Expired · 23rd September 2010
Reality won't go away. Unusual and extreme weather this summer has brought global warming and climatology back into the news after a nine month hiatus caused by the so-called "Climategate" fiasco of last December. The allegations by climate change skeptics that British scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit had been fudging findings have been dismissed. Three separate investigations deemed their science and methodology to be sound, finding them guilty only of inadequate public relations skills – they should have been more patient with their critics and released raw data more readily.
In another check on reality, a critical examination of last year's warnings about global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that it had erred on some minor details – a lack of definitive evidence on the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers – but that its general findings were sound. Indeed, the planet is warming, climate change is happening, and the IPCC's major predictions have been scientifically substantiated.
Now comes a study by more than 300 scientists from 160 research groups in 48 countries that has examined raw data from as far back as possible – more than 100 years in some cases. This study examined 10 important indicators of the planet's physical condition and presented the data in graphs. "The conclusion is unmistakable – yes, the planet is warming," said Derek Arndt, a co-editor of the report called State of the Climate (front page coverage in colour, Globe & Mail, July 29/10).
Anyone connected to reality and concerned about future generations, social stability and the planet's ecology should respond to these findings with sombre shock. View the graphs, etch them into memory, and then resolve to make the personal and political changes that will slow the disruptive effects of a world in transformation. The findings are so unequivocal that no other response seems responsible or sane.
Much of the impact of the study comes from the factual way it is presented. It doesn't attribute cause. It simply measures and graphs what is actually happening. The evidence speaks for itself.
• Sea Level: It has been rising on an slightly increasing incline at about 3 mm or 1/8 of an inch per year since 1870.
• Snow Cover: From 1920 until about 1980, Arctic snow cover remained fairly constant but since then it shows a marked decline.
• Air Temperature: This graph shows a steep upward incline since 1960, replicating and confirming the graph for humidity.
• Ocean Temperature: It remained fairly constant from 1850 until about 1900. Then it began to rise. Heating has been measured as deep as 2,000 metres but most of it is taking place near the surface.
• Sea Ice: It shows a marked decline since 1950, with an indication it is accelerating.
• Humidity: Global humidity is rising, concurrent with rising air temperature.
• Sea Air Temperature: It follows almost exactly the graph for ocean temperature.
• Glaciers: From 1940 many glaciers showed a slight increase in mass. About 1980 they began to decline. Although a few are expanding, the last 19 years show that most are in a steepening decline.
• Ocean Heat: This is the proportion of heat being absorbed by the world's oceans as distinct from heat being absorbed elsewhere. From 1955 until about 1980 the graph is relatively flat but then begins to rise markedly.
• Land Air Temperature: Weather stations from around the world show a slow rise in surface air temperature from 1850 until about 1900 when they show a slightly higher rise, a modest fall until about 1950 and then a very marked rise afterward.
The planet's temperature was 0.6°C warmer in the past decade than it was in the 1960s, and 0.2°C warmer than in the 1990s. Each of the last three decades has been hotter than the previous one, and each has been the hottest on record. Last year and the last six months, together with April, May and June, have all been the hottest on record. June was the 304th consecutive month which exceeded the planet's average temperature – June's global land surface temperature was 1.07°C above the 20th century average. As Arndt concludes from the State of the Climate report, "Glaciers and sea ice are melting, heavy rainfall is intensifying and heat waves are more common. And, as the new report tells us, there is now evidence [that] more than 90 percent of warming over the past 50 years has gone into our oceans."
The physical measurements are uncontestable. The environmental implications are unavoidable. Higher ocean surface temperatures encourage intense storms by aiding heat and moisture transfer to the air. They also slow ocean currents, impair the critical upward transfer of nutrients and otherwise alter marine ecologies. Higher humidity levels account for heavier rainfalls and greater snowfalls when warm weather fronts collide with cold dry fronts. Less snow cover reduces solar reflectivity ‹ the albedo effect – which would explain the Arctic's higher relative temperature rise. For Canada alone, the geopolitical and climatic implications are huge.
So global warming is in the news again as a major subject of concern. Its unmistakable existence will profoundly affect each one of us – indeed, it already is affecting us. And the longer we deny, forget, avoid or otherwise procrastinate, the worse the consequences will be for our future and for the ecology of our planet. Reality, unfortunately, won't go away.