to experience this year is a reminder of just how complex global weather patterns are, and how changes in climate brought on by human activities can affect the planet in unexpected ways.  If you find yourself kept home be stormy snow conditions this winter, just remember: these local weather condition may be traceable back to a melting Arctic, and a steadily warming Earth. 

Photo credit: Michael Dolan

Leak Shows Fox News Suppressed Evidence of Climate Change

December 17, 2010

While world leaders were meeting in Copenhagen last for one of the most important international climate meetings in recent years, Fox News Vice President Bill Sammon sent an email to his reporters instructing them to portray climate change as questionable speculation rather than scientifically based fact.  This is despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of climate scientists have concluded beyond reasonable doubt that climate change caused by human activity is occurring.

In an email to Fox reporters which was recently made public by Media Matters, Sammon said, “we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.”  Sammon was apparently making a reference to last fall’s “Climategate” incident, when email hackers broke into climate research labs at the University of East Anglia, and published emails they claimed cast doubt on the scientific veracity of climate change.

Hackers claimed they had found evidence in emails of an international conspiracy of scientists manufacturing the evidence for global warming.  However independent investigations after the emails were released showed none of the stolen messages cast doubt on the existence of climate change, and that the hackers had misinterpreted the words of some of the world’s most respected climate scientists.  “At the time of Sammon’s directive [to Fox News reporters],” writes Ben Dimiero of Media Matters, “it was clear the ‘scandal’ [Climategate] did not undermine the scientific basis for global warming and that the emails were being grossly distorted by conservative media and politicians.” 

Media Matters reports that Sammon’s email was sent shortly after a Fox News reporter covering the Copenhagen meetings pointed out that climate scientists predicted the decade from 2000 to 2009 would be the warmest since record keeping began in the late nineteenth century.  This prediction has since been confirmed by NASA studies, and cited by scientists like Dr. James Hansen of NASA as evidence of the reality of climate change. 

Yet Sammon apparently did not want reporters on his network to mention that the planet is getting warmer.  “It is not our place as journalists,” says the email from Sammon made public by Media Matters, “to assert such notions as facts.”  Media Matters says this is the latest in a series of incidents where Sammon has apparently tried to influence reporters to bias news coverage toward views of the political right.  Sammon also told reporters not to use the term “public option” during their coverage of the national health care debate. 

This is also not the first time US media sources have discounted the evidence for climate in order to present a “balanced” or unbiased view of the climate debate.  A 2004 paper by Jules and Maxwell Boykoff, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, argued that by attempting to portray the views of both climate scientists and global warming deniers, mainstream media sources have failed to make it clear that the vast majority of professional climate researchers consider that the planet is warming due to human activity.  In other words by giving the impression that the reality of global warming is still up for debate, media sources fail to acknowledge the widespread scientific consensus.

Some of the media’s failure to convey the reality of climate change may be unintentional, but Bill Sammon’s email to reporters seems to be part of a more conscious effort to suppress the facts about a warming a planet.  Like the release of the “Climategate” emails, Sammon’s directive was apparently meant to cast doubt on the work of climate scientists at a very important time for climate politics, and to discourage world leaders from taking action to the pollution responsible for global warming.

Photo credit: Thomas Kriese

New Studies Reinforce Need for Action on Global Warming

The UK-based Met Office on climate change reports that in the last ten years the planet has warmed even faster than scientists previously realized.  After the year 2000, climate scientists altered their preferred method for gathering data about annual global temperatures, which may have caused them to unintentionally under-estimate the rate global warming is occurring.  This makes the evidence for human-induced global warming all the more convincing.  According to Dr. Vicky Pope of the Met Office, “Our analysis confirms that the signals of warming are as strong as they ever have been.”

Though planetary temperatures will always vary from one year to the next due to natural fluctuations, scientific data shows a clear global warming trend since the late 1970s.  The years from 2000-2009 were the warmest decade in planetary history since record keeping began.  If this trend continues the world will have to deal with impacts of global warming that are now well known to the public.  These include rising sea levels, increase frequency of droughts and floods, the northward spread of tropical diseases, and the extinction of thousands of plant and animal species. 

Yet while some steps have been taken to curb carbon emissions, major economies like the United States and China have yet to take the kind of sweeping action needed to prevent the worst effects of global warming.  Right now the international community is meeting in Cancun, Mexico for the most important climate talks of the year.  But few observers expect the meetings to produce a binding international climate treaty.  This means the actions of individual countries to limit their own greenhouse emissions become all the more important.

Shortly before this month’s Met Office report was released, the UN World Meteorological Organization showed atmospheric concentrations of the two most important greenhouse gases reached record heights in 2009.  Carbon dioxide concentrations now stand at 386.8 parts per million, which is a 38% increase over pre-industrial levels.  Methane, the second most important greenhouse gas, has reached 1,803 parts per billion, a 158% increase since before the Industrial Revolution. 

Climate experts like NASA scientist James Hansen have warned that to preserve the planet in a state friendly to human civilization, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations must be brought down to 350 parts per million.  According to Hansen, “That will be a hard task, but not impossible. We need to stop taking carbon out of the ground and putting it into the air.”

This means major economies around the world need to dramatically cut back on their reliance on fossil fuels for energy.  China and the United States, as the biggest and second-biggest greenhouse gas emitters, play an especially important roll in this process.  Yet while China has become a major polluter relatively recently, the US has a long history of reliance on fossil fuels, and the economic means to shift to renewable energy sources more easily.  It therefore seems likely that for China and other developing countries to agree to limit their greenhouse emissions, the United States must take the first step.

Earlier this year the US Senate failed to pass a national energy and climate bill, casting national efforts to curb global warming into doubt.  However the US Environmental Protection Agency has worked with the Department of Transportation on a plan to improve the fuel efficiency of US vehicles for the first time in over a decade.  Meanwhile California and several other states have ambitious plans to reduce their carbon footprints and transition to cleaner energy sources.  Such initiatives show curbing carbon emissions is a realistic goal, and that it can be accomplished while creating new jobs in the renewable energy industries.

International authorities like the Met Office and the World Meteorological Organization have made the consequence of not curbing emissions and fossil fuel consumption quite clear, and serve to reinforce the scientific evidence for global warming.  Now the US and other countries must try to replicate successful efforts which have reduced emissions at the local and regional levels.  If world leaders act quickly enough, there will still be time to avert the most catastrophic consequences of global warming.

Photo credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, eutrophication&hypoxia on Flickr