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Africa Will Starve and Asia Will Drown in 30 Years Due to Climate Change: Report

The World Bank paints an incredibly bleak picture of the effects of global warming on the most vulnerable regions of the planet.
Africa Will Starve and Asia Will Drown in 30 Years Due to Climate Change: Report

Major Asian cities underwater. Millions trapped in poverty. Africa plunged into drought and plagued by food shortages. Flooding of Biblical proportions.

No, that's not the plot to some summer blockbuster set to hit theaters this weekend. That's what a new report from the World Bank says will be our reality within our lifetimes thanks to global warming and climate change

The alarming report shows what only a two-degree celsius rise in global temperatures will do to our planet within the next 20 to 30 years. Among the scariest conclusions:

  • Events like the mammoth Pakistan floods of 2010—which affected 20 million people—will become commonplace, and the monsoon season could bring a major crisis.
  • Manilla, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok could find themselves underwater or threatened by intense cyclones and water shortages.
  • By the 2030s, doughts and heat will render 40 percent of current maize-growing land unusable. By the 2050s, depending on where you are on the continent, the proportion of the population that is undernourished will increase by 25 to 90 percent.
  • People everywhere will be forced into urban areas, exposing even greater numbers of people in informal settlements to disease, pandemics, heatwaves and floods.

"This new report outlines an alarming scenario for the days and years ahead—what we could face in our lifetime," said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. "The scientists tell us that if the world warms by 2°—warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years—that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heat-waves, and more intense cyclones. In the near-term, climate change, which is already unfolding, could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and the hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth's temperature."


The World Bank alarm bells are just the latest to sound about the the havoc climate change and man-made global warming will cause to the planet. Last week, TakePart laid out exactly what the world has learned in the seven years since An Inconvenient Truth kickstarted the global conversation on climate change, and former Vice President Al Gore challenged President Obama to finally "get serious" about tackling the issue.

[Full report in .pdf format]


Record Droughts, Torrential Rains—Is This the New Norm?

It’s hard to know whether to hide under a rock or build an ark.
Record Droughts, Torrential Rains—Is This the New Norm?

Heavy rains and major flooding have upturned states from Florida to the Midwest and up and down the East Coast, causing havoc for millions of people, and turning my driveway into a roaring creek.

Yet despite all that wet, drought still affects 44 percent of the nation, mostly in the West. The biggest droughts in memory racked the U.S. last year, with climatologists comparing them to the 1930s Dust Bowl; 2012 was also the hottest year on record.

What’s going on? This continual flooding-drought-flooding-drought pattern —brought on by the planet’s changing climate—and the inherent damage it is wreaking has now become so common it has its own moniker: flash drought.


Thanks primarily to the changing jet-stream patterns we’ve seen in the past few years, extremes have become the norm. Warmer than extremely warm springs and summers, with little precipitation, follow average winters.

When the rains do come, as they have these past few weeks, they pound down onto dry, cracked land that can’t absorb them, flooding streams, rivers, creeks and lakes, and rendering farm fields unworkable.

Despite the torrential rains of the last couple weeks, 2013 is off to an even drier start than 2012 or 2011. Over half of the lower 48 states are still enduring abnormally dry conditions. In seven states, more than 80 percent of the land is considered to be in “severe drought.”

While dry, hot summers are a pain for urban residents, it’s farmers who are taking the biggest hit. Two thousand counties across the U.S. last year were designated disaster areas, thanks to the drought, costing the U.S. GDP $150 billion.

The result for 2013 is that the cost of food is expected to go up by four percent.

  • Winter wheat crops were seriously damaged by the “flash drought” pattern; as of June 9, just 31 percent of the nation’s crop was in good or excellent condition.
  • Beef is selling at record highs and prices are expected to climb; demand has risen at the same time supply has dropped. The country’s cattle herd is the smallest it’s been since 1952, and its feed—grasses, corn and soybeans—are far more expensive thanks to small yields due to the drought. Many small ranchers have been forced to sell their entire herds and get out of business altogether.
  • The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of cotton. Because of the drought—especially in Texas, where cotton is king—the nation’s crop was off 3.6 percent last year.

Looking ahead, though, dryness may not be our biggest concern. Last week the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published a landmark 257-page report on the connection between climate change, population growth and sea-level rise.

It’s biggest worry?

Flooding.


The stats the report quoted for expected sea-level rise by 2010 are not new—an average of four feet. What was new was the prediction that between 40 to 45 percent of U.S. coasts and riverbanks will be at great risk of flooding.

The report blamed 70 percent of that increased risk on the impacts of climate change (the rest on population growth in low-lying areas). It also predicted that by 2100, the insurance industry would be paying out $11.2 billion per year in flood claims, compared to $3.2 billion in 2009.

Hmmmm. Where to relocate, to avoid flood and drought and other impacts of climate change? That has become the multibillion-dollar question.

How have floods and droughts already affected you? Let us know in the Comments.


Op-Ed: Realities of Climate Change Are Finally Pushing Us to Action

Angela Anderson of the Union of Concerned Scientists explains why Washington is finding it harder and harder to ignore climate change.
Op-Ed: Realities of Climate Change Are Finally Pushing Us to Action

In the years since the world’s most famous PowerPoint presentation hit theatres, public opinion and political leadership on climate change have seemingly vacillated with the seasons.

