Climate Change

For the good of all, it is time to adapt!

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Fourth Assessment Report – Climate Change 2007 (http//www.ipcc.ch/). They, and former Vice-President Al Gore Jr., were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Much controversy has since resulted, but clearly, the climate of the Earth is changing at an unprecedented pace. The impact could be devastating. Major threats to public safety, security and ­emergency response must be addressed urgently at strategic, operational and tactical levels so that we can ­mitigate causes and adapt to inevitable changes.

Much of the controversy that followed the scientific publication is ill-founded or intentionally misleading, ignoring the “Scientific Method,” the most powerful intellectual tool invented by western civilization. Science, when properly done, requires open disclosure, skeptical thinking, and testing.

Regrettably, most published criticism has been qualitative and subjective rather than quantitative and objective.

The IPCC reports consolidated the independent work of more than 1,200 authors and 2,500 scientific expert reviewers from more than 130 countries. The primary conclusions of the Working Group I (Science) are that:

  • It is “very likely” (>90%) that emissions of heat-trapping gases from human activities have caused most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century.
  • It is unequivocal that our climate is warming, with atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane exceeding the natural range over the last 650,000 years. Concentrations of these greenhouse gases have increased at a rate which is very likely to have been unprecedented in the past 10,000 years.
  • Temperatures are the highest since worldwide measurements began in 1850. The intensity of tropical cyclones has increased over the past 30 years. Parts of Africa, the Mediterranean and southern Asia have become drier. Droughts have become longer and more intense. Snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice declined. The world’s oceans have absorbed more than 80% of the additional heat, causing levels to rise. Melting glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have also raised levels.

Clearly, climate change is happening, but a determined campaign of disinformation has been unleashed upon us to raise doubts. Much of it originates from organizations responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, according to a list published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Examples include a deceptive campaign, the “Petition Project,” that included an article mimicking the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, which disclaimed any connection to the fraudulent article. Some of the most intense lobbyists had earlier spearheaded tobacco industry denials, using similar disinformation techniques.

Scientific studies have not refuted the science reported by the IPCC. Quite the contrary, some recent studies show that the IPCC was overly conservative in its ­projections and that climate change is going faster and getting worse than anticipated (for example, the melting of the Greenland ice sheets and Arctic polar ice).

The almost 26,000 data series examined by the IPCC reveal changes consistent with expected responses to global warming; regions that warm the most suffer the greatest change. Past greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will unavoidably raise the global temperature average another 0.6 degrees Celsius, now at approximately 0.8 degrees above the 1901-1950 average.

As temperatures rise, hundreds of millions of people will experience worsening water shortages. Drought-affected regions and those dependent upon glacial melt are most at risk (western North America). Crop yields will decrease with severe weather conditions. The world already sees riots caused by food shortages, especially in areas where political structures are unstable or oppressive.

If the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets were to melt into the ocean, worldwide sea levels would rise by about 7 to 12 meters. Current sea level rise is already affecting low lying areas like Bangladesh.

The influx of cold Arctic melt-water could affect the “Atlantic thermohaline ­circulation,” decreasing the warmth of the Gulf Stream and plunging Atlantic Canada and northern Europe into much colder temp­eratures. The oceanic multi-year ice and Greenland ice-cap are melting faster and are at greater risk than projected by the IPCC.

Oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns have already shifted and are likely to create more frequent and intense weather-related events. We may have seen such an impact in the deaths of over 100,000 people in Burma from cyclone Nargis.

North America will experience lengthened fire seasons and pest infestations (such as the mountain pine beetle). Consequent degradation of forests will only add to the atmospheric CO2 burden.

Some animal species will be at increased risk of extinction through depletion of habitat or inability to adapt to rapid environmental change.

We can expect these factors to result in increased rates of death, damage, disruption, starvation, disease, injuries, social unrest, and even war in various parts of the world.

For our own security and prosperity, we must develop plans and methods to minimize the impact of climate change and to reduce GHG emissions.

The IPCC Working Group III Report identifies a number of strategies to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change.  The Stern Review on the economics of climate change estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equal to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year. Given a wider range of risk and impact, the damages could rise beyond 20%. In contrast, the costs of mitigating action and adaptation can limit the loss to 1% of global GDP each year.

Among economic strategies to reduce GHG emissions are cap-and-trade markets, carbon taxes, and voluntary reductions aimed at more efficient energy consumption.

It is clear to the scientific world that we need to urgently direct hundreds of billions of dollars in research and development of less damaging energy sources like nuclear fission and fusion. Plug-in electrical vehicles could reduce CO2 emissions significantly, given nuclear sourcing.

We cannot afford to wait for impact mitigation strategies. This is particularly true because of expected exponential growth in GHG emissions from emerging countries like China and India, building a couple of coal-fired plants each day.

In the face of inevitable near-term con-sequences of climate change, we also need adaptation strategies. The Government of Canada has produced a comprehensive document titled From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate, involving over 30 expert editors and authors (http://adaptation2007.nrcan.gc.ca).

The single most effective strategy for adaptation is management of risk, especially identification, analysis and objective evaluation. However, there are barriers, such as access to knowledge, data and decision support tools; regulations or legislation limiting options; societal expectations; and ignorance.

A wealth of data is available to anyone, unfortunately, most of it is in proprietary form or requires significant pre-processing, thus limiting it’s accessibility and potential usefulness.

Governments can assist by mandating the use of existing open information standards. Available data repositories include location and time-specific climate and weather data, GHG emissions, energy availability, consumption and pricing, and other measurements such as Arctic ice coverage and thickness.

Existing interoperability standards need broader acceptance (for example, National and Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastruc­ture and Object Management Group C4I interfaces).

Within North America, regions will be subject to differing pressures.

In the North, where climate change is most severe, water shortages, melting perma­frost and sea ice will strain infrastructure, transportation and resource accessibility. Toxic waste and excessive water consumption by tar sand extraction have already exacerbated health and abundance prob-lems. We will need to invest in construction and application of more efficient technology to overcome these problems.

Along the Atlantic, sea levels will threaten infrastructure and may require re-build­ing or diking. Changes in weather severity may also threaten flooding, increased storm surges and erosion.

Québec, Ontario and New England, heavily dependent upon hydroelectric power, will find that reduced water flows create difficulties; forcing re­duction in consumption and initiatives to avoid on-peak usage through intelligent control systems built around knowledge of climate and electrical energy pricing and availability.

The 2001-2002 droughts in the prairies had a $5.8B impact on Canada’s GDP. Increased fires, droughts and water shortages will have severe impact on food production although this might be alleviated slightly by longer growing seasons in northern regions. We should encourage more localized food markets and avoid diverting needed food resources to the extremely inefficient production of subsidized biofuels.

On the west coast, reduced water flows will encourage hydroelectric consumption efficiencies. The forest industry has been badly crippled by infestation, fire and over-logging. We may need to renegotiate trans-border water and lumber agreements.

Most at risk globally are states with fragile capabilities or unstable government. We can expect a need to avoid and contain starvation and disease while managing ­tensions introduced through population migration. We will see increasing demands for humanitarian relief, peacemaking and protection from terrorism.

Climate Change poses some of the biggest security threats ever to challenge civilization. We need dramatically improved education about the risks, and a determination to avoid them and lessen their impact. Fortunately, much preliminary work has been done. What is needed now is the ­committed public and political will to push forward.

A graduate from Royal Military College in Mathematics and Physics, Mr. Alan P. Burke is the President of Orcagis Inc., focussing on zero-defect software development and modelling in the fields of public safety, public health, energy and the environment.
© FrontLine Security 2008