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[Green Community] From the New Scientist: The Arctic is warming up much more quickly than expected - that's not just a problem for polar bears, it could be catastrophic for us all

More alarming news (no sarcasm this time)... Thanks to Brian for this one (err... I think)

Arctic meltdown is a threat to humanity


The Arctic is warming up much more quickly than expected - that's not just a problem for polar bears, it could be catastrophic for us all (Image: SEAWIFS/ORBIMAGE/GSFC-NASA)

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I AM shocked, truly shocked," says Katey Walter, an ecologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. "I was in Siberia a few weeks ago, and I am now just back in from the field in Alaska. The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling up out of them."

The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling out of them

Back in 2006, in a paper in Nature, Walter warned that as the permafrost in Siberia melted, growing methane emissions could accelerate climate change. But even she was not expecting such a rapid change. "Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It's unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing."

No summer ice

The dramatic changes in the Arctic Ocean have often been in the news in the past two years. There has been a huge increase in the amount of sea ice melting each summer, and some are now predicting that as early as 2030 there will be no summer ice in the Arctic at all.

Discussions about the consequences of the vanishing ice usually focus either on the opening up of new frontiers for shipping and mineral exploitation, or on the plight of polar bears, which rely on sea ice for hunting. The bigger picture has got much less attention: a warmer Arctic will change the entire planet, and some of the potential consequences are nothing short of catastrophic.

Changes in ocean currents, for instance, could disrupt the Asian monsoon, and nearly two billion people rely on those rains to grow their food. As if that wasn't bad enough, it is also possible that positive feedback from the release of methane from melting permafrost could lead to runaway warming.

Runaway warming

The danger is that if too much methane is released, the world will get hotter no matter how drastically we slash our greenhouse gas emissions. Recent studies suggest that emissions from melting permafrost could be far greater than once thought. And, although it is too early to be sure, some suspect this scenario is already starting to unfold: after remaining static for the past decade, methane levels have begun to rise again, and the source could be Arctic permafrost.

What is certain is that the Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth. While the average global temperature has risen by less than 1 °C over the past three decades, there has been warming over much of the Arctic Ocean of around 3 °C. In some areas where the ice has been lost, temperatures have risen by 5 °C.

This intense warming is not confined to the Arctic Ocean. It extends south, deep into the land masses of Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Scandinavia, and to their snowfields, ice sheets and permafrost. In 2007, the North American Arctic was more than 2 °C warmer than the average for 1951 to 1980, and parts of Siberia over 3 °C warmer. In 2008, most of Siberia was 2 °C warmer than average (see map).

Positive feedbacks

Most of this is the result of positive feedbacks (see illustration) from lost ocean ice, says David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. His modelling studies show that during periods of rapid sea-ice loss, warming extends some 1500 kilometres inland from the ice itself. "If sea-ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate," he says.

Changes in wind patterns may accelerate the warming even further. "Loss of summer sea ice means more heat is absorbed in the ocean, which is given back to the atmosphere in early winter, which changes the wind patterns, which favours additional sea ice loss," says James Overland, an oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. "The potential big deal is that we now may be having a positive feedback between atmospheric wind patterns and continued loss of sea ice."

Incidentally, the changing winds might also be to blame for some of the cold and snowy weather in North America and China in recent winters, Overland says. Unusual poleward flows of warm air over Siberia have displaced cold air southwards on either side.

Going global

The rapid warming in the Arctic means that a global temperature rise of 3 °C, likely this century, could translate into a 10 °C warming in the far north. Permafrost hundreds of metres deep will be at risk of thawing out.

This is where things go global. The Arctic is not just a reflective mirror that is cracking up. It is also a massive store of carbon and methane, locked into the frozen soils and buried in icy structures beneath the ocean bed.

A quarter of the land surface of the northern hemisphere contains permafrost, permanently frozen soil, water and rock. In places, deep permafrost that formed during the last ice age, when the sea level was much lower, extends far out under the ocean, beneath the seabed. Large areas of permafrost are already starting to melt, resulting in rapid erosion, buckled highways and pipelines, collapsing buildings and "drunken" forests.

