A recent Nature Geoscience study, "High rates of sea-level rise during the last interglacial period," ($ubs. req'd) finds that sea levels could rise twice what the IPCC had project for 2100. This confirms what many scientists have recently warned (also see here), and it matches the conclusion of a study (PDF) earlier this year in Science. [As an aside, in one debate with a denier -- can't remember who, they all kind of merge together -- I was challenged: "Name one peer-reviewed study projecting sea-level rise this century beyond the IPCC." Well, now there are two from this year alone!] For the record, five feet (PDF) of sea level rise would submerge some 22,000 square miles of U.S. land just on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts (farewell, southern Louisiana and Florida) -- and displace more than 100 million people worldwide. And, of course, sea levels would just keep rising some six inches a decade -- or, more likely, even faster next century than this century.
The nation's top climate scientist, NASA's James Hansen, apparently now believes "the safe upper limit for atmospheric CO2 is no more than 350 ppm," according to an op-ed by the great environmental writer Bill McKibben. Yet while preindustrial levels were 280, we're now already at more than 380 and rising 2 ppm a year! Like many people, in the 1990s I believed 550 was the target needed to avoid climate catastrophe -- but now it's clear that: 550 ppm would lead to the greatest disaster ever experienced by human civilization -- returning us to temperatures last seen when sea levels were some 80 feet higher. This is especially true because ... long before we hit 550, major carbon cycle feedbacks -- the loss of carbon from the tundra and the Amazon, the saturation of the ocean sink (already beginning) would almost certainly kick into high gear, inevitably pushing us to much, much higher CO2 levels (see here, here, and my book). Exactly when those feedbacks seriously kick in is the rub. No one knows for sure, but based on my review of the literature and interviews of leading climate scientists, somewhere between 400 and 500 ppm seems most likely. It could be lower, but it probably couldn't be much higher. So I, like the Center for American Progress and the world's top climate scientists, now believe 450 ppm is the upper bound. That said, I have spent two decades managing, analyzing, researching, and writing about climate solutions and can state with some confidence that: Staying below 450 ppm is technologically doable, but would be the greatest achievement in the history of the human race, by far. It would require a global effort sustained for decades, comparable to what the U.S. did for just the few years of World War II (the biggest obstacle is not technological, but political -- conservatives currently would never let progressives and moderates pursue such a strategy). If 350 ppm is needed (and I'm not at all sure it is) then the deniers and delayers have won, since such a target is hopeless. In 2008, I will devote a fair amount of ink bits to laying out the solution (there really is only one), but to understand why 450 is so hard, and 350 all but inconceivable, let's look at the odd way McKibben describes the solution:
The year 2007 was typified by warm temperatures and wacky weather. This year in the U.S., 263 all-time high temperature records were tied or broken. New York City was hit by a tornado in August, the same month that more than 60 percent of the U.S. was abnormally dry or in drought. The Middle East saw a rare cyclone in June, Europe sizzled under killer heat waves all summer, and Australia suffered its worst drought in a century. South Africa got its first significant snowfall in 25 years, record rains fell in China, England, and Wales, and Reunion Island, 400 …
Today's member of the "Inhofe 400" truly epitomizes the expertise and credibility of the group of experts that the good senator has assembled to demonstrate the obvious flaws in the theory of human-induced global warming. He is Chris Allen, weather director at WBKO, the ABC affiliate for south-central Kentucky. On his blog, Chris says this about global warming:My biggest argument against putting the primary blame on humans for climate change is that it completely takes God out of the picture. It must have slipped these people's minds that God created the heavens and the earth and has control over what's going on. (Dear Lord Jesus...did I just open a new pandora's box?) Yeah, I said it. Do you honestly believe God would allow humans to destroy the earth He created? Of course, if you don't believe in God and creationism then I can see why you would easily buy into the whole global warming fanfare. I think in many ways that's what this movement is ultimately out to do - rid the mere mention of God in any context. What these environmentalists are actually saying is "we know more than God - we're bigger than God - God is just a fantasy - science is real...He isn't...listen to US!" I have a huge problem with that.
