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  • commented 2016-05-01 01:46:30 -0400
    Beyond Paris: COP21 publicized the goal of staying below a 2 degrees-C global mean temperature, and embraced the goal of +1.5 degrees-C. What is less obvious is that successful implementation of signed INDCs, which is itself a question, are on track to deliver an increase of +3.6 degrees-C, with a level of uncertainty between intervention and outcome that could bring us to +4.9 degrees-C. And again, that presumes the nations of the world deliver on their INDC commitments.
    Putting aside concerns about nations making good on their commitments, there exists a major disconnect between the celebrated INDC plans that total +3.6 degrees-C in a best case scenario and the celebrated overall COP21 goal of staying below a global mean temperature rise of +1.5 degrees-C. Yet and still, this ignores the uncertainty that the actions promised will actually total keep the global mean temperature rise below +3.6 degrees-C. Now let us put that aside as well, there also exists a level of uncertainty as to what outcomes we can expect if we did keep below +3.6 degrees-C… or even below the goal of +1.5 degrees-C, which has neither planning nor commitments to back it up. Cogent data was presented on this in February 2016 in D.C. during the anuual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], an organization that represents 10 million scientists, engineers, and biomedical researchers around the globe. Putting models and predictions aside, there is some very straightforward mathematics that demonstrate that the underwater buttressing of many Antarctic glaciers have melted past a point of no return. That is to say that for these particular glaciers, supports that keep extensions of the glaciers over the sea have melted to the point that further melting and collapse of these glaciers in now inevitable. And with mathematical certainty, the collapse of extensions over the ocean will create exit doorways for the sections of these glaciers on land to rush through and into the sea, next creating entry doorways for the sea to rush in and expedite further erosion driven by ocean water infiltrating Antarctica. While this absolutely does not indicate the total loss of glaciers in the Southern Pole, it is now inevitable for some. What is we can control is how fast this happens and what other glaciers follow the same path toward a point of no return. The other profound misunderstanding, even among those who have studied the general question of climate change, is what this will mean.
    Yes, this melting of sea ice will result in a mean sea level rise. What most fail to think about is that very few places will actually experience the mean. Antarctica, where there will be a substantial reduction in mass due to melting of glaciers, will also exert less gravitational pull. In the interplay of gravitational forces that drive the tides, Antartica is expected to experience a drop in sea level relative to the land mass, which itself may also rise as glacier mass on Antartica is reduced as glaciers melt away. On the other hand, if relative sea level falls in some places and the global mean rises, it stands to reason that some regions will experience sea level rises much greater than the global mean. One such region is the Eastern seaboard of the United States. And as the melting of glaciers changes the salinity of oceans and their currents, these forces will no longer be present as countervailing forces that moderate the sea level rise effected by high tide along the eastern shore. In extremely crude terms, imagine someone aiming a backyard hose directly at you. However, you don’t get wet because there is an industrial strength fan blowing at right angle to the flow of water projected at you and inserting this diverting force between the hose and yourself. Now imagine if someone turns off that fan. Suddenly a misty spray that was barely detectable is hitting you with full force.
    However, these are predictable effects within margins of error. The uncertainty is high, but at least we can guess at a range. But there are also feedback loops that create tipping points that we cannot imagine. Worse, there are tippings points like methane release from melting permafrost and ice that we can model, but are not even part of the calculations that drive the COP21 analysis and the INDCs that came out of COP21.
    So to be clear, COP21 was a great achievement. For once, after 20 years of conversations, the nations of the world could agree that something had to be done and they were prepared to “stretch” themselves to do it. But now it is time to move beyond serious …to being uncomfortably honest. The agreements we have are far below inadequate. And it is clear that the COP process cannot – - at this moment in history – - rally nations to do what is necessary by themselves as a collection of governments. We now need everyone everywhere to engage in a process of evaluating and doing what each can… at the level of individuals, communities, sub-national governmental entities… private enterprise, global communities of faith, etc. That everyone, everywhere bears some degree of responsibility to act is self-evident from the fact that everyone, everywhere will be affected.
  • commented 2016-03-10 17:42:18 -0500
  • commented 2016-03-10 17:39:19 -0500