I’m attending the 17th Annual Pecora Seminar in Denver today, and have just heard a stirring presentation by Berrien Moore, executive director of Climate Central, and chair of the committee on Earth Studies at the National Research Council. Moore began his discussions by relating the current economic crisis with the climate crisis, warning that all complex systems have instabilities and that we need to beware of positive feedback loops.
Moore pointed out the Keeling Record of the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere from 1958 through 2005, recorded daily at Mauna Loa for that time period. The record and increase of carbon cycle records continue to outperform our worst case models, and we don’t understand the implications. We are also faced with decreasing performance from our oceans and forests as their carbon sequestration capability becomes saturated.
One slide helped bring the decrease of Arctic sea ice into perspective. In 1980 sea ice was the same size as the contiguous United States, and by 2007 the melt was equal to all states east of the Mississippi. All models of sea ice melt are being shattered by the increased melt cycles taking place, and we don’t understand the implications.
While economic activity has driven the emission growth, the current economic realities make it an excellent time to act. But, to stabilize the atmosphere we have to drop emissions by 80%. Moore was rather blunt in his assessment and recommendations for climate policy action in order to address this issue by suggesting that we have to:
- Create a national system, and not individual states making their own choices
- Make mandatory carbon emission limits.
- Ensure that limits are verifiable. Carbon offsets could be a $700B annual business by 2012 to address the limits. But with such a large market untruths will happen without observations
- Penalties need to be stiff for companies, and emission charges must be difficult to soften
- We have to act soon.
Moore’s final thoughts for this time of great change and call to action are that we:
- Need a new federation between NASA, NOAA and Interior (but not a combination into a new department). This federation has to have real teeth, because observational issues go well beyond the scientific issues
- Need a National Climate Council on par with the National Security Council
- Need to better understand the fossil carbon cycle
- And the United States needs to be a creative leader
In closing, Moore reminded all of us that climate change and the challenge of climate change are above and on top of all the other problems on the planet (food, fisheries, water, energy, biodiversity, etc.)