Yet even as public sentiment shifted, the science on climate change became starker. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned the world of the consequences of overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide in 2007. In the United States, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) projected that the U.S. Northeast would have a climate more like the South’s by the end of the century if no action was taken to reduce emissions. Subsequent studies and reports have confirmed and built on those findings.

A few years ago, serious national and international laws to address climate change seemed all but inevitable. But poor diplomacy and a sluggish global economy doomed international treaty negotiations. Domestically, fossil fuel interests and an increasingly polarized Congress scuttled climate legislation.

Some politicians started to treat climate change as a punch line. Notably, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) erected an igloo in the shadow of the Capitol dedicated to Al Gore during a Washington snowstorm.

But as “climate” became a four-letter word in Washington, extreme weather made 2011 a turbulent year for Earth’s climate system. Amid heatwaves and flooding, more people began to understand that this was just what scientists said would happen under a warming climate. It’s clearer now that in addition to cutting emissions, we also have to prepare for the climate change already underway. Few events illustrated that new reality as starkly as Sandy, which rode in on a high tide made ever-higher by rising sea levels. Suddenly, political leaders were talking about climate change again, including President Obama.

Outside of Washington, of course, the climate conversation never really stopped. Dr. Jennifer Jurado, the Natural Resources Management and Planning Director of Broward County, Florida, has for years been working with other officials to reduce emissions and prepare for rising seas. Thankfully, she’s not alone. From Boston to Chicago, to Tucson and Los Angeles, local leaders are using science to figure out how to respond.

Interestingly, they’re finding that even when people disagree about whether or not climate change is causing sea levels to rise or wildfires to proliferate, that disagreement doesn’t stop them from taking steps to make their communities safer.

Yale professor Dan Kahan explains this seemingly odd phenomenon: “Coastal states like Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and the Carolinas, as well as arid western ones like Arizona, Nevada, California, and New Mexico have all had ‘climate problems’ for as long as human beings have been living in them. Dealing with such problems in resourceful, resilient, and stunningly successful ways is what the residents of those states do all the time.”

The reality of climate change we’re seeing on the ground is pushing inexorably on Washington. As more and more communities move to protect themselves from a changing climate, more and more politicians are supporting policies that can reduce emissions and protect us all.





What the Ice Is Telling Us

Since the release of ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ Earth’s melting polar ice has been speaking loudly and clearly to scientists—and the message is terrifying.
What the Ice Is Telling Us

In May 2007, roughly a year after the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Will Steger was leading a 1,200-mile ice survey expedition across Baffin Island, in northern Canada, when he and his team encountered a tangle of snowmobile tracks in the snow.

“We didn’t know what to make of them—they went ’round and ’round and every which way,” says Steger, 68, a Minnesota-based explorer and a global warming advisor to then-Senator Al Gore in the 1980s. “There was nothing to follow.”

When Steger’s team arrived at the local village, they asked a group of Iglulik elders to explain the tracks. Some tribesmen had taken snowmobiles onto the ice to honor members who had died in previous years, they learned.

“It was an event they did every year, but this time they got badly lost because the melting ice had so dramatically changed the landscape they had known all their lives,” Steger explains. “They got confused, and went around in circles until they gave up and drove back home.”

***

One hundred eight years, give or take a few months.

That’s the collective amount of time that Steger, Jason Box, 40, a glaciologist at Ohio State University’s Byrd Climate Research Center, and Bill Fraser, 62, a penguin ecologist, have dedicated to studying and exploring the planet’s ice.

All three experts feel strongly that climate change is profoundly altering the ice that houses the majority of the planet’s fresh water supply.


Simply put, we’re melting the world’s ice-covered regions. And this extreme thaw is a problem for two big reasons. One, the excess water will cause sea levels to rise, thereby threatening countless coastal communities. And two, increasing amounts of water vapor in the atmosphere will effectively prime the pump for more and more extreme weather events.

“The effects of climate change are not confined to the poles,” says Steger. “Here in the U.S., climate change means more intense hurricanes, longer droughts, and other potentially catastrophic changes to our weather in the years ahead.”

Just how under siege is the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic?

In 2012, the Arctic ice cap shrank to a record low, with only 24 percent of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice, a 50 percent drop from 1979, when satellite observation began. And, since 1983, the Arctic has warmed more than any other place on the planet. 

Last summer, Greenland experienced melting across 90 percent of its surface. During one particular four-day period in July 2012, the polar ice melted at a faster rate than satellite data had ever recorded.

Antarctica is home to 90 percent of the planet's ice. Along the continent's 900-mile-long Peninsula air temperatures have risen by five to nine degrees in the past 50 years, among the greatest warming on the planet, and the melting polar ice along its edges is disappearing faster than anyone could have predicted.

We’re literally watching the Earth’s natural coolant melt away.

***

In the seven years since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Box says that Earth’s melting polar ice has been speaking loudly and clearly to scientists—and the message is terrifying.

“If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we’re under-predicting the sensitivity of the cryosphere,” he says. “The ice is telling us that abrupt climate change is well underway. You’ll hear people say we’re going into uncharted territory, but that’s not correct. We are already in unchartered territory.”

Box is particularly concerned about Greenland.

