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Forecast: More extreme weather unless climate policy changes

by Anthony Raap
Dec 11, 2012

After a U.N. climate summit ended Saturday in Doha, Qatar, with no significant progress on global warming, experts are warning that more climate-related disasters are likely unless governments act quickly to curb carbon emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes.

“It’s going to take enough disasters around the world … more Sandy-type hurricanes” to “finally get people to realize that the costs of not doing something far outweigh the cost of doing something,” said Don Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois. Wuebbles, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Al Gore for their work on climate change, is unimpressed with the results of the Doha gathering.

Unless the current trends are halted, experts say, extreme weather of all kinds – heat waves, floods and drought – will become more common worldwide in the future.

While the search for a solution remains stalled, global carbon dioxide emissions continue to spiral, rising 3 percent in 2011, according to a paper published this month in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas linked to global warming, are expected to rise a further 2.6 percent in the current year.

Since the industrial era began pumping CO2 into the admosphere, the planet has already warmed 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, research shows. The shift is accelerating, scientists say: an international goal of keeping temperatures from rising no more than 3.6 degrees may now be unattainable, climate experts fear. That goal was established only three years ago.

Even though the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has surged 40 percent from pre-industrial levels to 390 parts per million, that level is “ probably going to go much higher because we’re not doing anything about stopping the burning of fossil fuels,” said Wuebbles, who is co-authoring the long-awaited 2013 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But so far, the rising global emissions have failed to spur far-reaching changes in energy policy. Emissions from coal, which contains the most carbon of any fossil fuel, rose 5 percent in 2011, according to new figures from the Global Carbon Project.

Emissions fell slightly in the U.S., reflecting a weak economy and outsourced manufacturing. But on a global basis emissions are rising, largely because developing countries like China and India are burning more fossil fuels as their populations grow.

This has created tension between the developed world and still-developing countries over how to tackle the issue of climate change without impeding economic growth.

But emerging countries as well as industrialized nations need to get serious about curbing emissions, said Richard Treptow, a retired chemistry and physics professor at Chicago State University who lectures on the perils of global warming.

If the amount of greenhouse gases continues to rise, future generations will pay the price, Treptow said.

Extreme weather will become more commonplace, climate experts predict. Heat waves will be more severe. Drought will be more frequent. “Our grandchildren are going to be suffering,” Treptow predicted.

In the end, he said, global warming is a moral issue. “We simply need countries to feel a sense of responsibility.”


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