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Editorial: Awaiting a climate change tipping point

One of these days, the tipping point will be reached. No, not the tipping point that leads to a continued warming of the globe. That one, unfortunately, is probably behind us. The even more elusive tipping point is the action, event or increased collective concern that finally prompts Americans to make combatting climate change a national goal akin to winning a world war.

Hurricane Katrina didn’t do it, and neither have Hurricanes Sandy and Irene. So the notion that a slim book and a barnstorming state senator from Iowa will spur the nation to action seems far-fetched. But Sen. Rob Hogg’s book, America’s Climate Century, and his talks across the state this week should move the needle in the right direction.

Hogg, who met with Monitor editors yesterday, makes the convincing case that for the next half-century or more “every aspect of our lives will be affected by human-caused global warming and its resulting climate changes, and by the actions necessary to stop climate change before it devastates the world.”

All citizens should, in their personal life, do what they can to minimize energy use, which can be done without compromising one’s quality of life. Every business should maximize its energy efficiency, both to help spare the planet more drastic changes, and because it’s good for the bottom line. Every household and city should do what it can to minimize the damage from the more violent and erratic weather that occurs when more energy pours into the complex system that is the climate. And every citizen, Hogg said, should lobby elected representatives at all levels to support efforts to reduce the pace of global warming. Among the needed measures are a tax on carbon emissions. He’s right.

Hogg’s visit coincided with the premature release of the fifth report of the United Nations Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change. The vast majority of the world’s scientists now believe that the burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change that will increase sea levels by, in their best estimate, 3 feet by the end of the century. In worst case scenarios predicated on the collapse of one or more ice sheets, sea levels could rise 10 feet or more and drown coastal cities like Boston, New York and Miami.

The current issue of National Geographic, available online now and on newsstands later this month, depicts Lady Liberty up to her knees in the rising waters of New York harbor. If we continue emitting greenhouse gases at our current rate, a scientist quoted in the article says, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, now circling 400 parts per million, will hit 1,000. At that level, which was last seen 50 million years ago, the Earth was ice free and the seas 216 feet higher than they are today.

The carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, plus additions caused by what Hogg calls “magnifiers” like the methane released from melting permafrost and the added warming caused when solar energy is not reflected by snow and ice but absorbed by land and sea, means temperatures will continue to rise if all fossil fuel use were abandoned tomorrow.

Preventing an even bigger temperature increase will require U.S. leadership, which in turn, require bipartisan support. That support has been wanting among Republicans, but that too may be changing. Earlier this month four former heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, William Ruckelshaus, Lee Thomas, William Reilly and Christine Todd Whitman, authored a joint column in The New York Times. It was called “ A Republican Case for Climate Action.” They wrote, “The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.”

The tipping point that will result in American leadership on climate change is approaching. Our hope is that it is no more than one election away.

Legacy Comments30

Ok...let's just pretend for a moment our climate is changing and it is our fault. What exactly should we do about it? Here what the EPA has to say: Ummm....I really don't think that is going to do the trick.

We could: a) pass 'cap and trade' legislation or, even better, legislate that coal cannot be used to produce electricity; b) begin a process of building nuclear power plants (the type that has been used on aircraft carriers and submarines for decades); c) increase building solar and wind power; d) sponsor UN action to convert any coal power plant, whether in China or India, to natural gas; f) supply agriculture, worldwide with plants that produce fruit and use less water. Need I go on??

a leaked draft of the U.N.´s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change upcoming report conceded that warming has paused over the past decade plus....and all the alarmists that smear these pages have just been proven wrong again

As usual, your posts are always more interesting for what they leave out, than for anything substantive that they might (always a big IF) contribute. Arctic ice extent and thickness, glacial retreat, and ocean warming at depths over 300m are all on-going, and there are many other signals that show that global warming continues. The evidence is there--provided one is interested in actually 'seeing' it.

Oh, sail, read the whole article. The only stagnant or cooling trend is along one ocean sea lane. NOAA and NASA report that 11 of the hottest years on record, occurred since 1998. Go google it and learn.

