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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Global Warming "Irreversible"

A recent study conducted by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that global warming may already be irreversible, even in the event of significant and immediate reduction in carbon emissions worldwide. According to the study, the Arctic has already plummeted over a precipice and passed the point at which global warming might have been halted or substantially slowed.

From The Independent:

A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.

They believe global warming is melting Arctic ice so rapidly that the region is beginning to absorb more heat from the sun, causing the ice to melt still further and so reinforcing a vicious cycle of melting and heating.

The greatest fear is that the Arctic has reached a “tipping point” beyond which nothing can reverse the continual loss of sea ice and with it the massive land glaciers of Greenland, which will raise sea levels dramatically.

Significant evidence of global climate change became apparent in the 1970s and has slowly escalated over the past thirty years. However, a more dramatic melt began approximately 4 years ago:

Satellites monitoring the Arctic have found that the extent of the sea ice this August has reached its lowest monthly point on record, dipping an unprecedented 18.2 per cent below the long-term average.

Experts believe that such a loss of Arctic sea ice in summer has not occurred in hundreds and possibly thousands of years. It is the fourth year in a row that the sea ice in August has fallen below the monthly downward trend – a clear sign that melting has accelerated.

The Independent

As more and more sea ice is lost during the summer, greater expanses of open ocean are exposed to the sun which increases the rate at which heat is absorbed in the Arctic region, Dr Serreze said.

Sea ice reflects up to 80 per cent of sunlight hitting it but this “albedo effect” is mostly lost when the sea is uncovered. “We’ve exposed all this dark ocean to the sun’s heat so that the overall heat content increases,” he explained.

Current computer models suggest that the Arctic will be entirely ice-free during summer by the year 2070 but some scientists now believe that even this dire prediction may be over-optimistic, said Professor Peter Wadhams, an Arctic ice specialist at Cambridge University.

The Independent

Where once the assumption had been that a catastrophic global warming crisis would last only 200-300 years, scientists now say that there is evidence indicating that such a crisis could last a millennium.

A team of environmental researchers in the US has warned many effects of climate change are irreversible.

The scientists concluded global temperatures could remain high for 1,000 years, even if carbon emissions can somehow be halted.

[. . .]

The team warned that, if carbon levels in the atmosphere continued to rise, there would be less rainfall in already dry areas of southern Europe, North America, parts of Africa and Australia.

The scientists say the oceans are currently slowing down global warming by absorbing heat, but they will eventually release that heat back into the air.

They say politicians must now offset environmental damage already done by man-made pollution.

“People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide the climate would go back to normal in 100 years, 200 year – that’s not true,” said researcher Susan Solomon, the lead author of the report, quoted by AP news agency.

BBC News

If global warming is indeed unstoppable, the consequences will be disastrous. In addition to a tragic and permanent loss of wildlife,

Rising sea levels would cause “irreversible commitments to future changes in the geography of the Earth, since many coastal and island features would ultimately become submerged,” the study said.

Decreases in rainfall that last for centuries can be expected to have a range of impacts, said the authors. Regional impacts include — but are not limited to — decreased human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts.

Raw Story


  1. Strummerson

    I have little more to add.  I guess this makes the horrific winter we’re suffering in MI seem a little more bearable.  I’ve a driveway full of ice I’d willingly contribute to the Arctic, but I doubt it would make much difference.

  2. creamer

    so I tend to lean to the prevailing opinion of the worlds scientist. I am always supprised by the number of people with the same level of scientific training as myself( that would be none) are able to disregard climate change as a threat.

    I would very much like to be better versed in the subject and would happily accept recomendations for reading. Preferably for unscientist like myself.

  3. This brings with it a whole set of needs to “grow up” on many sides of the ideological landscape.  The religio-conservative view that “mankind is not capable of affecting the climate” needs to wake up and smell the carbon, and the enviro-liberal view that if we “just left Mother Nature alone she would fix herself” needs to put down the crystals and grab the calculators.

