Sea Levels ‘Are Set for Continuing Rise’

 

 

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By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network

This piece first appeared at Climate News Network.

Sea-level rise may be slow to show its hand but once it really starts, researchers say, it will keep going for centuries, with baleful effects. For each degree by which the Earth warms, they believe, sea levels will probably rise by over two metres.

Some recent research has suggested that the future rate of sea-level rise may not be as fast as scientists had expected. But a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The multi-millennial sea-level commitment of global warming (article available in open access on publication: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/recent), paints a different picture.

Today’s greenhouse gas emissions will cause sea levels to rise for centuries to come. “CO2, once emitted by burning fossil fuels, stays an awful long time in the atmosphere”, says Anders Levermann, lead author of the study and research domain co-chair at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany. “Consequently, the warming it causes also persists.”

The oceans and ice sheets are slow to respond to warming, simply because of their enormous mass, which is why observed sea-level rise is now measured in millimetres per year. But once they start responding, they are unrelenting.

“The problem is: once heated out of balance, they simply don’t stop”, says Levermann. “We’re confident that our estimate is robust because of the combination of physics and data that we use.”

The study is the first to combine evidence from the Earth’s early climate history with comprehensive computer simulations using physical models of all four major contributors to long-term global sea-level rise.

Correctly estimating future rise

During the 20th century, sea level rose by about 0.2 metres, and it is projected at the moment to rise by significantly less than two metres by 2100, even under the most far-reaching scenarios considered.

But the researchers say past climate records, which average sea-level and temperature changes over a long time, suggest much higher sea levels during periods of Earth history that were warmer than at present.

For this study the international team used data from sediments from the sea bottom and ancient raised shorelines found on coastlines around the world. All the models are based on fundamental physical laws.

“The Antarctic computer simulations were able to simulate the past five million years of ice history, and the other two ice models were directly calibrated against observational data – which in combination makes the scientists confident that these models are correctly estimating the future evolution of long-term sea-level rise”, says Peter Clark, a palaeo-climatologist at Oregon State University, US, and co-author of the study.

While it remains a challenge to simulate rapid ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica, the models are able to capture ice loss that occurs on long time scales where the research team says a lot of the small rapid motion averages out.

If global mean temperature rises by 4°C compared with pre-industrial times, which in a business-as-usual scenario is projected to happen within less than a century, the Antarctic ice sheet will contribute about 50% of sea-level rise over the next two millennia.

The researchers say that while thermal expansion of the ocean (the way warmer water expands) and melting mountain glaciers are the most important factors causing sea-level change today, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will be the dominant contributors within the next two millennia.

Half of that rise might come from ice loss in Antarctica, which is currently contributing less than 10% to global sea-level rise. Greenland will add another 25% to the total, while thermal expansion, currently the largest component of sea-level rise, will contribute only about 20%. The share from mountain glaciers will decline to less than 5%, mostly because many will shrink to a minimum.

“Continuous sea-level rise is something we cannot avoid unless global temperatures go down again”, Levermann says. “Thus we can be absolutely certain that we need to adapt.”

“Sea-level rise might be slow on the time scales on which we elect governments, but it is inevitable and therefore highly relevant for almost everything we build along our coastlines, for many generations to come.”

The International Energy Agency said last month that the world was on a path which was likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6°C and 5.3°C. The following week the World Bank said that, without concerted action now, the world could warm by 2°C within 20 or 30 years, and by 4°C by the end of the century.

Recent research suggests that even fairly modest sea-level rise is cause for concern, chiefly because of its ability to increase the probable frequency of severe storms and floods.

Earlier this month the World Meteorological Organization published its decadal report, The Global Climate 2001-2010: a decade of climate extremes.

It reported that during the decade from 2001 to 2010 “global mean sea levels rose about three millimetres per year, about double the observed 20th century trend of 1.6 mm per year. Global sea level averaged over the decade was about 20 cm higher than that of 1880.”

 

 

Drier Climate Will Spread Deadly Intestinal Illnesses

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Diarrhea kills 1.5 million children worldwide each year.

 

By Alex Kirby, Climate News Network

This article first appeared at Climate News Network.

LONDON—Diarrhea, which kills 1.5 million children annually, is likely to become more prevalent in many developing countries as the climate changes, a report says. But the authors found an unexpected twist in the way the climate is likely to affect the disease.

Kathleen Alexander, an associate professor of wildlife at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, says climate drives a large part of diarrhea and related disease, increasing the threat which a changing climate poses to vulnerable communities.