Locked away

The real worry, though, is that permafrost contains organic carbon in the form of long-dead plants and animals. Some of it, including the odd mammoth, has remained frozen for tens of thousands of years. When the permafrost melts, much of this carbon is likely to be released into the atmosphere.

No one knows for sure how much carbon is locked away in permafrost, but it seems there is much more than we thought. An international study headed by Edward Schuur of the University of Florida last year doubled previous estimates of the carbon content of permafrost to about 1600 billion tonnes - roughly a third of all the carbon in the world's soils and twice as much as is in the atmosphere.

Time bomb

Schuur estimates that 100 billion tonnes of this carbon could be released by thawing this century, based on standard scenarios. If that all emerged in the form of methane, it would have a warming effect equivalent to 270 years of carbon dioxide emissions at current levels. "It's a kind of slow-motion time bomb," he says.

One hotspot is the 40,000-year-old east Siberian permafrost region. It alone contains 500 billion tonnes of carbon, says Philippe Ciais, co-chair of the Global Carbon Project, a research network analysing the carbon cycle. East Siberia was at times 7 °C warmer than normal during the summer of 2007, he says.

Higher temperatures mean the seasonal melting of the upper layer of soil extends down deeper than normal, melting the permafrost below. Microbes can then break down any organic matter in the thawing layer, not only releasing carbon but also generating heat that leads to even deeper melting. The heat produced by decomposition is yet another positive feedback that will accelerate melting, Ciais says.

Potent greenhouse gas

What's more, if summer melting depth exceeds the winter refreezing level then a layer of permanently unfrozen soil known as a talik forms, sandwiched between the permafrost below and the winter-freezing surface layer. "A talik allows heat to build more quickly in the soil, hastening the long-term thaw of permafrost," says Lawrence.

The carbon in melting permafrost can enter the atmosphere either as carbon dioxide or methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas, molecule-for-molecule. If organic matter decomposes in the low-oxygen conditions typical of the boggy soils and lakes in these regions, more methane forms.

Researchers have been monitoring the Stordalen mire in northern Sweden for decades. The permafrost there is melting fast and, as conditions become wetter, it is releasing ever more methane into the air, says Torben Christensen of Lund University in Sweden. This is the future for most of the northern hemisphere's permafrost, he says.

Disturbing picture

It's not just existing boggy patches that are the problem. In low-lying areas, the loss of volume as ice-rich permafrost melts leads to the collapse of the ground and the formation of thermokarst lakes from the meltwater. Satellite surveys show the number and area of these lakes is increasing and, as the work by Walter and others shows, they could be a major source of methane.

Put together, the latest research paints a disturbing picture. Since existing models do not include feedback effects such as the heat generated by decomposition, the permafrost could melt far faster than generally thought. "Instead of disappearing in 500 years, the deepest permafrost could disappear in 100 years," Ciais says.

The permafrost is not the only source of methane in the Arctic. Shallow ocean sediments can be rich in methane hydrates, a form of ice containing trapped methane. Particularly worrying are the huge amounts of methane hydrate thought to lie beneath the Arctic Ocean. Because the waters here are so cold, methane hydrates can be found closer to the surface than in most other parts of the world. These shallow deposits are far more vulnerable to the warming of surface waters.


Juergen Mienert at the University of Tromso in Norway, who has analysed past eruptions of methane hydrates from the Arctic, says current conditions are disturbingly similar to those in the past when warming waters penetrated sediments, triggering the release of hydrates. "Global warming will cause more blowouts, more releases," he says.

While shrinking sea ice in 2007 may have attracted all the headlines, some researchers say what is really scaring them is a simultaneous jump in methane levels. While the level of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled since pre-industrial times, for the past decade or so there has been little change.

Then, in 2007, several million tonnes of extra methane mysteriously entered the atmosphere. Detailed analysis from methane monitors around the world suggests that much of it came from the far north. Ciais says it looks like the biggest source was Siberian permafrost.