Since 1994, he has conducted two dozen research trips to the autonomous country, and this summer, he and his team, which includes 350.org’s Bill McKibben, will be there again. The group will be collecting data for the Dark Snow Project, a crowd-funded expedition to sample ice cores to determine if ash from global wildfires (like those that incinerated Colorado last summer) is accelerating Greenland’s ice loss.

Box’s theory is simple: Soot darkens ice, thereby decreasing its reflectivity and increasing the rate at which it melts. Whatever his findings, Box’s previous research on the “albedo effect” has foretold a dismal future for the largest island on the planet.

Albedo is a climate feedback loop that occurs as ice melts. During the winter, sea ice that floats on the Arctic Ocean—including Greenland’s—is covered with bright white snow. But, come summertime, when the temperatures are warmer, this almost bleach-white snow melts, exposing the bare sea ice underneath, which is darker in color than the snow. Now, here’s the key—this darker ice absorbs more energy than snow. The absorbed energy, in turn, heats the ocean, which melts even more snow, revealing even more dark ice—a sort of self-sustaining, self-inflicted wound.


In February 2012, Box published a paper on albedo that predicted a “100 percent surface ice melt for Greenland” by the end of the decade.

Even more alarming estimates predict that all of Greenland’s ice—both surface and subsurface—could vanish completely by 2100.

And when this happens, residents around the globe will be displaced from their homes as sea levels rise.  

Though he’s seen the alarming evidence firsthand, Box knows that many Americans are reluctant to act on climate change, since the consequences haven’t yet reached dire levels. And asking elected officials to take action on climate change has been a frustrating exercise, since lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry have huge influence in Washington.

“These guys are a rogue force, and even if we expose them as putting profits ahead of the destruction of life on Earth, it’s not going to stop them,” says Box of the fossil fuel industry, which contributed nearly $400,000 per day to U.S. politicians in 2012. “You can’t reason with the most profitable industry in the history of the world; it doesn’t have a soul. It’s like the Terminator. It’s going to come after you until you’re dead.”

***

At the opposite end of the planet, Bill Fraser has been visiting the same rookeries of Adelie penguins on the same lonely islands off the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) almost every summer since 1974.

During this time, he’s watched the number of breeding pairs of Adelies decline from 32,000 to less than 10,000. Each year, more glaciers disappear thanks to warmer air and sea temperatures, and each year there are fewer Adelies.

“[Global] warming is essentially decoupling Adelies from access to their three most critically needed resources,” he says. “Sea ice in winter, which they need as a platform from which to forage at sea; breeding habitat in summer, which is occurring due to increasing snow precipitation; and prey, like fish and krill, which are themselves being affected by climate-induced food web changes.”

Fraser predicts that in another decade, all of the Adelies will be gone. The ice-dependent species will either move further south in search of more ice, or simply die off.

“The almost incomprehensible change that has occurred is that we have lost a full three months of winter, which is obviously the ice-making season,” says Fraser. “To put this in perspective, just imagine what would happen to agriculture and major population centers in the American West if we lost three months of the snow-making season on which our water supplies depend?”

***

Over the course of his half-century career, Will Steger estimates that he’s spent more than 1,000 days on Arctic pack ice. But he laments that his historic expeditions could not be duplicated today because the ice simply isn’t there anymore.

“The polar areas used to be 90 percent frozen all summer; now, it’s 50 percent open ocean,” he says.

The Larsen Ice Shelf—where he started his epic, first-of-a-kind 1989 crossing of Antarctica—no longer exists. And, with an ice-free Arctic Ocean, reaching the North Pole by dogsled—as he did in 1986—will soon not be repeatable.

“It’s ironic,” says Steger. “I may go down in history more for the ‘lasts’ my expeditions represent than for the ‘firsts.’ ”

This is why, in 2010, he launched Eyewitness to Climate Change—a sort of global warming road show, where he barnstormed across the country hoping to gin up public support for strong national policy on climate change.

“Climate change is not speculation or a theory; over the past 25 years I have seen it with my own eyes,” he says. “I’ve seen firsthand how glaciers, which seemed so vast and imposing, have shrunk or disappeared in a short amount of time.”

As injurious as climate change has been to the cryosphere, it could get much worse if the so-called climate wildcard is unleashed.

“I’m deeply worried about the melting of the world’s permafrost,” says Steger.

Almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere is covered by permafrost. Entombed in this frozen ground is an awful lot of primordial organic material, mostly roots and leaves, which contains up to 1,700 gigatons of carbon—almost twice the quantity that’s currently in the atmosphere.


Complicating matters, scientists aren’t yet sure of the gaseous form that the carbon in this prehistoric subterranean vault will take when the permafrost inevitably thaws.

While many expect it to be released as carbon dioxide, there are also a growing number that say it could be secreted as methane, which is 20 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

“If we let out this methane, our best efforts won’t work,” says Box. “It’ll be beyond our control. This is the trajectory we’re headed on. It’s only a matter of time.”


Is Climate Change the Ultimate Firestarter?

Turns out, American wildfires can be directly tied to rising global temperatures.
Is Climate Change the Ultimate Firestarter?

Forget the blazing-hot, 65-mile-per-hour winds or the obsidian-black cumulous clouds swirling overhead. Never mind the embers falling like smoldering snowflakes or the neighbors packing their getaway cars. Carla Albers of Colorado Springs, Colorado, had far more important things to worry about on the afternoon of June 26, 2012: the whereabouts of her teenage son, Eric.

