Changing Planet

Report Warns of Sudden Climate Change Impacts

Hard-to-predict sudden changes to Earth’s environment are more worrisome than larger but more gradual impacts of climate change, according a panel of scientists advising the federal government. A 200-page report released Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences repeatedly warns of potential climate “tipping points” beyond which “major and rapid changes occur.” And some of these changes—happening in years instead of centuries—have already begun. They include melting ice in the Arctic Ocean and mass species extinctions.

Study co-author Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University compared the threat of abrupt climate change effects to the random danger of drunk drivers: “You can’t see it coming, so you can’t prepare for it. The faster it is, the less you see it coming, the more it costs.”

The report did have some “good news.” Two other abrupt climate threats—giant burps of undersea and frozen methane and the slowing of deep ocean currents that could lead to dramatic coastal cooling—won’t be so sudden, giving people more time to prepare.

Report authors say the threat of sudden climate change disaster requires an early warning system that would be integrated into existing warning systems for natural disasters. With improved scientific monitoring and a better understanding of the climate system, abrupt change could be anticipated and potential consequences could be reduced.

The National Academy of Sciences report follows the wrap up of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland, which produced the outlines of an emissions reduction deal to be agreed on in 2015. Though the pact’s wording was vague, some decisions were more concrete. They include a multi-billion dollar framework to tackle deforestation and measures to boost demand for a clean development mechanism encouraging countries without legally binding emissions targets to use carbon credits. Participants also finalized details on how countries’ emissions reductions will be monitored, reported and verified.

Saying the government should lead by example, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to increase their use of renewable energy from 7.5 to 20 percent by 2020. The new commitment is intended to reduce pollution and boost domestic energy independence.

Obama Environment Advisor to Step Down

The Obama administration will lose its second top environmental advisor, Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in February. In the post she’s held since 2009, Sutley helped spearhead the National Ocean Policy and contributed to Obama’s climate plan.

“Under her leadership, Federal agencies are meeting the goals I set for them at the beginning of the administration by using less energy, reducing pollution, and saving taxpayer dollars,” said President Obama in a statement. “Her efforts have made it clear that a healthy environment and a strong economy aren’t mutually exclusive—they can go hand in hand.”

Sutley’s departure comes on the heels of Heather Zichal’s exit last month and the resignation of Lisa Jackson, who left the EPA in early 2013. That leaves the big job of implementing—and defending—Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions on the shoulders of “new and existing power plant lieutenants,” according to ClimateWire.

Iran Nuclear Deal Reached

International negotiators recently reached a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program for six months—pending a formal pact freezing or reversing progress at all of Iran’s major nuclear facilities. Talks surrounding the formal pledge may begin as early as next week.

The deal, struck between Iran and five other major countries, brings a partial lifting of sanctions on Tehran. Oil sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union will be maintained even though key parts of Iran’s nuclear program will be rolled back.

“Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium,” said President Barack Obama. “Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.”

The temporary freeze that could start by early January represents the first time in about a decade that Iran has agreed to stop some of its nuclear activities. A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute suggests 77 percent of Israelis surveyed don’t believe the deal will prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.
  • mememine69

    National Geo tells our kids it WILL be a crisis while science hasn’t agreed beyond “could be” a crisis so at least know what the consensus is that you are agreeing on?
    Not one IPCC warning says; “will be” or “inevitable”.
    You must do as science; NEVER say it WILL be, only “could be”.

  • peter

    Mememine69, science can’t accurately predict a process that has never happened. If nothing changes it will happen. If we get incinerated by the sun first, then you and your science win. Show me a scientist who says it won’t happen or can’t happen. More over, if we’re wrong what’s the fault, less dependency on limited energy sources, cleaner air, cleaner water, and richer soil? The truth is we’ve changed the world these past hundred years with industry and gross overpopulation and it’s time to be proactive about our footprint in this world. That’s what kids get out of this stuff. Kids are pretty bright ya know..

