Global Warming Wrap-up for 2004
- Global Warming Wrap-up for 2004
Friday, 31 December 2004
by Michael T. Neuman
Madison Independent Media Center
Summary: In 2001, the the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) produced a three-volume report on global climate
change, concluding there is new and stronger evidence that most of the
warming observed over the last 50 years can be attributed to human
activities, specifically to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and
other "greenhouse gases".
At the request of the White House, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
appointed a panel of scientists to address the issue and examine the
validity of the IPCC report. That panel produced its own report,
concluding "there is general agreement that the observed warming is real
and particularly strong within the past 20 years" and "the changes
observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human
2004 produced a number of studies further reconfirming these
observations, yet mainstream media and various fossil fuel industry front
groups continue to argue global warming is a phenomenon of nature, that
it's not a significant problem, and that individuals and groups who claim
it's a problem are no more than environmental extremists using fear
mongering tactics to scare people. They could be no further from the
truth, as scientific study results from 2004 attest.
Full Text: In 2001, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
which includes hundreds of scientists selected from all over the world,
published a landmark three-volume report on global climate change: "IPCC
Third Assessment Report - Climate Change 2001". Three years in
preparation, the document was and still is considered the most
comprehensive and up-to-date scientific assessment of global warming.
It's stated purpose was to be "the standard scientific reference for all
those concerned with the environmental and social consequences of climate
change, including students and researchers in ecology, biology,
hydrology, environmental science, economics, social science, natural
resource management, public health, food security, and natural hazards,
and policymakers and managers in governmental, industry, and other
organizations responsible for resources likely to be affected by climate
change." It contained the following conclusions:
* "Human activities have increased the atmospheric concentrations of
greenhouse gases and aerosols since the pre-industrial era. The
atmospheric concentrations of key anthropogenic greenhouse gases (i.e.,
carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and
tropospheric ozone (O3)) reached their highest recorded levels in the
1990s, primarily due to the combustion of fossil fuels, agriculture, and
* "An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a
warming world and other changes in the climate system. The increase in
surface temperature over the 20th century for the Northern Hemisphere is
likely to have been greater than that for any other century in the last
* "Changes in sea level, snow cover, ice extent, and precipitation are
consistent with a warming climate near the Earth's surface. Recent
regional changes in climate, particularly increases in temperature, have
already affected hydrological systems and terrestrial and marine
ecosystems in many parts of the world. Observed changes in regional
climate have affected many physical and biological systems, and there are
preliminary indications that social and economic systems have been
* "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed
over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. The severity
of the adverse impacts will be larger for greater cumulative emissions of
greenhouse gases and associated changes in climate. Overall, climate
change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in
lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical
* "Ecological productivity and biodiversity will be altered by climate
change and sea level rise, with an increased risk of extinction of some
vulnerable species. Models of cereal crops indicate that in some
temperate areas potential yields increase with small increases in
temperature but decrease with larger temperature changes."
* "In most tropical and subtropical regions, potential yields are
projected to decrease for most projected increases in temperature.
Climate change will exacerbate water shortages in many water-scarce areas
of the world."
* "The aggregated market sector effects, measured as changes in gross
domestic product (GDP), are estimated to be negative for many developing
countries for all magnitudes of global mean temperature increases
studied, and are estimated to be mixed for developed countries for up to
a few �C warming and negative for warming beyond a few degrees.
* "Populations that inhabit small islands and/or low-lying coastal areas
are at particular risk of severe social and economic effects from
sea-level rise and storm surges. The impacts of climate change will fall
disproportionately upon developing countries and the poor persons within
all countries, and thereby exacerbate inequities in health status and
access to adequate food, clean water, and other resources.
* "Greater and more rapid climate change would pose greater challenges
for adaptation and greater risks of damages than would lesser and slower
* "Greenhouse gas forcing in the 21st century could set in motion
largescale, high-impact, non-linear, and potentially abrupt changes in
physical and biological systems over the coming decades to millennia,
with a wide range of associated likelihoods."
* "The projected rate and magnitude of warming and sea-level rise can be
lessened by reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
* "The greater the reductions in emissions and the earlier they are
introduced, the smaller
and slower the projected warming and the rise in sea levels."
