Science

Georgia’s Climate Rollercoaster Illustrates Consequences of Global Warming

It’s been difficult for average citizens to imagine what global warming means for them. After all, a few degrees of increase in the global mean temperature doesn’t seem too bad. But one consequence that has already been documented is an increase in intense downpours with longer dry periods in between. A recent report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program said,

“Changes in the geographical distribution of droughts and flooding have been complex. In some regions, there have been increases in the occurrences of both droughts and floods.” (p. 18) “The widespread trend toward more heavy downpours is expected to continue, with precipitation becoming less frequent but more intense.” (p. 24)

The historic drought that gripped the Southeast for the better part of two years and the severe flooding that hit the same region last week illustrate this pattern all too graphically.

Too Much of a Good Thing

The sheer amount of misinformation on the science of climate change is stunning.  It’s no wonder that the public is confused (see our FAQ for some clarity).  The latest argument is easily dismissible, or at least it would be if it weren’t being repeated so much in the press (like this story in last Friday’s Washington Post, along with a series of ads for a new group pushing the idea).  You may have heard a politician or two talking about the “benefits” of carbon dioxide—it goes something like this: plants breathe in CO2, so more of it is good for them.  Nothing to worry about, they say, let’s go on burning fossil fuels as we always have.  A group even has a new website dedicated to spreading the lie that more CO2 is good for the planet.

Most science journalists have finally gotten beyond the “he-said, she-said” articles that falsely portray a balance of views where no controversy exists among experts.  Simply put, no experts in climate change are arguing that because plants use CO2, it’s ok for us to emit as much as we want.  That’s because they understand that humanity has released so much CO2 into the atmosphere that it’s beginning to affect the planet.  Without aggressive reductions in emissions, we are facing (among other impacts) rising sea levels, an increase in extreme weather, changes in precipitation patterns, and ocean acidification—oceans absorb CO2, threatening fisheries and marine ecosystems. The world’s scientific community has assessed the science of climate change and concluded that “warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.” (See this report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program or the comprehensive assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.)

Welcome To Our Blog

Welcome to our new blog. This blog presents ideas and insights from the Center and its experts on topics critical to the climate conversation. These topics include domestic and international policy, climate science, low-carbon technology, economics, corporate strategies to address climate change, and communicating these issues to policymakers and the public. Our bloggers include policy analysts, scientists, economists, and communication specialists – all of whom are working to advance solutions to our climate and energy challenge.

Thank you for visiting our blog, and check back often for more timely posts.

Tom Steinfeldt is Communications Manager

Ocean Acidification

Science Brief
August 2009

Read the full brief (pdf)

Since the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of the world’s oceans has increased significantly. This change is entirely the result of human activities. About one third of all the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by human activities has been absorbed by the oceans. The uptake of CO2 by the oceans produces carbonic acid, altering the chemistry of the oceans and making seawater corrosive to some minerals. Without strong action to reduce CO2 emissions, the oceans will deteriorate to conditions detrimental to shell-forming organisms, coral reefs, and the marine food chain, thus threatening fisheries and marine ecosystems generally. This brief describes the changes in the chemistry of the world’s oceans and explores the potential implications for marine ecosystems and the global food supply.

 

 

 

 

 

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Realities vs. Misconceptions about the Science of Climate Change

Science FAQ
June 2012

Download the full brief (pdf)

The issue of climate change has received so much attention in recent years that it has become difficult for interested citizens and policymakers to separate facts from fiction. Climate change is one of the most cutting edge research fields in modern science, but the field has existed for more than a century and much knowledge has been established with high certainty and confidence. This brief clears up some of the most common misconceptions about the science of climate change. 

Click on the links below to see a more detailed explanation.

 

The Misconception:Recent global warming is caused by the sun.
The Reality:The output of energy from the sun has been monitored by satellites for thirty years and has not increased during this period of rapid global warming.
  