The analysis of 30 years of data by her team found an unexpected peak of diarrhea during the hottest and driest part of the year, when there were most flies.

Her study, “Climate change is likely to worsen the public health threat of diarrhea disease in Botswana”, is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It is based on three decades of historical data and has implications for arid countries worldwide.

Alexander, a veterinary specialist, conducts much of her research at the Center for African Resource: Animals, Communities, and Land Use (CARACAL), in Chobe, Botswana.

She and her colleagues analysed data on diarrheal disease from 1974, eight years after Botswana gained independence from British rule, to 2003. Finding accurate and comprehensive health data in Africa is difficult, she said, and this explained why long-term studies of the links between climate and health were rare.

The World Health Organisation says diarrheal disease, the second most common cause of death in children under five years old, is both preventable and treatable. It mainly affects children under two years old, and is a leading cause of malnutrition in under-fives.

Botswana, arid and landlocked, has a subtropical climate of distinct wet and dry seasons. Professor Alexander and her team looked at monthly reports of diarrheal disease among patients treated since 1974 and compared the data with climatic variables over the same period.

A surprise conclusion

They found the two were linked – but they also found something they hadn’t expected. Many experts say contaminated water is a principal cause of the spread of diarrheal disease. The WHO says it “mostly results from contaminated food and water sources. Worldwide, around one billion people lack access to improved water and 2.5 billion have no access to basic sanitation.”

Yet the researchers’ findings indicated that water was only one of several factors to consider. “Our analysis suggests that forecast climate change increases in temperature and decreases in precipitation for the region are likely to increase dry season diarrheal disease incidence, while incidence in the wet season is likely to decline,” Alexander said.

Diarrheal case incidence peaks in both seasons in Botswana, with cases 20% more frequent on average in the dry than the wet season.

“We were not expecting diarrheal disease to be worse in the dry season,” Alexander said. But she thinks there is an explanation: “These dry season peaks occur during the hottest and driest times of the year, conditions that can increase fly activity and density.”

“This is significant, as flies can be important in the transmission of diarrheal disease-causing micro-organisms.” She believes what the flies may be doing is providing a significant boost during the dry season to other factors which are already contributing to diarrheal disease.

“Our findings suggest that climate change will increase the occurrence of diarrhea and the burden of disease among vulnerable populations in Botswana and similarly affected regions”, Professor Alexander said.

But the impact of her team’s findings was likely to be significantly reduced if shortcomings in public health were identified and remedied.

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By William Pfaff

July 17, 2013

One of the interesting questions that resulted from the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case in 2010, which assigned political personhood to corporations, is whether this corporate personhood carries responsibilities. It used to, in another age, but does it now?

The notion of the business corporation as a person was in the past a legal fiction useful in the formation of business enterprises but never before was thought to confer political rights and protections equivalent to those of human beings, as the Supreme Court has held, thereby turning American business into an unprecedentedly powerful political actor and unchecked financial contributor to electoral politics.

Certain responsibilities of “corporate citizenhood” were commonly spoken of in the past, between the Progressive Era (notably the Theodore Roosevelt presidency) and the events preceding the present global recession. Corporate responsibility was a major consideration following the Second World War period of national unity, until America’s seeming triumphal exit from the Cold War and the increasingly frenzied performance of Wall Street underwrote a second Gilded Age of false values, comparable to the original one (between the Ulysses Grant and Theodore Roosevelt presidencies) in its celebration of rampant greed and speculative finance.

The “Remapping Debate” organization in June published the results of an inquiry among 80 American multinational corporations. The question asked was whether as corporations they possessed citizen-like obligations to the American nation. Most refused to answer.

Remapping Debate’s Mike Alberti reported that “among the corporate representatives who did comment, most were unwilling to say that their corporation had any obligations to the United States, let alone to define any such obligations with specificity. Moreover, representatives of some American multinationals said that their companies do not even identify themselves as being American in any sense except that they are legally incorporated and physically headquartered in one of the states of the U.S.”

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This response clearly is heavily influenced by the fear that overt identification with the United States risks tax complications for American business organizations whose present and largely successful concentration on avoidance of tax payments anywhere is a large if not the largest contribution to net reported corporate profits today, and thus to the remuneration plus bonuses of corporate management.