* "Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to stabilize their atmospheric
concentrations would delay and reduce damages caused by climate change."
* "Greenhouse gas emission reduction (mitigation) actions would lessen
the pressures on natural and human systems from climate change."
* "Mitigation actions to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of
greenhouse gases at
lower levels would generate greater benefits in terms of less damage."
About the same time as the IPCC was releasing its landmark 2001 third
climate assessment report, the Bush administration was announcing the
U.S.'s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol agreement, a document
negotiated and endorsed by the Clinton administration in 1997. The Kyoto
Protocol sets caps on aggregate greenhouse gas emissions from the more
developed countries of the world, which are also those that emit the most
greenhouse gases on a per capita basis. President Bush cited the
potential for economic harm in reducing fossil fuel burning and
uncertainty in "the science" of global warming as reasons for his
reneging on the agreement.
On May 11, 2001, the White House requested "assistance" from the National
Academy of Sciences (NAS) "in identifying the areas in the science of
climate change where there are the greatest certainties and
uncertainties," and the NAS's views on whether there are any substantive
differences between the IPCC Reports and the IPCC summaries.
The NAS appointed a panel of scientists to address the Bush
administration's request and evaluate the IPCC report and its
conclusions. The panel produced its own report: "Climate Change Science:
An Analysis of Some Key Questions (2001)", which asserted the following:
* "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of
human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean
temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes
observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human
activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these
changes is also a reflection of natural variability. Human-induced
warming and associated sea level rises are expected to continue through
the 21st century. Secondary effects are suggested by computer model
simulations and basic physical reasoning. These include increases in
rainfall rates and increased susceptibility of semi-arid regions to
drought. The impacts of these changes will be critically dependent on the
magnitude of the warming and the rate with which it occurs."
* "The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50
years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas
concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific
community on this issue."
* "There is general agreement that the observed warming is real and
particularly strong within the past 20 years", and "the changes observed
over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities".
A listing of findings published in scientific journals and government and
university web sites from January 2004 to December 2004 follows.
Global warming over the next half-century could put more than a million
species of plants and animals on the road to extinction, according to an
international study. A quarter of all species of plants and land
animals, or more than a million in all, could be driven to extinction,
said Chris Thomas, professor of Conservation Biology at England's
University of Leeds ... more than one-third of 1,103 native species
studied in six regions around the world could vanish or plunge to near
extinction by 2050 as climate change turns plains into deserts or alters
forests. Among the already threatened species that could go extinct are
Australia's Boyd's forest dragon, Europe's azure-winged magpie and
Mexico's Jico deer mouse.
The researchers concede there are many uncertainties in both climate
forecasts and the computer models they used to forecast future
extinctions. But they said their dire conclusions may well come to pass
if industrial nations do not curtail emissions of greenhouse gases that
trap heat in the atmosphere.
The highest layers of the Earth's atmosphere are cooling and contracting,
most likely in response to increasing levels of greenhouse gases at the
lower levels which trap the heat below, according to a new study by
scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory.
In a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Space Physics, Dr.
John Emmert and his colleagues, Drs. Michael Picone, Judith Lean, and
Stephen Knowles, report that the average density of the thermosphere has
decreased by about 10% during the past 35 years. The thermosphere is the
highest layer in the atmosphere, and begins at an altitude of about 90 km
The permafrost in the bogs of subarctic Sweden is undergoing dramatic
changes. The part of the soil that thaws in the summer, the so-called
active layer, has become thicker since 1970, and the permafrost has
disappeared altogether in some locations. This has lead to significant
changes in the vegetation and to a subsequent increase in emission of the
greenhouse gas methane. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon
dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
The Antarctic Peninsula is undergoing greater warming than almost
anywhere on Earth and the Peninsula's Larsen Ice Shelf, the third largest
ice shelf in Antarctica, has experienced catastrophic decay since the mid
Loggerhead sea turtles along Florida's Atlantic coast are laying their
eggs about 10 days earlier than they did 15 years ago, a change that a
University of Central Florida researcher believes has been caused by
The found that as the near-shore ocean temperatures increased by nearly
1.5 degrees Fahrenheit from 1989 to 2003, the median nesting dates for
loggerheads gradually became earlier. In 2003, half of the turtles' nests
were laid before June 19, compared with before June 29 in 1989.
