Climate Change Forum, Marylhurst University, October 20, 2007

 

Agenda: (www.marylhurst.edu/calendar/20071020climatechangeconference.php)

 

Opening Speaker: Dr. Nancy Wilgenbusch, President, Marylhurst University:

 

   Environments are personal, overlapping, permeable, and intertwined with economics.  The Personal—world boundaries firmed up as a child, dinner table conversation about environmental issues.  The Chinese use one barrel of oil per person (vs. 30 barrels for a USA citizen).  However, the Chinese are building one coal-fire plant per week.  Since 1950, the USA has emitted 50 billion tons of greenhouse gases, China 15 billion tons.  Nancy saw thousands of icebergs off the coast of Greenland in the summer of 2006 clearly visible at 38,000 feet.  The Overlap—pollution in other countries impacts the world.  The USA uses 25% of the world’s fossil fuel but comprises 5% of the population.  The Economics—industrial production (e.g., China, Brazil-Amazon Rain Forest) is cheaper than environmental protection, so what is the incentive to conserve and protect?

 

 

Making Sense of What Scientists are saying about Climate Change, Prof. Ron Mitchell, University of Oregon:

 

   Scientists say that global warming is unequivocal.  Although natural variability exists, the human cause is “very likely.”  The response- acceptance, adaptation, and mitigation.  More climate change expected in the future.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has Science, Impacts, and Response working groups.  IPCC consolidates, not produces, existing knowledge on climate change science.  Why should we believe the IPCC?  Many studies, all peer-reviewed, offer environmental signs that point in the same direction, align with theoretical predictions, even with differing perspectives. 

 

  Basic science facts: increased temperatures, increase in unusual weather, and carbon dioxide gas increase (www.vitalgraphics.net/climate2.cfm).  Do other impacts line up?  Natural plus human cause, combined, gives the best fit of the observed data.  Global warming is part of climate change and associated other impacts (e.g., change in precipitation/snow distribution, frequency, and intensity, extreme events, sea-level rise).  Observed global warming: +1 to +2 degF, since 1900.  Future warming: +2 to +11 degF by 2100.  Future impacts: Oregon warmer, Europe cooler (if Gulf Stream shuts down due Greenland ice melt), Arctic very warm, more rain, less snow, and intense precipitation.  Expect rapid melt of Arctic and Greenland ice and more extreme weather (e.g., intense hurricanes, drought, floods, and heat waves).  Sea level could rise 1-3 feet by 2100.  Driving causes: carbon dioxide (fossil fuel) emissions and deforestation.  Oregon impacts: forest fires, pine beetle infestation, glacial/snow field retreat, and sea-level rise. 

 

  Action- cut emissions by 60% from 1990 levels.  American society is a major problem, with its wasteful consumer ethic.  Many of the climate change impacts will be permanent- species loss and snow loss.  Adaptations: dams, seawalls, and power-plants.  Mitigation costs: 1-4% global GDP or 5% without a plan of action.

 

Climate Variability and Why, Prof. Christina Hulbe, Portland State University:

 

   Climate is a statistical composite.  Earth’s orbit, ocean circulation, and continental location determine the Earth’s climate patterns, as the physics of fluids in motion.  Major climate modes- northern (Arctic Oscillation, North Atlantic Oscillation), tropical (ENSO, Pacific-North America pattern, southern annular mode, mean monthly Sea-Level Pressure).  IPCC 3rd Assessment graph shows natural, human, and combined temperature anomalies.  The Southern Polar Vortex shows increased circulation so the ice break-up around Antarctica will increase.  The human coping range- how large for rapid change?

 

 

Lessons from Past Climate Change, Prof. Alan Mix, Oregon State University:

 

   The atmospheric system is sensitive to change due to small forcings.  How sensitive were past climates?  Paleoclimatology looks at proxy data (i.e., representative signals that indicate past climate conditions) from sediments, fossil plankton, isotope geochemistry, etc.  However, is proxy data truly representative of what you seek?  One example is counting foraminifera (temperature sensitive) in ocean sediment cores.  About 21,000 years ago, the ocean surface changed by 2-3 degC, cooling at high latitudes, with a ~5 degC global change (Mix et.al., 2001).  Observations are in good agreement with model output (Hewitt et.al, 2003) but disagree on stability of sub-tropics and cooling ocean boundaries.  Ice Age forcing factors: ice-sheet, vegetation, -3.5 W/m2, greenhouse gases, -2.6 W/m2, and aerosols, -0.5 W/m2.  Ice cores are good paleo-CO2 proxies.  Antarctic ice CO2 was 200-300 ppm (“normal”) during 0-400,000 years ago (Alley, 2004).  Now, the CO2 level is 380 ppm.  Thermal inertia is the slow lag time of a response in the atmosphere.  So, the CO2 emissions will continue the atmospheric warming for decades to come.  North America and South America have differing responses over time, due to the differences in oceanic heat transport (i.e., the Conveyor Belt).  Ice-Age forcings: change in Earth’s orbit and variations in solar radiation combine to produce patterned cycles and variability.  Positive climate change feedbacks—water vapor, CO2, methane, melting sea ice, and ice-sheet breakup.  There were more ENSO events in the last 2000 years than during 2000-10,000 years ago.

