A killing climate
Global warming unchecked
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The global response to climate change is incapable of addressing the catastrophic consequences to a planet dependent on burning fossil fuels for energy, spewing greater volumes of the greenhouse gases that are boosting temperatures at an accelerating rate.

This gloomy assessment is based on new scientific studies that describe, with increasing certainty, the arrival of severe climate disruption sooner and with greater intensity than scientists had predicted even a few years ago.

At the midway point of an international conference on climate change, the 194 countries meeting in Doha, Qatar, have become increasingly divided and less likely to forge agreements necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures above that benchmark are expected to force radical changes in how, and in what numbers, humans will inhabit the earth.

The World Bank and the International Energy Agency are warning that if current climate trends continue unabated, the rate of global warming will increase temperatures by an alarming 4C to 6C, with rising sea levels swamping coastlines, and widespread famine, storms and heat waves forcing widespread human migrations.

October marked the 333rd straight month of temperatures topping the average for the 20th century. This year is expected to be among the nine warmest on record, according to figures dating back to the 19th century.

"Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records," Michel Jarraud, head of the World Meteorological Organization, said in a statement Wednesday.

He pointed to the dramatic rate of melting of Arctic ice over the summer to its lowest level since satellite records have been available. "The trend is not only continuing but accelerating. The more it melts, the faster it will melt," Jarraud said in a New York Times report.

Sea levels rise as the ice melts, and are almost 8 inches higher than a century ago, when a deadly storm such as Hurricane Sandy would not have carried the same destructive punch, he said.

Sadly, far too often in Utah government leaders and others dismiss global warming as a scare tactic by environmental activists with agendas that include cleaner energy sources and mass transit as substitutes for the fossil fuels that power the state and national economies.

Such ignorance, blind or willful, has transformed climate change into a political issue rather than the global threat it clearly is proving to be. Somehow, achieving American oil independence is seen as an imperative far more compelling than reducing carbon emissions that, at their current rate of production, will profoundly alter the lives of our grandchildren and their posterity.

In truth, Utah is merely a microcosm of the denial and political inertia that to date have kept climate change a back-burner issue that, from Salt Lake City to Singapore, is eclipsed by economic considerations, both real and imagined, that keep carbon-based fuels the cheapest and most indispensable source of energy across the globe.

Trouble is, the window of opportunity for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to safer levels is closing fast, and the inevitability of a disastrous 6C or greater increase in the rate at which temperatures are rising, is becoming more likely.

Here are examples of some of the recent findings and statements about climate change and the danger it poses for our own and future generations:

Trouble at the poles: A study published Thursday in the journal Science found that the polar ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are losing three times as much ice as 20 years ago, threatening low-lying coastal areas with rising sea levels. Julie Brigham Grette at the University of Massachusetts Amherst told The Washington Post that as the oceans warm and expand, and polar ice melts, sea level is expected to rise by about 40 inches before the end of the century. "It's not like it's going to happen in the future," she said, "it's happening now."

A year of droughts and floods: Average temperatures for the first nine months of 2012 were 0.45 degrees Celsius above the average for 1961 through 1990, including record temperatures in Greenland, Siberia and Central China, and widespread drought in much of the United States, western Russia and southern China. Severe flooding struck parts of West and sub-Saharan Africa. A mere 1-degree Celsius rise in temperature is enough to increase the number of extreme weather events, according to the World Meteorological Organization, reported in Thursday's The New York Times.

Too many gigatons of greenhouse gases: The United Nations Environment Programme said last week that greenhouse-gas emissions this year were 20 percent greater than in 2000, and somewhere around 14 percent higher than where emissions must be to hit the 2-degee Celsius mark by 2020 — The Economist, Dec. 1.