Global Climate Change: Warming, Stagnant, Cooling Or What?

The recent "scandal" of hacked emails has created a flurry of activity between global climate change proponents and opponents. From this AP article by David Stringer:

In one of the stolen e-mails, Trenberth is quoted as saying "we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't."

He said the comment is presented by skeptics as evidence scientists can't explain some trends that appear to contradict their stance on climate change. Trenberth explained his phrase was actually contained in a paper he wrote about the need for better monitoring of global warming to explain the anomalies — in particular improved recording of rising sea surface temperatures.

In another e-mail posted online, and unrelated to Trenberth, the British research center's director, Phil Jones, wrote that he had used a "trick" to "hide the decline" in a chart detailing recent global temperatures. Jones has denied manipulating evidence and insisted his comment had been misunderstood. He said in a statement Saturday that he'd used the word trick "as in a clever thing to do."

A different AP piece, by Seth Borenstein, appears to provide some facts that back up the frustrated climatologists' claims about context:

Since the 1997 international accord to fight global warming, climate change has worsened and accelerated — beyond some of the grimmest of warnings made back then.

As the world has talked for a dozen years about what to do next, new ship passages opened through the once frozen summer sea ice of the Arctic. In Greenland and Antarctica, ice sheets have lost trillions of tons of ice. Mountain glaciers in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa are shrinking faster than before.

And it's not just the frozen parts of the world that have felt the heat in the dozen years leading up to next month's climate summit in Copenhagen:

_ The world's oceans have risen by about an inch and a half.

_Droughts and wildfires have turned more severe worldwide, from the U.S. West to Australia to the Sahel desert of North Africa.

_Species now in trouble because of changing climate include, not just the lumbering polar bear which has become a symbol of global warming, but also fragile butterflies, colorful frogs and entire stands of North American pine forests.

_Temperatures over the past 12 years are 0.4 of a degree warmer than the dozen years leading up to 1997.

Even the gloomiest climate models back in the 1990s didn't forecast results quite this bad so fast.

But a piece that recently appeared in Der Spiegel seems to claim that global warming has stalled, at least for now:

Global warming appears to have stalled. Climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years. Some attribute the trend to a lack of sunspots, while others explain it through ocean currents.

...[...snip...]...

Otherwise, however, not much is happening with global warming at the moment. The Earth's average temperatures have stopped climbing since the beginning of the millennium, and it even looks as though global warming could come to a standstill this year.

The Spiegel piece goes on to say

The planet's temperature curve rose sharply for almost 30 years, as global temperatures increased by an average of 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.25 degrees Fahrenheit) from the 1970s to the late 1990s. "At present, however, the warming is taking a break," confirms meteorologist Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in the northern German city of Kiel. Latif, one of Germany's best-known climatologists, says that the temperature curve has reached a plateau. "There can be no argument about that," he says. "We have to face that fact."

So, what gives?

The whole picture has to be examined in context, instead of selectively focusing on elements that, out of the broader context, might appear damning to one camp at one time and when placed into a different context could be damaging to other camp. Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute, quoted in the Spiegel article, provides an apt and applicable reminder in terms of defining the issue purely as one of rising temperatures:

"We have to explain to the public that greenhouse gases will not cause temperatures to keep rising from one record temperature to the next, but that they are still subject to natural fluctuations," says Latif. For this reason, he adds, it is dangerous to cite individual weather-related occurrences, such as a drought in Mali or a hurricane, as proof positive that climate change is already fully underway.

"Perhaps we suggested too strongly in the past that the development will continue going up along a simple, straight line. In reality, phases of stagnation or even cooling are completely normal," says Latif.

Aside from attempting to ensure a stable perspective from which to examine the problem, however, there's also the problem of semantics -- and trying to ensure that media reports relay facts while filtering out political agendas and attempts of grandstanding for larger readership/viewership. For example, instead of referring to the phenomena as "global warming" try "global climate change" -- that at least provides a lessened expectation (poor that it is) that the overall global temperatures have to keep rising or else the problem is non-existent: the problem is more than simply global temperature, and the rise or fall of the temperature on a global scale is not uniform. Nor are the effects of global climate change and the affected natural systems impacted by it.

Some of the other issues associated with Global Climate Change are (from the Borenstein piece):

"Glaciers are a good climate indicator," Zemp said. "What we see is a accelerated loss of ice."

Also, permafrost — the frozen northern ground that oil pipelines are built upon and which traps the potent greenhouse gas methane — is thawing at an alarming rate, Burkett said.

Another new post-1997 impact of global warming has scientists very concerned. The oceans are getting more acidic because more of the carbon dioxide in the air is being absorbed into the water. That causes acidification, an issue that didn't even merit a name until the past few years.

More acidic water harms coral, oysters and plankton and ultimately threatens the ocean food chain, biologists say.

...[...snip...]...

More than 37 million acres of Canadian and U.S. pine forests have been damaged by beetles that don't die in warmer winters. And in the U.S. West, the average number of acres burned per fire has more than doubled.

The Colorado River reservoirs, major water suppliers for the U.S. West, were nearly full in 1999, but by 2007 half the water was gone after the region endured the worst multiyear drought in 100 years of record-keeping.

Much of what is believed to be part of the human factor in anthropogenic climate change is, in part (and in my opinion), a case of active denial for taking responsibility. Denial, plus a whole lot of arrogant presumption.

We waste far more than we use; our recycling is more a token effort than any actual serious change. Our creation of a disposable society emphasizes the ease and convenience of individual packaging and single use (use it once and discard) practices.

Whatever other impacts our actions or lack thereof have on the planet and environment, we do have one very real and very ignored area that we could start concentrating one, which would have a significant impact on the situation: we just have to take responsibility for our actions, losing the arrogance that brought us this far into a disposable society and start producing an economy, society and infrastructure based on efficient, effective resource (re-)utilization.

In short, we need to start acting like the adults we like to pretend we are, in order to reap the benefits of a genuinely intelligent, advanced civilization.

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