Climate Change Update (23 Jan 2007)

Greg Laden, at his blog, alerts us to another concerning story, this one in last week’s New York Times. As John Collins Rudolf reports, a somewhat unexpected effect of the Greenland ice melting is that new islands are being discovered. Pieces of land thought to be peninsulas turn out to be separate islands once the bridging glacial ice melts, and Arctic explorers have been discovering them by Greenland and Norway. The article states

All over Greenland and the Arctic, rising temperatures are not simply melting ice; they are changing the very geography of coastlines. Nunataks — “lonely mountains” in Inuit — that were encased in the margins of Greenland’s ice sheet are being freed of their age-old bonds, exposing a new chain of islands, and a new opportunity for Arctic explorers to write their names on the landscape.

The article goes on to discuss how this has prompted new editions of maps to be printed and what effects the rising sea levels will have. While discovering new islands is exciting for these explorers, it represents a disturbing trend, and they know it. Dennis Schmitt, discoverer of one of these islands, has provisionally named it Uunartoq Qeqertoq (“the warming island” in Inuit).

Unfortunately, reports like these are starting to appear on a daily basis, but I don’t want to be an alarmist. I think, though, that the world is waking up—even though my country, the United States, is lagging behind as usual. Even here, people are realizing there is a problem, even if they don’t know what to do about it.

In a surprising development, reported by Geoff Brumfiel of Nature news and other sources, the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock forward two minutes to five minutes before midnight. The Clock represents how close humanity is to destruction; it was created in 1947, during the Cold War, and its hands have been advanced and moved back several times as the world comes closer to or farther from nuclear war. The surprising, but welcome, news is that—in addition to the nuclear developments in Iran, North Korea and such—the group added climate change as a second potential cause of doomsday. Nature news reports that “The Bulletin’s second concern, climate change, represents a new direction for the organizationAfter considering several threats, including nanotechnology and bioterrorism, the group decided that the dangers of climate change are almost as dire as those of nuclear weapons.” Stephen Hawking lent his support to this at the conference. As quoted in The Guardian, Professor Hawking said

As we stand at the brink of a second nuclear age and a period of unprecedented climate change, scientists have a special responsibility, once again, to inform the public and to advise leaders about the perils that humanity faces. As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth.

As citizens of the world, we have a duty to share that knowledge. We have a duty, as well, to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change.

We are here today to outline the results of the Bulletin’s recent deliberations and to warn the public about the deteriorating state of world and planetary affairs by moving the hand of the clock.

As reported in CNN, 2007 looks to be a “crunch year for planet Earth,” reflecting both the increased urgency and the increased awareness of global warming. It reports that a European Union–United States summit on energy concerns will take place in April. As usual, the European Union has been taking the lead. As discussed in New Scientist, it is considering mandatory limits for greenhouse gas emissions from new car models.

In another good sign, climate scientists are finding allies in new places. CNN reports that some scientists and evangelical Christian leaders are teaming up in the fight against global warming. Also reported in CNN, the CEOs of ten major corporations, including BP American and General Electric, have called on President Bush “to support mandatory reductions in climate-changing pollution and establish reductions targets.” President Bush will give his annual speech to Congress today, and is expected to address global warming but not back mandatory emissions caps, according to New Scientist. He has repeatedly stated that he believes the science is unclear on whether global warming is natural or manmade.

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2 thoughts on “Climate Change Update (23 Jan 2007)

  1. For comic relief, a comment from a conservative Harding University student on a Facebook group about An Inconvenient Truth:

    “The movie is centered around the supposed “global warming” that your SUV is causing our planet. The entire scam is an attempt to expand governmental control over American citizens, including restrictions on fuel consumption.

    “Personally, I believe it’s an ungodly idea to think that God would create this beautiful universe as a “ticking time bomb,” allowing our inferior race to speed up the timer. The entire premise of global warming is obsurd. To believe in global warming is to assume that we have some ability to annhilate the planet at our own discretion–that’s a pretty haughty assumption. God will do with this earth what he wants, no matter what Al Gore does.”

    And no, he’s not joking.

  2. Of course, what he fails to realize is that we won’t destroy the universe or annhilate the planet; all we’ll do is make it unfit for ourselves.

    You know, in some ways, I prefer this sort of argument. It’s unabashedly faith-based—he has faith that God would not create the universe in such a way. In my mind, that’s preferable to implying that there’s some scientific controversy over global warming or that there’s something wrong with the science, though I still disagree with that position, of course.

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