Friday, February 17, 2006

Climate Change: Not So Glacial Anymore

Need something to get yourself really wide awake this morning? Check out Shankar Vedantam's front-page story in today's Washington Post about new scientific data on the melting of glaciers in Greenland, and the implications for sea levels and weather patterns. It's like plunging an electric cattle prod into your morning bathwater.

Here's the lead:

Greenland's glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, the result of a warming trend that renders obsolete predictions of how quickly Earth's oceans will rise over the next century, scientists said yesterday.

The new data come from satellite imagery and give fresh urgency to worries about the role of human activity in global warming. The Greenland data are mirrored by findings from Bolivia to the Himalayas, scientists said, noting that rising sea levels threaten widespread flooding and severe storm damage in low-lying areas worldwide.

Some of you may recall that the break-up of the Greenland ice cap was the hypothetical cause of all the calamaties depicted by Hollywood in The Day After Tomorrow. While that movie exaggerated and telescoped the potential impact of a big meltdown in Greenland, flooding of low-lying coastal areas all around the world and an accelerated increase in crazy, violent weather are real possibilities.

You might think this ever-growing risk would be a very big deal to national policymakers, eh? But of course, the GOP Congress and the Bush administration have systematially rejected any course of action
that might do some good, from participation in the Kyoto climate change negotiations, to a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, to action to improve automobile fuel efficiency.

In particular, Bush's "progress" on coming to grips with climate change has been, well, glacial. Early in his presidency, he denied there was any real evidence of human contribution to climate change. Towards the end of his first term, he grudgingly admitted something might be going on, but that doing anything about it was simply too expensive. Most recently, he's embraced voluntary industry action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At this rate of response, we won't get a serious national climate change policy until Pennsylvania has oceanfront property.

The Post piece concludes with a nice quote about the new data on Greenland, from an eminently respectable source:

"This study underscores the need to take swift, meaningful actions at home and abroad to address climate change," said Vicki Arroyo, director of policy analysis at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

The data highlight the lack of meaningful U.S. policy, she added: "This is the kind of study that should make people stay awake at night wondering what we're doing to the climate, how we're shaping the planet for future generations and, especially, what we can do about it."

If this news doesn't make people in Washington stay "awake at night," it should at least jolt them into attention in the morning.
-- Posted at 7:32 AM | Link to this post | Email this post

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