Sea Level Rise: Within A Decade Vulnerable Islands
Have To Evacuate Their Populations
05 October, 2012
Vulnerable island states may need to consider evacuating their populations within a decade due to a much faster than anticipated melting of the world's ice sheets. The warning comes from Michael Mann, one of the world's foremost climate scientists .
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University , said the latest evidence shows that models have underestimated the speed at which the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets will start to shrink.
Mann says the Pacific islands, which are only 4.6 meters above sea level at their highest point, are facing the imminent prospect of flooding, with salt water intrusion destroying fresh water supplies and increased erosion.
Mann, who was part of the IPCC team awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2007, said it had been expected that island nations would have several decades to adapt to rising sea levels, but that evacuation may now be their only option.
His warning comes just weeks after the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Boulder, Colorado disclosed that sea ice in the Arctic shrank a dramatic 18% this year on the previous record set in 2007 to a record low of 3.41m sq km.
"We know Arctic sea ice is declining faster than the models predict," Mann told the Guardian at the SXSW Eco conference in Austin , Texas . "When you look at the major Greenland and the west Antarctic ice sheets, which are critical from the standpoint of sea level rise, once they begin to melt we really start to see sea level rises accelerate.
"The models have typically predicted that will not happen for decades but the measurements that are coming in tell us it is already happening so once again we are decades ahead of schedule.
" Island nations that have considered the possibility of evacuation at some point, like Tuvalu , may have to be contending those sorts of decisions within the matter of a decade or so."
Suggesting evacuations would accelerate a change in public consciousness around the issue of climate change, he said: "Thousands of years of culture is at risk of disappearing as the populations of vulnerable island states have no place to go.
"For these people, current sea levels are already representative of dangerous anthropogenic interference because they will lose their world far before the rest of us suffer.
"I think it is an example, one of a number, where the impacts are playing out in real time. It is not an abstract prediction about the future or about far off exotic creatures like polar bears. We are talking about people potentially having to evacuate from places like Tuvalu or the Arctic 's Kivalina, another low lying island which is already feeling the detrimental impacts of sea level rise."
Mann, who is one of the primary targets for attacks by "climate deniers," said that there is still uncertainty about the speed of global warming as it is not clear what the impact of feedback mechanisms could be. In particular, he pointed to the release of methane that will come as the permafrost in the arctic melts.
"We know there is methane trapped and as it escapes into the atmosphere it accelerates the warming even further," he said. "But we don't know quite how much of it there is, but there is definitely the potential to lead to even greater warming than the models predict."
Mann said it was not only island states that were feeling the impacts of climate change and warned that the terrible drought and wildfires suffered by the US this year were just the precursor of far worse to come.
"If you look at the US , some of these things are unfolding ahead of schedule and we are already contending with climate change impacts that were once theoretical," he said.
"We predicted decades ago that this might eventually happen. We are watching them unfold and there are very real consequences to our economy and to our environment.
"The climate models tell us that what today are record breaking levels of heat will become a typical summer in a matter of 20-30 years if we carry on with business as usual. Not only will this become the new normal but we will have to change the scale because we will see heat and drought far worse than anything we have seen before."
The silver lining in all the bad news is that while the political system is gridlocked when it comes to confronting climate change, public attitudes are starting to change.
"It is going to take a little while to sink in," says Mann "but there is evidence of a dramatic shift in awareness and the public increasingly recognises climate change is real and if the public becomes convinced of this, they will demand action and they are connecting the dots because we are seeing climate change playing out in a very visible way.
"I think we are close to a potential tipping point in public consciousness and what will tip it, you never quite know, but another summer like the one we just witnessed we will see a dramatic shift in public pressure to do something about this problem."
One reason that attitudes are changing slowly, according to Mann, is that scientists are tending to be conservative in their forecasts out of fear that they will be attacked for overstating evidence.
He said the tactics of those who question climate change was not only to intimidate scientists already in the public arena, but also to warn off others from taking part in the public discourse.
But Mann believes the power of the Koch brothers and others in the fossil fuel lobby, whom he believes have been responsible for poisoning the whole climate change debate, is on the wane.
"I am optimistic," he says. "The forces of denial will not go down with a whimper and as the rhetoric becomes more heated and the attacks become more concerted, we see the last vestiges of a movement that is dying. The effort to deny the problem exists will have set us back decades but it is still possible to avoid breaching 450 parts of per million of CO2 if concerted action is taken."
While he is severely critical of those private businesses that are seeking to deny climate change exists, he said there were other businesses who were starting to wake up to the need to change behavior.
