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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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.

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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Climate Change 101 series

To inform the climate change dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has produced a series of brief reports entitled Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change, Updated January 2011.

These reports provide a reliable and understandable introduction to climate change. They cover climate science and impacts, climate adaptation, technological solutions, business solutions, international action, federal action, recent action in the U.S. states, and action taken by local governments. The overview serves as a summary and introduction to the series.

Read the entire series or jump to a single report:
OverviewScience and ImpactsAdaptationTechnologyBusiness International FederalStateLocal • Cap and Trade

For more information, be sure to listen to our Climate Change 101 podcast series

 

Complete101Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change

The complete set of six reports plus the overview in one volume.

 

 

 

OverviewClimate Change 101: Overview

This overview summarizes the key points from each of the Climate Change 101 reports.

 

 

 

Climate Change 101 The Science and ImpactsClimate Change 101: Science and Impacts

This report provides an overview of the most up-to-date scientific evidence and also explains the causes and projected impacts of climate change.

 

 

 

Adaptation 101 Climate Change 101: Adaptation

This report details how adaptation planning at the local, state and national levels can limit the damage caused by climate change.

 

 

 

TechnologyClimate Change 101: Technological Solutions

This piece discusses the technological solutions both for mitigating its effects and reducing greenhouse gas emissions now and into the future.

 

 

 

Business SolutionsClimate Change 101: Business Solutions

This report discusses how corporate leaders are helping to shape solutions.

 

 

 

InternationalClimate Change 101: International Action

This report discusses what will be needed for an effective global effort, one calling for commitments from all the world's major economies.

 

 

 

Federal ActionClimate Change 101: Federal Action

This report discusses federal policy options that can put the country on the path toward a lower-carbon future.

 

 

 

State ActionClimate Change 101: State Action

This report highlights states' efforts as they respond to the challenges of implementing solutions to climate change.

 

 


Local Action Climate Change 101: Local Action

This report describes the actions taken by cities and towns.

 

 

 

Cap and trade 101Climate Change 101: Cap and Trade

This report explains the details of cap and trade.

 

Adaptation

The Earth’s climate is rapidly changing. In the United States and other nations, people are seeing how the impacts of rising global temperatures affect their communities, their livelihoods, and the natural environment. Substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. But mitigation alone is not enough. Even with emission reductions, some warming will still occur. Adaptation planning at the local, state, and national levels can limit the damage caused by climate change, as well as the long-term costs of responding to climate-related impacts that are expected to grow in number and intensity in the decades to come.

To learn more about adaptation, read Climate Change 101: Adaptation and check out the additional resources below. 


U.S. Federal Adaptation Resources:


U.S. States & Regions Adaptation Resources:


Markets & Business Adaptation Resources:


International Adaptation Resources:

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