The Misconception:The climate is always changing or it has changed many times in the past before humans began burning coal and oil. So there is no reason to believe humans are causing warming today.
The Reality:This misconception falsely presumes that if the climate changes naturally, then humans have no role to play or that it is impossible distinguish manmade climate change from natural change. In reality, several climate drivers have both natural and human sources and scientists can tell them apart. The evidence strongly supports manmade CO2 as the primary cause of recent warming.
  
The Misconceptions:The world has been cooling for the past decade;
or, Global warming stopped in 1998 or 2002 or {insert preferred year}.
The Reality:Short time periods of a decade or so often give the false impression that the Earth is not warming or that it is cooling. “Climate” is defined by long-term (e.g., 30 years) averages of climate metrics. Over the 20th century the long-term global average surface temperature has clearly increased.
  
The Misconception:There is no scientific consensus on the existence or causes of global climate change.
The Reality:A recent poll of earth scientists demonstrated that there is strong agreement that emissions of heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels make a significant contribution to global warming.
  
The Misconception:Scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970s. Since they were wrong about that, there is no reason to believe they are right about global warming.
The Reality:When the next ice age might occur became a topic of debate during the 1970s, but there was no consensus on the topic and most of the debate was already focused on global warming.
  
The Misconception:Atmospheric water vapor is the heat-trapping gas that is primarily responsible for global warming.
The Reality:Water vapor is increasing in the atmosphere in response to rising CO2 concentrations, amplifying the warming effect of manmade CO2 emissions.

 


The Misconception:

Recent global warming is caused by the sun.
The Reality:The output of energy from the sun has been monitored by satellites for thirty years and has not increased during this period of rapid global warming.

 

 

It’s true that the sun provides the energy that drives the Earth’s climate; without the sun, the Earth would be a chilly place indeed! When the amount of energy put out by the sun changes, the climate must respond in some fashion. However, scientists have been observing the sun with sophisticated satellites for three decades—during the period of greatest warming—and have observed no trend in solar activity.

Satellite observations clearly show the well-known 11?year solar cycle, during which the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface varies by about 0.1 percent. This cycle causes the global temperature to fluctuate up and down by about 0.2° F, much less than the observed warming of about 1° F in the past 50 years. More importantly, the solar cycle causes an up-and-down cycle, not an upward trend similar to the trend in the global temperature. The sun’s output has not increased over the past three decades (see figure). Recently, two NASA scientists published a peer-reviewed study demonstrating that the Sun’s effect on climate was “negligible” during recent decades and that “none of the natural processes can account for the overall warming trend in global surface temperatures.”[1] After analyzing several different types of data for solar activity (i.e. sunspot number, open solar flux, cosmic rays, and total solar irradiance), the authors of another peer-reviewed study concluded that “all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures.”[2] Similarly, after compiling the available evidence from many different studies, the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded that direct satellite measurements of solar output show slight decreases during the recent period of warming.”[3]

How do we know that the sun isn't causing the warming? We've been measuring the output of energy from the sun for thirty years from space and there's no net change.
Prof. Bill Chameides
Dean, Nicholas School of the Environment
Duke University

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The Misconception:The climate is always changing or it has changed many times in the past before humans began burning coal and oil. So there is no reason to believe humans are causing warming today.
The Reality:This misconception falsely presumes that if the climate changes naturally, then humans have no role to play or that it is impossible distinguish manmade climate change from natural change. In reality, several climate drivers have both natural and human sources and scientists can tell them apart. The evidence strongly supports manmade CO2 as the primary cause of recent warming.

 

The heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide (CO2) has both natural and human sources, and scientists are able to distinguish between the two. In recent decades, natural sources have changed little and what natural change has occurred would have cooled the Earth’s surface if it were acting alone. During the past century, human activity has been the only sustained source of rising CO2 emissions to the atmosphere.[4] Scientists have demonstrated that 80 percent of manmade CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and 20 percent comes from deforestation and other land surface changes.[5] We know that the extra CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere is mostly from burning fossil fuels because ancient carbon has unique physical characteristics that scientists can readily detect.[6]

Those who claim that current climate change is entirely natural have failed to reconcile some key inconsistencies. For instance, they have not identified a natural climate driver that has changed in a way that could plausibly explain the observed warming. Some claim that the Sun has become more active, but satellite observations show the opposite (see Misconception #1). Second, they have not been able to explain why increasing CO2 wouldn’t explain the warming, given that we know absolutely that this gas traps heat. The most common claim is that the current CO2 concentration (about 0.04 percent) is simply too small to affect to the climate significantly. That notion is simply a gut reaction to what seems like a paltry amount of CO2, but this sensibility is misleading. Consider the “fight or flight” response we experience when startled. This reaction results from a tiny shot of adrenaline that reaches only about 0.00000005 percent in the bloodstream!

