The Worst(ening) Case Scenario

In October, I posted on the fact that we have have already overshot even the worst case scenarios of the 2007 report by the International Panel on Climate Change. Micheal Lemonick, former senior writer at Time magazine and now a columnist for Yale University's Environment 360 blog and Climate Central, provides an excellent update in his most recent post. Lemonick synthesizes a large body of work about rates of warming in the Arctic and Antarctic that complement the research on rates of GHG emissions that I was referencing in the fall. His post also goes some way into explaining why earlier models were off the mark, as well as discussing the physical dynamics that have added to the increased speed of melting in the Green ice fields.

Some highlights:

Unexpectedly rapid melting of the vast ice sheet in Greenland, for example, suggests that sea level could rise between 1 and 2 meters (roughly 3 to 6 ½ feet) by the end of the century — nearly triple what scientists projected just two years ago.

We are on a course for an ice free Arctic within 10 to 20 years.
Carbon dioxide is spewing into the atmosphere faster than any model anticipated, with the IPCC forecasting that if nothing is done to slow greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 could be as high as 900 parts per million — triple pre-industrial levels — by the end of the century. That could boost worldwide temperatures by an average of more than 4 degrees C (7 degrees F).
By now, we are used to worsening news about the climate. The thing to remember here isn't just that things have gotten worse, it's the speed at which things are getting worse and the effects that that will have that we need to keep in mind:

“Even one meter,” says Gavin Schmidt, of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Sciences, “is a disaster. It would directly threaten millions of people, and trillions of dollars of infrastructure."

We have a tendency with climate change, as with many other complex problems, to try to imagine they are stationary targets. It makes making our own plans that much easier. One of the many challenges that we face is coming to terms with the dynamic nature of the systems that we live in and the rapidity with which they can change.


2 Responses to "The Worst(ening) Case Scenario"

Anonymous said... 1 March 2009 at 23:32

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Alex Aylett said... 2 March 2009 at 01:04

I'm glad you've enjoyed what you've read so far and hope you'll keep reading and commenting.


This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.

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