How_Urgent_is_Climate_Change - NEWSFOCUS THE LATEST REPORTS...

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23 NOVEMBER 2007 VOL 318 SCIENCE www.sciencemag.org 1230 NEWS FOCUS CREDITS (TOP TO BOTTOM): HANS STRAND/CORBIS; CHARLES H. SMITH/U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE THE LATEST REPORTS FROM THE NOBEL Prize–winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) were informative enough. Humans are messing with climate and will, sooner or later, get burned if they keep it up. But just how urgent is this global warming business? IPCC wasn’t at all clear on that, at least not in its summary reports. In the absence of forthright guidance from the scientific com- munity, news about melting ice and starving polar bears has stoked the public climate frenzy of the past couple of years. Climate researchers, on the other hand, prefer sci- ence to headlines when considering just how imminent the coming climate crunch might be. With a chance to digest the detailed IPCC products that are now avail- able (www.ipcc.ch), many scientists are more convinced than ever that immediate action is required. The time to start “is right now,” says climate modeler Gerald Meehl of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “We can’t wait any longer.” What worries these researchers is the prospect that we’ve started a slow-moving but relentless avalanche of change. A warming may well arrive by mid-century that would not only do immediate grievous harm—such as increase drought in vulnerable areas—but also commit the world to delayed and even more severe damage such as many meters of sea-level rise. The system has built-in time lags. Ice sheets take centuries to melt after a warming. The atmosphere takes decades to be warmed by today’s greenhouse gas emissions. And then there are the decades-long lags involved in working through the political sys- tem and changing the world energy economy. “If you want to be able to head off a few tril- lions of [dollars of climate] damages per year a few decades out,” says glaciologist Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University in State College, “you need to start now.” Bad things, soon The disturbing message on the timing of global warming’s effects comes in the IPCC chapters and technical summaries quietly posted online months after each of three working groups released a much-publicized Summary for Policymakers (SPM). An over- all synthesis of the working group reports was released Saturday at the 27th session of IPCC. Earlier this year, only the SPMs went through the wringer of word-by-word negotiations with governments, which squeezed out a crucial table and part of another ( Science , 13 April, p. 188). That information—which was always in the full reports—along with other report material,
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This note was uploaded on 09/28/2008 for the course EAS 1540 taught by Professor Monger during the Fall '07 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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How_Urgent_is_Climate_Change - NEWSFOCUS THE LATEST REPORTS...

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