A North Atlantic Ocean circulation system weakened considerably in the
late 1990s, compared to the 1970s and 1980s, according to a NASA study.
It is a signal of large climate variability in the high latitudes and
could indicate reorganization of the ocean climate system, perhaps with
changes in the whole climate system", said the study.
Millions of poor and minority children in America's cities likely will
suffer even higher rates of asthma as the result of a powerful one-two
punch of higher levels of pollen and changes in the types of molds
spurred by global warming along with unhealthy urban air masses caused by
the burning of fossil fuel by cars, trucks and buses, according to a
report by Harvard researchers and the American Public Health Association
The problem is particularly grave since asthma among pre-school children
already is at epidemic levels, having grown 160 percent between
1980-1994, more than twice the rate (75 percent) for the overall U.S.
population, according to "Inside the Greenhouse: The Impacts of CO2 and
Climate Change on Public Health in the Inner City", a report released by
the Center for Health and Global Environment at the Harvard Medical
School. The highest incidence of asthma cases already is found among
low-income and African American toddlers, a large share of whom live in
Warmer temperatures, less snow and less lake ice in recent decades have
made Michigan's winter tourism industry one of the early victims of a
Ski-resort operators say the average length of the winter season has
shrunk one to two weeks. "We're fortunate we can make snow," said Jim
MacInnes, president of the Crystal Mountain ski resort near Cadillac.
"Whether this is just an anomaly or a long-term trend it's hard for me to
know, but I do believe global warming is a real issue."
Michigan is not alone. Rather than a distant theoretical possibility,
most scientists agree that global warming in the United States is a
here-and-now reality. From the drought-parched Rocky Mountains to
Florida's beaches to the hardwood forests of New England, early signs of
climate change are virtually everywhere.
Evidence that the impact of global warming is already being felt "is
becoming overwhelming," said John Magnuson, a professor emeritus at the
University of Wisconsin who authored a landmark study of lake ice. It
found a 150-year warming trend throughout the Northern Hemisphere. "I
think we're just beginning to recognize that it's happening everywhere
and the effects are different in the different regions of the country and
different parts of the world."
Governments and consumers in the United States and worldwide should take
immediate steps to reduce the threat of global warming and to prepare for
a future in which coastal flooding, reduced crop yields and elevated
rates of climate-related illness are all but certain, top U.S. scientists
At a meeting organized by AAAS and its journal, Science, the climate
researchers argued that while some policy experts and sectors of the
public dispute the risk, there is in fact no cause for doubt: The world
is significantly warmer today than it was a century ago--and it's getting
warmer. Without action now, they warned, the impact could be devastating.
As the Earth warms, ice sheets are melting and sea levels are
rising--island and river-delta communities already are vanishing beneath
the waves. Native Inuit fishermen are falling through thinning Arctic ice
they've traversed many times before. In recent decades, climate change
claimed some 150,000 lives in 2000 and sickened many others, especially
elderly people and very young children, according to the World Health
Glaciers in West Antarctica are shrinking at a rate substantially higher
than observed in the 1990s. They are losing 60 percent more ice into the
Amundsen Sea than they accumulate from inland snowfall.
The study was conducted by a science team from NASA, U.S. universities
and from the Centro de Estudios Cient�ficos in Chile. It is based on
satellite data and comprehensive measurements made in 2002.
The ice loss from the measured glaciers corresponds to an annual
sea-level rise of .008 inches (.2 millimeters) or more than 10 percent of
the total global increase of about .07 inches (1.8 millimeters) per year.
Ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea appear to be thinning, offering less
resistance to their tributary glaciers. Our measurements show an increase
in glacier thinning rates that affects not only the mouth of the glacier,
but also 60 miles (100 kilometers) to 190 miles (300 kilometers) inland,
according to the study.
A report by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, "Observed Impacts of
Global Climate Change in the U.S.", by Camille Parmesan of The University
of Texas at Austin and Hector Galbraith of Galbraith Environmental
Sciences and the University of Colorado-Boulder, reviews the broad range
of ecological changes that have occurred in response to human induced
changes in the global and U.S. climate.
