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Reid Detchon

Reid Detchon

Reid Detchon is vice president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation. He also serves as executive director of the Energy Future Coalition, a broad-based non-partisan public policy initiative focused on oil dependence, climate change, and global energy poverty. ALL POSTS

We're Going Down a One-Way Street

Q: Some of the most dire impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, are several decades away, and even the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic is years away. How should we factor these threats into our decision making today? Should we be seriously worried about them, or not?

This is not a scientific question, it is an ethical or moral one. We are compromising the future of the environmental system that sustains us -- reducing the number and variety of
species, acidifying the ocean, and eventually drowning our seacoasts. We will bequeath to our children a poorer planet, one less able to support them with abundance, than the one we inherited.

Like Mickey in the Sorcerer's Apprentice, we are tampering with a complex climate system whose workings we don't fully understand and that we certainly cannot control. A report of the National Academies in 2002 warned that major and widespread climate changes have occurred in the past "with startling speed," and "abrupt climate changes
were especially common when the climate system was being forced to change most

Even if gradual, climate change is irreversible within human lifespans. The long life of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means that change will occur for at least a century, no matter what we do today, and once started, is hard to stop. Ocean temperatures change very slowly and thus are almost unimaginably hard to reverse. Warmer water means thermal expansion and sea-level rise, and the evidence of accelerating glacier melt at the poles is compelling. The size of the ice packs in Greenland and Antarctica means they are not going to disappear tomorrow, but once they are gone, they are not coming back if we suddenly stop polluting.

An ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer will almost certainly occur in the next half-century, perhaps before 2020. The consequences of such an event for the world's weather systems will be substantial, and the potential effects of shifts in temperature and precipitation on agriculture and the world's food supply are alarming.

Should we be worried about all that? I am.

By Reid Detchon  |  January 6, 2010; 8:35 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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U. S. Senate Minority Report

“For how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand that the planet is not warming? For how many years must cooling go on?" - Geologist Dr. David Gee the chairman of the science committee of the 2008 International Geological Congress who has authored 130 plus peer reviewed papers, and is currently at Uppsala University in Sweden.

“Earth has cooled since 1998 in defiance of the predictions by the UN-IPCC….The
global temperature for 2007 was the coldest in a decade and the coldest of the
millennium…which is why ‘global warming’ is now called ‘climate change.’” -
Climatologist Dr. Richard Keen of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado.

“The ‘global warming scare’ is being used as a political tool to increase government
control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the
Society's activities.” - Award-Winning NASA Astronaut/Geologist and Moonwalker Jack Schmitt who flew on the Apollo 17 mission and formerly of the Norwegian Geological Survey and for the U.S. Geological Survey.

“I am a skeptic…Global warming has become a new religion.” - Nobel Prize Winner for
Physics, Ivar Giaever.

Warming fears are the “worst scientific scandal in the history…When people come to
know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.” - UN IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning PhD environmental physical

“The IPCC has actually become a closed circuit; it doesn’t listen to others. It doesn’t have open minds… I am really amazed that the Nobel Peace Prize has been given on scientifically incorrect conclusions by people who are not geologists.” - Indian geologist Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia at Punjab University and a board member of the UN-supported International Year of the Planet.

“The models and forecasts of the UN IPCC "are incorrect because they only are based on mathematical models and presented results at scenarios that do not include, for example, solar activity.” - Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico

“It is a blatant lie put forth in the media that makes it seem there is only a fringe of scientists who don’t buy into anthropogenic global warming.” - U.S Government Atmospheric Scientist Stanley B. Goldenberg of the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA.

“Even doubling or tripling the amount of carbon dioxide will virtually have little impact, as water vapour and water condensed on particles as clouds dominate the worldwide scene and always will.” – . Geoffrey G. Duffy, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering of the University of Auckland, NZ.

Posted by: AJAX2 | January 10, 2010 3:55 PM
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Hmm. We went thru all of the hullaballoo about people have to shut up because the science is settled. Now that we have been made aware that the science is NOT settled, we have the VICE PRESIDENT IN CHARGE OF THE CLIMATE saying it's not about the science, it's a morality play. How much longer do you clowns think you can hold center ring.