This is still contentious. Matt Rigby of the Center for Global Change Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has analysed the methane surge, says we cannot yet say whether emissions from melting permafrost contributed most to the rise. "But 2007 was unusually warm in Siberia, and we would expect emissions increases when temperature rises," he adds.

The rise could just be a blip - or the start of something big. "Once this process starts, it could soon become unstoppable," Ciais says.

Walter agrees. Right now, she estimates, only a few tens of millions of tonnes of methane are being emitted. "But there are tens of billions of tonnes potentially available for release." And the faster the warming, the faster the emissions will rise.

Out of control

Most worrying of all is the risk of a runaway greenhouse effect. The carbon stored in the far north has the potential to raise global temperatures by 10 °C or more. If global warming leads to the release of more greenhouse gases, these releases will cause yet more warming and still more carbon will escape to the atmosphere. Eventually the feedback process would continue even if we cut our greenhouse emissions to zero. At that point climate change would be out of control.

There is another concern about Arctic melting: the growing amount of fresh water flowing into the Arctic Ocean. The shrinking thickness and extent of sea ice has added a huge amount of fresh water already. Meanwhile, rivers are pouring up to 10 per cent more water into the ocean than they did half a century ago. This is partly the result of rising precipitation as the air warms - warmer air can hold more moisture - and partly the result of melting permafrost, ice and snow. Yet more fresh water is coming from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. As the Arctic warms further, these flows of fresh water will increase.

All this extra fresh water could weaken the pump that drives the thermohaline circulation, or ocean conveyor current. Its most famous element is the Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic, but the conveyor travels all the oceans. It has its beginnings in the far north of the Atlantic, off Greenland, where unusually dense water plunges to the ocean floor. The water becomes dense here partly because it cools and partly because the formation of sea ice increases salinity. As the water gets a bit warmer and a bit less salty, thanks to all the extra fresh water, the worry is that the pump could slow down.

Fears that the conveyor will soon shut down altogether, causing a fall in temperatures in northern Europe, have receded. Models of the climate system do not predict a shutdown any time within the next century, says oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Monsoon warning

Even a slowdown in the conveyor could produce dramatic changes, though. Climate models suggest that changes in the ocean conveyor will alter rainfall patterns around the world. The models are backed by studies of how the climate has changed during past shutdowns of the ocean conveyor.

The biggest consequence, says Buwen Dong of the Walker Institute for Climate System Research at the University of Reading, UK, is likely to be a disruption, and quite probably a complete collapse, of the Asian monsoon, causing severe droughts in south Asia. "It could have enormous social and economic impacts on these nations," he says.

The disruption of the monsoon would have enormous social and economic impacts in south Asia

You can say that again. The Asian monsoon is the main source of water for large areas of the most heavily populated continent. An estimated 2 billion - getting on for 1 in 3 citizens on the planet - rely on it to grow their food. Take away the monsoon and they would starve. All because of warming in the Arctic.


Nobody can be sure how likely all this is. Indeed, the scientists at the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who compile its reports cannot even reach agreement on how to quantify the probabilities of such events. As a result, the "scary scenarios" were barely mentioned in the last report.

Nonetheless, the latest findings suggest we cannot afford to ignore these possibilities, especially given that everything to do with global climate is linked. The loss of Arctic sea ice could lead to the release of ever more methane from permafrost and methane hydrates. That in turn would make a dramatic reduction in the strength of the ocean conveyor sometime this century increasingly likely, which could lead to abrupt changes in the Asian monsoon.

With the summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean already shrinking much faster than the IPCC models predicted, one thing is for sure. It is not just the polar bears who should be worrying about the warming Arctic.

