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Why are we looking at dumb ‘ol science when The Farm Bill and all the Big Piggies at the TFB Trough went on vacation?

Well, I’d like to say there’s a formula to yank the Big Piggies out of the subsidy trough. But I can’t find it in my chemistry books.

[Actually, the formula does exist - but it's called public financing, and it's in the civics section, not the science section.]

But with TFB stalled in the Senate for at least the next few weeks and today being the day the IPCC chose to release their final report, there’s science in the air.

If only the carbon dioxide and methane will move over and make room for it.

Oops – I forgot – that’s our job.

More on that in a bit.

But while TFB’s away, the Lake can play. Let’s slosh off to Valencia, where the oranges are sweet, the sessions are long, and the science is hard.

I’m thirsty already. A taste of things to come?

Now, now, keep your siphon to yourself.

The hard science in Valencia is from the IPCC – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. With emphasis on Intergovernmental. That’s where the long sessions come in: the final IPCC report is what the world’s governments agree to let into the final report. The scientists fight to keep the science clear – politicos from the Big Burn nations fight to minimize impact of the report on their own governments and sacred chimneys.

Scientists began arriving in Valencia last week to work out a consensus draft before the arrival of the government delegations. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University in California, says that the most-recent draft received 2,000 comments from governments. That compares to 5,000 comments from individual scientists on the previous draft.

Given that the report will contain no new science, the challenge will be to get the scientific community and international governments to agree, paragraph by paragraph, on concise language that lays out the facts without downplaying or overstating the problem at hand.

Even with official filters, the IPCC is urgent.

The BBC observes:

You have a global economy that depends on fossil fuel use.

Our economies grow primarily by increasing fossil fuel use, particularly coal, the most polluting form.

And you have a decade to turn it around without letting economic growth slide away.

This, in a nutshell, is the challenge set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) synthesis of its 2007 global assessment.

“There is real urgency,” said Bert Metz from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, who co-chaired the IPCC working group on options for mitigating climate change.

“We need to peak emissions within 10 years if we are to keep the global temperature rise to 2C. If we leave it for 25 years, we’re already committed to 3C.”

Handily, [this] IPCC summary also tells you what those temperature rises translate to in terms of impacts:

Two Celsius means about one third of species at risk of extinction, decreased cereal production in the tropics, most coral reefs bleached.

Three Celsius puts millions more people at risk of coastal flooding, decreased cereal production at all latitudes and widespread death of coral reefs.

Depressed?

Nope – they’re probably too cheery:

November 15, 2007 03:00pm

A REPORT by Australian scientists has warned that the world is warming faster than predicted by the United Nations’ top climate change body.

The report, prepared by Dr Graeme Pearman, former head of the CSIRO’s atmospheric research unit, found temperatures and greenhouse pollution were rising faster than forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report, prepared for the Climate Institute, noted that the IPCC’s recent Fourth Assessment Report used material published up to mid-2006, but many important new observations had been published since.

“These suggest that the IPCC assessment is underestimating the risks of adverse impacts due to increased warming during this century and that impacts previously considered to be at the upper end of likelihood are now more probable,” the report reads.

“Greenhouse emissions are rising faster than the worst-case IPCC scenarios.”

A review of scientific papers by Graeme Pearman and the Climate Adaptation Science and Policy Initiative at the University of Melbourne has found worst-case scenarios produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may have been too conservative.

Emissions accelerating

Dr Pearman, former head of the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research, released a report yesterday showing carbon dioxide emissions are accelerating as is the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice.

He told a Sydney conference organised by the Centre for Economic Development Australia that carbon dioxide emissions growth exceeded IPCC’s most intensive scenarios.

Gases already at dangerous levels

Dr Pearman and the university were asked by the Climate Institute to review papers not included in the latest IPCC reports.

Their report says greenhouse gases are already at a dangerous level and increasing at such an extent they would impact on the Earth’s biogeophysical systems, animals and plants.

Dr Pearman said yesterday he did not want to scaremonger but governments were not reacting quickly enough to the situation.

“They talk about climate change being on the radar. But it’s not, it’s right outside the window,” Dr Pearman said.

“It’s already happening. It’s a story we didn’t really want to hear and we don’t have decades to respond.”

[snip]

IPCC projections may also have underestimated sea level rises.

One prediction is for a rise of 0.5m to 1.4m by 2100, much higher than the IPCC expects.

Projected warming of 2C to 3C “could yield sea level rise of several metres per century with eventual rise of tens of metres, enough to transform global coastlines”.

For warming of 3C, we don’t have to go the future. We only have to go to Siberia. Two years ago.

In May this year, another group of researchers reported signs that global warming was damaging the permafrost. Katey Walter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told a meeting of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that her team had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia. At the hotspots, methane was bubbling to the surface of the permafrost so quickly that it was preventing the surface from freezing over.

[snip]

Western Siberia is heating up faster than anywhere else in the world, having experienced a rise of some 3C in the past 40 years. Scientists are particularly concerned about the permafrost, because as it thaws, it reveals bare ground which warms up more quickly than ice and snow, and so accelerates the rate at which the permafrost thaws.

Siberia’s peat bogs have been producing methane since they formed at the end of the last ice age, but most of the gas had been trapped in the permafrost. According to Larry Smith, a hydrologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the west Siberian peat bog could hold some 70bn tonnes of methane, a quarter of all of the methane stored in the ground around the world.

The permafrost is likely to take many decades at least to thaw, so the methane locked within it will not be released into the atmosphere in one burst, said Stephen Sitch, a climate scientist at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter.

But calculations by Dr Sitch and his colleagues show that even if methane seeped from the permafrost over the next 100 years, it would add around 700m tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year, roughly the same amount that is released annually from the world’s wetlands and agriculture.

It would effectively double atmospheric levels of the gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming, he said.

What can we do?

Well, we can start by calculating our own carbon “footprints” – the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere each year.

How do we measure that? If you’re raising livestock, I don’t want to know. But if you’re a vegetarian, your annual carbon footprint just got 1.5 tons lighter.

Fortunately, the folks at Environmental Defense Fund give us all an easy calculator for our carbon footprints (and a link to a more precise calculator). In a week when many of us will fly or take long drives to join our loved ones, the sums may not be so appetizing.

But in a week when human creativity advanced bioremedies and mycoremediation to solve a toxic problem, I’m even hopeful the next decade – looking at oil over $100/bbl – will see a crash program to rework our fossil fuel economy into a sustainable form.

Even in a fossil fuel economy, we in the US can do a lot of trimming:

“High US emissions are partly the result of high living standards but they also reflect differences in government policy. Europeans with comparable living standards emit less than half the power sector CO2 of the average American,” said Nancy Birdsall, one of the report’s authors.

The cheapest kilowatt is the one we never buy – through conservation.

For almost all of us, looking at our own carbon footprints – and sharing creative, affordable strategies to shrink them – will be part of our personal solutions.

Or our world will look like this.

So – after you’ve had a chance at the calculators, come on back to the blog and show us your footprint, baby.

Don’t tell Freud, but I’m hoping mine is smaller than yours.

[Photo by Gauis Caecilius - Flickr]