Earth a wilder, warmer place since last cli­mate deal made

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

PARIS: This time, it’s a hot­ter, wa­terier, wilder Earth that world lead­ers are try­ing to save. The last time that the na­tions of the world struck a bind­ing agree­ment to fight global warm­ing was 1997, in Ky­oto, Ja­pan. As lead­ers gather for a con­fer­ence in Paris to­day to try to do more, it’s clear things have changed dra­mat­i­cally over the past 18 years.

Some dif­fer­ences can be mea­sured: de­grees on a ther­mome­ter, tril­lions of tons of melt­ing ice, a rise in sea level of a couple of inches. Epic weather dis­as­ters, in­clud­ing pun­ish­ing droughts, killer heat waves and mon­ster storms, have plagued Earth. As a re­sult, cli­mate change is seen as a more ur­gent and con­crete prob­lem than it was last time.

“At the time of Ky­oto, if some­one talked about cli­mate change, they were talk­ing about some­thing that was ab­stract in the fu­ture,” said Marcia McNutt, the for­mer US Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey di­rec­tor who was picked to run the Na­tional Acad­e­mies of Sci­ences. “Now, we’re talk­ing about chang­ing cli­mate, some­thing that’s hap­pen­ing now. You can point to event af­ter event that is hap­pen­ing in the here and now that is a direct re­sult of chang­ing cli­mate.”

Other, non­phys­i­cal changes since 1997 make many ex­perts more op­ti­mistic than in pre­vi­ous cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions. For one, im­proved tech­nol­ogy is point­ing to the pos­si­bil­ity of a world weaned from fos­sil fu­els, which emit heat-trap­ping gases. Busi­nesses and coun­tries are more se­ri­ous about do­ing some­thing, in the face of ev­i­dence that some of science’s worst-case sce­nar­ios are com­ing to pass.

“I am quite stunned by how much the Earth has changed since 1997,” Prince­ton Univer­sity’s Bill An­deregg said in an email. “In many cases (e.g. Arc­tic sea ice loss, for­est die-off due to drought), the speed of cli­mate change is pro­ceed­ing even faster than we thought it would two decades ago.

Some of the cold num­bers on global warm­ing since 1997:

• The West Antarc­tic and Green­land ice sheets have lost 5.5 tril­lion tons of ice, or 5 tril­lion met­ric tons, ac­cord­ing to An­drew Shep­herd at the Univer­sity of Leeds, who used NASA and Euro­pean satel­lite data.

• The five-year av­er­age sur­face global tem­per­a­ture for Jan­uary to Oc­to­ber has risen by nearly two-thirds of a de­gree Fahren­heit, or 0.36 de­grees Cel­sius, be­tween 1993-97 and 2011-15, ac­cord­ing to the US Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion. In 1997, Earth set a record for the hottest year, but it didn’t last. Records were set in 1998, 2005, 2010 and 2014, and it is sure to hap­pen again in 2015 when the re­sults are in from the year, ac­cord­ing to NOAA.

• The av­er­age glacier has lost about 39 feet, or 12 me­ters, of ice thick­ness since 1997, ac­cord­ing to Sa­muel Nuss­baumer at the World Glacier Mon­i­tor­ing Ser­vice in Switzer­land.

• With 1.2 bil­lion more peo­ple in the world, car­bon diox­ide emis­sions from the burn­ing of fos­sil fu­els climbed nearly 50 per­cent be­tween 1997 and 2013, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of En­ergy. The world is spew­ing more than 100 mil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide a day now.

• The seas have risen nearly 2 1/2 inches, or 6.2 cen­time­ters, on av­er­age since 1997, ac­cord­ing to cal­cu­la­tions by the Univer­sity of Colorado.

• At its low point dur­ing the sum­mer, the Arc­tic sea ice is on av­er­age 820,000 square miles smaller than it was 18 years ago, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Snow and Ice Data Cen­ter. That’s a loss equal in area to Texas, Cal­i­for­nia, Mon­tana, New Mex­ico and Ari­zona com­bined.

• The five dead­li­est heat waves of the past cen­tury - in Europe in 2003, Rus­sia in 2010, In­dia and Pak­istan this year, Western Europe in 2006 and southern Asia in 1998 - have come in the past 18 years, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Dis­as­ter Data­base run by the Cen­tre for Re­search on the Epi­demi­ol­ogy of Dis­as­ter in Bel­gium.

• The num­ber of weather and cli­mate dis­as­ters world­wide has in­creased 42 per­cent, though deaths are down 58 per­cent. From 1993 to 1997, the world av­er­aged 221 weather dis­as­ters that killed 3,248 peo­ple a year. From 2010 to 2014, the yearly av­er­age of weather dis­as­ters was up to 313, while deaths dropped to 1,364, ac­cord­ing to the dis­as­ter data­base.

Eigh­teen years ago, the dis­cus­sion was far more about av­er­age tem­per­a­tures, not the freak­ish ex­tremes. Now, sci­en­tists and oth­ers re­al­ize it is in the more fre­quent ex­tremes that peo­ple are truly ex­pe­ri­enc­ing cli­mate change. Wit­ness the “large down­pours, floods, mud­slides, the deeper and longer droughts, ris­ing sea lev­els from the melt­ing ice, for­est fires,” for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore, who helped ne­go­ti­ate the 1997 agree­ment, told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “There’s a long list of events that peo­ple can see and feel vis­cer­ally right now. Ev­ery night on the tele­vi­sion news is like a na­ture hike through the Book of Rev­e­la­tion.” —AP

In this July 19, 2011 file photo, pools of melted ice form atop Jakob­shavn Glacier, near the edge of the vast Green­land ice sheet. — AP

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