Scientists’ latest study: Climate impacts felt ‘across all continents’


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Scientists’ latest study: Climate impacts felt ‘across all continents’

Posted on March 28, 2014 | By


A coal-fired power plants:  Coal burning is a major cause of climate change.  Use of coal in the United States is down, but China has overtaken the U.S. in greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change is being felt from the lowlands of Bangladesh to villages in the Arctic, with impacts ranging from droughts to the spread of disease to the melting of glaciers, according to a United Nations-sponsored report due for release on Monday.

It is the latest work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with a final version being hammered out in Yokohama, Japan, by 66 scientist-authors and officials from 115 countries.

“In recent decades changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans,” said a final draft of the report, obtained by The Guardian newspaper.

The report says “tipping points,” in which damaging impacts cannot be reversed, are fast being reached in both cold and warm corners of the Earth.

“Both warm water coral reefs and Arctic ecosystems are already experiencing the regime shifts,” concluded the IPCC report.

The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.  The report due out Monday is the second of three on impacts of climate on the planet.  The first, published last fall, cited “unequivocal” evidence that humans are the “dominant cause” of global warming.

A polar bear and her cubs at Kaktovik in Alaska, on edge of the Beaufort Sea.  The bears live and hunt on sea ice, and have been classified as "threatened" due to rapid shrinking of the Arctic ice pack.cubs

A polar bear and her cubs at Kaktovik in Alaska, on edge of the Beaufort Sea. The bears live and hunt on sea ice, and have been classified as “threatened” due to rapid shrinking of the Arctic ice pack.cubs

The latest report strings together very similar impacts in very different climates.

It finds that the gravest immediate threat is to millions of people who live in low-lying coastal areas, as well as small islands — and island nations — who are vulnerable to both rising sea levels and storm surges.

The New York Times, on Friday, published a long report on coastal flooding in Bangladesh, the densely populated, typhoon-swept Indian Ocean state.  Scientists in Bangladesh predict the country could lose 17 percent of its land by 2050, displacing 18 million people.

Yet, in the far-off Alaskan Arctic, native villages are feeling impacts of climate change.  The ice pack, which protected them from fierce fall storms, is forming later in the year.  The result is that villages bear the full brunt of storms off the Bering Sea.

The Seattle Times, in an exhaustive science-grounded report last year, detailed impacts of ocean acidification from New Guinea to the shellfish beds in coastal waters of Washington.

“Once again, the science grows clearer, the case grows more compelling, and the costs in inaction grow beyond anything that anyone with conscience or common sense should be willing to contemplate,” said a draft of the IPCC report.

The vast Alberta oil stands project, along with oil development in North Dakota, is outstripping the capacity of North America's pipelines.  Hence, oil is increasingly being moved by rail.  A disaster in Quebec raises questions for the Northwest. (Getty Images)

The vast Alberta oil sands project:  It is a major emitter of greenhouse gases.  China is looking to transport oil by pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast, and to the coast of British Columbia for export.  (Getty Images)

The report indicates, for instance, that drought and flooding could reduce crops across the world by 2 percent per decade.

Despite the “unequivocal” evidence, and calls to “common sense,” polls show that the political critics of climate change have made an impact on public opinion in the United States.

The right-wing “echo chamber” of talk show hosts, Fox News pundits, and allies of Big Oil and Big Coal continue to spread doubt.  At times they have even used the same strategists who designed the tobacco industry’s campaign of doubt about cigarettes causing cancer a generation ago.

Another “tipping point,” said the IPCC draft, is that climate shocks will soon no longer be seen as local crises.

“The really scary impacts are when things start gelling together globally: If you have a crisis two or three places around the world, suddenly it’s not a local crisis,” Dr. Saleemul Haq of the International Institute for Environmental Development told The Guardian.

The Pacific Northwest is facing a fundamental decision, namely whether to promote and enable Big Coal and Big Oil as both seek new markets in Asian countries where emissions are rising.

As coal is supplanted by cheaper natural gas, and faces tighter regulations, coal companies are seeking rescue by developing new export markets in China for coal from mines in Wyoming and Montana.

A coal train:  Montana and North Dakota want to send lots of them our way.

Coal trains could be rumbling through Northwest cities if proposed export ports are developed at Cherry Point north of Bellingham, and at Longview.

Huge proposed coal export terminals, proposed for Longview and Cherry Point (north of Bellingham), are undergoing environmental review.  Canadian producers want to increase exports out of Roberts Bank, a 1960s-vintage export terminal just north of the U.S.-Canada border.

Two big pipeline proposals are working through Canada’s regulatory system.  The first, called Northern Gateway, would ship Alberta oil across northern British Columbia to an oil port at Kitimat, at the head of a long, narrow channel.

The second is a proposed “twinning” — or more — of the existing Trans-Mountain Pipeline that extends from Alberta down to Burnaby, B.C., just east of Vancouver.  The expansion would be for export, meaning an estimated 34 tankers a month would travel the waters of Haro Strait between the U.S. San Juan Islands and Canada’s Gulf Islands.

Tesoro is planning a oil terminal in Vancouver, Wash., that would receive oil by rail.

The last IPCC report indicated the world would be safer if much of its remaining fossil fuel reserves remained in the ground, and clean energy sources developed.

IPCC has gotten bolder in its predictions, as studies show climate impacts accelerating.  It did get in hot water over a 2007 prediction that Himalayan glaciers, a vital water source for China and the Indian subcontinent, could be gone by 2035.  Not so fast, but the glaciers are still retreating.

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