Fred Pearce is an environment correspondent for New Scientist


McDonald’s Global Forestry Policy to Apply to All Products by 2010

McDonald's Global Forestry Policy to Apply to All Products by 2010
mcds-logo22By 2010, McDonald's plans to develop a global forestry policy that will apply to all products it purchases, according to the company's 2008 corporate responsibility report.
By 2010, the burger giant's other goals include:
  • educating and communicating with supply chain partners about sustainability
  • measuring environmental impacts throughout the supply chain
  • enhancing children's well-being through programs and food choice
  • finding ways to maximize energy efficiency in restaurant operations
  • continuing to integrate environmental considerations into its global packaging scorecard in nine major markets
  • enhancing best practice sharing within the system
As for work already in progress, McDonald's reports that as of 2007, 92 perent of food, packaging and tier-1 equipment suppliers had affirmed its code of conduct. That is down from 93.5 percent in 2006, but up from 89 percent in 2005.
McDonald's kilowatt hours used per transaction stayed steady at 1.15 in 2006 and 2007.
The amount of packaging used per transaction, by weight (in pounds), has been trending down, from 0.139 pounds in 2005 to 0.138 pounds in 2006 and 0.135 pounds in 2007.
Download a PDF summary of the report here.
McDonald's maintains a CSR blog called Values in Practice, which also is the name it uses for its annual report.
Here is a video McDonald's put together about its sustainability efforts.

Among other sustainability measures by McDonald's, Engenuity Systems Inc. issupplying McDonald's with equipment to help the fast-food giant cut energy costs and increase efficiency in its restaurants.
And here is another video, featuring Jennifer McCracken,environmental manager for HAVI-Perseco, McDonald's global packaging supplier, outlining some of the ways McDonald's is making its product packaging more sustainable around the world.



Prospects for a global deal on climate change: Three European views

Prospects for a global deal on climate change: Three European views
Will governments negotiate an agreement on reducing carbon emissions at the December 2009 UN Climate Change Conference?
MARCH 2009
In this video interactive, economists Nicholas Stern and Michael Grubb, along with European Commissioner Janez Potočnik, discuss their views on prospects for a global climate deal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009.
These interviews were conducted by McKinsey's Matt Hirschland in Brussels on January 26, 2009. Watch the video, or read the transcript below.

Prospects for a global deal on climate change: Three European views

Will governments negotiate an agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference?
Launch Interactive