An Apple executive told the New York Times in 2012, “We don’t have an obligation to solve American problems. Our only obligation is to make the best product possible,” from the sale of which Apple has accumulated more than $100 billion held untaxed outside the United States. The company borrows from banks to pay dividends demanded by stockholders rather than import its profits to pay, which would subject it to tax in the U.S. It’s cheaper to borrow and hoard the lucre abroad.

The conviction is new that the exclusive purpose of the business corporation is to profit its professional managers and stockholders (in recent years the American corporation has usually been controlled all but entirely by hired managers rather than by its founders or original owners). Its current owners, or rather its stockholders, are usually an amorphous body of fractional investors incapable of seriously influencing, much less dominating, a board of directors nominated by company executives and beholden to current management. Both stockholders and managers tend to be far more interested in private enrichment rather than in the character, corporate interests and future of the company.

Ralph Gomory, a professor of management at New York University, says that “the idea that a corporation exists solely to make money is actually quite new. … Even in the early 1980s you would be more likely to hear a chief executive officer talking about his responsibilities to the country or to his employees than to his duty to the shareholders.”

William Lazonick, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, is quoted as saying, “CEOs were extremely reluctant to shut down factories and lay off a large number of workers … seen as a serious abnegation of corporate responsibility. It was understood that the company had a responsibility to its workers, and that if it failed, society at large would be on the hook for that failure.”

This Remapping Debate paper also quotes Margaret Blair, a professor of law at Vanderbilt, as saying that executives formerly believed strongly in the connection between corporate business and the nation, and “saw the corporate sector as one of the major forces that was working in the best interests of the country. … It was not corporations versus the government. It was much more about everybody being in it together.”

Part of the reason for the dramatic change that has taken place in American business opinion obviously is globalization of business and production. A second is the onset of globalization-induced opportunities for tax minimization or sheer tax evasion. A third, as I have noted before, is the shift of corporate control from owners, now frequently powerless, even collectively, to opportunistic professional management.

The most important reason, however—in my opinion—has been the profound change that has taken place in economic ideology. Both monetarism and market theory remove from economic management voluntarism, political intelligence and moral responsibility, by describing economic function as objective and automatic. Thus the customer always makes the most advantageous choice, so the market presents a perfect and efficient mechanism dictating the choices that must be made by businesses, while always tending towards perfect competition. Labor is a mere commodity, and unions and wage demands obstacles to the free function of markets. Governments by nature are obstacles to economic freedom.

The labor market will always seek full employment, which always tends to produce inflation and reduce the value of money. The overall market always seeks equilibrium. It is a machine and, when you know how, you need merely to pull the right levers. Or such is the theory.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

 

 

BIO of William Pfaff

William Pfaff is a globally respected political commentator and author on international relations, contemporary history and U.S. policy. He is published in five countries and his column is syndicated by Tribune Media Services.

Pfaff’s sometimes controversial opinions on international law, long-term U.S. policies and American foreign relations are noted for their deep concern with the influence of history on today’s affairs and their attention to the moral complexities of international politics and action.

Pfaff’s column studies European, Middle Eastern, Asian and American concerns through a prism influenced by the experiences of an American living abroad. He is regularly published in newspapers in Europe, the Middle and Far East, Latin America and the United States.

Pfaff is the author of eight books, including “The Wrath of Nations” (Simon and Schuster, 1993) and “Barbarian Sentiments: America in the New Century” (Hill and Wang, 2000). His latest book is “Fear, Anger and Failure: A Chronicle of the Bush Administration’s War Against Terror from the Attacks of September 11, 2001 to Defeat in Baghdad” (Algora Publishing, 2004). It offers a collection of his columns on the war on terror, from September 11th until December 2003, when the U.S. policy emphasis shifted from Iraq’s reconstruction to American withdrawal. The book has been praised by Russell Baker of The New York Times as “page after page in article after article {Pfaff was writing} what should have been said week after week as Bush’s cheery civilian warriors marched us into the Middle East. Really splendid work.”

Pfaff has contributed many political essays to The New Yorker magazine. In Europe, his articles have appeared in Commentaire (Paris), Lettre Internationale (Berlin), Politique Exterior (Madrid), Europaische Rundschau (Vienna), Moderna Tider (Stockholm), Forum (Munich), Die Zeit (Hamburg). In the United States he is published in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Affairs, World Policy Journal, and The National Interest, among other magazines. Pfaff is the former deputy director of Hudson Research Europe, the European affiliate of the well-known American policy research institute.

Pfaff is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame. He is based in Paris.