Posted by: chatard | January 9, 2010 9:42 PM
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Perhaps one of the most maddening things that a scientist has to endure is the group of non-scientific speech-writers, lawyers, PR pundits, radio talk-show nabobs and politically well-connected people hijacking the field of science. On the face of it these people are committing a fraud on the public by assuming grand-sounding titles in the federal and state governments and international organizations that sound scientific where they can pontificate their positions on subjects such as climate change without the slightest notion whether what they are saying is true or not. In many cases they are simply saying what one of their scientific associates has told them with absolutely no scientific peer review. I am sorry to say that many scientific sycophants line up behind these people in order to obtain project funding, or to simply remain in favor of the power elite. The evidences provided to these talking heads are skimpy indeed and to any self-respecting scientist they are as transparent as gossamer. By the way Mr. Detchon, if your source of information would check out the oceanic benthic fauna and their oxygen isotope ratios over the past 60 million years, you would come to realize that the climate is cooling, and that the warming evidence is ephemeral at best.

Posted by: tempestite | January 9, 2010 3:15 PM
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Remember reading about the "Little Ice Age" of several centuries ago prior to the Industrial Revolution? For all we know, our activities may have forestalled the onset of another Ice Age. There will be winners and losers in this process. Russia and Canada will be winners; Africa and much of Latin America will be losers. Higher energy costs will insure that when new communities are re-located away from coastal areas they will be built with sustainability in mind. Much of Africa, Latin America and South Asia is already stressed for reasons which have to do with globalization, pollution and overpopulation, not global warming. They weren't going to make it anyway. And there are other adjacent regions of Latin America which are going to be fine. There's no shortage of arable land in Latin America although it will have to be developed in a sustainable way in order for populations not to suffer.
I don't necessarily approve of globalization, but i'm not in a position to change it and even if you successfully made globalization carbon-neutral, there are still all the other impacts of globalization which are going to cause big societal changes- like it or not. Global warming is just one more of those changes, and it may in fact be a better alternative than global cooling.

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | January 9, 2010 10:42 AM
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Can you say "Holocene Mass Extinction"?

Let's just hypothesize that the tropical Andean glaciers mostly melt by 2020, which isn't an unreasonable guess as to timeframe.

6 million Bolivians flee their homeland as Lake Titicaca goes past the tipping point and becomes brine, making irrigation impossible and causing massive fish-spawning failures in South America's largest lake. All of Bolivia is thrown into chaos, and since all migration has to be eastward, destabilization progresses along that axis.

Not much later, the glacial heads of the Amazon go dry, and northeastern Brazil's aridity becomes compounded when the Bolivian climate refugees and present occupants clash and increase the clear-cutting rate of the Amazon rainforest, already precariously close to converting to savannah at least in parts. Desertification spreads.

Comparable changes removed access to year-round-reliable water for about 2.5-Billion people south and east of the Himalayas.

In all places, excessive population runs up against a lack of water, much of agriculture collapses, and almost all of civilization and civilized practice vanish.

For about half of the planet's human population, conservation takes a distant backseat to the idea of getting anything at all to eat today or even this week.

Species begin to go extinct on a weekly and then daily basis. Finally there's not much left except for humans and their domesticated animals and a few large and cute/cuddly species such as the rare wolves of the Boreal Forest in North America and in Siberia and Scandinavia. Everything else is pretty much desert and skeletons bleaching in the remorseless sun.

Of course, with half of the population dead, there will be that much fewer emissions... but that won't bring back either the vanished species nor the ecological balance nor the people all of whom probably loved or were loved, at least until everyone ran out of non-human food to eat to survive.

That's the _least case scenario_ since real life means that it would probably all get very political up to and including state-sponsored terrorism, mass religious hysteria, and quite likely weapons of mass destruction.

You'd think that Congress would whip together a foreign-aid package handing out free birth control, but it's like they're incapable of forseeing the consequences of their inaction. Oh well! can you say "Holocene Mass Extinction"?

I knew you could!

Posted by: thardman | January 6, 2010 12:35 PM
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