Archive for May 2010
CSR and the environment are steadily making their way to the top of the business agenda. There is a need for urgent action – unless green house gas emissions reduce and stabilise to ‘safer’ levels in the next five years, there will be irreversible damage.
Our social responsibility
Mankind is causing climate change by burning nature’s stores of oil, coal and natural gas. This releases billions of tones of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year. If current trends continue we will raise atmospheric CO2 concentrations to double pre-industrial levels during this century. Most scientists believe that this will be enough to raise global temperatures by around 2˚C to 5˚C, which will have serious implications.
The effects of global warming and climate change are bringing unpredictable changes - melting glaciers and rainfall are causing some rivers to overflow, whilst evaporation is emptying others, diseases are spreading, some crops grow faster while others see yields slashed by disease and drought, strong storms and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and destructive, artic sea ice is melting faster every year, clashes over dwindling water resources may cause conflict in many regions of the world, warming of the oceans, combined with melting ice on land, is raising sea levels
(Source: The New Scientist)
Identify your company’s current strategy
These changes present both risks and opportunities for companies long-term, whether because they affect business directly (e.g. insurance, agriculture) or in the case of global corporates, they affect economic growth in countries where they operate, potentially affecting their own long-term business success. Companies have a range of strategic responses to choose from, and choose they must. Corporates must play a key role in minimising climate change, along with governments, civil society and non government organisations (NGOs).
Furthermore, if we continue to consume natural resources at the current rate, we will need three planets. This puts strain on the environment’s capacity to deal with our waste products, exacerbating damage. To ensure companies develop appropriate strategic responses to climate change, Human Resources (HR) professionals need to step up and shape the agenda. This guide provides some ideas to determining strategy and implementing a change programme.
Create engagement and pride in your company
Depending on the nature of your company’s business or where it is in its evolution, here are the typical components and business benefits.
‘Hygiene’ or threshold level of reducing your company’s use of energy, water and materials – which also reduces operating costs, promotion of sound environmental practices through supply chain management and selection of the customers you do business with, development of ‘green’ products or services to meet customers’ growing concerns for the environment – and develop new revenue opportunities, communications and change management both with your employees – to create engagement and pride in your company and a strong employer brand
Develop the business case for change
A successful change plan is likely to contain many of the following components, which are covered below:
• Sponsorship – ‘walking the talk’
• Communications planning – creating a case for change
• Getting your employees actively involved
• Positive recognition and reinforcement for the right behaviours
• Embedding ‘green’ approaches as a way of doing business
• Measuring the impact of your change programme
Enlist a respected business sponsor
Any successful change programme needs to have a respected business sponsor. The CEO or a senior member of the management team is ideally suited as environment issues impact the organisation’s whole operations. Avoid this being seen as an HR initiative – otherwise it will be dead in the water. Agree with the sponsor that he/she will be seen to lead.
Develop a plan where he/she not only gives the right messages as part of the communications campaign, but actually ‘walks the talk’. Agree some actions or behaviours to be adopted which send the right signals and makes employees take notice, e.g. walking or taking public transport to work, investing in a key piece of energy saving technology etc.
Create fun campaigns targeting employees
Create awareness of the issues of climate change and the need for urgent action among employees – but create a compelling ‘hook’ to engage them. Talking about climate change at a macro global level may make the subject too remote and impersonal.
Pick examples which make it real and tangible to employees in each of the countries where you operate. The plan should provide regular communications that are credible and use multiple vehicles and channels, such as face-to-face meetings, intranet building on social media concepts, feedback loops, competitions etc.
Create fun campaigns at work to draw attention to good practices to reduce employees’ impact on the environment.
Get your employees involved
• Create days to promote people walking or cycling to work or switching to public transport or car sharing where more appropriate
• If you have an employee volunteering scheme, provide platforms of good quality employee volunteering opportunities with NGOs or bodies associated with environmental work. Such opportunities could include using core skills to add value to implementation of strategy or doing physical activity around environmental projects. Often these can provide great development opportunities for employees
• Carbon detectives: seek volunteers or champions to be Carbon Detectives (CDs). CDs are briefed to spot energy wasting practices at work. On a designated day, get CDs either to be the first to arrive or last to leave the office. CDs check all equipment (monitors, printers, photocopiers) and leave a reward or inflated balloon by any appliance that has been switched off overnight.
• Support with communications campaigns about energy (in)efficient practices. Repeat the ‘energy spot check’ exercise, say, two weeks later. Record the difference in behaviours. Let colleagues know the difference they have made – congratulate them and celebrate the results to reinforce energy saving behaviours
• Encourage the set up of departmental or country Environment Committees. Get employees who are interested to take a lead and to develop and promote more great practices.
Recognise and rewarding the right behaviours
People tend to do more of what gets positively reinforces, so find some great ways to recognise employees who have led the way on environmental issues in the company.
As you develop your approach you may want to think about how you ‘hard wire’ environment into performance objectives. To start, this may be your senior management team only, for example, by getting them to agree reduction targets for the company for energy, water, air travel and waste of 10-20% in absolute or per employee terms. Later, it could be rewarding incremental revenue from ‘green’ products to business teams.
Embed your strategy
Engage your property/ facilities management team to look at ways to reduce energy. For example, smart light metre systems, turning heating systems down etc. and making it easier for employees to get to work under ‘their own steam’ by providing showers and cycle racks, talk to your technology department about reconfiguration of printers or purchasing of duplex printers. For example, switch printers to a default of setting of double-sided and black and white printing to save paper and costs, align your people processes.
Communicate your environment strategy as part of your recruitment and induction process. Embed in management development, employee volunteering and performance/ reward processes as relevant, purchasing have a key part to play through supply chain management and knowing the ‘green’ credentials of suppliers. Change purchasing policy to the use of recycled paper and/or paper from sustainable sources to reinforce the message (be careful though – it can be more expensive).
Measuring change and impact
Always the most difficult aspect of a change programme, but a critical one. Agree success measures up front based on the business case for your chosen strategy and/or your change programme and what the intended impact is. Set up measurement systems to measure the impact of your change programmes.
If the programme is to reduce your company’s environmental impact, establish a base line of annual energy, water and paper usage and air travel, agree achievable reduction targets, say 10-20% in total terms or average per employees, measure progress against targets at regular intervals, say every six months, quantify both the reduction in consumption but also the cost savings, alternatively, measure employees’ awareness of environmental issues and the extent to which they are motivated to change behaviours by using existing employee surveys
Keep yourself up-to-date – hardly a day goes by without an article in the national press about environmental and climate change. The pace of change is phenomenal too in what is happening in the world and how governments, NGOS and companies are responding. Knowledge gets outdated quickly. Many companies offer free seminars on ‘green’ issues and there is lots of materials on the website. Make sure you keep up-to-date.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) tracking and reporting will soon become mandatory in the United States, with the first reports due in early 2011 for the emissions data collected for the 2010 calendar year. The proposed federal law affects businesses and governments with heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems or refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, as well as those who produce industrial chemicals, fossil fuels, cars and engines, and any organization consuming electricity. It is the responsibility of companies to review and comply with the new EPA GHG regulations or face substantial fines down the road.
The Climate Registry Protocol outlines GHG tracking, defining further the requirements in the mandated GHG tracking and monitoring. The fundamental ideas stimulating GHG reporting are part of the U.S. Clean Air Act, aimed at improving air quality and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes mandatory reporting of the gases contributing to global climate change from about 13,000 facilities nationwide. Such facilities are accounted to be the major contributors of GHG emissions in the US, which is a very logical starting point in the greehouse gas emissions reduction targets. Such regulation covers companies and organizations which release relatively large amounts of GHG or those which produce or import industrial chemicals and fuels which emit high carbon gases when burned.