In contrast, scientists have repeatedly detected a clear “fingerprint” of manmade CO2 in spatial and temporal patterns of change in several components of the climate system, including global surface warming, the vertical penetration of heat into the oceans, and the progressive increase in the vertical thickness of the lower atmosphere.

Over the past three decades, human influences on climate have become increasingly obvious... During the same period, the Sun’s energy output [exhibited] no net increase.
USGCRP, 2009 pp. 15-16
 

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The Misconception:
The world has been cooling for the past decade;
or, Global warming stopped in 1998 or 2002 or {insert preferred year}.
The Reality:Short time periods of a decade or so often give the false impression that the Earth is not warming or that it is cooling. “Climate” is defined by long-term (e.g., 30 years) averages of climate metrics. Over the 20th century the long-term global average surface temperature has clearly increased. 

 

Some people claim that the Earth’s surface stopped warming and some even claim it began to cool in recent years (e.g., after 1998 or 2002). By definition, climate is determined by long-term averages, not by the ups and downs that occur over a decade or so. For example, weather forecasters define “normal” daily temperatures as the 30-year average for a given date. Similarly, climate change is defined by a detectable change in these long-term averages. When global average surface temperature is examined in 30-year intervals, it is very clear that warming is ongoing.

Thermometer measurements compiled by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center show that the global surface temperature has been increasing since the 1920s (see figure). Looking at the last 30 years (1982-2011), it is clear that the temperature has been rising faster than it did earlier. However, one can easily “cherry pick” shorter periods of a decade or less when temperatures appeared to be declining (e.g., 1967-1976, 1987-1995 or 2002-2011). But viewing these years as part of a longer period shows that there was no cooling. Indeed, the Earth did not stop warming after, say, 1967 or 1987. For the same reason, there is no evidence that the Earth stopped warming in more recent years.[7]

 

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The Misconception:There is no scientific consensus on the existence or causes of global climate change.
The Reality:A recent poll of earth scientists demonstrated that there is strong agreement that emissions of heat-trapping gases from the burning of fossil fuels make a significant contribution to global warming.

 

Many concepts in climate science are well established and no longer require scientific debate. Scientists base their conclusions about climate change on multiple lines of evidence.[8] Physical and statistical “fingerprinting” studies have linked the warming of recent decades, as well as many other aspects of climate change, directly to increasing emissions of heat-trapping gases from human activities. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, sponsored by 13 federal agencies with deep scientific expertise, concluded in a 2009 report that “global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.”[9]

In fact, the evidence for human-induced climate change is so convincing that scientists have reached an unusually strong consensus. A January 2009 poll of more than 3000 Earth scientists found that 82 percent of them, regardless of specialty, agreed that human activity has contributed significantly to warming the Earth’s surface. The consensus is even stronger among specialists who publish the majority of their work on the subject of climate: 97 percent of them agreed! This level of agreement is uncommon in a professional community where reputations are made by proving others wrong.

Unfortunately, this high level of scientific agreement remains largely unfamiliar to the public. A March 2012 poll by researchers at Yale University and George Mason University found that around one-third of Americans think most scientists agree that global warming is happening, and 41 percent “believe there is a lot of disagreement among scientists” on the question. These results show how widespread this misconception is.

It seems that the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely nonexistent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes. The challenge, rather, appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.
P. Doran & M. Zimmerman, 2009

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The Misconception:Scientists predicted global cooling in the 1970s. Since they were wrong about that, there is no reason to believe they are right about global warming.
The Reality:When the next ice age might occur became a topic of debate during the 1970s, but there was no consensus on the topic and by the mid-1970s the debate mostly focused on global warming.