Numerous changes have already been observed and these changes have a
range of implications for the United States, its ecosystems, and
biodiversity. The responses of plants and animals to a changing climate
are indicative of their natural ability to adapt, yet future global
warming is likely to exceed the ability of many species to migrate or
adjust. Furthermore, one species' success in coping with climate change
may be another species' failure. The red fox, for example, is expanding
into the range of the arctic fox, forcing the arctic fox into an
Other observed changes include a long-term trend toward an earlier
spring, with earlier flowering and reproduction of plant and bird
species. Butterflies on the U.S. west coast are moving north and to
higher altitudes in search of tolerable climate conditions, with some
populations disappearing altogether from the southern end of their
ranges. And perhaps most alarming -- the frozen Arctic tundra is thawing,
releasing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in a feedback loop that could
ultimately accelerate global warming.
In addition, wildlife attempting to cope with current global warming must
also contend with myriad other challenges such as habitat fragmentation,
invasive species, water diversion, environmental contamination, and
over-exploitation, all of which collectively undermine their ability to
The International Arctic Science Committee reported that average winter
temperatures in the Arctic are up by 4 to 7 degrees over the past 50
years and now projected to rise by 7 to 14 degrees over the next 100
Polar ice during the summer is projected to decline by 50 percent by the
end of this century. Warming over Greenland will lead to substantial
melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, contributing to global sea level rise
at an increasing rate. Greenland's ice sheets contain enough water to
raise the sea level by about 23 feet.
The Arctic Assessment report said the region is warming twice as fast as
the rest of the globe, partly because dark ground or water, once
uncovered, soaks up more heat than ice or snow.
A team headed by Qiang Fu, a University of Washington atmospheric
sciences associate professor, finds that the troposphere has been warming
at about two-tenths of a degree Celsius, or nearly one-third of a degree
Fahrenheit, per decade. That closely resembles measurements of warming at
the surface, something climate models have suggested would result if the
warmer surface temperatures are the result of greenhouse gases.
The findings are important because, for years, satellite data
inconsistent with warming at the surface have fueled the debate about
whether climate change is actually occurring.
By 2050 heatwaves like that of 2003, which killed 15,000 in Europe and
pushed British temperatures above 38C (100F) for the first time, will
seem "unusually cool", the Hadley Centre for Climate Change says.
In its report "Uncertainty, Risk and Dangerous Climate Change", it
estimates that average temperatures will rise by 3.5C, well above the 2C
which the EU says is the limit to avoid catastrophic global warming.
It also says that the Greenland ice sheet could disappear, ultimately
raising the global sea level by 7 metres. This could proceed at the rate
of 5.5mm a year, and this with the 3mm rise caused by the thermal
expansion of sea water would soon put large part of Britain, including
the London docklands, under threat.
Once that process began it would be impossible to "regrow" the ice cap,
the report says.
New and updated satellite data from Greenland, the Canadian Arctic and
Antarctica show parts of these regions are rapidly melting and
contributing three times more water to sea level rises now than
The melting appears to be in direct response to the surface air
temperature warming and is occurring in months rather than in centuries
as previously believed.
The ice mass of Greenland's largest glacier, the Jakobshavn Isbrae, began
its charge seaward in the early 1990s in response to warmer air
temperatures. By the mid-1990s it was the world's fastest glacier, moving
at an unglacial clip of seven km a year. By 1997 it began to accelerate,
and NASA says today it travels 13 km a year, dumping enormous amounts of
ice into the sea. In 2003 alone the Jakobshavn Isbrae contributed about
four percent of the estimated rate of sea level rise worldwide. Canadian
and Alaskan glaciers are undergoing similar transformations, which began
in the late 1990s and appear to be accelerating as well.
The Arctic's perennial sea ice is also in decline. While this floating
ice, which lasts year-long, does not contribute to sea level rise, any
reduction in its coverage area allows more heat from the sun to be
absorbed by the Arctic Ocean. That leads to more sea ice loss, which in
turn means more open ocean for the sun to warm.