One of the major focuses of the Greenhouse Gas tracking protocol is refrigerant gases used in refrigeration and cooling systems by numerous facilities, including manufacturers, food processors, retailers, grocery stores, office buildings, municipalities and hospitals, just to name a few. Because of their chemical makeup, refrigerant gases contain significant levels of carbon in the form of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Such compounds are regulated in use.S. Clean Air Act for several years.
Greenhouse gases absorb and release radiation into the atmosphere, setting off a global warming effect on earth. The purpose of Greenhouse Gas tracking is to pinpoint the main origins of greenhouse gases and monitor the amount discharged into the atmosphere. This helps environmental officials establish a baseline which will be the benchmark for all usage and evaluation practices in the future. With this accurate information, it can be determined if the guidelines are effective in lowering the harmful effects of these substances to the ozone layer.
Greenhouse Gas tracking will enable enterprises to measure direct and indirect GHG emissions and be equipped with the data needed to properly use, maintain, contain and dispose leaks. Heating and cooling systems, as well as other energy consumption, are defined as direct emissions.
Greenhouse Gas tracking was among the major goals of the Obama administration as the United States aims to protect the future of the environment by reducing the carbon footprint of today. By taking no action, the earth’s makeup would significantly change, with humans and animals adversely affected and marine and plant life severely damaged.
Greenhouse Gas tracking will become law because it was determined that certain manmade compounds contribute substantially to global warming. The substances are carbon dioxide, chlorine, bromine, nitrous oxide, chloroflurocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, methane, methyl bromide, methyl chloroform, sulfur hexafluoride, hydroxyl, perfluorocarbobs, halons, carbon tetrachloride, fluorine, and the fluorinated gases hydrofluorinated ethers and nitrogen trifluoride. This compulsory law aims to reduce the use of harmful substances to help curtail the already felt adverse effects of global warming.
Although Greenhouse Gas tracking was optional for large emitters in the United States, it becomes mandatory in 2010 with the regulation requiring companies and municipalities to submit exact information on how much of the global warming substances they use everyday and if any leaks occurred.
The requirements are so extensive that vendors who are knowledgeable in the area have developed software programs and web-based applications to assist companies in complying with the law across distributed facilities down to the individual asset level.
1. Effects of enhanced CO2 on crop growth
Plants grow through the well-known process of photosynthesis, utilizing the energy of sunlight to convert water from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air into sugar, starches, and cellulose–the carbohydrates that are the foundations of the entire food chain. CO2 enters a plant through its leaves. Greater atmospheric concentrations tend to increase the difference in partial pressure between the air outside and inside the plant leaves, and as a result more CO2 is absorbed and converted to carbohydrates. Crop species vary in their response to CO2. Wheat, rice, and soybeans belong to a physiological class (called C3 plants) that responds readily to increased CO2 levels. Corn, sorghum, sugarcane, and millet are C4 plants that follow a different pathway. The latter, though more efficient photosynthetically than C3 crops at present levels of CO2, tend to be less responsive to enriched concentrations. Thus far, these effects have been demonstrated mainly in controlled environments such as growth chambers, greenhouses, and plastic enclosures. Experimental studies of the long-term effects of CO2 in more realistic field settings have not yet been done on a comprehensive scale.
Higher levels of atmospheric CO2 also induce plants to close the small leaf openings known as stomates through which CO2 is absorbed and water vapor is released. Thus, under CO2 enrichment crops may use less water even while they produce more carbohydrates. This dual effect will likely improve water-use efficiency, which is the ratio between crop biomass and the amount of water consumed. At the same time, associated climatic effects, such as higher temperatures, changes in rainfall and soil moisture, and increased frequencies of extreme meteorological events, could either enhance or negate potentially beneficial effects of enhanced atmospheric CO2 on crop physiology.
2. Effects of higher temperature
In middle and higher latitudes, global warming will extend the length of the potential growing season, allowing earlier planting of crops in the spring, earlier maturation and harvesting, and the possibility of completing two or more cropping cycles during the same season. Many crops have become adapted to the growing-season day lengths of the middle and lower latitudes and may not respond well to the much longer days of the high latitude summers. In warmer, lower latitude regions, increased temperatures may accelerate the rate at which plants release CO2 in the process of respiration, resulting in less than optimal conditions for net growth. When temperatures exceed the optimal for biological processes, crops often respond negatively with a steep drop in net growth and yield. If nighttime temperature minima rise more than do daytime maxima–as is expected from greenhouse warming projections–heat stress during the day may be less severe than otherwise, but increased nighttime respiration may also reduce potential yields. Another important effect of high temperature is accelerated physiological development, resulting in hastened maturation and reduced yield.
3. Available water
Agriculture of any kind is strongly influenced by the availability of water. Climate change will modify rainfall, evaporation, runoff, and soil moisture storage. Changes in total seasonal precipitation or in its pattern of variability are both important. The occurrence of moisture stress during flowering, pollination, and grain-filling is harmful to most crops and particularly so to corn, soybeans, and wheat. Increased evaporation from the soil and accelerated transpiration in the plants themselves will cause moisture stress; as a result there will be a need to develop crop varieties with greater drought tolerance.
The demand for water for irrigation is projected to rise in a warmer climate, bringing increased competition between agriculture–already the largest consumer of water resources in semiarid regions–and urban as well as industrial users. Falling water tables and the resulting increase in the energy needed to pump water will make the practice of irrigation more expensive, particularly when with drier conditions more water will be required per acre. Peak irrigation demands are also predicted to rise due to more severe heat waves. Additional investment for dams, reservoirs, canals, wells, pumps, and piping may be needed to develop irrigation networks in new locations. Finally, intensified evaporation will increase the hazard of salt accumulation in the soil.
4. Climate variability
Extreme meteorological events, such as spells of high temperature, heavy storms, or droughts, disrupt crop production. Recent studies have considered possible changes in the variability as well as in the mean values of climatic variables. Where certain varieties of crops are grown near their limits of maximum temperature tolerance, such as rice in Southern Asia, heat spells can be particularly detrimental. Similarly, frequent droughts not only reduce water supplies but also increase the amount of water needed for plant transpiration.
5. Soil fertility and erosion
Higher air temperatures will also be felt in the soil, where warmer conditions are likely to speed the natural decomposition of organic matter and to increase the rates of other soil processes that affect fertility. Additional application of fertilizer may be needed to counteract these processes and to take advantage of the potential for enhanced crop growth that can result from increased atmospheric CO2. This can come at the cost of environmental risk, for additional use of chemicals may impact water and air quality. The continual cycling of plant nutrients–carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur–in the soil-plant-atmosphere system is also likely to accelerate in warmer conditions, enhancing CO2 and N2O greenhouse gas emissions. Nitrogen is made available to plants in a biologically usable form through the action of bacteria in the soil. This process of nitrogen fixation, associated with greater root development, is also predicted to increase in warmer conditions and with higher CO2, if soil moisture is not limiting. Where they occur, drier soil conditions will suppress both root growth and decomposition of organic matter, and will increase vulnerability to wind erosion, especially if winds intensify. An expected increase in convective rainfall–caused by stronger gradients of temperature and pressure and more atmospheric moisture–may result in heavier rainfall when and where it does occur. Such “extreme precipitation events” can cause increased soil erosion.
6. Pests and diseases
Conditions are more favorable for the proliferation of insect pests in warmer climates. Longer growing seasons will enable insects such as grasshoppers to complete a greater number of reproductive cycles during the spring, summer, and autumn. Warmer winter temperatures may also allow larvae to winter-over in areas where they are now limited by cold, thus causing greater infestation during the following crop season. Altered wind patterns may change the spread of both wind-borne pests and of the bacteria and fungi that are the agents of crop disease. Crop-pest interactions may shift as the timing of development stages in both hosts and pests is altered. Livestock diseases may be similarly affected. The possible increases in pest infestations may bring about greater use of chemical pesticides to control them, a situation that will require the further development and application of integrated pest management techniques.