 

Although new data from a Greenland ice core led scientists to discuss the timing of the next ice age in the 1970s, no consensus was ever reached. At the time, most climate scientists were already convinced that increasing heat-trapping gas emissions would soon overwhelm any cooling that might have occurred naturally in the absence of human influences. This thinking has proven correct over the last three decades, contributing to the strong scientific consensus that exists today regarding global warming.

The notion that there was a consensus among scientists in the 1970s that an ice age was imminent is not supported by the historical facts. A review of the scientific literature from 1965-1979, found 73 peer-reviewed papers on contemporary global climate change. Twelve percent of those papers suggested cooling, while five times as many — 60 percent — suggested warming; the rest were neutral.[10] In 1979, a panel of independent experts convened by the National Research Council to review the scientific literature and assess the state of scientific understanding of climate change, concluded that the potential risks of global warming caused by growing emissions of CO2 from human activity were serious and could not be ignored. This seminal report made no reference to global cooling or future ice ages.

The discussion about the timing of the ice ages in the 1970s was simply an earlier phase of the decades-long discussion of the climate system that has led to our current understanding of global warming. Since then, the dawn of the satellite era, the retrieval of many ice cores reaching further back in time from Greenland and Antarctica, detailed analyses of surface temperature observations from around the globe, and major improvements in computational climate simulation, have opened the door to a vastly superior understanding of the climate system today. Over the decades, converging lines of evidence from different sub-fields of climate science have forged a strong consensus among earth scientists that the current global warming trend is real and that heat-trapping gases from human activity are the dominant cause.[11]

 
A review of the [peer-reviewed scientific] literature suggests that, on the contrary, greenhouse warming even then [i.e., 1970s] dominated scientists' thinking as being one of the most important forces shaping Earth's climate on human time scales.
T. Peterson et al., 2008

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The Misconception:Atmospheric water vapor is the heat-trapping gas that is primarily responsible for global warming.
The Reality:Water vapor is increasing in the atmosphere in response to rising CO2 concentrations, amplifying the warming effect of manmade CO2 emissions.

 

 

About 150 years ago, John Tyndall deduced that water vapor absorbs more heat in the atmosphere than any other gas.[12] He was correct. More than a century ago, Svante Arrhenius postulated that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere changes in response to the amount of CO2 and amplifies the temperature effect of the CO2.[13] And he, too, was correct.

Here’s how it works: As the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere rises, it traps more heat, causing the surface air temperature to rise a bit. The higher temperature evaporates more water from the surface of the ocean and land. Since warmer air can hold more water vapor, the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere continues to increase as long as the concentration of CO2 continues to rise. The extra water vapor traps heat in addition to that trapped by the rising CO2, amplifying the CO2 effect by about twofold. Scientists call this amplification a “positive feedback,” and it works in both directions: If atmospheric CO2 were to decrease, some water vapor would rain out of the atmosphere, creating a positive feedback that would amplify the cooling effect of CO2 removal.

The short “residence time” of water vapor in the atmosphere means that it cannot drive global warming. Even if something spewed massive quantities of water vapor into the atmosphere, it would simply rain out within days, long before it had time to elevate the global temperature (it takes decades for heat to build up in the climate system). Therefore, only a driver that continues long term can cause climate change. The persistent heat-trapping activity of long-lived gases like CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide keeps extra water vapor aloft so that it can amplify warming. These gases stay in the atmosphere for a decade to several centuries before they are removed by natural processes.

In short, long-lived heat-trapping gases released by human activities – mainly CO2 – are driving global warming, and water vapor is responding and amplifying the initial warming by about twofold. This understanding dates back more than a century and has been confirmed through many theoretical advancements and modern atmospheric observations.[14]

[I]f aqueous vapour is supplied to the atmosphere, it will be condensed [to rain] till the former condition is reached, if no other change has taken place [such as an increase in CO2].
S. Arrhenius, 1896

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References

 

1. Lean, J.L. and D.H. Rind, 2008. “How natural and anthropogenic influences alter global and regional surface temperatures: 1889 to 2006.” Geophysical Research Letters Vol. 35, DOI: 10.1029/2008GL034864.

