Friday, October 12, 2007

Now that's scary

» The Big Melt: Lessons from the Arctic Summer of 2007 (PDF)

I saw Al Gore and his famous Inconvenient Truth slide show here in Austin last Monday. Today he won the Nobel Peace Prize. That's pretty neat.

I'm not a tremendous fan of Gore's general political positions; he's a center-to-liberal Democrat while I'm a crazy pinko commie. But I can't deny that on the issue of climate change, the man has been on point* from the beginning and we probably do owe a great deal of whatever concern the public has for the issue to his work in the last decade. His presentation was essentially the same as that from the film, modified with new developments that have occurred since its release.

One of those new developments is expanded upon in this:

You see that red line? That was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's best estimate of how fast arctic sea ice would be lost as a result of global warming. See the bottom dotted edge of the shaded area? That was the worst-case scenario imagined by the panel. Now see the bold black line? That's the actual amount of arctic sea ice lost in the last three decades.

Today we stand where a group of more than 3,000 experts thought we wouldn't be for another forty years.

As arctic ice melts, it creates a feedback loop. The darker color of the water absorbs more heat which melts ice faster. And while this melting ice, already floating in the water, doesn't raise sea levels, it does act as one of the planet's main thermostats. The loss of that ice, particularly an entire century earlier than expected, will have dramatic consequences. Among them could be accelerated melting of Greenland's ice sheet, which would raise sea levels by up to 23 feet, flooding coastal areas inhabited by close to a billion people and literally changing the map.

People look at the temperatures rising, at the occasional drought or hurricane, and they think, Even if there is a problem, it is a slow problem. But things are far worse than we knew.

* Of course, like most environmentalists Gore utterly ignores the tremendous contribution to climate change made by raising animals for food. Cattle alone are responsible for more greenhouse emissions than every car on the planet. Go vegan.

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