7. Sea-level rise
Global warming is predicted to lead to thermal expansion of sea water, along with partial melting of land-based glaciers and sea-ice, resulting in a rise of sea level which may range from 0.1 to 0.5 meters (4 to 20 inches) by the middle of the next century, according to present estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Such a rise could pose a threat to agriculture in low- lying coastal areas, where impeded drainage of surface water and of groundwater, as well as intrusion of sea water into estuaries and aquifers, might take place.
Introduction to Global Warming:
Greenhouse warming has existed for quite some time, arguably since Earth was first formed. Greenhouse gases, or gases conducive to the greenhouse effect, act like a blanket or the panes of glass in a greenhouse’s walls; they reflect the heat the earth would radiate into space back down towards the earth, holding it in. You see, the balance of heat on earth is maintained by different processes. Solar radiation approaches the earth, and clouds and the atmosphere reflect some of it back into space. More radiation is absorbed by the atmosphere, clouds, and the surface of the earth. Then the earth radiates the heat back as infrared radiation. To maintain a certain, constant temperature, the rate that Earth emits energy into space must equal the rate it absorbs the sun’s energy. The greenhouse effect’s refusal to allow a certain amount of this terrestrial radiation to pass keeps the Earth’s average surface temperature at about 60°F (15°C). If there were no greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, most of the heat radiated by the Earth’s surface would be lost directly to outer space, and the planet’s temperature would be 0°F (-18°C), too cold for most forms of life (Greenhouse).
There are several atmospheric gases that act as greenhouse gases (GHGs). The most infamous is carbon dioxide, which is emitted through the respiration of humans and animals, the burning of fossil fuel, deforestation, and other changes in land use. Carbon dioxide is the main focus of many greenhouse gas sanctions, since it is the greenhouse gas that has most been released into the atmosphere. However, some other gases may have a greater effect upon climate than CO2. If one examines research into the possible warming effect of other GHGs relative to CO2, one finds that over a 100-year period, there are gases present in far smaller amounts that have a much more concentrated effect. Methane, a gas produced by livestock (flatulence), oil and gas production, coal mining, solid waste, and wet rice agriculture, has 11 times more warming potential per volume than CO2 (Science), or 25 times more per molecule (Clarkson). Nitrous oxide, produced mainly in connection with current agricultural practices, has 270 times more warming potential per volume over this period than CO2 (Science). Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the gases used as refrigerants and in aerosol spray dispensers that were banned some time back due to their ozone depletion potential, have 3400-7100 times more warming potential per volume than CO2 (Science). Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the CFC substitutes, have a slightly smaller warming potential at 1200-1600 times larger per volume than CO2 (Science).
And so, as one might infer, studies are showing that additions of GHGs may cause the earth to get warmer than it naturally would. This is what is referred to as anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming. Many times, the terms global warming and climate change are used interchangeably. (We will do the same, for continuity’s sake.) But, this is not correct and the concepts are different. Climate change includes precipitation, wind patterns, and temperature. It also refers to the whole climate, not just weather conditions of one place. Global warming is an indication of climate change. It is an example of a climate change that has the atmosphere’s average temperature increase. Earth has experienced much warming and much cooling throughout its history. There is a great deal of debate as to whether or not the earth is experiencing a globally warming climate change and, if it is, whether the underlying causes are man-made or natural. Different research has given different results.
However, even when greenhouse gases were arguably at a stable level, before the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s climate tended to fluctuate widely. A period from 5,000 to 3,000 BC (when civilization began) is called the Climatic Optimum and another period from 900 – 1200 AD is called the Little Climatic Optimum or the Medieval Climatic Optimum, both so named for their unusually warm temperatures. Likewise, a period from 1550 to 1850 is known as the Little Ice Age for its unusually cold temperatures (Pidwirny). At this time, glaciers in southern Norway reached their greatest extent in 9000 years (Keigwin). With such large variations possible, it is difficult to know where the next natural fluctuation could take us. Perhaps those who find that global climate is warming are simply measuring a natural fluctuation. Or perhaps a natural fluctuation is masking the real effect of GHGs on the globe.
Global Warming: Big Questions, Big Research
As mentioned previously, there is a great debate over whether or not humans are causing global warming. Some activists and researchers have resorted to name-calling or accusing the opposing side of having “sold out” to one special interest or another. As mentioned previously, we have attempted to cut away the personal attacks between the opposing sides, search for the kernel of truth (or logic, where truth cannot be discerned), and get down to the heart of the matter.
In order to properly read any of the reports or research on global climate change, one must keep in mind that nothing (or almost nothing) is certain. Everything has a certain degree of uncertainty, a certain flavor of the unknown. There really is no conclusive evidence of global warming, and many scientists in favor of the global warming hypothesis say that it will be a decade or more before it is possible to develop any substantial evidence. As an anonymous senior climate modeler has said about global warming, “The more you learn, the more you understand that you don’t understand very much” (Kerr – Greenhouse Forecasting). Global climate is by nature always fluctuating, and that only adds to the confusion about anthropogenic global warming. If there were an anthropogenic global warming, we couldn’t be sure what temperature we were supposed to be at, as climate shifts are a natural part of life on Earth. Compounding that confusion is natural variability, which is always working to confuse researchers just as they come close to attributing a perceived change in average temperature to some external factor, such as atmospheric composition (GHGs) or solar variation. One reason for this variability is the long adjustment time of the oceans’ heat storage and current systems. It is estimated to take several hundred years for water to circulate from the deepest portions of the oceans back to the surface. This means that if, for example, a pool of extra cold water is singled out and stored in the depths by some freak mechanism, it could stay there a century or two before resurfacing and producing a local, cool climate change (Clarkson, North, and Schmandt).
Since no one can create another Earth (let alone one that behaves exactly like ours) and perform atmosphere-altering experiments on it, we are left with the alternative of theorizing based on observations. In other words, the only way we can purport to know anything about what might be changing in our climate is by playing with data, such as records of temperature, borehole measurements, etc., and seeing what scenarios the data will agree with.
Most of the body of global warming theory is based on computerized climate models called global circulation models or GCMs, for they are almost the only tools global warming researchers have. GCMs are difficult to make as making them properly involves a deep-rooted understanding of the way the atmosphere works and how its actions are interconnected with other planetary bodies, such as the oceans or the terrestrial biosphere. But our understanding of the inner workings of the atmosphere and the ways it relates to other planetary bodies is not very good. Renowned NASA climate modeler James Hansen, the man whose summer 1988 congressional testimony kicked off the climate change debate, states in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “The forcings outside factors that drive long-term climate change are not known with an accuracy sufficient to define future climate changes.” One of the fundamental illustrations of chaos, the butterfly effect, displays the interconnectedness of the atmosphere system when it states that a butterfly fluttering through the air in China could cause rain in New York the following spring.
GCMs are made by formulating mathematical descriptions of the interrelationships between the atmosphere/ocean/biosphere/cryosphere system and conducting numerical experiments. They certainly are unable to form a mathematical description based on the kind of interconnections, or feedbacks, that the butterfly effect would suggest. Indeed, Michael Schlesinger, modeler at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, tells us that “in the climate system, there are 14 orders of magnitude, from the planetary scale–which is 40 million meters–down to the scale of one of the little aerosol particles on which water vapor can change phase to a liquid cloud particle–which is a fraction of a millionth of a millimeter.” Of these 14 orders of magnitude, only the two largest (the planetary scale and the scale of weather disturbances) can currently be included in models. Schlesinger notes that, to include the third order of magnitude (the scale of thunderstorms, at about 50 km resolution) a computer a thousand times faster would be necessary, “a teraflops machine that maybe we’ll have in 5 years.” Including all orders of magnitude would require 1036-1037 times more computing power (Kerr – Greenhouse Forecasting).