2. Lockwood, M. and C. Frölich, 2007. “Recent oppositely directed trends in solar climate forcings and the global mean surface air temperature.” Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Vol. 463, p. 2447-2460.

3. USGCRP, 2009. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. Edited by T. Karl, J. Melillo, T. Peterson and S.J. Hassol. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, D.C.

4. USGCRP, 2009. Op cit., p. 15-16.

5. USGCRP, 2009. Op cit., p. 14.

6. Forster, P., et al., 2007. Changes in atmospheric constituents and in radiative forcing. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. (Soloman S., et al., Eds.) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. and New York, N.Y., pp. 138-139.

7. Easterling, D.R. and M.F. Wehner, 2009. “Is the climate warming or cooling?” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 36, DOI: 10.1029/2009GL037810.

8. IPCC, 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Edited by R. K. Pachauri and A. Reisinger. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, p. 2.

9. GCRP, 2009. Op Cit.

10. Peterson, T.C., W.M. Connelley, and J. Fleck, 2008. “The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Vol. 89, p. 1325-1337.

11. IPCC, 2007. Op. cit.; Doran and Zimmerman, 2009, Op. Cit.

12. Tyndall, J. (1861). On the absorption and radiation of heat by gases and vapours, and on the physical connexion of radiation, absorption, and conduction. Philosophical Magazine Vol. 22, p. 169-194, 273-285.

13. Arrhenius, S. (1896). On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground. Philosophical Magazine Vol. 41, 237-276.

14. Ramanathan, V. and A. Inamdar, 2006. “The Radiative Forcing due to Clouds and Water Vapor” in Frontiers of Climate Modeling, J. T. Kiehl and V. Ramanthan, Editors, (Cambridge University Press 2006), pp. 119-151.

 

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Key Scientific Developments Since the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report

Science Brief
June 2009

Read full brief (pdf)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, summarizing the scientific community’s current understanding of the science of climate change.  Since that time, a number of new scientific results have been published that expand our understanding of climate science.  This brief summarizes some of the key findings since the last IPCC assessment.

 

 

 

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Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States - Report of the U.S. Global Change Research Program

This report is

…by far the most up to date, comprehensive, and authoritative assessment of climate change impacts on the United States. It is focused number one on what is already happening, and number two what is expected to happen going forward under both low-emission scenarios where this country and the world elect to take serious measures to reduce the pace and magnitude of climate change, and under higher-emission scenarios in which we don’t.

- Dr. John Holdren, Science Advisor to the President

I really believe this report is a game changer. I think that much of the foot dragging in addressing climate change is a reflection of the perception that climate change is way down the road--it's in the future--and that it only affects remote parts of the planet. And this report demonstrates--provides the concrete scientific information that says unequivocally that climate change is happening now and it's happening in our own backyards and it affects the kinds of things people care about. So I think the dialog is changing. This is science that will inform policymaking. It doesn't dictate any particular solution, but it says this is important, we need to act sooner rather than later, it affects you and the things you care about.

- Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator


Links to the Report:  


Some key findings

  • Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow. Climate-related changes are already observed in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow.
  • Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged. Agriculture is considered one of the sectors most adaptable to changes in climate. However, increased heat, pests, water stress, diseases, and weather extremes will pose adaptation challenges for crop and livestock production.
  • Threats to human health will increase. Health impacts of climate change are related to heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. Robust public health infrastructure can reduce the potential for negative impacts.