The 2,000-degree Waldo Canyon Fire, which would reduce her home and 345 others to heaps of simmering ashes, was still several ridges—and minutes—away. Its flames had not yet encroached on her Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

Finally, just before 5 p.m., Eric arrived home from his summer job—and an impromptu, heroic detour. Half an hour earlier, he and a friend had stopped to save a dog that was holed up at another friend’s house, though they could see the fire rapidly approaching. “It honestly looked like lava was coming down the mountain,” says Eric. “It was apocalyptic.”

“My mom had been calling throughout all of this,” says Eric. “I finally answered, and she said, ‘You have to leave now.’ ” The duo—and the dog—made it back to the Albers home in the nick of time, barely escaping the most destructive firestorm in Colorado history. By nightfall, Eric, Carla, and her husband Mark, a dentist, were setting up the family camper at a friend’s home. There, surrounded by a few boxes of financial records and keepsakes, Carla spent a sleepless night dreading the inevitable.


Official confirmation of total incineration came two days later, when she attended a community meeting for evacuees. “It was just a list by address—and it had on there destroyed or not destroyed,” she explains. “And we were on the wrong side.” She exhales deeply. “It was hard, real hard.”

***

While scientists are generally reluctant to blame climate change for causing any one particular wildfire, some are increasingly certain that manmade global warming ripens the conditions in which longer burning, more frequently occurring, and larger-sized wildfires can grow.

One of these scientists is Dr. Kevin Trenberth, a Distinguished Senior Scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

So did climate change contribute to the Waldo Canyon Fire? “It’s highly likely,” says Trenberth.

“There was record low snow pack in the spring, and so no snow to melt and take up heat, and no moisture from melted snow to take up heat in evaporation,” says Trenberth. “In a drought, the direct effects of global warming accumulate.”

Last year, the U.S. experienced its third worst fire season ever, with 9.2 million acres burned—an area larger than the state of Maryland.

On average, wildfires now burn twice as much total land each year as they did 40 years ago, and the burn season is almost three months longer than in the 1970s. Colorado, in particular, averaged 460 fires per year in the 1960s, which burned 8,000 acres annually, according to Colorado State Forest Service records. But, since 2002, the state has experienced about 2,500 fires a year, burning roughly 100,000 acres.

And, as the century matures, it’s projected to get worse—much worse.

According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in March 2013, U.S. wildfires will be at least twice as destructive by 2050.

In western Colorado—the Albers’ backyard—the destruction will be catastrophic; scientists predict a five-fold increase in acres burned by the mid-century mark.

Yet many Americans outside of the scientific community aren’t convinced, including fire victim Carla Albers. “I’m very skeptical of manmade climate change,” she says. “I think it’s clear that changes go on in the climate. It gets hotter, it gets colder, but I’m just not sure that man impacts it that much.”

There is a “major disconnect” between what the climate science is showing and what the average American is thinking, says Edward Maibach, the Director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

“If people are shown the way climate change is touching their lives, will it make a difference in the way that they understand the issue? The answer is yes—but not everybody,” says Maibach.

***

According to an in-depth investigation conducted by I-News Network in July 2012, around 1.1 million Coloradans inhabit red zones—areas at a forest’s edge deemed most susceptible to wildfires.

Development in the state has been so rampant that one in four Coloradans now live in a home considered to be a fire risk.


“No, not at all,” says Carla when asked if rebuilding in a red zone—the family officially moved back into Mountain Shadows on May 13—caused her any worry.  “I thought that everything that was going to burn has already burned, so I feel we’re pretty safe for a while.”

Still, the Albers’ decision to rebuild in almost the exact same spot—they bought the adjacent lot—carries risk. Carla chalks much of her experience up to fate.

“Our house burned. The house across the street burned, but the house behind that one went unscathed,” she says. “It was surreal, you had total destruction right next to houses that were still standing.”

To date, 50 percent of the destroyed homes in Mountain Shadows have been rebuilt or are in the process of being rebuilt.

***

“When the winds pick up, as it did on that Tuesday, it gets extremely turbulent and the visibility can get very bad for us,” says Lieutenant Colonel Ryan McCreight, an Air Craft Commander with the Modular Airborne FireFighting System, or MAFFS.

MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system owned by the U.S. Forest Service—it’s capable of discharging 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in five seconds, usually from the rear hatch of a C-130 Hercules cargo plane. Once the load is released, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

Before the Waldo Canyon Fire was fully contained on July 10—some 17 days after it began—McCreight and his crew flew 13 sorties, dropping 24,930 gallons of retardant on the blaze.

“We’ll do whatever we’re tasked to do to the best of our abilities,” he says, when asked about climate change affecting future wildfires. “And if we’re asked to help more frequently, we’ll do it.”

As grateful as Carla says she is for the unflinching service of MAFFS pilots like McCreight, she nevertheless supports a Colorado plan to supplement the federal government’s fire suppression measures with a state-run aerial firefighting convoy.

Cosponsored by State Senators Steve King, a Republican, and Cheri Jahn, a Democrat, the legislation would establish a Colorado Firefighting Air Corps, at a projected cost of $30 million.

“The potential for another catastrophic wildfire is so great here,” says King. “We have four million acres of dead trees, many of them in our watershed—it could change Colorado for generations to come.”

He believes that the climate changes, but not that man causes it.