Because GCMs are so hard to make, often they account for the same processes differently; two models may have two different mathematical descriptions of what effect clouds have on warming, for example. Processes with a resolution smaller than a few hundred kilometers cannot be represented directly in the models, but instead must be parameterized, or expressed in terms of the larger scale motions, since the models do not have the resolution necessary to properly represent the actions of important weather systems such as tropical and extratropical cyclones. To offset this downfall, a few parameterizations (such as horizontal eddy viscosity, large-scale precipitation cumulus convection, gravity wave drag, etc.) are calibrated. Added to these parameterizations are adjustments commonly referred to as flux corrections, and they are an important “fudge factor” for the GCMs. These factors keep the models from floating off into nowhere. As Kerr (Model) stated, “Climate modelers have been ‘cheating’ for so long it’s almost become respectable.” Through these parameterizations, GCMs attempt to represent certain climate features reasonably well, but it is possible that they may be getting the right numbers but have the wrong underlying reason for them. As a result, such models’ ability to simulate climate change properly would be negatively impacted.
Lately, a model has been designed and tested at the National Center for Atmospheric Research to eliminate the flux corrections. This model better incorporates the effects of ocean eddies, not by shrinking the scale, but by parameterization, passing the effects of these invisible eddies onto larger model scales using a more realistic means of mixing hear through the ocean that any earlier model did. This model doesn’t drift off into chaos even after 300 years of running. This model gives a 2oC rise in temperature due to a CO2 doubling. (Some of the more popular GCMs assume that the concentration of CO2 will double in 70 years or quadruple in 140 years and use the assumption to try to predict what the climate will be like in decades or even centuries based on that doubling or quadrupling.) This figure is on the low side of estimates and puts the model’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases near the low end of current model estimates (Kerr – Model).
GCMs are very sensitive to the representations of the effects of clouds and oceans, as their effects are complex and not understood well. While some GCMs are being specially made to simulate water behavior in clouds, limited vertical resolution (i.e., they don’t go up far enough) and coarse horizontal resolution (i.e., the cloud activity of large areas of the Earth is averaged together and this average is used for the entire area) prevent even these models from accurately covering thin clouds and some cloud formation processes. Most early simulations were run with fixed cloud distributions based on observed cloud cover data, but these fixed levels didn’t allow any feedback between cloud distributions and changing atmospheric/oceanic temperatures and motions. Problems in cloud feedback are seen as the Achilles heel of GCMs. Likewise, ocean representations were initially crude; in some early models, a swamp (stagnant, heat-absorbing, heat and water vapor-releasing body of water) was used as the oceanic model. Later models had a 50 meter thick slab of ocean that allowed summertime heat storage and wintertime heat release. While not including ocean currents (caused by the movement of heat to colder areas of ocean), these models attempted to represent seasonal responses to temperature in the upper ocean, but the lack of currents resulted in tropical oceans being too hot and polar regions too cold. Even today’s most sophisticated, computationally-intense climate models are still just numerically experimental approximations of the exceedingly complex atmosphere/ocean/biosphere/cryosphere system. And yet, these GCMs are the basis of global warming theory, if for no other reason than the near-impossibility of conducting physical experiments at the global level (Cotton & Pielke).
The main means of testing these mathematical models of the climate involves taking climate data from previous years, running the programs, and seeing if the computer results are close to the actual present climatic data. The problem there is that the data are not exactly accurate. When the predicted global warming ranges from .5oC to 4oC, data accuracy is important, to say the least. Satellite data (view some) is called insubstantial by some researchers for the short length of its records, but Phil Jones states that the shortness even of global-scale surface temperature records (about 100 years) aids the uncertainty in the field. Interestingly enough, current surface temperature measurements have shown a .5oC warming over the past century, but satellite measurements for the past fifteen years (satellite data has only been available for nineteen years) shows a slight downward trend. Satellite trends in temperature vary smoothly, while in some surface data, one region will appear to be warming while those regions around it appear to cool. According to Dr. Roy Spencer, a NASA scientist, “We see major excursions from the trend due to volcanic eruptions like Mount Pinatubo and ocean current phenomena like El Niño, but overall the trend is about 0.05 degrees Celsius per decade cooling” (Horack and Spencer). Earlier this year, it was realized that the satellite data needed correction for orbital decay, or “downward drift,” in the satellites that cause erroneous cooling to show in the data. However, even after a careful readjustment the trend is still 0.01oC per decade of cooling, while weather balloons show -0.02 and -0.07oC per decade in Britain and America respectively, and British surface data show a warming of 0.15oC per decade. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate model predictions estimate surface warming to be 0.18oC per decade and warming in the deep layer measured by satellites and weather balloons to be about 30% faster, or +0.23oC per decade. None of the satellites or weather balloons show values anywhere near this, not even when the adjusted satellite record is updated through July 1998 to show a trend of +0.04oC per decade, which is still only 1/6 of the IPCC-predicted rate (Spencer).
Even while the satellites may need adjustments in their data for changes in orbit, this data is still more accurate than surface data. Satellites do not have anything in their surroundings to skew the data. On the other hand, many sources of error exist here on Earth. Things as seemingly minuscule as variation in the color and type of paint used for the instrument shelters can skew data slightly, for different types and colors of paint absorb small but differing amounts of solar radiation. As another example, the urban heat island effect is known to make cities warmer at night and milder during the day. The growth of urban areas during this century has resulted in a 0.4oC bias in the US climate record, making the amount of warming appear larger than it was (Cotton and Pielke). Thomas Karl, climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), demonstrated in a 1989 paper that, if surface temperatures are corrected for the urban heat island effect, the years around 1940 emerge as the warmest, with readings since then showing a downward trend (Crandall). If this bias exists in the global climate data set, its use to represent a wider geographic record for climate change studies will be misleading.
Another largely-ignored factor affecting temperature data is solar variation, or periodic changes in the brightness of the sun based on sunspots and the like. Some climate modelers say that the Sun only varies with an 11-year cycle, and this period is too fast for the climate system to respond to. Hoyt points out that explosive volcanic eruptions have a one to two year long radiative forcing which does appear to affect climate, and so solar variance should have a substantial impact on climate. James Hansen, the famed NASA modeler, put it this way: “Anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs), which are well-measured, cause a strong positive (warming) forcing. But other, poorly measured, anthropogenic forcings, especally changes of atmospheric aerosols, clouds, and other land-use patterns, cause a negative forcing that tends to offset greenhouse warming. One consequence of this partial balance is that the natural forcing due to solar irradiance changes may play a larger role in long-term climate change than inferred from GHGs alone” (NASA’s). Current research by Daniel Cayan and Warren White of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography gives evidence that “the waxing and waning of the sun” may be behind current climate change. They studied North Pacific sea surface temperatures for the past 50 years and noticed that their pattern looked remarkably like that of satellite records of solar irradiance (Kerr – New). Based on this, it would seem logical to include these effects in GCMs, but few researchers do.
Moreover, any calculated warming would be reduced by this cooling effect of volcanoes. Even though we cannot predict the occurrence of a volcanic eruption, we have sufficient statistical information about past eruptions to estimate their average cooling effect; yet this is one of several factors not specifically considered by the IPCC (Singer – Scientific) and many other models.
If these models are wrong in their assumptions about climate, then everything that is thought to be known because of them is wrong. If, however, their assumptions are right, but essential factors or effects within the global system are being omitted from study, then GCMs thought to be wrong may actually need only an enlightened tweaking. Unfortunately, enlightenment is difficult to come by in this field. Many, many things are still unknown.
Effects of Global Warming on Our Everyday Lives
Another area where uncertainty rears its head is in the realm of the “real life” effects of global warming. The possible effects of global warming have been played out in the media: hurricanes, plagues, a great increase in sea level, etc. Some scientists refute these claims. But, again, since the climate models can tell us little with much certainty, we can not know for certain if a global warming would have these effects or not.