Oh boy, another copy and paste of propaganda by the so called "Monitor editors". I can recall a few years ago we were told that we were at the so called 'tipping point' several times with threats of NYC being underwater, the shoreline being 10 miles inland from where it is now and worsening overall weather. All of this from the directors of the EPA, all of whom are not meteorolgists or climatologists. EPA is populated with engranined extremists with a political agenda. The climate change crowd is probably sincere but politicians use this agenda with a goal of controlling the behavior of people,

You are mis-remembering things. No one was claiming that NYC would now be under water, or that the shoreline would be "ten miles inland" by now. "Worldwide, 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record according to the 2012 State of the Climate report released online today by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). The peer-reviewed report, with scientists from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC serving as lead editors, was compiled by 384 scientists from 52 countries. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on land, sea, ice, and sky. “Many of the events that made 2012 such an interesting year are part of the long-term trends we see in a changing and varying climate—carbon levels are climbing, sea levels are rising, Arctic sea ice is melting, and our planet as a whole is becoming a warmer place," said acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D. “This annual report is well-researched, well-respected, and well-used; it is a superb example of the timely, actionable climate information that people need from NOAA to help prepare for extremes in our ever-changing environment." Conditions in the Arctic were a major story of 2012, with the region experiencing unprecedented change and breaking several records. Sea ice shrank to its smallest “summer minimum” extent since satellite records began 34 years ago. In addition, more than 97 percent of the Greenland ice sheet showed some form of melt during the summer, four times greater than the 1981–2010 average melt extent. The report used dozens of climate indicators to track and identify changes and overall trends to the global climate system. These indicators include greenhouse gas concentrations, temperature of the lower and upper atmosphere, cloud cover, sea surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean salinity, sea ice extent and snow cover. Each indicator includes thousands of measurements from multiple independent datasets. • Sea surface temperatures increase: Four independent datasets indicate that the globally averaged sea surface temperature for 2012 was among the 11 warmest on record.  After a 30-year period from 1970 to 1999 of rising global sea surface temperatures, the period 2000–2012 exhibited little trend. Part of this difference is linked to the prevalence of La Niña-like conditions during the 21st century, which typically lead to lower global sea surface temperatures.
  • Ocean heat content remains near record levels: Heat content in the upper 2,300 feet, or a little less than one-half mile, of the ocean remained near record high levels in 2012. Overall increases from 2011 to 2012 occurred between depths of 2,300 to 6,600 feet and even in the deep ocean.
  • Sea level reaches record high: Following sharp decreases in global sea level in the first half of 2011 that were linked to the effects of La Niña, sea levels rebounded to reach record highs in 2012. Globally, sea level has been increasing at an average rate of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year over the past two decades."" Whether in 50 or 100 or 200 years, there’s a good chance that New York City will sink beneath the sea."

And in the long run, we're all dead. But that doesn't mean we give up on the future, or subscribe to the nihilist philosophy that regards most governments and most government officials, including scientists, as corrupt and conspiratorial, and seeks to maximize personal gain at the expense of any and everything else.

Isnt it with a link proving Itsa correct and you..wrong. Let me quote Itsa again.."I can recall a few years ago we were told that we were at the so called 'tipping point' several times with threats of NYC being underwater, the shoreline being 10 miles inland from where it is now and worsening overall weather." You stated Itsa was "misremembering" things.....Turns out, he wasnt.

Reply to GWTW below: As I understand Itsa's post, he's trying to minimize the claims of sea level rise by implying that past predictions were made stating NYC would now be underwater, and that the shoreline would already be 10 miles inland. No one outside Hollywood was making such a claim. Itsa also seems to be confusing 'tipping points' by conflating a climate tipping point--such as a sudden release of methane gas from thawing permafrost and frozen undersea methane, with the Monitor's use of the term to refer to a public awakening to the seriousness of the problem. Let's hope the awakening precedes the climate tipping point (a climate tipping point would mean there was no avoiding a temp increase of, say 5 C or more, rather than 2-3 degrees).

Reply to Bruce didnt understand his post then, did you. Thats why I directly quoted him. You missed it again, as your below post proves. "As I understand Itsa's post, he's trying to minimize the claims of sea level rise by implying that past predictions were made stating NYC would now be underwater...." The only person to us the word "now" you.

Reply to GWTW below: Nice try at mind-reading, claiming to know precisely what Itsa intended. There is no "now" in his post, and neither is there any "in the future". Given the wording, and given Itsa's long history of postings on the same topic, combined with Rabbit's similar post on this thread, which contains the same assertion: "Many said NYC would be underwater by 2019", I think my reading of his intended meaning is accurate.

LOL...I'm the mind reader by directly quoting him, while you state "I think my reading of his intended meaning is accurate. "...That takes some chutzpa!

This is absurd. Give it up. You really don't know when to quit, do you? I'm not the one with chutzpah--in this case going to absurd lengths to try (and fail) to prove a point. However, no matter how many times you parse Itsa's words, his reference is clearly to events that, thanks to "tipping points", should, in his mind, already be transpiring. Any other reading would require some reference to the future --whether 10, 50, or 100 years. The absence of any such qualifier restricts Itsa's intent to 'now'. And I repeat, Rabbit makes a similar (and false) claim about Al Gore ("NYC would be underwater by 2019".

You seem to be the one with the memory problem Bruce. Many said that NYC would be under water by 2019. The first person to make that prediction was Al Gore.