“There is a huge difference between manmade climate change and just climate change in general,” King says. “In the big scheme of things, are we just a spec of sand when it comes to our impact on the world? That’s not to say I don’t believe that we need to do everything we can within reason for our environment—everybody wants clean air and clean water.”

“Well, I think it just is a fact,” says Jahn, of climate change enhancing wildfires. “This fire season could be worse than the last. It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse.”

Asked about King’s climate denialism, Jahn says: “Fires don’t know political affiliations, devastation knows no manmade boundaries.”


If Colorado can afford its own fleet, it makes sense to Carla. “I’m not the biggest tax person, but if preventative money can be used in the right way, I would have to say yes.”

This proposal in Colorado—to subsidize with tax dollars what amounts to a climate change mitigation endeavor—is emblematic of the tug-of-war that’s sure to play out in federal and state budget offices in the coming years.

In February, the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned that extreme weather, influenced by climate change, posed a “significant financial risk to the federal government.”

This projection was given credence in May when an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the federal government dished out $96 billion in 2012 “federal climate disruption costs.”

That equates to $1,100 per taxpayer—which is more than Uncle Sam spent last year on education.

***

A new beginning.

That’s the theme of the concert scheduled to take place in Mountain Shadows on June 26, 2013, the one-year anniversary of the fire.

“The Governor’s been invited, and we expect 5,000 people,” says Bob Cutter, the President of Colorado Springs Together, a nonprofit organization founded in the days after the fire. “It’ll be a remembrance of the people that lost their lives, but also a celebration of the tenacity, the commitment, the fortitude of those who built back.”

People like the Albers family.

That evening, boxed in by hope and scarred hillsides, and listening to the Colorado Philharmonic, Carla says she’ll be reminded of the ultimate reason why she and her husband moved back.

“The people, you simply can’t beat good neighbors,” she says. “We’re all so much closer because of this.”


Op-Ed: The Phony ‘Debate’ Over Climate Change

For the past 21 years there’s been broad consensus among climate scientists that humans are significantly changing global temperatures.
Op-Ed: The Phony ‘Debate’ Over Climate Change

In 2004, Naomi Oreskes published the first analysis examining the scientific consensus on climate change in published peer-reviewed research. She scanned over 900 climate papers from 1993 to 2003 to determine how many papers rejected the proposition that humans caused global warming. Remarkably, she found zero rejection papers. Oreskes’ results were cited in An Inconvenient Truth to demonstrate the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change

Since that time, several studies have further sought to measure the level of agreement among climate scientists. In 2009, Peter Doran and Maggie Zimmerman found that 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agreed that humans were significantly changing global temperatures. In 2010, William Anderegg led a study that similarly found 97 percent of scientists who published climate papers agreed with the consensus. Over time, the picture was becoming clearer—there was overwhelming agreement in the climate science community on the issue of human-caused global warming.

Earlier this month, I published a peer-reviewed paper that continued and extended the work of Naomi Oreskes. The study was a collaboration of a team of research volunteers from the website Skeptical Science, working together for over a year to produce the most comprehensive analysis of climate research to date. We added another decade’s worth of climate research, examining 21 years and over 12,000 climate papers from peer-reviewed scientific journals. Our goal was to quantify the level of consensus in climate research from 1991 to 2011. We also hoped to determine how the consensus changed over the last two decades.

What we found was strikingly consistent with earlier research. Out of all the climate papers that stated a position on human-caused global warming, 97 percent endorsed the consensus. Overwhelming agreement had already formed by the early 1990s.


Over the 21 year period, the consensus strengthened. The number of papers endorsing the consensus was increasing at an accelerating rate. Correspondingly, more and more scientists from all over the world were adding their names to the ranks of scientists endorsing human-caused global warming. By 2011, the end of the period we examined, the level of consensus was around 98 percent.

We also employed a novel technique to independently measure the consensus. We invited the scientists who authored the climate papers to rate the level of endorsement in their own published research. After all, who is a better expert on what a paper is saying than the very authors of the paper?

The result was eerily familiar. Out of all papers that scientists rated as expressing a position on human-caused global warming, 97 percent endorsed the consensus. The 97 percent figure, seen in several studies over the last few years and through two different measures in our own study, continued to assert itself.

Nevertheless, there is a gaping chasm between the actual consensus and public perception of the consensus. When asked how many climate scientists agree on human-caused global warming, the average answer from the general public is around 50 percent.


This misperception has persisted for several decades and hasn’t happened by accident. There has been a deliberate, focused attempt to confuse the public about the level of agreement between scientists for over 20 years. In 1991, Western Fuels Association spent half a million dollars on a campaign attacking the scientific consensus. Political pollster Frank Luntz advised Republicans to focus on casting doubt on consensus in a memo leaked in 2002. A 2012 analysis of conservative syndicated columns found that the number one climate myth promoted by conservative columnists was “there is no scientific consensus.”

Why such a focus on attacking the consensus? Studies in 2011 and 2013 found that when the public correctly understands that scientists agree on climate change, it is more likely to support policy to do something about it. Social scientists are coming to realize what opponents of climate action have known for decades. If you confuse the public about scientific consensus, you can delay meaningful climate action.

This is why Naomi Oreskes’ 2004 work on consensus was so important. It’s why our study finding a strengthening consensus is important. The significance of this message is demonstrated by the fact that our paper was recently tweeted by President Obama and, fittingly, Al Gore. We need to clearly and persistently communicate the fact that the scientific community agrees on climate change. Closing the consensus gap is an essential and important step towards meaningful climate action.