Some researchers, such as those involved with the IPCC, claim that global warming will lead to an increase in violent storms such as hurricanes and typhoons. But, as S. Fred Singer points out (Scientific), warming should actually lead to a reduction in these storms as the equator-to-pole temperature differences diminish, for it is this atmospheric temperature heterogeneity that drives storms and makes them strong.
Record-breaking temperatures are given by others as a consequence of global warming. But they actually are the consequence of having records to break; on an average day, 2 million square miles (the equivalent of an area 1400 miles by 1400 miles) of the Earth are experiencing weather which breaks 100-year-old records. Indeed, the probability of breaking a weather record is equal to 1/n, where n is the number of years for which records exist (Hoyt).
Some, such as virologist Robert Shope, do say that warming could cause the mosquito carrying dengue fever and yellow fever to migrate northward, causing epidemics in North America. Cholera (which is known to live in sea-borne plankton), he says, could become epidemic in America as changes in marine ecology favor the growth and transmission of the pathogen. Rita Colwell, Paul Epstein, and Timothy Ford, another group of researchers, went a step further and blamed an El Niño warming of the Pacific at least partially for a 1991 Latin American cholera epidemic affecting 500,000 and killing almost 5,000. But cholera is known to spread from humans to other humans through food, water, and feces; this is why cholera epidemics appear when public health and sanitation break down. CDC medical epidemiologist Fred Angulo stated that “We had a powder keg ready to explode, an entire continent in which the sanitation and public water supplies and everything was primed for transmission of this organism once it was introduced,” possibly by ships emptying bilge water near fishing areas. He adds that cholera has been introduced into the US several times in the past few years; it didn’t spread “because we have a public health and sanitation infrastructure that prevents it.”
As for the mosquito-borne diseases, epidemiologist Mark L. Wilson of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor says that the predictions suffer from many levels of uncertainty. No one disputes that weather patterns have an impact: “There’s reason to believe that if it’s an extremely rainy spring, summer mosquito populations will increase,” but he and his colleagues point out that no one knows just how patterns of temperature and rainfall will change in a warmer world, or how these changes will affect the biology of diseases. Paul Epstein has attributed Latin American dengue epidemics in 1994 and 1995 to El Niño and global warming, but experts on dengue at the Pan American Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say these epidemics resulted from a breakdown in programs to eradicate the specific species of mosquito responsible and its subsequent return. The epidemics once caused by mosquitoes in the US have vanished due to mosquito control, eradication programs, piped-water systems, and lifestyle changes (we have good housing, air conditioning, and television to keep us inside, and screens to keep the mosquitoes outside). They note as an example 1995′s Mexican dengue pandemic that stopped at the Rio Grande, with over 2000 confirmed cases in Reynosa, Mexico, but only 7 across the river in Texas. And so it is a bit early to say, as the IPCC did, that “climate change is likely to have wide-ranging and mostly adverse impacts on human health, with significant loss of life” (Taubes).
It is interesting that there does appear to be an increase in sea level along the coastlines. According to Robert T. Watson, IPCC chairman, “We’ll see sea level rise that could displace tens of millions of people…and whole islands…could be significantly inundated. The shorelines of America could be severely attacked.” But Dr. David Aubrey, oceanographer and senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, states that “I have seen no convincing evidence that recent sea level rises are caused by human effects or global warming” (Hoyt). And even global warming proponents’ estimates have been steadily falling; initially, it was projected by the EPA that an atmospheric CO2 doubling would cause 80-120 inches of rise, but by 1990 the estimate was a quarter of that. In 1996, a UN science advisory panel, predicted a rise of only 15-22 inches by 2100. Even these smaller estimates are quite uncertain, for sea level changes are terribly difficult to measure. Historical data are based on tide gauges, which are mainly from Northern Europe and North America. Long-term trends can be found only after the data is adjusted for waves, storm surges, and tidal variations (Singer – Sky). In addition, the land itself may be rising or falling. The Mid-Atlantic US coast, for example, is falling as a bulge formed by Ice Age glaciers slowly settles, according to the Detroit News in 1996 (Hoyt). The global sea level record as reconstructed and adjusted shows an interesting trend: levels have been rising at about 7 inches per century for several centuries over which much fluctuation of global climate has occurred. It is now believed that slow tectonic changes have caused the steady rise, not the melting glaciers some global warming theorists propose. Incidentally, the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich determined that between 1926 and 1960, when the planet was supposedly cooler than today, 70% of US and European glaciers retreated. Since 1980, however, 55% of those same glaciers have advanced (Carlisle). This would not support the theory that global warming is happening now, it is melting glaciers, and that water is causing a rise in sea level. While global warming may cause mountainous glaciers to melt and a thermal expansion of water, accelerating the natural rise, it also may cause more water to evaporate from the surface of warmer oceans, leading to greater rainfall and a thickening of polar icecaps. Data from the period of warming from 1900-1940 shows a sea level drop, while the subsequent cooler period showed a rise in sea level (Singer – Sky).
Other areas of life global warming has an effect upon are those affected by attempts to stop global warming. Some people (Clark, Kerr – Greenhouse Report) suggest that small changes, such as using high-efficiency compact fluorescent lights, using self-powered or public transportation more often, etc., could make a big impact on the global warming problem (assuming it exists). This would go along with the idea expressed by some scientists that the only actions that should be taken until there is more certainty are those that would (or should) be taken anyway . But will people do these things if they don’t have to? Some other scientists are more pessimistic.
Greater measures are suggested by these people. As Cotton and Pielke state in Human Impacts on Weather and Climate, “Clearly, reductions in CO2 emissions in these countries China will have a significant impact on global CO2 emissions and reduce the chance that human activity will have a significant impact on weather and climate.” In working with such an uncertain issue, one can only weigh one’s risks, look at the costs and benefits of all alternatives, and take one’s most competent guess at what the best course of action is. In the face of all this uncertainty, I would propose a sort of Climatologists’ Wager (a variation of Pascal’s Wager to this issue). Let’s assume for a moment that there is a global warming occurring. If this is anthropogenic global warming and it will have a negative impact on climate and life, then we must take action. If this is not anthropogenic global warming and warming will have a negative effect on climate and life, nothing can be done. If there is no anthropogenic global warming and the warming will not have a negative effect on climate and life, nothing need be done. Likewise, if humans have caused the global warming but it will not have a negative impact on climate and life, no action is necessary.
But there is one other dimension to choosing what to do: assuming that anthropogenic global warming is occurring and it will negatively impact climate and life, one must weigh the costs and benefits of maintaining that risk against the costs and benefits of action. Let us take the Kyoto Protocol as an example. President Clinton signed it on November 12, 1998, but he is waiting to give it to the Senate. This agreement, if ratified by the Senate, would force the US to cut GHG emissions (mostly of CO2) to 7% below the 1990 levels within the next 10 to 14 years. The costs of this mandatory decrease in emissions are substantial. Compliance would cost the US $3.3 trillion from 2001 to 2020, or $30,000 per household. Gas prices are expected to increase by 65 cents a gallon or more. Residents of Michigan are expected to have to pay 77.3% more for home heating oil, 73.5% more for natural gas, and 64.2% more for electricity. Industries and businesses will suffer. It is thought that some of the hardest hit sectors will include energy-intensive manufacturing (such as automobiles, cement, iron, steel, chemicals, aluminum, etc.), transportation, telecommunications, paper and allied products, petroleum refining, and utilities. Wages and salaries would fall, while food, housing, and medical costs rose. The state of Michigan would lose 96,500 jobs (49,800 in manufacturing), $9.3 billion in output, and $3.4 billion in tax revenues, decreasing the ability of the state to provide even more greatly needed social services. It is expected that the jobless rate would reach 5.5% and 1.1 million US jobs would be lost (Novak, Littmann).