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Nicholas Stern: We have to make the agreement, which will guide the world economy after Kyoto, guide the international understandings on climate change after Kyoto. If we miss it, we will undermine confidence in the carbon markets, which will be of vital importance in getting this whole set of investments—which are necessary—going. So, 2009 is a vital year. What we see is the biggest technological opportunity that we've had for a very long time—as big as the railways, as big as electricity, as big as the motorcar, and most recently, information technology.
It's the opportunity to go for low-carbon growth. And we understand, roughly speaking, what technologies are needed. Some of them will be very quick, like insulating houses, promoting energy efficiency, and that will put unemployed construction workers back into work now, this year. Others, like bringing forward infrastructure investment, take a little longer. Others like R&D have a still further lead time.
But we have to put these kinds of packages together. To take the opportunities of the kind I described, there are a number of things that we have to overcome. One is the idea that the economic crisis takes precedence over the climate crisis. That's just confusion. That just misses the point about how we can put our policies on these two things together in a very constructive way.
So we can be much more energy efficient. We can insulate our homes and get unemployed construction workers back into work. Those are the kinds of ways in which we can put things together. So to say that first one and then the other is just analytical confusion. We have to look at what's involved in doing both and see and recognize how one can support the other. So that's one kind of objection that has to be overcome.
A second one is that there are always collections of vested interests, people who have a vested interest in the high-carbon economy. And that's not just the oil producers. It's also the people who make the cars, the people who are driving the coal industry, and so on. And they will understandably ask, "Well, what does all this mean for me?"
Well, it means reallocation. It means that we'll be shifting away from those heavily polluting kinds of activities. That's the point. There would be resistance from those who are benefiting from deforestation. We have to stop it. So there are bound to be people whose activities are threatened by these kinds of policies.
Now, the answer to that is to be constructive, to help with carbon capture and storage through markets for carbon; to promote development activities which do not put such pressure on the forests; to promote the retooling of the car industry so that the less-polluting cars become cheaper to produce and the demand for those cars starts to appear.
Thirdly, we really have to show developing countries—those of us who live in the rich world—that we ourselves mean business, that we're not just asking them to do things and not doing things ourselves. In that discussion, we have to ask how we can support them in moving to a path of low-carbon growth. They recognize that that's essential, but there's nothing that they can see as a model. So we have to, indeed, provide examples as fast as we can but also help them through finance, for example, from trading schemes, through sharing of technology, through supporting the fight against deforestation.
So those are the three areas, I think, where I would place the strongest emphasis in overcoming what are genuine concerns by people who recognize the need for change but ask about the implications of change for them. And good policy helps to deal with those kinds of issues in a collaborative and supportive way.
It's not there's an opportunity to do it now. It's that there are actual, real dangers in not doing it now—huge dangers in delay. [President] Obama is very clear on the challenges that we have. He's been talking very clearly about the need for a green stimulus. He's been talking very clearly about the scale of cuts which the US should commit to: 80 percent reductions between 1990 and 2050. Europe continues to move forward. China is now discussing its 12th five-year plan, starting in January 2011. And President Hu Jintao has argued that low-carbon growth must be a key theme,the key theme, in that plan.
We are seeing change in the world. The challenge is to move that change fast enough. I don't know if we'll move it fast enough, but at least the understanding of the hurry and the pressure, I think, is increasing in the political leadership around the world.
Michael Grubb: I think there's quite a few big steps that need to be taken between now and Copenhagen. And that is still against a backdrop of my expectations being, say, a bit lower than some of the commentators out there. I mean, I think that there's no question the US election has changed the atmosphere. It's raised tremendous hopes—arguably, tremendous hopes lying on the shoulders of one certain new president. And the problem is this is actually a very complicated issue as well as a really tough politically one. And he has an awful lot of other things to worry about.
The US system overall is going to be stretched. So, I think the idea that the US will ride in like a sort of white knight and save the situation is kind of a bit far-fetched. What it has done is it's reinvigorated the sense that at least the world's talking—that everybody's talking to each other—and, by in large, that all the major countries want to find solutions.
In terms of critical stakes, I think I would put two big ones before any others; one of which is that currently we've got the really odd situation where we've got an ongoing political process to try to set emission targets for most of the industrialized world and a separate political process with the US sort of indicating it's probably willing to negotiate a target, but it's not clear what that could be or remotely how it could get it through the political system in time for Copenhagen. There's huge reluctance to set a target globally and then try to tell the US Congress, because it doesn't work that way around terribly well.
So, I think the biggest thing is for the US to officially say it will rejoin the global group of industrialized countries that set quantified caps post-2012; and that it will sign up to the majority of the architecture involved in that and to some of the mechanisms behind that, including some of the flexibility.
And that last bit's also important because that's where you get the international investment flows to help some of the poorer countries, you know, avoid some of the carbon lock-in. So, that's a very big one. The other big one, intimately bound up with that, is: where's China going? What will China really put on the table? Clearly, it cannot stay in the same position as the whole of the rest of G77. There's got to be more differentiation. And what are different parts of the world going to sign up to here? And that's, politically, a much bigger hurdle than most people realize. So, you know, those are the two big steps that I would say first.
A lot of people are wondering how the financial crisis is going to hit the climate change agenda. To be honest, I still find it very hard to read. You know, the easy thing to say is, "Well, it will distract everyone's attention—much less willingness to spend money, et cetera." Those are all true. Those are all very important. They're going to make life more difficult. And I think particularly, just this distraction of senior-level political capital away from the climate issue onto other things.
