Saturday, April 4, 2009

Climate catastrophes loom, Hawai'i task force proposed

The pace of climate change appears to be increasing, according to several scientific reports of the last few weeks.

It now appears that there will be significant, disruptive and expensive changes to the face of the planet within the lifetimes of most people alive today.

It's a gathering storm, and most of us haven't even bothered with an umbrella.

The Hawai'i Legislature is considering mandating what appears to be a good first step in the establishment of a Climate Change Task Force:

Senate Bill 266 would put the task force in the Department of Health, and it would be charged with the necessary but unenviable task of figuring out the impacts of climate change and sea level rise on the island's economy, infrastructure, people and natural systems.

The task force would be required to make recommendations to the Legislature and governor on preventing shoreline erosion, protecting the visitor industry, protecting and where necessary moving public infrastructure, handling health emergencies and protecting native ecosystems.

The 29-member task force will be made up of politicians and bureaucrats, representatives of industry and government, a few engineers and the military, community representatives of surfing and fishing groups, along with a single specialist in climatology or geophysics and a single environmental engineer.

It is to provide a preliminary report to next year's Legislature and a final report to the 2011 Legislature.
There are increasingly good reasons to be paying attention, and for the appointing bodies to put thoughtful representatives on this task force, presuming the Legislature passes the bill and the Governor signs it.

A couple of those reasons have been identified on RaisingIslands:

There are other new issues.

Increasingly, science is identifying evidence that warming is happening faster than anticipated, that seas are rising faster than previously estimated, that oceans are acidifying at alarming rates.

The British Antarctic Survey reported that thousands of square miles of ice shelf have disappeared in recent years. The Wordie Ice Shelf is entirely gone and the Larsen Ice Shelf is shrinking fast.

"The rapid retreat of glaciers there demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing -- more rapidly than previously known -- as a consequence of climate change," said U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

A new estimate suggests the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in as little as 30 years, half a century earlier than previously expected.

"In recent years, the combination of unusual warm temperatures from natural causes and the global warming signal have worked together to provide an earlier summer sea-ice loss than was predicted," said NOAA's James Overland.

The Dutch are estimating sea levels could be higher by two feet in 40 years, and others suggest several feet by the end of the century. Small island nations are begging the world to make greenhouse gas emissions cuts to slow the process.

With increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere turning into carbonic acid in the oceans, scientists are just beginning to tally the effects on fisheries, coral reefs and other marine ecosystems of the changing oceans.

"Ocean acidification is a serious threat to our environment and to our marine life. Changes in ocean chemistry, caused by carbon dioxide, will affect our food supply and the health of our oceans, yet research on ocean acidification is still in its infancy," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ).

"The scientific findings about climate change are frightening," said Federated States of Micronesia representative M.J. Mace, in a Reuters piece.

As researchers learn more about sea levels, one bit of information for places like Waikiki and New York (parts of Manhattan are just 5 feet above sea level) is that it's important not to focus only on the flat-water sea level.

For low-lying areas, it takes only a few inches of rise above current levels before a storm surges drive salt water into the streets, parking garages and utility conduits.

The small island nations are calling on the world to reverse the rise in greenhouse gases, so that the impacts can be reversed.

But there are still powerful forces arguing for doing nothing about the problem, other than learning to live with it.

The OPEC cartel says oil isn't the problem; it's the nations that burn it that are the problem. And besides, the world ought to keep burning oil and simply adapt to changing climate.

“OPEC considers that efforts should not be limited to mitigation, but should increasingly encompass adaptation to climate change, in particular for developing countries,” said Mohammed Barkindo, Acting for the OPEC Secretary General, in 2006, in a statement to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Nairobi.

More recently, current OPEC Secretary General, Abdullah al-Badri, expressed similar sentiments, although he said OPEC would be willing to help fund research into carbon-capture technologies.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate


Doug Carlson said...

That's the ticket...take advice from OPEC! What a self-serving view of the world's climate change problem, but it's to be expected. Maybe some sultan with vision will use his wealth to invest in and hasten renewable energy development on a grand scale.

Thanks for this update, Jan.

gofer said...

Yeah right...that's why the Maldives are asking for 143 million to build beach front resorts. Everybody get in on the scam while the getting is good.