This would be a grim picture if these changes were known to be necessary for survival. But a far grimmer picture is one of going through all this economic hardship for an unproven theory, and then potentially discovering that these costly changes really had a negligible effect upon climate and life as a whole. There is no scientific understanding of what GHG level is “dangerous.” How can we, then, regulate what the level should be, not knowing if the danger is above or below the standard we would set? For that matter, how can the 1992 Global Climate Treaty say that its purpose is to “achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (Singer – Scientific)? It also seems a bit funny that only a fast-growing, prosperous society would best be able to afford the extra technology to make itself cleaner, healthier, and safer, but this treaty would certainly not have that effect upon the US economy. In not sanctioning developing countries, Kyoto almost encourages industry to move from the reasonably efficient and well-regulated developed countries to the developing countries, which have few (if any) regulations on pollution. S. Fred Singer has an interesting thought in “Dangers From the Global Climate Treaty”: “This the Kyoto Protocol has been rightly labeled a transfer of money from the poor in the rich countries to the rich in the poor countries.” Meanwhile, climate scientists who support the anthropogenic global warming theory say that it is unlikely that the Kyoto Protocol will even temporarily slow the accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere. Jerry Mahlman, director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton, states that “it might take another 30 Kyotos over the next century” to cut global warming down to size (Malakoff).
Fact and Fiction:
FICTION: Even if the Earth is warming, we can’t be sure how much, if any, of the warming is caused by human activities.
FACT: There is international scientific consensus that most of the warming over the last 50 years is due to human activities, not natural causes. Over millions of years, animals and plants lived, died and were compressed to form huge deposits of oil, gas and coal. In little more than 300 years, however, we have burned a large amount of this storehouse of carbon to supply energy.
Today, the by-products of fossil fuel use – billions of tons of carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide), methane, and other greenhouse gases – form a blanket around the Earth, trapping heat from the sun, unnaturally raising temperatures on the ground, and steadily changing our climate.
The impacts associated with this deceptively small change in temperature are evident in all corners of the globe. There is heavier rainfall in some areas, and droughts in others. Glaciers are melting, Spring is arriving earlier, oceans are warming, and coral reefs are dying.
FICTION: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts an increase in the global average temperature of only 1.4°C to 5.8°C over the coming century.
This small change, less than the current daily temperature range for most major cities, is hardly cause for concern.
FACT: Global average temperature is calculated from temperature readings around the Earth. While temperature does vary considerably at a daily level in any one place, global average temperature is remarkably constant. According to analyses of ice cores, tree rings, pollen and other “climate proxies,” the average temperature of the Northern Hemisphere had varied up or down by only a few tenths of a degree Celsius between 1000 AD and about 1900, when a rapid warming began.
A global average temperature change ranging from 1.4°C to 5.8°C would translate into climate-related impacts that are much larger and faster than any that have occurred during the 10 000-year history of civilization.
From scientific analyses of past ages, we know that even small global average temperature changes can lead to large climate shifts. For example, the average global temperature difference between the end of the last ice age (when much of the Northern Hemisphere was buried under thousands of feet of ice) and today’s interglacial climate is only about 5°C .
FICTION: Warming cannot be due to greenhouse gases, since changes in temperature and changes in greenhouse gas emissions over the past century did not occur simultaneously.
FACT: The slow heating of the oceans creates a significant time lag between when carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere and when changes in temperature occur.
This is one of the main reasons why we don’t see changes in temperature at the same time as changes in greenhouse gas emissions. You can see the same process occur in miniature when you heat up a pot of water on the stove: there is a time lag between the time you turn on the flame and when the water starts to boil.
In addition, there are many other factors that affect year-to-year variation in the Earth’s temperature. For example, volcanic eruptions, El Niсo, and small changes in the output of the sun can all affect the global climate on a yearly basis.
Therefore, you would not expect the build-up of greenhouse gases to exactly match trends in global climate. Still, scientific evidence points clearly to anthropogenic (or human-made) greenhouse gases as the main culprit for climate change.
FICTION: Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere fairly quickly, so if global warming turns out to be a problem, we can wait to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions until after we start to see the impacts of warming.
FACT: Carbon dioxide, a gas created by the burning of fossil fuels (like gasoline and coal), is the most important human-made greenhouse gas.
Carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use is produced in huge quantities and can persist in our atmosphere for as long as 200 years.
This means that if emissions of carbon dioxide were halted today, it would take centuries for the amount of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere to come down to what it was in pre-industrial times. Thus we need to act now if we want to avoid the increasingly dangerous consequences of climate change in the future.
FICTION: Human activities contribute only a small fraction of carbon dioxide emissions, an amount too small to have a significant effect on climate, particularly since the oceans absorb most of the extra carbon dioxide emissions.
FACT: Before human activities began to dramatically increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from natural sources closely matched the amount that was stored or absorbed through natural processes.
For example, as forests grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis; this carbon is then sequestered in wood, leaves, roots and soil. Some carbon is later released back to the atmosphere when leaves, roots and wood die and decay.
Carbon dioxide also cycles through the ocean Plankton living at the ocean’s surface absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. The plankton and animals that eat the plankton then die and fall to the bottom of the ocean. As they decay, carbon dioxide is released into the water and returns to the surface via ocean currents. As a result of these natural cycles, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air had changed very little for 10,000 years. But that balance has been upset by man.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil has put about twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is naturally removed by the oceans and forests. This has resulted in carbon dioxide levels building up in the atmosphere.
Today, carbon dioxide levels are 30% higher than pre-industrial levels, higher than they have been in the last 420,000 years and are probably at the highest levels in the past 20 million years. Studies of the Earth’s climate history have shown that even small, natural changes in carbon dioxide levels were generally accompanied by significant shifts in the global average temperature.
We have already experienced a 1°F increase in global temperature in the past century, and we can expect significant warming in the next century if we fail to act to decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
FICTION: The Earth has warmed rapidly in the past without dire consequences, so society and ecosystems can adapt readily to any foreseeable warming.
FACT: The Earth experienced rapid warming in some places at the end of the last glacial period, but for the last 10,000 years our global climate has been relatively stable. During this period, as agriculture and civilization developed, the world’s population has grown tremendously. Now, many heavily populated areas, such as urban centers in low-lying coastal zones, are highly vulnerable to climate shifts.
In addition, many ecosystems and species that are already threatened by existing pressures (such as pollution, habitat conversion and degradation) may be further pressured to the point of extinction by a changing climate.
FICTION: The buildup of carbon dioxide will lead to a “greening” of the Earth because plants can utilize the extra carbon dioxide to speed their growth.
FACT: Carbon dioxide has been shown to act as a fertilizer for some plant species under some conditions. In addition, a longer growing season (due to warmer temperatures) could increase productivity in some regions.
However, there is also evidence that plants can acclimatize to higher carbon dioxide levels – that means plants may grow faster for only a short time before returning to previous levels of growth.
Another problem is that many of the studies in which plant growth increased due to carbon dioxide fertilization were done in greenhouses where other nutrients, which plants need to survive, were adequately supplied.
In nature, plant nutrients like nitrogen as well as water are often in short supply. Thus, even if plants have extra carbon dioxide available, their growth might be limited by a lack of water and nutrients. Finally, climate change itself could lead to decreased plant growth in many areas because of increased drought, flooding and heat waves.
Whatever benefit carbon dioxide fertilization may bring, it is unlikely to be anywhere near enough to counteract the adverse impacts of a rapidly changing climate.
FICTION: If Earth has warmed since pre-industrial times, it is because the intensity of the sun has increased.
FACT: The sun’s intensity does vary. In the late 1970′s, sophisticated technology was developed that can directly measure the sun’s intensity. Measurements from these instruments show that in the past 20 years the sun’s variations have been very small.
Indirect measures of changes in sun’s intensity since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1750 show that variations in the sun’s intensity do not account for all the warming that occurred in the 20th century and that the majority of the warming was caused by an increase in human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
FICTION: It is hard enough to predict the weather a few days in advance. How can we have any confidence in projections of climate a hundred years from now?