Editor's Note: You can find the results of their paper summarized at: theconsensusproject.com





Watch Al Gore and Jeff Skoll’s Google+ Hangout on Climate Change and ‘An Inconvenient Truth’

In 2006, An Inconvenient Truth opened the world’s eyes to climate change and sparked a worldwide conversation that continues today.

For the film’s seventh anniversary, TakePart is asking, “What do we know now that we didn’t know then?” to keep the spotlight on this evolving and accelerating threat.

Former Vice President Al Gore and Jeff Skoll, the film’s Executive Producer, hosted a live Google+ Hangout Tuesday to discuss the film’s impact—and what you can do right now to combat climate change. Watch the entire Hangout in the space above.





Are You Ready for Even More Katrinas and Sandys?

Climate change is supersizing heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, rainstorms and blizzards.
Are You Ready for Even More Katrinas and Sandys?

Climate change is not a particularly hot topic among residents of Midland Beach, a seaside enclave of middle-class families in New York’s politically conservative Staten Island.

Six months after Superstorm Sandy propelled a 10-foot wall of ocean over the low-lying community, most people are too busy reconstructing their shattered homes and lives to talk about greenhouse gases and extreme weather patterns.

But eventually, they know the subject must come up.

“Maybe this was a blessing in disguise. Maybe it will bring up that conversation, and something good can come out of all this,” says Thomas Cunsolo, an 18-year resident of Midland Beach whose three-story home was totaled by Sandy.

Cunsolo, a 52-year-old retired carpenter, needs no convincing that human-caused climate change contributed to the lethal fury of Sandy. “Any person who really thinks about it honestly has to know the proof is in the pudding,” he says. “Katrina was the first big eye-opener.”

If Katrina was a once-in-a-lifetime storm, Cunsolo asks, “Then how do you explain Sandy? Something’s going on to get these storms to this magnitude.  Do we all believe in it yet? Publicly, people aren’t talking about reducing emissions…but they know it’s a big issue that we need to start talking about.”

Experts and scientists overwhelmingly agree.

“I don’t think anybody would try to correlate one event to global warming,” says Tim Barnett, a research marine physicist at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. “But it does make things worse. “With Katrina, Gulf temperatures were the highest on record,” he notes. “That’s what gave Katrina its kick.” Barnett also estimates that half of Sandy’s force can be attributed to global warming.

The probability of bigger storms, meanwhile, “shifted in one direction: the 100-year storm is now a 20-year storm. There’s an increasing probability it will happen again.”

***

On the morning of October 29, 2012, Cunsolo, his wife Karen, his sister, two sons, daughter, and 18-month-old grandson were at home. And though Sandy loomed on the southern horizon amid talk of evacuations, they weren’t particularly concerned.

“We didn’t think Staten Island would be hit,” Cunsolo recalls. “They cried wolf the year before with [Hurricane] Irene. Everybody evacuated and nothing happened. So with Sandy, we thought, ‘This is baloney.’ ”

By 7:30 that night, Cunsolo had changed his mind. As he frantically packed his family and dog into the car, power went out everywhere. Terrified, the Cunsolos fled, but two-foot-high floodwaters slowed their escape.

“Then I look back in the mirror and see an eight-foot wall of water coming at us,” Cunsolo says. “Only by the Grace of God did we make it out.”

His neighbor was not so lucky: He was still home.

Cunsolo brought his family to a nephew’s house on higher ground. He hoped to rescue his neighbor, but wind, rain and darkness made it impossible. At dawn, he tried driving home, but Midland Beach was under water.


 “Trees were down, houses were down, cars were piled up and sand and raw sewage were everywhere,” Cunsolo recalls. He spent the next several hours shuttling shell-shocked neighbors to safe ground. Both evacuation centers he tried had themselves been evacuated, so he opted to drop them at a BP station under construction. “Kids were screaming, people were bloody,” Cunsolo says. Elderly couples were wrapped in blankets and rags.

There was still no sign of his neighbor. Crews checked the house and said nobody was there. Unconvinced, Cunsolo waded through freezing-cold muck to reach the home. His neighbor, hit by a floating refrigerator, had collapsed upstairs. Cunsolo rescued his friend and managed to reunite him with his wife, who was sheltering at their daughter’s house.

The last person Cunsolo saved was a man bleeding from his leg, one hand clasped under his shirt. “He just had a liver transplant and his health aide never evacuated him. I brought him to the firehouse. It was the only thing I could think of. I don’t know who he was, and I don’t know if he made it.”

Human deaths, of course, were the bitterest effect of Hurricane Sandy. At least two dozen died on Staten Island, though Cunsolo believes the death toll to be much higher. Either way, the hell and high water unleashed on Midland Beach, like so many communities, affected everyone. It will take years to recover.


Housing was the first crisis. Many homes, now condemned, were buckled or pushed off their foundations. Boilers and electrical systems were corroded by saltwater. Cunsolo’s house was structurally twisted, its foundation footings compromised. Repairs will cost more than tearing it down and starting over. What’s worse, work is stalled due to zoning codes and ever-changing BFE’s, or base flood elevation: the height to which homes must be raised. “Right now, mine is 15 feet,” Cunsolo says. “I’d literally have to take an elevator to my first floor.”

