June 24, 2011

Local vs. Global Sea Level Rise

Filed under: Sea Level Rise

A recent study has attempted to use a long-term (~2,100 years), local (coastal North Carolina), determination of sea level derived from the build-up of salt marsh sediments to better characterize the behavior of global sea level (and by proxy, global temperatures) over the same multi-millennial time period. Based upon the results of this investigation, the research team led by Andrew Kemp from the University of Pennsylvania, concludes that there were four rather distinct periods of sea level rise over the past 2,100 years. Here is how they describe the first three:

Sea level was stable from at least BC 100 until AD 950. Sea level then increased for 400 y at a rate of 0.6 mm/y, followed by a further period of stable, or slightly falling, sea level that persisted until the late 19th century.

And then, and here’s the kicker (and why this paper received all the press coverage that it did, with headlines such as “Fastest Sea-Level Rise in 2,000 Years Linked to Increasing Global Temperatures“):

Since then, sea level has risen at an average rate of 2.1 mm/y, representing the steepest century-scale increase of the past two millennia. This rate was initiated between AD 1865 and 1892. Using an extended semiempirical modeling approach, we show that these sea-level changes are consistent with global temperature for at least the past millennium.

But can a paleo-record of sea level rise from basically one locality (e.g., coastal North Carolina) provide a good indication of the long-term history of global sea level rise? Obviously, the authors think so, but others are not so sure.


June 13, 2011

Global Food Supply Going Strong

Filed under: Agriculture

The New York Times recently ran a front page article by Justin Gillis titled “A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself” in which Gillis repeats the well-worn alarmist mantra that anthropogenic climate change spurred by greenhouse gas emissions is leading us down a terrible pathway towards death and destruction. The contents of this article splashed across all media outlets.

Here is the gist:

“The rapid growth in farm output that defined the late 20th century has slowed to the point that it is failing to keep up with the demand for food, driven by population increases and rising affluence in once-poor countries.

…Now, the latest scientific research suggests that a previously discounted factor is helping to destabilize the food system: climate change.”

And to try to cut the tried and true carbon-dioxide-is-good-for-crops argument off at the chase, Gillis adds:

For nearly two decades, scientists had predicted that climate change would be relatively manageable for agriculture, suggesting that even under worst-case assumptions, it would probably take until 2080 for food prices to double.

In part, they were counting on a counterintuitive ace in the hole: that rising carbon dioxide levels, the primary contributor to global warming, would act as a powerful plant fertilizer and offset many of the ill effects of climate change.

Until a few years ago, these assumptions went largely unchallenged. But lately, the destabilization of the food system and the soaring prices have rattled many leading scientists.

But alas, Gillis’s proclamation, like so many that came before him, just doesn’t stand up to the facts.


June 8, 2011

Taking the EPA to Court

Filed under: Climate Politics

On May 20, three briefs were filed with the Washington DC Circuit Court of Appeals laying out petitions to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulatory initiatives concerning greenhouse gas emissions (and how the initiatives came to be). Of the three petitions, two were from a conglomerate of states led by Texas and Virginia, and the other was by a 80-odd member grouping on non-state parties with a variety of interests in the EPA’s regulations. A fourth brief from a collection of climate scientists followed week later.

By and large, most of the arguments laid out by these Petitioners echo previous arguments made directly to the EPA during the various public comment opportunities as the EPA was considering whether or not greenhouse gases endangered public health and welfare—a finding which would then require allow the EPA to develop regulations to restrict the emissions of greenhouse gases. Despite copious cogent arguments as to why the EPA should not find that greenhouse gases engager the public health and welfare, the EPA not only made such a finding, but subsequently denied all petitions to reconsider its findings that were submitted as revelations of scientific misconduct came to light with the release of the Climategate emails.

But, when dealing with the EPA, their decision in not necessary the final one. In fact, there is another avenue of redress—the courts.


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