Who wouldn’t like to believe global warming is a hoax? Unfortunately, the science keeps screaming otherwise. Researchers who’ve been working in Greenland and Antarctica recently said the meltdown of ice sheets in both places is only accelerating. And they’re becoming more anxious that it will cause ocean levels to rise too quickly for heavily populated coastal areas to adjust.
The coast ain’t clear: Scientists had long projected that melting polar ice would cause the planet’s oceans to rise seven inches this century. Now the most common estimates are five to 10 times higher. Justin Gillis, writing for The New York Times, lays out the potential consequences:
The scientists say that a rise of even three feet would inundate low-lying lands in many countries, rendering some areas uninhabitable. It would cause coastal flooding of the sort that now happens once or twice a century to occur every few years. It would cause much faster erosion of beaches, barrier islands and marshes. It would contaminate fresh water supplies with salt.
A large majority of climate scientists argue that heat-trapping gases are almost certainly playing a role in what is happening to the world’s land ice. They add that the lack of policies to limit emissions is raising the risk that the ice will go into an irreversible decline before this century is out, a development that would eventually make a three-foot rise in the sea look trivial.
Complicating matters is that as the situation deteriorates, scientists actually have fewer tools with which to work, since neither the U.S. nor any other wealthy country has made tracking the glacial meltdown a high priority. Gillis writes:
The consequence is that researchers lack elementary information. They have been unable even to measure the water temperature near some of the most important ice on the planet, much less to figure out if that water is warming over time. Vital satellites have not been replaced in a timely way, so that American scientists are losing some of their capability to watch the ice from space.
That sinking feeling: Climate Progress ratchets up the threat level, citing research that when it comes to infrastructure planning, coastal cities should expect a seven-foot rise in the sea level, and pointing out that “Key West and Galveston and probably New Orleans appear unsavable on our current emissions path.”
And in other green news:
The party of slow: No matter how much scientists take the climate change battle directly to deniers, it would be a mistake, argues communications consultant Meg Bostrom, to focus on first winning the science debate. These days, she says, it makes more sense to push carbon-cutting initiatives that closet global warming believers can get behind without any taint of cap-and-trade — such as efficient cars and buildings, funding for clean-energy research, even a federal renewable energy standard. Here’s her rationale, as she writes in the Washington Post:
… while some environmental priorities continue to be shared across the political spectrum, global warming is not one of them. Surveys show a sharp and increasing political divide on a range of beliefs involving climate change, with tea party conservatives voicing the greatest skepticism. Mention “global warming” in a room full of average Americans, as I have done on several occasions, and you will find that they quickly align with one camp or the other. The idea that global warming is a hoax is no longer a fringe perception but a part of the Republican Party brand.
Even if climate scientists manage to convince some conservative skeptics that global warming poses an urgent threat, Republican leaders have backed themselves into a corner. The issue has become so politically polarizing that it would be nearly impossible for them to retreat from their stance and to get behind legislation that is thought to concern global warming.
Heat up the grill: As expected, Republican climate change deniers, led by the king of the climate zombies, Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), are gearing up to go after energy czar Carol Browner, using as a bludgeon the recent finding that a staffer in her office edited a document to say that independent scientists supported a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf. [The Hill]
Take a spill pill: At least half a dozen oil companies are clamoring to start deepwater drilling off the coast of Greenland. But they’ll now have to pay $2 billion to play. It’s the first time a government has demanded an upfront payment to cover potential cleanup costs in the event of a spill. [Guardian]
Troubled water: Nearly half of the companies in 25 countries surveyed recently said they were starting to feel the impact of droughts, flooding, or other “water security” issues. [e360]
The white stuff: This winter, for the first time, the Chinese will collect snow and melt it to help deal with Beijing’s water shortage. [AFP]
Staying on frack: It wasn’t a big surprise that Barack Obama gave a shout out to natural gas during his post-election look into the country’s grim energy future. But the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune says the president left out a key word when he brought it up: fracking. [Ecopolitogy]
It’s important to acknowledge that just because natural gas is cleaner than other fossil fuels — especially coal — does not mean we should give the industry a free pass. The exploration, production, transportation, and burning of natural gas is an inherently dirty business that disrupts local communities and pollutes the environment. There are thousands of documented cases of air and water pollution violations and human health and safety hazards. If natural gas is to be part of the mix that displaces dirtier energy sources like coal and oil, these have to be addressed.
Prop gun: The nefarious Prop 23 was throttled in California, but its less famous sister, Prop 26, did pass — it defines many fees as taxes that now require approval by two-thirds of the state legislature. And that has enviros worried that it makes it nearly impossible in the current political climate to boost industry fees for cleaning up air, water, and toxic waste pollution. [Los Angeles Times]
Don’t lead on me: So you swore off plastic bags and will only go with reusable ones.
Turns out some of those bags, made in China, contain a potentially unsafe level of lead. [Tampa Tribune]
Taking it to the street: In London they’ve started spraying busy streets with a “dust suppressant” to keep particulates stuck to road surfaces instead of floating in the air. [GreenBiz]