Now, the Cunsolo family, unable to find a space big enough to accommodate everyone, is camped out in two apartments located about 25 minutes apart. Their plight isn’t uncommon: Sandy triggered unprecedented rental demand in New York, with some rents spiking 65 percent.

Some residents have managed to return, but many houses remain empty, some still plastered in synthetic spider webs for a Halloween that never came. Of the 71 businesses that lined Midland Avenue, “maybe 20 are up and running,” says Cunsolo, who has since formed the Midland Beach Alliance to assist Sandy victims.

Midland Beach waits, and languishes, half-empty. Looting is a problem: Copper pipes are often ripped from gutted houses under renovation.

And summertime brings new horrors. “Once it reaches around 80 degrees, the mold is going to spread,” Cunsolo warns. “If one home that didn’t have mold remediation is next to one that did, that home will get infected again. Spores can travel.”

In one report, 420 of 690 households surveyed had visible mold; remediation attempts failed in more than a third.

***

It’s worth noting that while rising global temperatures warm the oceans, giving rise to more extreme weather events, they also cause the ocean levels themselves to rise, which adds to the destructive effects of Hurricane Sandy and other storms.

In April, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report stating that, “Sea level is rising, and at an accelerating rate, especially along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.”

Average levels rose about eight inches from 1880 to 2009, with the rate increasing from 1993 to 2008, at 65 to 90 percent above 20th-century averages.

“Global warming is the primary cause of current sea level rise,” the UCS warns. “Human activities, such as burning coal and oil and cutting down tropical forests, have increased atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases and caused the planet to warm by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880.”

Global warming, of course, unleashes far more than superstorms and coastal devastation. The grueling impact of climate change has been well documented, and it will only get worse. Heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, rainstorms and blizzards seem to grow more severe each year.

***

The debate that hasn’t yet hit the shores of Staten Island continues to rage in the political and scientific community. Despite the evidence, a very small minority of scientists and their political allies argue that climate change is not caused by human activity.

Many such opponents balked when President Obama proclaimed in his 2013 State of the Union address that more needs to be done to combat climate change. “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen, were all just a freak coincidence,” he said, “Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science.”

Critics cite concerns that the government’s attempts to curb emissions will damage the economy and shrink the job market; Forbes columnist Peter Ferrara called Obama’s “threats” a “global warming regulatory jihad” and said his assertion of more severe weather was “a fairy tale.”

Most scientists reject this rhetoric as self-interest masquerading as reason.

“People who make those arguments generally come from the energy industry,” says Barnett. “They are not published in this area. They take facts and twist them, like the era of ‘safe’ cigarettes, when the industry’s men in white coats were just a bunch of yahoos off the street.”

Back on Staten Island, Cunsolo, a registered Democrat who has voted for both parties, insists, “politics are out the window. This isn’t a Democratic or a Republican thing.”

The stormy weather is only projected to worsen.

“We expect that the overall intensity of hurricanes in the North Atlantic basin will continue to increase with higher sea surface temperature, but there is no strong consensus about how the warming atmosphere and ocean will affect the number of tropical storms,” says Dr. Virginia Van Sickle-Burkett, chief scientist for global change research at the U.S. Geological Survey.


She adds, “There is presently no mechanism for humans to stop global warming, at least for the remainder of this century. Changes that have already been made in greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to warm the climate for decades to come.”

Scripps’ Barnett is equally gloomy. “Sandy destroyed the waterfront with a storm surge,” he says. “Imagine if the normal level was a meter higher. Those beaches wouldn’t be there. At every high tide, the water would run everywhere.”

New York State has offered to buy out homes destroyed by Sandy, and Cunsolo says that option is becoming increasingly attractive. But most people want to stay.

Bad move, says Barnett. “They can rebuild all they want, but it’s the dumbest thing in the world. As the ocean gets higher, it will win.”

Humans, he warns, “are effectively creating another planet, whether we like it or not. And if your kids don’t like it 20, 30 years from now, there’s not a damn thing you can do. The problem is not unsolvable, but greed and power will be the downfall of the human race.”

It’s still too much for many Midland Beach residents to ponder. Even as they rebuild, they’re casting a wary eye on the Atlantic Ocean.

“Hurricane season is just a couple of weeks away,” Cunsolo says, who’s currently working on establishing evacuation routes. “I got people calling me, saying what do we do if we get hit again?”


Have We Learned Anything Since ‘An Inconvenient Truth’?

For the seventh anniversary of the groundbreaking film, TakePart is asking: What do we know now that we didn't know then?
Have We Learned Anything Since ‘An Inconvenient Truth’?

Seven years ago, a former Vice President of the United States—who some people were still arguing was the rightful resident of 1600 Pennsylvannia Avenue—found himself on the big screens of the world's multiplexes, giving what has arguably become the most famous PowerPoint presentation ever. 

In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore opened the world’s eyes to climate change and sparked a worldwide conversation that continues today. Five million people from Tokyo to Times Square went to see the film in the theaters, and more than 180,000 copies of the companion school curriculum were downloaded from the Internet. Today, students in five countries—England, Scotland, Germany, New Zealand and the Czech Republic—and one Canadian province (British Columbia) are shown AIT as part of their secondary school studies. But has the world learned anything?