About the report
On June 16, 2009, the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a major report titled, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. This “unified synthesis product” is the culmination of six years of research and planning and draws on 21 previous reports on different aspects of climate science and impacts produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. It also draws on the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and more recent peer-reviewed literature. The report was produced by a large committee of well-regarded U.S. scientists and has undergone multiple rounds of expert and public review. It is the most comprehensive report on the impacts of climate change in the United States since the first National Assessment published by the Clinton administration in 2000. Since then, scientific evidence has shown clearly that climate change is already occurring and is already affecting the United States. As the new report demonstrates, Americans are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

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Workshop: Assessing the Benefits of Avoided Climate Change

Promoted in Energy Efficiency section: 
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Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
March 16-17, 2009

The U.S. government is considering a range of near-term actions to address the risks of climate change. The Obama administration and key members of Congress intend to make climate legislation a top priority this year. The earliest action, however, may come from federal agencies being pressured by the courts and states to consider limiting CO2 emissions under existing legislative authority. A key element of federal rulemaking is assessing the costs and benefits of proposed policies. While the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions have received much attention from analysts and policymakers, far less attention has been directed at quantifying the benefits of such reductions. In spite of remaining uncertainties, the analytical community should offer practical guidance for informing near-term decisions. Drawing from the environmental economics, impacts, vulnerability, and risk assessment communities, this workshop considers what useful insights can be gleaned now about quantifying the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The workshop’s objectives are to develop a set of practical recommendations that decision makers can employ in the near-term and to outline a research path to improve decision making tools over time.

PDF version of Agenda

List of Participants 

Speaker Bios

 

Symposium – Assessing the benefits of avoided climate change in government decision making

Opening Remarks
Eileen Claussen, President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
Video:  WMV     PDF

Keynote Address
Dina Kruger, Director, Climate Change Division, Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. EPA

Panel 1: Perspectives on Government Decision Making for Climate Change
Moderator: Steve Seidel, Vice President for Policy Analysis, Pew Center

  • Martha Roberts, EDF: Incorporating the benefits of climate protection into federal rulemaking
    Video:  WMV     Slides
  • Christopher Pyke, CTG Energetics: A proposal to consider global warming under NEPA
    Video:  WMV     Slides
  • James Lester/Joel Smith, Stratus Consulting: Case studies on government decisions to limit greenhouse gas emissions – California, Australia, United Kingdom
    Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper
  • Paul Watkiss, Paul Watkiss Associates: Social cost of carbon estimates and their use in UK policy
    Video:  WMV     Slides

Panel 2: Challenges to Quantifying Damages from Climate Change
Moderator: Jeremy Richardson, Senior Fellow for Science Policy, Pew Center

  • Mike MacCracken, Climate Institute: Overview of challenges to quantifying impacts
    Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper
  • Kristie Ebi, ESS, LLC: Social vulnerability and risk
    Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper
  • Tony Janetos, Joint Global Change Research Institute: Ecosystems and species
    Video:  WMV     Slides
  • Jon O’Riordan, University of British Columbia: Valuation of natural capital
    Video:  WMV     Slides


Lunch Speaker

Gary Yohe, Wesleyan University: The long view: developing a new decision making framework based on the IPCC’s ‘iterative risk management’ paradigm
Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper

 

Panel 3: The Role of Uncertainty in Assessing the Benefits of Climate Policy
Moderator: Jay Gulledge, Senior Scientist/Science & Impacts Program Manager, Pew Center

  • Brian O’Neill, NCAR: Uncertainty and learning – implications for climate policy
    Video:  WMV     Slides
  • Joel Smith, Stratus Consulting: Dangerous climate change: an update of the IPCC reasons for concern
    Video:  WMV     Slides
  • Michael Mastrandrea, Stanford University: Assessing damages with integrated assessment models
    Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper
  • Chris Hope, University of Cambridge: Social cost of carbon and optimal timing of emissions reductions under uncertainty
    Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper

 

Panel 4: Advances in the Economic Analysis of the Benefits of Climate Policy
Moderator: Liwayway Adkins, Senior Fellow, Economics, Pew Center

  • Steve Rose, EPRI: Federal decision making on the uncertain impacts of climate change: Working with What You Have
    Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper
  • Richard Howarth, E3 Network: The need for a fresh approach to climate change economics
    Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper
  • David Anthoff, ESRI: National decision making on climate change and international equity weights
    Video:  WMV     Slides
  • Steve Newbold, U.S. EPA: Climate response uncertainty and the expected benefits of GHG emissions reductions
    Video:  WMV     Slides     Paper

 

Click here for more information about the workshop, including expert reports and proceedings.

