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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Climate Change: IPCC Update and Effects on the U.S.

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In response to the 2007 IPCC Report, scientists saw a need to update policy makers about the current and future states of our climate system prior to the next IPCC Report.  One factor pushing the research is the expectation of an updated climate change response agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.  Such an update could ocur in Copenhagen, Denmark, later this year.  Leading up to that meeting, climate news continues to be issued.  I’m going to take a look at three such news pieces in this post.

Tying the other two articles together in a more large-scale sense is this article: climate experts warn of irreversible shifts.  As I’ve written about in the past few months as I’ve read some of the ongoing research, the bottom line is this:

“The worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized,” a team of scientists wrote in a concluding statement. “There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.”

Among those scenarios were rising sea levels of 7 to 23 inches – nothing to ignore, certainly – but the causal factors going into that sea level rise have been increasing at a faster rate than the IPCC Report indicated.  Today’s best-cast scenarios encompass 7-23″ sea level rise.  Today’s worst-case scenarios have the rise pegged in feet to meters.  Such a rise would simply be catastrophic to world societies and ecosystems.  Wise economists recognize that the current economic slowdown is the perfect place-setting for a change in business to a more energy-efficient future.  Such a switch could power 21st century economic growth.

Working our way down from global to national effects comes this piece of news: Northeast warned of new source of rising seas.  This new source is a result of how ice and sea water mass is currently distributed and how melting ice would be distributed in a future, overall warmer climate.  The mid-Atlantic to New England states of the U.S. could see up to an additional 8″ of sea level to whatever the rest of the country might experience.  So instead of 24″-36″, New York, Boston and other cities could see 32″-44″ of sea level rise.  I think that might have an effect on whatever climate change response plans policy makers come up with.  To add to the problem already presented, imagine how these cities would be affected if a nor’easter or a hurricane moves through the area with 32″-44″ more water.  Such storms would add additional inches to feet of accumulated sea water to the coastal areas.  Elected officials must be prepared to contend with these kinds of scenarios moving forward.  This kind of work needs to be expanded to additional areas and more details needs to become available.

There is an example of such work from California.  Estimates are being compiled for the California’s interagency Climate Action Team, as California counts costs from projected warming details.  There are plenty of numbers in this article.  How about $100 billion in property damage alone if seas rise 5 feet?  How about costs ranging from $2.5 billion to $15 billion per year by 2050 (not including that $100 bilion).  The important summary paragraph puts it this way:

If nothing is done globally to reduce emissions, the studies warn, hotter temperatures will lead to rising sea levels that will flood property in the San Francisco Bay area, lead to lower crop yields and water shortages, produce more intense wildfires and cause more demand for electricity to cool homes.

More numbers and findings:

The study by the Pacific Institute estimates that a 5-foot rise in sea levels by 2100 would effect 480,000 people who live in areas at risk, causing $100 billion in property damage.

“An overwhelming two thirds of that property is concentrated on San Francisco Bay,” the institute stated, adding that a 5-foot rise is possible if greenhouse gases increase at a pace regarded as a “medium-high” scenario. San Francisco and Oakland international airports are at risk of being under water, as are 3,500 miles of roads, 30 power plants and 29 wastewater treatment plants.

What to do about it?  The Institute provided two possible solutions:

“Coastal armoring is one potential adaptation strategy,” the institute said. “Approximately 1,100 miles of new or modified coastal protection structures — such as dikes and dunes, seawalls, and bulkheads — are needed on the Pacific Coast and San Francisco Bay” to protect against flooding from a 5 foot sea level rise. “The cost of building new or upgrading existing structures is estimated to be at least $14 billion, with an additional $1.4 billion per year in maintenance costs.”

The institute added that an “alternative to costly engineering projects” would be “non-structural” responses that “allow natural processes to work, and include a retreat from the most at-risk areas, or deciding not to rebuild flood-damaged properties.”

Those cost estimates are characterized as “conservative” by a Californian economist.  Without looking at detailed information, my gut reaction is to agree with that assessment.  I simply can’t see building or upgrading 1,100 miles of coastal protection structures costing only $14 billion.  That being said, the cost of doing nothing is obviously far greater.  Oh – small business costs weren’t included in the studies yet either.  That line about a retreat from high at-risk areas needs particular attention by policy makers.  How would such a thing occur?  Where would you move people and infrastrcture?  What process would be employed to do such a thing?

The science is settled.  The policy debate is just beginning.

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One thought on “Climate Change: IPCC Update and Effects on the U.S.

  1. Pingback: Four-Corners Tree Die-Off Tied To Global Climate Change Drought « Weatherdem’s Weblog

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