But it is a lot more complex than that. I mean, first of all, don't underestimate the power of institutional processes. There are already some in train that will require governments to send top diplomats, top officials to a crazy agenda of meetings this year—and to come back at the end of the year with a deal signed off by heads of state. You know, those processes had their momentum. They'll continue. There's a lot of work already—ground work—that's been done.
And I think the joker in the pack is how the argument plays out about public expenditure as a way out of the recession—because we are unquestionably seeing politicians making the link, feeling under pressure to spend public money. How do they justify spending public money? Well, on something that's good that the public wants, the world wants: green expenditure, jobs in the construction industry. You know, there is a genuine story to be told there.
And, like it or not, the climate issue does require a mix of public and private investment. And I think governments are going to find it easier to justify some of the public expenditure required, ironically, if it's tagged with a green label. That said, overall willingness to spend government capital is going to be very constrained. So, it's actually a matter of dovetailing. Can governments stitch these two big stories together so the solutions basically overlap a lot?
I think the question of how business is looking at the climate change agenda is quite hard to read because it's quite schizophrenic in itself. I think what we see is a lot of companies—and not just recently, but for many years—who have been saying that this is a big, strategic challenge. But there's going to be winners as well as losers. We want to be amongst the winners. That requires, you know, stepping ahead of the game.
We've seen constituents of business leaders emerge calling for stronger government action as well. Because, you know, actually, the kind of industries who quite like for other reasons to be stepping ahead realize there's not very far they can go unless there are regulations which impose similar costs on others. But there's definitely a lot of progressive force in industries.
On the other hand, what you also see is a time of retrenchment because of the credit crunch. And obviously, when rubber hits the road in terms of specific legislative proposals like the EU package, well, industries are going to lobby for what they can get. And they're going to get as many free allowances as they can get. And that's, kind of, what we're there for. At the end of the day, businesses are there to make money. And they'll be very constrained of how much they're going to step outside that. So, you get this really schizophrenic attitude—including amongst companies within themselves. But, certainly, between companies in the same sector will come out and say different things. Or they'll say one thing, and then you look at their investment portfolio and it doesn't tally at all.
So, I think business is schizophrenic about this. I think it will remain schizophrenic. I think there's probably quite a few business leaders who, in private, would be urging a new US administration—and other administrations—to get much tougher than they would really admit in public.
Janez Potočnik: The success is obviously getting a global agreement. I think it is obviously clear to everybody that this is a global challenge and we are breathing the same air and we don't have any other choice than to deal with that together. But it's also obvious that some of us are more responsible for this situation than the others. But that does not change the fact that, if we don't work together—developed and developing [countries]—if we don't commit to the same goal, then we will certainly not change the reality in which we are stuck.
So that's broadly what we would like. We would like that, in Copenhagen, we would get a global agreement, in which major things would be agreed about how we deal with the questions of the future. I think it's from everything: from understanding it, mitigating it, accommodating it, technologies, and so on. These are many of the issues. But certainly, there will be the issue of developing countries and developing technology for them. And I think many of these are commonly known.
So, I do believe that climate change, that this crisis, is certainly more of an opportunity for the changes which we try to do. But we have to be aware that we have systematically and consistently worked on the issues, some of which are certainly on our agenda for years—which are global climate change, energy, security. And though the financial crisis and economic crisis arrived, nothing has changed. None of these issues disappeared. They are still there on our plate. And when we do the measures, which are inside the short- or midterm addressing of the economic crisis—like stimulating investment or our consumption—we have to be careful that this is done in a way that, when we come out of the crisis, we are actually up to the challenges which we have consistently and systematically discussed before. There is no single way through that. So, you have to take care of the market mechanisms: cost, price; then you have to take care of regulation; then, for example, public procurement. It's an important part of the deal. All the while you have to keep an eye also on the areas for which I'm responsible: technology, development, research. They are an important part of the answer.
So, all of that has to be dealt with in a consistent way under somebody who is in a policy-creation position. All of these issues have to be very clearly also in our focus when we try to prepare ourselves for the future, for the discussion in Copenhagen. Of course, we need international cooperation and, of course, relations between developed and developing countries if you want a kind of climate change diplomacy which is behind everything. It's part of the thinking and the comprehensive approach which one would need to do.
In the technology area, there are just as many questions. I think energy efficiency is of course one of the utmost short-term focuses because it is obvious that it is the cheapest way and the fastest way to get some of the solutions which we would like. It is obvious that in the short run, we have to focus also on regulation and market conditions—and, of course, on the technologies which today are already developed, but some of them can't reach the market, because they are simply too costly.
It's also a question of energy prices. My personal belief is that all these changes which we talk about are hard to be done in a low-energy price kind of a system. But we can more boldly think of what technologies can help us bridging some of the troubles which we have today; from CCS [(carbon, capture, and storage)]—which is a bit closer, I would say, in time span—to fusion, which is probably the most distant. But there are many things in between, connected to various renewable solutions or questions which are related to the hydrogen fuel cell center, all that.
We work on all that because we simply believe that there is no magical solution at this very point. You can't put, as people used to say, all your eggs in one basket. So, we simply spread them out. We believe that we have to work practically in all these directions with enough attention.
Getting an agreement is a win, not getting an agreement is a loss. Meaning that, everybody around the table has to understand that these negotiations will be difficult; that they will have to step into each other's shoes and try to understand what are their problems. But I hope that the understanding from all is that we are actually living in the same world and have no choice, so we have to deal with climate change—and we have to deal with it now. It's a one-shot chance. If we miss this chance, we really don't know when there will be a second one with that level of opportunity. So, Copenhagen should be a success. Q logo