[[editor's note, by David Roberts] In addition to the updates below, I wanted to make it clear that this post does not meet Grist's standards. Had I been around (I'm on vacation), I would not have published it. I've sent Khosla a personal apology, which he has graciously accepted.] [UPDATE: Dave has requested that I update this post, which I have done below with some clarifications and added links.] Vinod Khosla recently posted this comment titled: "Numbers Matter Here: Support your statements" over on Joseph Romm's post. There is nothing wrong with an individual investing in a product that he or she believes in. The problem arises when perversely wealthy individuals try to further line their pockets by putting their paws in our pockets, using our tax dollars to fund their get richer schemes. Get your hands out of our pockets and keep them out, you money-grubbing rascals. When Vinod Khosla takes E-85 fueled car trips with the likes of Sen. Tom Daschle, he is quite obviously lobbying for support of ethanol. Our government process has become seriously compromised thanks to wealthy special interest seekers buttonholing politicians to line their own pockets. It is a two-way street of course, with the senator hoping to receive campaign donations from those who want his support of ethanol. There are almost 35,000 registred lobbyists in Washington. How many of those lobbyists get to ride in a car with a Senator? Vinod, that may be how business has been done in India but that may also explain a lot of India's past problems. We need to fix the problem here before we end up like India (the country you bailed from). [UPDATE: The above comment has been taken by some to be xenophobic (and therefore racist). I am referring only to the Indian government's low CPI score (corruption perception index). I should have been more clear that it is this political corruption that Khosla has left behind. Commenter pangolin read my intent correctly here: The OP points out that the rise of ethanol as a motor vehicle fuel is the product of rampant political corruption and crony capitalism in the US Federal government. He vaugely mentions the well documented rampant political corruption and crony capitalism that has been widely acknowledged to be preventing India from solving it's many problems. All bloggers eventually get into hot water when what they write is misinterpreted or flat out wrong, as many of my fellow contributors can attest. It comes with the territory. And yes this is a harsh critique. Market distortions by special interests are wreaking havoc on the the environment. My apologies to anyone offended.] As a self-professed life-long Republican, you helped put the most anti-intellectual, anti-environmental, ham-fisted president in the history of this country into office who for the first time in our history took us to preemptive war and on erroneous data at that, essentially by accident. We may never recover from his legacy. Based on that decision alone I would not trust your judgment any further than I could throw you. Now let's talk about your numbers and especially about the assumptions made to get them.
The triumph, for yet another year, of those who want to split the difference and, basically, do nothing (i.e. those whose key climate strategy is to invest in good ole technology or at least to say they want to invest in technology) -- this means you President Bush, Newt Gingrich, BjÃ¸rn Lomborg, OPEC (!), Shellenberger and Nordhaus (depending on what day you happen to catch them), and possibly Andy Revkin (and maybe even E. O. Wilson -- say it ain't so!) By the way, the (lame) outcome of the energy bill ought to make VERY clear that funding clean energy technology at the level it deserves ($10+ billion a year) is NOT politically easier than regulating carbon (contrary to what Shellenberger and Nordhaus keep saying). Conservatives hate both strategies -- and we will certainly need the money from the auctioning of carbon permits to pay for the technology, since it is now clearer than ever that such money won't come from 1) raising taxes [as if] or 2) shifting money away from huge government oil subsidies even when oil is at $90+ a barrel! This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
The U.S. EPA has directed employees to preserve and produce all documents — including communications with the White House — related to its recent unpopular decision to block California from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions. The memo to employees indicates that the agency will comply with a Congressional investigation into its decision.
Everyone at Bali cheered when the Papua New Guinea delegate dissed the Bush team: We seek your leadership. But if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way. Oh, snap! [Sorry, couldn't resist one last 2007 Daily Show-ism] Now comes the heartbreaking news:
India’s 4.5 million small or medium businesses produce 70 percent of the country’s industrial pollution, according to a World Bank study. But most of those small-scale entrepreneurs can’t afford the upfront cost of energy-efficient equipment — or aren’t persuaded of its usefulness — creating a barrier to India’s attempts to curb emissions from its fast-growing economy. Many areas of the country also experience frequent and severe power shortages, leading to more electricity use as machines reboot after an outage. Officials are urging factory owners to go in together to hire energy auditors, buy new machines, and apply for collective loans, …