 

 

Climate Models and Predicting the Future, Prof. Karen Shell, Oregon State University:

 

   Climate is a dynamic energy budget of the Earth.  Stable climate means that absorbed sunlight is balanced by outgoing infrared radiation (Kiehl and Trenberth, 1997).  CO2 doubling gives +1.2 degC (2 degF) increase in global average temperature, assuming other state variables (e.g., water vapor, clouds, snow) doesn’t change, or +2 to 4.5 degC with feedback loops included.  Climate models simulate land surface (e.g., albedo), ocean (e.g., currents, temperature, salinity), and atmosphere processes—all dynamically linked.  Current model resolution is “T85” (100x150 km grids or 60x90 mi).  In the Future, expect +0.2 degC per decade, on average.  Bookend scenarios include B1 +1.8 degC and A1F1 +4 degC.  Other impacts include increase in heat waves, precipitation, and extreme weather.  High latitudes and continents will warm faster than the tropics and oceans.  More certain: increasing temperatures and sea-level rise.  Less certain: hurricane frequency and intensity.

 

Earth’s Dwindling Glaciers, Prof. Andrew Fountain, Portland State University:

 

   Sea-water is expanding due to warming temperatures.  Grinnell (Montana), Darwin (Kings Canyon National Park, CA), South Cascade (North Cascades National Park, WA), and Collier (Three Sisters, Oregon) Glaciers are show major decline.  Glaciers in Glacier National Park have retreated 66% since 1900.  Cascade glaciers have seen a 24-46% loss.  Patagonia (South America) has seen a big loss: -35 103 kg/m3.  The Sean Glacier grew during 1980-1995 but is now declining.  Since 1960, Alaska -25 (103 kg/m3) and Pacific Northwest -20 (103 kg/m3).  Ice flow into the ocean from Greenland is increasing.  The ice flow is initially fast then thins and slows.  Melt-ice holes (moulins) rapidly transport water to the base of the glacier and enhance glacial sliding.  The process is far faster than originally thought.  Climate models don’t show rapid Greenland melt at all or the dynamic response.  The 2007 IPCC report calls for a 30 cm sea level rise by 2100 but could be higher if the Greenland ice sheet melts rapidly.

 

 

Climate Change in the Pacific Northwest, Prof. William Calvin, University of Washington:

 

  The climate change problem is underestimated, especially on the time scale.  The belief that CO2 can be all absorbed by the ocean changed by the 1950s, as science greatly underestimated the impact of fossil fuel consumption.  During 1950-1973, “global dimming” occurred due to industrial emissions.  The Arctic sea-ice minimum is measured annually during September.  The 2007 minimum has accelerated even since 2005.  Other evidence: more extreme weather events, drought, wild fires, ocean acidification, floods and landslides (especially in the last 20 years), high wind events, heat waves, and the first hurricane ever recorded in the South Atlantic Ocean (2004).  The Pacific Northwest warmed +1.5 degF during the 20th Century and Snow-Water Equivalents declined -15% to -60%.  Future: +0.5 degF per decade, up to +1 degF by 2080 (www.global-fever.org) and Pacific NW hydropower will see increased winter generation (with lower demand) and decreased summer generation (with higher demand).  The Skagit River delta will be inundated and the lower Columbia will see a 20 sea-level rise.  The Sacramento delta will be inundated and regional freshwater supplies will be a great risk from salt intrusion.  Florida could see 1/3 of its state underwater and 15 million climate refugees.  Could ENSO events double in length?  California has been more serious about environmental issues as their electrical consumption has been nearly flat, ~6000 kWh per person (1973-2000) vs. U.S. (12,000 kWh per person, 2002).  Technological solutions: hybrid vehicles, nuclear and geothermal energy plants, and subterranean transmission lines.  If we slow, stop, and reverse the emissions by 2020, then we could keep the atmosphere warming below +2 degC and avoid the +3 degC catastrophe. 

 

 

Sustainability in the Face of Climate Change, Jill Sughrue, Sustain NW (www.sustain-nw.com):

 

   Will business as usual bring litigation tomorrow?  There is more shareholder initiative to alter corporate practices.  The Carbon Disclosure Project (www.cdproject.net) asks 2400 companies in 2007 to disclose their “carbon-footprint.”  Common risks – physical, competitive, regulatory, reputational, and liability.  Potential liability claims – general, product, environmental, professional (officers and board of directors), political, and vehicle.  In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Mass. v. EPA, said that the EPA has the authority to regulate CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.  The triple bottom-line is profit, people, planet (i.e., corporate citizenship).  The Equator Principal assesses environmental impacts before granting a development.  Need to embrace “Natural Capitalism” via research, energy/mechanical efficiency, biomimicry, and restoration practices.  The Way Forward: The Earth Charter (www.earthcharter.org).

 

Note-taker: Kyle Dittmer, President (2005-2008), Oregon AMS