Friday, February 03, 2017

Climate Reality Check 2017

Whatever the state of the battle with reality in the US, the rest of the world knows what it is worried about, and that's the climate crisis.

2016 was the hottest year on record--so much expected that I didn't even bother mentioning it here.  But global experts in fields that have to deal with the effects as well as the causes of climate change have a clear idea of what they're worried about.  Even economists, notably lagging in taking the climate crisis seriously until recent years, are waving their hands of graphs and jumping up and down with their charts.

After polling their 750 international experts, the World Economic Forum recently released this year's list ranking the impact of global risks in 2017.  Being economists, their impact is largely measured in how much money they will cost to deal with, but also the chaos they cause that can prompt even more expensive problems.  (Here's the PDF of the report, and a story about it--with the graphs of course...)

 Note that these aren't risks for the far future, or even the fairly near future.  They are for this year.

The top risk in terms of likelihood is Extreme Weather Events.  The next two are also climate related: Large-Scale Involuntary Migration (which can result from extreme events, droughts and wars that are in part caused by droughts and extreme weather), and Major Natural Disasters.

Large-Scale Terrorist Attacks is fourth.

Massive data fraud is fifth this year, which adds a worry to the top five of 2016, all of which were directly or indirectly related to climate crisis effects.  Climate crisis related effects were in the top five for the past five years, and of course, there were in that time extreme weather events and natural disasters that cost billions, and created involuntary migration.

In terms of degree of impact, the only thing worse than the four climate related categories-- Extreme Weather Events, Water Crises, Major Natural Disasters and Failure of Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (i.e. causes and effects)-- is Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The general state of knowledge and some political nuances are nicely presented in this NY Times article.  But what scientists hadn't quite predicted turns out to be how bad it is getting and how fast.  For instance, the Washington Post:

"The Arctic is so warm and has been this warm for so long that scientists are struggling to explain it and are in disbelief. The climate of the Arctic is known to oscillate wildly, but scientists say this warmth is so extreme that humans surely have their hands in it and may well be changing how it operates.

Temperatures are far warmer than ever observed in modern records, and sea ice extent keeps setting record lows.

2016 was the warmest year on record in the Arctic, and 2017 has picked up right where it left off. “Arctic extreme (relative) warmth continues,” Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics, tweeted on Wednesday, referring to January’s temperatures.

Veteran Arctic climate scientists are stunned.

“[A]fter studying the Arctic and its climate for three and a half decades, I have concluded that what has happened over the last year goes beyond even the extreme,” wrote Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., in an essay for Earth magazine.

It's situations like the Arctic and the breaking up of huge ice shelves in the Antarctic that renews the study of--and the worry about--tipping points.  

Paris (AFP) - Of the many things that keep climate scientists awake at night, tipping points may be the scariest.

To start with, these thresholds for deep, sometimes catastrophic change in the complex web of Earth's natural forces, caused by man-made global warming, are largely invisible. You can't see them on the horizon, and could easily cross one without noticing. Also, there is no turning back -- at least not on a human timescale."

While the borders of some are suspected, most are unknown.  So the prudent course would be to not test those borders, and to pull back as far as possible.

Much of the world gets that now.  Most of the US does, more or less.  Just not its government, apparently.

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