  • Kristina Johnson

    With all the variables that result in a “tipping point” or “cascade failure” of our environment; it is still difficult to predict exactly what data points to look at to resolve the conditions of such a global catastrophe. To simply breakdown what is being popularly discussed as significant indicators of a rapid uncontrollable cascade failure is to be naïve to say the least. Currently, we know what we know, we know what we don’t know, and we don’t know what we don’t know.

    We know the atmosphere’s content of CO2 is alarming, we know that CO2 is breaking down into Carbonic Acid effecting the PH is the Oceans; we know we are losing ice sheets and we know that the average global temperature is increasing.

    Now knowing this part of the equation doesn’t at all suggest that we have sufficient information to make any accurate prediction as to a tipping point, of even scratch the surface to the rapidity of cascade failure.

    Involved in what we have not yet correlated can fill an ocean, and the oceans are the focus of exactly what we don’t know, like our atmosphere the oceans have what you’d call weather, it has layers of thermoclines, jet streams, and regional pumps that effect they entire glob. Besides release of methane due to warming of subsurface permafrost, we also have changing conditions in the solubility of metal salts.

    So just thinking about that nasty methane creeping to the surface and effecting greenhouse gases; might pal in comparison to the dissolving salts and interruptions of the lowest source of the oceanic food chain. Which means, without the data we actually need to predict an actual tipping point event; we may already be past the tipping point and not yet be aware of it.

  • mememine69

    Well GEE Peter, can we make an exception to this comet hit of an emergency of climate CRISIS?
    Face it; condemning our children comes easier to you believers.
    YOU can’t say it WILL until science does, fair enough?

  • Ram Samudrala

    peter, you’re wrong about science not predicting a process that has never occurred. In difference sciences, we do this all the time. For example, in protein structure prediction, we can predict the native fold of a protein with high accuracy and then when we determine the structure of the protein at the bench, it results in high accuracy (not all the time, but some of the times).

    How do you think drug discovery occurs? People make predictions of drugs that then turn out be right when used.

    The climate is too hard to predicti by the above methods focussed on atomic/molecular modelling. But approximations can be made and trends discerned. Science predicts sea levels will continue to rise to higher than what they are now. This is a prediction of a process that is then validated at the bench.


  • Dale Norton

    mememine, same old spiel you use in every paper and every blog you have access to. If someone is paying you for this, they should get their money back. So tired of hearing you say scientists say “could” or “might”. Read the report from the group of scientists discussed in this article. You don’t have to read the whole thing, it’s obvious you don’t actually read any real climate scientists papers, but here…I’ll get you started. From the report by accredited scientists to the US government:, second sentence in “Abrupt change is already underway in some systems” Clear enough for you? Please try to come up with a new post.

  • mememine69

    How do we stop you remaining climate blame believers and news editors and politicians from telling our kids that you think it WILL be a crisis when science has only agreed on nothing beyond just; “could be” a crisis?

    Who is the neocon again here?

  • mememine69

    How many IPCC papers have you read?
    Find us one IPCC warning that agrees beyond just “could be” a crisis. WE can’t say a crisis WILL happen until science does.
    We need absolute certainty from science for the worst crisis imaginable not a consensus of just “maybe” to end this costly debate to “save the planet” otherwise any chance at cooperative CO2 mitigation is doomed and dooms us all. Will the arrival of unstoppable warming when it’s too late for climate action finally force science to agree it WILL be not just “could be” a crisis?
    *Not one single IPCC warning says it WILL be a crisis or is inevitable or eventual and isn’t swimming in “maybes”.*
    Former climate blame believers are better planet lovers who don’t fear monger billions of children with needless CO2 panic just to make sure they stay environmentally aware and turn the lights out more often.

  • Energysage

    Climate change is a major issue, but you can help right from your home. By choosing to go solar you can make a serious impact! We teamed up with WWF to help with their campaign to prevent climate change.

  • Climate Change Is A Scam

    Scam. Scam. Scam.

    It is impossible to get a bunch of idiots who have bought into the message completely to admit they’ve been spreading lies and bought into the scam. They’re brainwashed and to get climate change fanatics back on track you’d have to deprogram them which isn’t easy.

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