Climate Change: Facing the Unpleasant Facts
George Orwell, who specialized in facing unpleasant facts, would be in his element in the climate change discussion today, because the extremely unpleasant fact is that the situation is far worse than nearly anyone wants to say.
Sharon Begley, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, now Newsweek's science correspondent, lays it out:
Among the phrases you really, really do not want to hear from climate
scientists are: "that really shocked us," "we had no idea how bad it
was," and "reality is well ahead of the climate models." Yet in
speaking to researchers who focus on the Arctic, you hear comments like
these so regularly they begin to sound like the thumping refrain from Jaws: annoying harbingers of something that you really, really wish would go away.
The loss of Arctic sea ice "is well ahead of" what the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecast, largely because
emissions of carbon dioxide have topped what the panel—which foolishly
expected nations to care enough about global warming to do something
about it—projected. "The models just aren't keeping up" with the
reality of CO2 emissions, says [polar scientist] David Carlson. Although
policymakers hoped climate models would prove to be alarmist, the
opposite is true, particularly in the Arctic.
Scientists have long known that permafrost, if it melted, would release
carbon, exacerbating global warming, which would melt more permafrost,
which would add more to global warming, on and on in a feedback loop.
But estimates of how much carbon is locked into Arctic permafrost were,
it turns out, woefully off. "It's about three times as much as was
thought, about 1.6 trillion metric tons, which has surprised a lot of
people," says Edward Schuur of the University of Florida. "It means the
potential for positive feedbacks is greatly increased." That 1.6
trillion tons is about twice the amount now in the atmosphere. And
Schuur's measurements of how quickly CO2 can come out of permafrost,
reported in May, were also a surprise: 1 billion to 2 billion tons per
year. Cars and light trucks in the U.S. emit about 300 million tons per
We have a phrase for those who deny the evidence that the climate is changing, taking us towards what Jim Hansen calls simply "a different planet." If we're polite, we call these people "sceptics." If we're angry, we call them "deniers" or "denialists."
But we have no phrase for those people who know that the evidence is much worse than has been reported. Should we call them "Believers?" "Worriers?" "Doomsters?"
Or just…climate scientists?
[Pic below from Coastal Eddy is of melt ice lakes forming along western Greenland]