FACT: Climate and weather are different. Weather refers to temperatures, precipitation and storms on a given day at a particular place. Climate reflects a long-term average, sometimes over a very large area, such as a continent or even the entire Earth.
Averages over large areas and periods of time are easier to estimate than the specific characteristics of weather.
For example, although it is notoriously difficult to predict if it will rain or the exact temperature of any particular day at a specific location, we can predict with relative certainty that on average, in the Northeastern United States, it will be colder in December than in July.
In addition, climate models are now sophisticated enough to be able to recreate past climates, including climate change over the last hundred years. This adds to our confidence that projections of future climates are accurate.
Finally, when we report climate projections, we use a range of results from climate models that represent the boundaries of our projections (what’s the least global average temperature could change to what’s the most global average temperature could change) and our degree of certainty of the projections.
FICTION: The science of global climate change cannot tell us the amount by which man-made emissions of greenhouse gases should be reduced in order to slow global warming.
FACT: The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change states that emissions of greenhouse gases should be reduced to avoid “dangerous interference with the climate system.” Scientists have subsequently attempted to define what constitutes “dangerous interference.”
One study (O’Neill and Oppenheimer, 2002) supplies three criteria that could be used:
1) risk to threatened ecosystems such as coral reefs
2) large-scale disruptions caused by changes in the climate system, such as sea-level rise caused by the break-up of the Antarctic Ice Sheet and
3) large-scale disruptions of the climate system itself, such as the shutdown of the thermohaline circulation of the Atlantic Ocean (the Gulf stream), which would result in a severe drop in temperature to Europe.
This study projects that if C02 concentrations are capped at 450 parts per million (ppm), major disruptions to climate systems may be avoided, although some damage (such as that to coral reefs) may be unavoidable.
Current estimates of atmospheric CO2 concentrations likely to be reached without aggressive action to limit greenhouse gas emissions are far higher – from 550 ppm to as much as 1000 ppm in the next hundred years.
FICTION: Because of the uncertainty of climate models, it is extremely difficult to predict exactly what regional impacts will result from global climate change.
FACT: According to the IPCC, certain climate trends are highly likely to occur if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate or increase: sea level will rise; droughts will increase in some areas, flooding in others; temperatures will rise, leading to heat waves becoming more common and glaciers likely to melt at a more rapid rate.
Regional impacts are very likely to occur, but exactly when and what they will be is harder to predict.
This is because:
1) regional climate models are more computer intensive than global climate models – they take longer to run and are more difficult to calibrate, and
2) many non-climate factors contribute to impacts at regional levels. For example, the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses like Dengue fever and malaria may rise due to increased temperatures, but the actual likelihood of infection will depend greatly on the effectiveness of public health measures in place.
A Better World Climate: How Do We Get There From Here?
As has been stated previously, there are a great many unanswered questions about global warming. We wonder whether or not there really is an anthropogenic global warming or the threat of one because we don’t have the perfect climate model to tell us so. And we don’t have this model because we don’t understand what is going on; we don’t understand how the atmospheric system interacts with the oceans, the terrestrial biosphere, the cryosphere, or any of its other contributing factors. Therefore, the research that should be first and foremost in our minds is that to better understand the rich interrelationships between these bodies as well as the various features of each that may not be well understood. The effect of clouds, for example, on warming and vice versa are not understood very well. Do they simply cool by reflecting heat back to space, or is their role more complex than that? What effect does each shape and size of cloud have? What outside factors have an effect upon cloud formation? And, most importantly, how can we best relate these effects into GCMs?
Likewise, aerosols are in need of study. Do they simply cause cooling by reflecting solar radiation back out into space, or, as one researcher stated, is that effect canceled out by heating through reflection of terrestrial radiation back to earth and give their real cooling effect by fortifying clouds with water droplets, giving them a higher albedo?
Are variations in solar radiation and sunspot cycles behind part or all of the perceived global warming? Could there be changes in the sun’s energy output that would cause warming such as some have observed?
How does the tropical ocean interact with global atmospheric circulation, given that tropical cyclones (hurricanes) form there? Are there any special processes at work there that would affect the global warming theory? Likewise, how do the atmosphere, the ocean, and sea ice interact at high latitudes?
What, exactly, is the terrestrial biosphere’s place in the carbon cycle? How much CO2 does different types of vegetation, soil, or rock absorb? If CO2 is shown to be a substantial problem, would there be any way to make parts of the terrestrial biosphere take on more CO2? What effect would that have on the various ecosystems involved?
And on and on the potential questions go. As can be seen above, there are a lot of different directions global warming research can go in and is going in. All of these would be helpful in trying to better determine the climatic direction we as a planet are headed in. But there is one other dimension to this attempt to better understand global warming: the modeling. Currently, even the most sophisticated and encompassing of the GCMs is incredibly crude and oversimplified compared to the actual atmospheric system and its feedbacks. And so, given new findings in research related to above topics and others, we must continue to update the models. We must keep working on the models, improving them, until flux corrections or “fudge factors,” as they are called, are unnecessary to make them properly predict today’s conditions. As computer technologies continually become smaller and faster and more capable of complex systems, we must keep shrinking the scale of the models and bringing in more variables to account for or better, more detailed understanding of the existing variables. To have a perfect model, every variable, every ocean eddy and sulfate particle would have to be accounted for. While this is improbable as a state of modeling, we can continue to try to better explain what is going on and how things are connected and interrelated by bringing bigger and better understandings of atmospheric intricacies to the modeling table.
Unfortunately for these global climate change researchers, the computer industry is not moving nearly fast enough for this research. In many ways, climatologists are waiting on the computer industry to build more powerful supercomputers so they can make more complex models to take advantage of that computing power. And yet, there is at least a small advantage to waiting: many valuable studies being conducted with innovative, legitimate methods simply haven’t been collecting data long enough to be as useful as possible. Satellite data is a good example of this. If we wait, the data will be better.
And so, we can see that the science behind global warming is far from settled. Much is not known and conflicting theories abound, as they often do in scientific forums. New ideas and new studies keep the science of global climate change going, keep it second guessing itself, keep it looking for newer, better ways to explain what’s going on. In the end, global climate change may be a way for science to prove it can work well even under the most uncertain of circumstances.
Considering the current state of the economy, it is no surprise that a significant amount of people are doing everything they can to cut costs and to save money. Traditional cost cutting methods include downsizing vehicles, cutting out vacations, buying cheaper food, eating out less and so forth. However, a growing number of people are turning to alternative and renewable energy to save money.
Advances in technology have made renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power much more efficient, affordable and viable for the average person. In some cases, people take using renewable energy to provide the electricity to their homes to the next step, disconnecting from their local electrical service and going entirely off the grid.
Living off the grid is not a step to be taken impulsively or rashly, but rather one to be well thought out and planned for. If one lives in the country and has the space and ability to install a very large wind generator, then going off the grid on wind power could work. However, living off the grid on solar power is a much more realistic and safe route to take. Modern solar panels are very efficient and can now provide significant amounts of power even on a cloudy day.
Living off the grid on solar power is possible with discipline and the correct preparation. Converting to a tankless hot water heater is an important preparation to going off the grid. Heating water with an electric or even a gas hot water heater is very expensive. Tankless heaters are dramatically more efficient and reduce the electric load. Another important preparation for living off the grid is to get set up to dry clothes on a clothes line to avoid using the clothes dryer. The dryer uses a huge amount of electricity to get the clothes dry. This is easy to do outdoors in the summer, and there are many types of drying wracks available to dry the clothes on indoors in the winter.