IPCC "Reasons for Concern"

New Guidance on Dangerous Climate Change: IPCC “Reasons for Concern” 


New data and a better understanding of vulnerability lead scientists to estimate greater damages from climate change impacts.
 
To provide insight into what impacts of climate change might be considered dangerous human interference with the climate system, authors of the 2001 Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified five different categories of impacts they judged to be of special concern with regard to potential danger to society and/or nature. The relationship between impacts for the “reasons for concern” (RFCs) and increases in global mean temperature (GMT) were portrayed in what has come to be called the “burning embers diagram” (see figure below). The five RFCs are:

• Risk to unique and threatened systems (e.g., coral reefs, tropical mountain glaciers, endangered species, etc.)

• Risk of extreme weather events (e.g., heat waves, floods, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes)

• Disparities of impacts and vulnerabilities (e.g., disproportionate harm to developing countries and the poor in developed countries)

• Aggregate damages (i.e. net global market damages)

• Risks of large-scale discontinuities (e.g., rapid sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and strong amplifiers of warming)

 

In a peer-reviewed paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authors of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment report have revised the sensitivities of the RFCs to increases in global average temperature based on a more thorough understanding of the concept of vulnerability that has evolved over the past decade. Compared to results reported in 2001, smaller increases in global average temperature are now estimated to lead to significant or substantial consequences for the five RFCs (see figure). These results indicate that the risks of climate change may have been underestimated in the past.

Read the article.

 

RFCs

Source:  Assessing dangerous climate change through an update of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘‘reasons for concern’’ (February 2009)

 

Media Coverage of the Economics of Climate Policy: A Discussion Paper

How Much Would You Pay to Save the Planet? The American Press and the Economics  of Climate Change 
Discussion Paper

By Eric Pooley 
Kalb Fellow, Shorenstein Center, Fall 2008 
Contributor at Time Magazine 

Read the paper.

Eric Pooley, a former Fortune managing editor and Time chief political correspondent, recently published a discussion paper that examines media coverage of the federal climate policy debate.

In his paper, Pooley explores the question: "How is the press doing on the climate solutions story?” Specifically, his paper examines media coverage of climate change with a focus on reporting of the economic debate over the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008. Pooley argues that news organizations should devote greater attention to the climate policy story, and reporters must help fulfill a glaring need for public education about climate change with good explanatory journalism. He argues that there is an emerging consensus among economists that well-designed climate policy would not derail the U.S. economy, and that journalists have failed to report this consensus and have given undue attention to “doomsday forecasts” produced by opponents of climate action.

"This is the great political test, and the great story, of our time," writes Pooley. "But news organizations have not been treating it that way." He goes on to add, “It is time for editors to treat climate policy as a permanent, important beat: tracking a mobilization for the moral equivalent of war.”

The paper emphasizes the enormous complexities of the issue, and Pooley challenges reporters to devote the time required to grasp and explain them to readers in a straight, understandable way.

Pooley’s analysis is based on 40 print articles that examined the cost debate published between December 2007 and June 2008 in national and regional newspapers, wire services, and news magazines. Twenty-four stories are identified as works of journalistic stenography – or he said/she said pieces – and seven are one-sided articles. Pooley finds nine articles that attempt to explain the arguments and offer conclusions “with varying degrees of success.”

“It falls to the press to be an honest broker in this debate – sympathetic to the idea that change must come, yet rigorous in its analysis of competing claims,” he writes.

Pooley argues that reporters too often played the role of stenographer, presenting the give and take of the debate without questioning an argument’s validity. Instead of being stenographers, Pooley challenges journalists to act as referees of the climate debate, “keeping both sides honest by calling fouls and failures to play by the rules.” Playing referee carries greater responsibilities and requires more time and work to grapple with complex issues and present them in an understandable and compelling way. But the details of climate policy are greatly important, notes Pooley, and reporters who operate as honest referees serve a critical role in the debate.


 

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