For the film’s seventh anniversary, TakePart is asking, “What do we know now that we didn’t know then?” to keep the spotlight on this evolving and accelerating threat.

Today we launch a five-part series that answers that question on a number of fronts. In the opening story, we take a look back at seven years of developments on the political, scientific, and cultural fronts. Tomorrow, we look at the role climate change played in recent extreme weather events. On Wednesday, we'll see if global warming is the ultimate firestarter. Thursday's story takes a look at what the melting polar ice of the world might be telling us. And on Friday we'll wrap up by asking: So what's next? 

We're also really excited that Al Gore and Jeff Skoll, the Executive Producer of the film (and TakePart's founder) are hosting a Google+ Hangout on Tuesday, offering a critical update on the film’s impact and answering your questions about our environment’s dangerous and changing state.

Alongside all of this, several people on the frontlines of the fight against climate change, including Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney (Ret.) of the American Security Project, John Cook of Skeptical Science, and Amanda Andersen of the Union of Concerned Scientists have contributed their own thoughts on the state of the movement, and what the world should be doing right now. 

You can find the entire series on the An Inconvenient Truth page here at TakePart. And let us know in the comments below whether you think the world has learned anything from An Inconvenient Truth





Op-Ed: Climate Change Threatens America’s National Security

Retired Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Stephen Cheney, of the American Security Project, says rising sea levels and extreme drought could be just as dangerous as terrorists and crises.
Op-Ed: Climate Change Threatens America’s National Security

Climate change is becoming one of America’s most critical national security issues of the 21st century. Scientists are sounding an alarm that gets louder every year: The burning of fossil fuels releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, strengthening the greenhouse effect and changing the Earth’s climate. There are many uncertainties, but they are about the effects and the rate of climate change, not its causes.

With the world continuing to burn fossil fuels at a reckless pace, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the highest it has been in over 800,000 years. As a result, average global temperatures have already increased 1.3-degrees F over the last century, and without major reductions in emissions, we may be heading towards an additional 4- to 11-degrees F temperature rise by 2100.

The effects of this temperature change are severe. Climate change is usually presented as an environmental problem, but the consequences—and the consequences of the consequences—present real national security threats to the United States.

First, climate change generates new security risks around the world. Although climate change may not directly cause violent conflict, it acts as “an accelerant of instability” or a “threat multiplier.” That is, it makes conflict more likely, or intensifies conflict already underway. For example, climate change wreaked havoc on Mali, a poor, dry Saharan nation with an unstable government. As rivers dried up and agricultural production suffered, Al-Qaeda-linked militants capitalized on instability and overthrew the government in 2012. We cannot say that climate change has caused conflict in Mali, but it clearly multiplied the already existing threats.

Another example is the record-breaking wildfires in Russia in 2010 that led to a severe shortage of grain. Russia restricted grain exports in response, leading to a spike in food prices worldwide. High food prices exacerbated discontent in many Middle Eastern countries, which fanned the flames in the months leading up to the “Arab Spring.” Fragile governments around the world are at risk of environmental catastrophes—a prolonged drought, or a sudden flood—and climate change increases the probability that such events occur.

Second, climate change is already creating new missions for America’s armed forces, increasing the burden on the U.S. military. The Marines deployed to Staten Island in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and will be forced to take on a larger responsibility for disaster relief as severe weather increases. Allocating more resources to disaster relief takes away resources from the military’s primary mission of ensuring the nation’s security from external threats.


The military is already making plans for additional disaster response scenarios around the world. For example, in the 2013 “Cobra Gold” exercises, an annual joint U.S-Thailand military training operation, the U.S. and dozens of other nations conducted disaster relief exercises to prepare for future environmental disasters. In the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commanding officer of U.S. Pacific Command, recently testified before Congress that climate change will be one of the biggest long-term security threats in the Pacific region.

Third, climate change directly threatens U.S. military installations at home and abroad. The U.S. military manages property in all 50 U.S. states as well as 40 other countries around the world. These buildings—valued at $590 billion—face serious risks from the effects of climate change like sea level rise and extreme weather. For example, the island of Diego Garcia, a key logistics hub for U.S. and British forces in the Indian Ocean, is only one meter above sea level. Rising sea levels and storms threaten this strategically vital outpost.

Finally, climate change threatens our homeland security. Rising sea levels threaten coastlines with flooding and more powerful storm surges. Floods, wildfires, and storms pose dangers to human life and put critical infrastructure—roads, bridges, power plants—at risk. Drought and new pest outbreaks in the Midwest and Great Plains, our nation’s breadbasket, undermine America’s agricultural sector. New diseases threaten public health. The Department of Homeland Security, an agency created to deal with border security and terrorism, is having to respond to an increasing number of climate disasters. Dealing with a “new normal” of frequent disasters will increasingly strain DHS’s resources.

Other nations are also looking at the security challenges of climate change. Over 70 percent of all nations (for which there is data) view climate change as a threat to their national security. Many of these nations have plans for climate change enshrined in their defense strategies.

The U.S. military’s overarching mission is to keep Americans safe by being able to fight and win America’s wars, and—perhaps more importantly—to prevent conflict from breaking out. Climate change is making this mission increasingly difficult. Unfortunately, climate change is not a problem that the military can solve; only a global commitment to reduce emissions will solve this problem. Until then, military planners will be forced to deal with ever-worsening consequences. Policymakers must rise to the challenge.





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