December 15, 2004
In the first ever comprehensive assessment of global warming's likely
consequences for North American wildlife, the Wildlife Society's report,
Global Climate Change and Wildlife in North America, finds that "there is
sufficient evidence to indicate that many species are already responding
to warming, and that animals and plants are already exhibiting
discernible range changes consistent with changing temperatures.
The report also details the disruption of essential ecological processes,
displacement or disappearance of coastal wetlands species, significant
loss of coastal marshes and disruption of alpine and Arctic ecosystems.
Direct threats to many species are reported, including polar bears,
migratory songbirds and waterfowl and alpine amphibians.
The report is the distillation of a two-year review by a professional
panel of hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific reports examining the
wildlife implications of global warming.
December 15, 2004
In one of the most comprehensive studies that plants in the Northeast are
responding to the global warming trend, Cornell scientists and their
colleagues at the University of Wisconsin found lilacs are blooming about
four days earlier than they did in 1965.
The lilacs were planted to help farmers predict planting and harvest
dates, but have now provided scientists with a historical record of bloom
The Cornell study also included apples and grapes at four sites in New
York, finding blooming occurring six to eight days earlier in 2004 than
According to a report by the World Meteorological Organization, 2004 was
the fourth-hottest year on record, extending a trend since 1990 that has
registered the 10 warmest years. 2004 was also the most expensive for the
insurance industry in coping worldwide with hurricanes, typhoons and
other weather-related natural disasters.
Michel Jarraud, the World Meteorological Organization secretary-general,
said the warming and increased storm activity could not be attributed to
any particular cause, but was part of a global warming trend that was
likely to continue.
Scientists have reported that temperatures across the globe rose an
average of 1 degree over the past century with the rate of change since
1976 at roughly three times that over the past 100 years.
Grass has become established in Antarctica for the first time, showing
the continent is warming to temperatures unseen for 10,000 years.
Scientists have reported that broad areas of grass are now forming turf
where there were once ice-sheets and glaciers.
We need to immediately declare war on global warming, and demand our
governmental representatives do the same. We must begin taking major and
significant actions, both individually and collectively, to bring about
major reductions in the rate that greenhouse gases are accumulating in
our atmosphere, from all human activities.
Some of the key sources of greenhouse gases are from burning fuels for
travel in cars, diesel fuel in trucks, locomotives, ships and airplanes,
and from burning coal and natural gas in electric power generation plants
and residential and industrial furnaces. These sources of greenhouse gas
emissions (predominantly carbon dioxide) add to the already present
"natural" background levels of carbon dioxide, which is released in
photosynthesis from plants. The additional emissions from fossil fuel
burning have lead to higher than natural volumes of carbon dioxide gas
being present in the atmosphere, thus increasing the ability of the
atmosphere to "trap" more heat close to the Earth's surface.
There are tremendous benefits in reducing fossil fuel burning, including
protecting public health, wildlife protection, cleaning up the air and
saving agricultural lands. We should demand our state and local
governmental representatives begin to enact and fund the kind of programs
and mandates that will bring about major local and state reductions in
greenhouse gas emissions from all public and private sources, especially
in the transportation sector, which is the largest CO2 emitting sector of
the U.S. economy.
One such program, recommended by the writer, can be found on the
following web site address:
At the national level, we need to accept the target greenhouse gas
emission levels identified for the U.S. by the Kyoto Protocol, which was
signed by the Vice President of the United States, and Congress,
governors and local goverments should begin taking actions immediately
for the U.S. to meet those targets.
The U.S. emits the largest annual amount of greenhouse gases to the
atmosphere so it ought be making the largest cut in its annual greenhouse
gas emissions. It should have raised fuel efficiency standards for motor
vehicles manufactured in the U.S. years ago, and it should now be
enacting laws and funding programs as part of the energy bill that will
bring about significant annual reductions in motor vehicle miles driven,
and flown, by U.S. citizens; and major reductions in energy use from
fossil fuel burning sources.
Global warming is for all intents and purposes undeniable now, as is its
primary cause -- too much fossil fuel buring in the transportation,
industrial, commercial and residential sectors. It's time for action.
see also: http://www.madison.com/communities/preserveourclimate