Yet another preparation to living off the grid is to replace all the light bulbs in the house with energy efficient fluorescent bulbs. Lastly, one should make every effort to make the house airtight, so heat and cold are retained and do not leak out or in the house due to old inefficient window, unsealed doors, and improperly insulated walls. Make sure there is good weather stripping around all doors and windows and make sure there is an efficient programable thermostat installed.
Living off the grid with solar power is certainly possible, but it requires some important preparations to make sure that the house is as energy efficient as possible since there is no backup source of power once the solar cells have been depleted between charges. The preparation and installation of the system can be expensive initially, but living off the grid saves so much money in electrical bills that these costs are often recovered withing the first two years of being off the grid.
The Renewables Obligation is an instrument of financial support provided by the United Kingdom Government for generators of renewable electricity. The renewables obligation (RO) is set at a level which rises each year toward a UK and EU target. The RO is what is called a \’statutory instrument\’ used to incentivise electricity suppliers to produce electricity from renewable sources.The level of the obligation set each year by the government is not the same as a target. The RO is set at a level of electricity supply from renewable green energy sources which is always just a little higher than that which the expectation lies for the market to deliver.
The RO is at the present time set at 6.7%, this is due to rise to 15.4% for 2015/2016. The present policy intends that the obligation would remain at that level until 2037.
For security of power supply and the avoidance of a UK power supply deficit and an ensuing crisis over rationing of power, a rise in renewables is essential. Also, strategically, all nations need to diversify their power supplies away from fossiliferous sources for reasons of exposure to market price fluctuations and price increases generally.
The Renewables Obligation is the main mechanism for achieving this, and the recent White Paper confirms the intention to strengthen this mechanism, increasing the obligation up to 20%. Fossil fuels will still necessarily remain as a key component of a diverse electricity generation mix, regardless of the contribution made by renewables.
The RO is popular with the public. In fact it is designed so as not to affect consumer bills in any significant way. However, there are costs, although this is largely invisible to the consumer. Electricity suppliers do pass the higher cost of purchasing renewable electricity on to consumers.
Electricity is distributed in Scotland over 11kV and 33kV lines owned by local distribution companies, in this case Scottish Power. Larger wind farms may require to distribute their power to consumers further away and hence use grid lines running at 132kV, 275kV and 400kV, controlled by National Grid that are designed to take power over greater distances.
Climate change is the environmental issue on which governments will be assessed above all others: the harm it will cause if it is not properly addressed will dwarf other problems. And it is fair to say that no world leader has done more to raise the issue up the political agenda than Tony Blair.
Climatologists had already warned that a rise of 2-3 0 C is most likely. Three months ago the Tyndall Centre reported that a 90% cut in emissions was needed by 2050 rather than the 60% advocated by Stern. So, it is of hugely important to the UK and the world that the developed nations lead the way in renewable energy creation.
Renewable energy sources are so important in today’s society because power consumption today is up to such a point that life cannot be imagined without electricity even for a second. The modern world and its people are dependant on various energy resources for their day to day activities. From computers to the microwave oven, everything in our world runs from electricity. Traditional power sources come from fossil fuels and resources that are exhaustible. By that, it means that one day, all the resources will be consumed and the energy produced from these resources would no longer be there. For additional information about renewable energy sources, wind energy, solar energy, and ways to be more green.
Renewable energy can be produced by various renewable resources like the sun, water and wind. These are natural and renewable energy resources and are available freely in nature. The renewable energy concept comes from the fact that all the resources in the nature are depleting at a very fast rate. If this continues to happen, one day will come, when the nature would be empty and there would be no resources left for us to exploit. That scenario is hard to imagine. But this nightmare can turn into reality someday. People should be made aware about the alternative resources that are available freely in the nature and can be used for power and electricity generation. There are many renewable energy resources that are used for the power and electricity generation. For example, solar panels are used to trap the energy in the sun’s radiation. This trapped energy is then converted into electricity or other usable forms of energy for future use. Water has very good potential energy. The water is taken to a good height. In this process, a lot of potential energy is stored in it. Then it is made to fall on the blades of water motors below. The blades of the motor are then rotated due to falling water and the electricity is produced.
The main benefit of producing power and electricity from these resources is that these are natural and renewable energy resources. These can be exploiting to any extent and they are never going to be vanished. The flow of energy happens from nature to human through these natural resources. Even when, these resources are not being used for power generation, they still affect our life indirectly. For instance, the sun is a source of food for all the plants. And from plants, every living being on the earth gets food. So, indirectly, the natural resources are providing us the most essential element of life, we need to preserve those elements.
It’s winter and the weather seems unusually cold, there’s mountains of snow piling up across the midwestern and eastern states and every one wants to know – how come this is happening if the planet is supposed to be warming due to climate change. It’s a good question and there may also be a good answer.
In 2005 I came across a world map from the NOAA, the federal weather people in Washington, called â€œtemperature anomalies.â€ I have a copy of it but ezine wont let me tell you where it is (you can figure it out). The map of the world is covered with dots of 5 sizes and two colors, red for a heat anomaly and blue for cold. The 5 sizes show the extent of the anomaly in 1 degree celsius increments, the largest being 5 degrees C greater than normal (which is what an anomaly is â€“ a difference from normal). Almost all of the big red dots (5 degrees C hotter than normal) on the map appeared in a circle at approximately where the Arctic Circle is and then several more appear near Antarctica. There are almost no big dots anywhere else. It seemed very strange that all of the heat buildup was taking place in the coldest regions of the planet. Then I thought on it for awhile.
Several things seemed to bear on the mystery. One is, if you look at a map of the world you will see that two thirds of the world’s land mass is in the Northern Hemisphere. Land mass retains more of the sun’s heat than other surfaces. Another consideration would be the Second Law of Thermodynamics, an important rule of the natural world, which says in part that heat will seek out cold â€“ never the other way around. So, all of that heat building up in the Northern Hemisphere â€“ it’s not going to head south because it bumps into the even hotter equatorial zone. It could stay where it is but the Arctic region to the north is much colder and the 2nd Law is quite clear â€“ go towards the cold. So it does and that could explain the ring of big red dots surrounding the Arctic.Â
As the hot air arrives at the Arctic, the ice begins to absorb the heat it contains by melting ice. When a new blasts of hot air arrive looking for ice to cool it the colder air already thee has to make room. As you know you can only go south from the Arctic so this cold air is pushed southward. It is also possible, that since hot air rises and cold air falls that the warmer air is not just pushing the colder air south but it is also pushing it down closer to earth’s surface. If this phenomenon were to be more or less continuous it would not be difficult for all of that cold air to get as far south as the temperate zone where we live. That could also mean that the greater the amount of additional heat being retained in the atmosphere by the extra CO2 we have added the colder it would get down where we live. Now that’s really upside down.
Would you like to know how to save money, improve efficiency and gain green credentials? There is an opportunity to obtain all three by switching from traditional face-to-face meetings to conference calling.
During the current fragile economy businesses have to keep a tight rein on their finances so by using phone conference technology, as opposed to travelling to meetings businesses can make huge cost savings. The amount saved will depend on how often employees travel and the distances that they travel to meet customers and potential clients.
There is a huge awareness of the damage that humans are causing to the environment from our CO2 emissions. Everyone wants to reduce their impact on the planet therefore consumers are seeking out environmentally friendly businesses since it shows they hold similar values. By implementing telephone conference calling when meetings are unnecessary, businesses can show their commitment to the environment.
Reducing the businesses need to send employees to meetings gives them more time to work on other projects as well as reducing their impact from taking multiple flights, trains and other forms of commuting. It is most certainly likely to improve the energy levels of employees too if they don’t have to commute as much too.
As internet speeds continue to improve and become cheaper then teleconferencing is likely to continue to increase in popularity. To avoid being left behind businesses should look at incorporating phone conference services as soon as possible, allowing them to not only reduce costs but to move them to onto other tasks and allow the business to market its green credentials. Plus the efficiency gains not only from less travelling but with the speed of e-mail means less time spend on administrative duties.