A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey outlines the risks of abrupt climate change that could dramatically -- and quickly -- cause expensive hardships that would be difficult to recover from without equally dramatic adaptation.
"The United States faces the potential for abrupt climate change in the 21st century that could pose clear risks to society in terms of our ability to adapt."
That's the sentence that opens the USGS press release on the new research, which it completed in partnership with independent academic scientists. It's rare alarming language related to global warming to come from a federal agency in the Bush Administration.
Climate model simulations and observations suggest that rapid and sustained September arctic sea ice loss is likely in the 21st century.
The southwestern United States may be beginning an abrupt period of increased drought.
It is very likely that the northward flow of warm water in the upper layers of the Atlantic Ocean, which has an important impact on the global climate system, will decrease by approximately 2530 percent. However, it is very unlikely that this circulation will collapse or that the weakening will occur abruptly during the 21st century and beyond.
An abrupt change in sea level is possible, but predictions are highly uncertain due to shortcomings in existing climate models.
The report concluded that it's unlikely that Arctic permafrost will release a massive dose of methane into the atmosphere, which could cause global warming to accelerate dramatically. However, the rate of emissions is likely to increase.
The report comes as scientists are warning that coal -- the most highly polluting fossil fuel -- is not only resurgent in developing countries, but poised for a dramatic surge across the world as oil supplies dwindle and renewable energy sources struggle to scale up.
And while the U.S. had seemed on the verge of slowing the approval of new coal-powered electric generating plants because of court and internal Environmental Protection Agency decisions, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has yet again bowed to pressure from the White House in reversing course, according to a report in today's New York Times. Johnson has pretty well cemented his legacy as a stooge of the Bush Administration's most anti-environmental elements at this point. The only hope for serious action at the federal level now comes from the incoming Obama Administration and the new Congress in 2009.
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