    Mankind is more than capable of affecting the climate, it’s a simple numbers issue and – though large – the atmosphere is not an infinite object.  Thinking otherwise is a “we are so humble and pathetic before God” attitude that is akin to driving with your eyes closed.

    Mother Nature may well “heal herself” left to her own devices, but that may include the extinction of us and most everything on the planet’s surface (she’s healed herself that way many times before).  Nature Worship is no more rational than any other blind faith: natural cycles include the extinction of everything and the eventual extermination of all life on the planet, so there’s no need to get too misty-eyed over them.

    It is necessary that we embrace our responsibilities in this area like adults.  I can make any number of specific guesses, but in short I see the coming centuries as a time when we not only engineer solutions to the problems we cause but engage in mega projects in the management of our planet (and more).  In the coming millennium we will not only see Terrestrial Operating System (“TOS”, you heard it here first ;~) infrastructures created (such as Aquifer Charging), but we will herd the loose bodies in the solar system and perhaps even make a start on figuring out how to manage the sun.

    Not a prospect for the faint of heart, but nothing ever is after Childhood’s End.  Time to leave Peter Pan and Tink in the nursery.

  4. spacemanspiff

    I’ve actually got another great article on this from the Guardian

    A vast expanse of western Sibera is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could dramatically increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn today.

    Researchers who have recently returned from the region found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres – the size of France and Germany combined – has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

    The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world’s largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

    The Guardian article ends with a reference to New Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate and the failure of the G8 summit to deal with climate change:

    Last month, some of the world’s worst air polluters, including the US and Australia, announced a partnership to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the use of new technologies.

    The deal came after Tony Blair struggled at the G8 summit to get the US president, George Bush, to commit to any concerted action on climate change and has been heavily criticised for setting no targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

    The ocean bottom waters have measurably warmed, reducing their ability to carry nutrients, to absorb oxygen and CO2, and to power the ocean circulation currents.  The increase in ocean temperatures also raises the probability of ‘melting’ the huge deposits of methane hydrate currently sitting on the ocean bottoms off British Columbia, the southeastern US coastline, and other places around the world. The methane released from these ocean deposits will provide further positive feedback to the cycle. I don’t know if we’ve reached the tipping point yet or not, but things are looking pretty grim.

    The permafrost is melting.

    Glaciers and Ice caps are melting.

    Vegetation and animal species are moving to keep in synch with their ecological niches.

    We told you so.

  5. what has kept the pot boiling for those suffering from (or promoting) the environment denial syndrome (EDS) is the notion that processes like global warming follow such a slow time-scale, that we will somehow be able to wriggle out of their consequences. but sadly for all of us, evidence to the contrary is mounting.

  6. Michelle

    Makes me sad to think how we are ruining that which we NEED to live…we have been terrible stewards of our mother Earth.  I do my part by reducing, reusing, and recycling with all that I can and am constantly after everyone I know to do the same.

  7. Hollede

    us in more than the obvious ways. I remember twenty years or so ago when it was determined that the ozone could not be repaired and the assumption was that we had killed the planet (to be determined at a later date).

    I am not suggesting that global climate change can be reversed or fixed or whatever. I just really hate absolutes. They can cause people to give up hope. The fact is that all of this is guess work (however scientific and sophisticated that guess work is) and for NOAA to make such a final conclusion that the warming of the Earth is irreversible is difficult for me to accept.

    I do think we need a serious kick in the ass on the environment. Let us take care that we don’t kick so hard we cannot get up.

  8. Kysen

    It really is horrifying to read/hear about the damage we hath wrought. The extremes of the damage we have caused reaches far beyond the causation of Global Warming. We are destroying our planet across the board.

    90% of tuna and other large fish have disappeared from our oceans in the past 50 years. 90%. Got that horrifying factoid from this 5 part series on the status of our oceans:

    (highly recommend taking the time to check it out)

    It all makes my head hurt.


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