"I personally don't believe captains of business are villains and who don't care about the legacy of the world, even though there are a few bad apples," he says. "Just look at the reinsurance industry where they face devastating losses if climate change moves.
"There are an increasing number of companies like Walmart which are ideologically conservative but have a real commitment to sustainability as they realise that as people become more concerned, they will reward companies that are part of the solution."
The developments are making climate-change denial more difficult to defend.
Glen M. MacDonald, chair of UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and professor of geography and of ecology and evolutionary biology, writes in Los Angeles Times  on October 4, 2012 :
The United States experienced the warmest July in its history, with more than 3,000 heat records broken across the country. […] the summer was the nation's third warmest on record and comes in a year that is turning out to be the hottest ever. High temperatures along with low precipitation generated drought conditions across 60% of the Lower 48 states, which affected 70% of the corn and soybean crop and rendered part of the Mississippi River nonnavigable.
This was the 36th consecutive July and 329th consecutive month in which global temperatures have been above the 20th century average. In addition, seven of the 10 hottest summers recorded in the United States have occurred since 2000. Such rising temperatures and climate anomalies have been documented around the world.
But there's also one bit of good news: The increasingly powerful evidence of a long-term warming trend is making climate-change denial more difficult to defend.
Take "Climategate" — the argument that scientists have based their evidence for global warming on fraudulent science. The Koch Foundation provided funding to physicist Richard Muller of UC Berkeley, a longtime climate-change skeptic, to disprove the widespread consensus on global warming. Instead, his re-analysis showed the exact same warming trend found by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientists.
Since completing his research last year, Muller has been vociferously speaking out on the reality of human-caused climate change, including in testimony before Congress. The publication this spring of an expanded weather station analysis by Britain 's Hadley Centre further confirms the trend and suggests Northern Hemisphere surface warming was about 0.1 degree Celsius greater than previously thought. With Muller's and the Hadley Centre's re-analysis, the idea of Climategate has become virtually impossible to take seriously. The planet is warming.
But that hasn't silenced the climate-change deniers entirely; they've simply shifted their arguments. Increasingly, they are accepting evidence of recent warming, but they deny that it is largely caused by humans, attributing it instead to natural factors such as solar variability or the El Niño system. But these arguments don't fly any better than their original ones.
Research by Grant Foster of the United States and Stefan Rahmstorf of Germany has shown that recent variations in the solar cycle, volcanic activity and El Niño/La Niña events actually had a tempering effect on warming. Similarly, Markus Huber and Reto Knutti of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich found by using simulation models that non-greenhouse gas factors could have accounted for only about 1% of the warming experienced since 1950. And this summer a team headed by Peter Gleckler of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provided strong evidence that the recent warming of the ocean surface could be traced to human activities. The evidence is now overwhelming that by and large the warming we are seeing has an anthropogenic cause.
Another common theme of the skeptics recently is that even if anthropogenic climate change is real, projections overstate future warming. Writing in August in the Wall Street Journal , physicists Roger Cohen (a retired ExxonMobil executive), William Happer of Princeton and Richard Lindzen of MIT — all noted climate skeptics — asserted that greenhouse gases, though possibly having a warming effect, were "unlikely to increase global temperature more than about one degree Celsius."
That 1-degree Celsius, or 1.8-degree Fahrenheit, projection is based largely on a 2011 paper by Lindzen and contradicted by much other research. The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5, for example, which represents about 20 climate modeling groups, has in 2012 generated more than 200 submissions and peer-reviewed publications testing and analyzing the newest climate models. The sum result of these improved models reaffirms the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel's projections of an increase in global temperature of 4 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. It is important for scientists to further refine such projections, but it's clear that increasing greenhouse gases are likely to cause a significant rise in global temperatures.
Speaking recently on MSNBC , Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) underscored what has fueled much of the skepticism aimed at climate science: "I thought it must be true," he said, "until I found out what it cost." It's true that mitigation and adaptation will be costly. But inaction could carry even higher costs. Economists Frank Ackerman and Elizabeth Stanton calculated that putting off adaptation and mitigation efforts could cost the United States 1.36% of its gross domestic product by 2025, and 1.84% by 2100.
The question is no longer whether the climate will change because of increased greenhouse gases. Now we have to ask what we can do about it, and how much we can afford to spend. It's crucial for scientists like me to provide dispassionate estimates of what the climate is doing now and will do in the future. But in the end, we won't be the ones making the decisions about how best to deal with the warming and its consequences. This will require a broad public conversation and a well-informed public.
 “Climate change may force evacuation of vulnerable island states within a decade”, October 4, 2012 ,
 “Climate-change denial getting harder to defend”,
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