"Many said..." Really? Can you post a link to that claim? I think you're confusing flooding from storms like Sandy, which is made worse by sea level rise, with the absolute rise in sea level. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story--they haven't stopped you yet.

I don't know who "many" are but is definitely a fact filled statement. . But if Al Gore said NYC would be underwater by 2019 he was wrong, it was under water in October 2012.

Bruce...thanks for quoting real scientific statements. Unfortunately, people like 'sail', Itsa..', GWTW, et al. don't trust scientists and so, don't bother to understand what this all means. Easy for them to forget how hot and humid it was back in June and July. And, of course, they don't trust any government or its employees, including university professors (who have spent their lives studying our environment). The editorial suggests that our world climate has passed the tipping point. We must sincerely hope that it has not. Not yet, but should IPCC's climate models be correct (and all 20 agree), within this century, not only will our weather become more severe (hurricanes, droughts, fires) our world will not support agriculture enough to feed a burgeoning population. CO2 now has reached 400 ppm; the models for doubling that indicate up to 8 degrees rise, worldwide. That raises winter temperaturs so less snow, more rain and summer temperatures so more 100 plus degree days (where we now have 90 degree days). With high humidity, those days will be unbearable. But the denierosphere ignores it.

"Easy for them to forget how hot and humid it was back in June and July." Hot and humid in July...??? Has to be a first.

572 thoughtful words, Bruce. Nice job! (I don't mind you going over the 250 limit if the Monitor doesn't.)

All this science stuff pales in comparison to Senator James Inhofe's new book, in which he asserts that God says that climate change is a hoax. OK, you thousands and thousands of scientists, let's see you prove God and Jim Inhofe (who apparently has a direct line to God) wrong !

Articles like this imply the US is solely responsible for any climatic impact and solely responsible for any remedies. Yes, H.Sapien leaves a “footprint” on the planet like all species and admittedly our footprint is bigger than most. However, to the best of my knowledge, we are only species actively seeking corrective action and technologies. I do not see penguins easting fewer fish to cut down on penguin pollution or sharks eating fewer penguins. Next – these articles fail to mention other nations and cultures, many of whom, pollute more than we do. Look at China and its widespread coal use. Look at India for the same and perhaps the greatest producer of resistant micro-organisms. Please remember to blame forest fires and volcanos for atmospheric particulates (and the recent meteor over Russia that added identifiable atmospheric particulates-perhaps a conspiracy of cosmic proportion). Biologists have calculated the amount of ozone producing methane produced by cows and other herbivores; a staggering figure. I agree we share a planet and need to be responsible stewards but implying that thousands of years of environmental footprints, by many species and natural events, is solely our fault and our concern is wrong and a consistent problem in policy formulation. A little more balance please.

Cleaner air may have even lead to MORE deadly hurricanes, including Sandy, as at least one study suggests.

Careful, I think you're constructing a straw man that quite removed from what the editorial, and climate science, is actually saying. Given that human technologies are largely responsible for the added CO2, what is it you'd expect penguins or sharks to do in response, besides face potential extinction? The increasing rate of animal and plant extinction ongoing now is mainly our doing. And while it's true that China now exceeds our CO2 contribution--looked at long-term, our own contribution vastly exceeds China's. We are an advanced democracy (or at least we were once), and bear a moral responsibility to develop technologies that will reduce our carbon footprint. Our economy will be better for it, our society will benefit, and so will the planet, and all its myriad inhabitants.

the total annual % of CO2 added to the atmosphere by man is ....drum roll please............. 0.014%

The physics and chemistry of greenhouse warming is well understood, and has been for many years. You do the math: if 350ppm of CO2 is, coupled with the other green house gases, sufficient to increase surface temps by 40-50 degrees F, adding another 50ppm won't likely add to the warming?

Bruce, Lordy - just imagine what would have happened if one THOSE other species has demonstrate sentience Would the penguins never evolve beyond stone age technology? Please no bull about the Indian "golden savage" myth -they polluted to the limits of their technology also. Bruce - some species was going to develop industrial technologies. Do you believe any other species was destined to develop perfect technology right out of the gate?

T - I think that what you are saying here inadvertently supports the editorial. Sure there are lots of sources for greenhouse gasses, some from human activity, some from natural processes. The point is that only one species possesses the technological ability to identify the problem and to try to remedy it, and that is H. Sapiens. So if we know of the problem and fail to take corrective action, we are then failing in our responsibilities. The editorial refers to the tipping point of human action to resolve the problem. And thank you for not denying that climate change is happening.

Well thats it then! I say no new Bearcat, and no mainstreet renovation. Concord needs to take a stand against climate change. We dont need another vehicle in the fleet, or all that construction ruining the planet. They cause hurricanes you know!!

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