Video: Prospects for a global deal on climate change

Three 5-minute videos with some well-known people (well, well-known in Climate change circles, anyway) people ... and their perspective on this December's climate change conference in Copenhagen
 -- JFB

Charles Kettering  - "My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there."

The McKinsey Quarterly
Prospects for a global deal on climate change: Three European views

Will governments negotiate an agreement on reducing carbon emissions at the December 2009 UN Climate Change Conference? In this video interactive, economists Nicholas Stern and Michael Grubb, along with European Commissioner Janez Potočnik, discuss their views on prospects for a global climate deal.

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More good news: What's clear from Copenhagen is that policymakers have fallen behind the scientists: global warming is already catastrophic

Time to change 'climate change'
What's clear from Copenhagen is that policymakers have fallen behind the scientists: global warming is already catastrophic

Comments (665)

George Monbiot
George Monbiot, Thursday 12 March 2009 14.30 GMT
Article history
The more we know, the grimmer it gets.
Presentations by climate scientists at this week's conference in Copenhagen show that we might have underplayed the impacts of global warming in three important respects:

• Partly because the estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) took no account of meltwater from Greenland's glaciers, the rise in sea levels this century could be twice or three times as great as it forecast, with grave implications for coastal cities, farmland and freshwater reserves.

• Two degrees of warming in the Arctic (which is heating up much more quickly than the rest of the planet) 
could trigger a massive bacterial response in the soils there. As the permafrost melts, bacteria are able to start breaking down organic material that was previously locked up in ice, producing billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide and methane. This could catalyse one of the world's most powerful positive feedback loops: warming causing more warming.

• Four degrees of warming 
could almost eliminate the Amazon rainforests, with appalling implications for biodiversity and regional weather patterns, and with the result that a massive new pulse of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Trees are basically sticks of wet carbon. As they rot or burn, the carbon oxidises. This is another way in which climate feedbacks appear to have been underestimated in the last IPCC report.

Apart from the sheer animal panic I felt on reading these reports, two things jumped out at me. The first is that governments are relying on IPCC assessments that are years out of date even before they are published, as a result of the IPCC's extremely careful and laborious review and consensus process. This lends its reports great scientific weight, but it also means that the politicians using them as a guide to the cuts in greenhouse gases required are always well behind the curve. There is surely a strong case for the IPCC to publish interim reports every year, consisting of a summary of the latest science and its implications for global policy. 

The second is that we have to stop calling it climate change. Using "climate change" to describe events like this, with their devastating implications for global food security, water supplies and human settlements, is like describing a foreign invasion as an unexpected visit, or bombs as unwanted deliveries. It's a ridiculously neutral term for the biggest potential catastrophe humankind has ever encountered.

I think we should call it "climate breakdown". Does anyone out there have a better idea?