Climate perceptions

The Climate Institute has recently released the results of comprehensive research into Australian attitudes to climate change and related policies.

The results are hardly surprising when you consider the current environment of volatile climate politics, economic uncertainties, carbon pricing realities, low-carbon technological advances, global developments and shifting perceptions of prosperity and quality of life.

In 2012, Australians are uncertain about the science and unconvinced by the carbon laws, but are open to be convinced on both.

For the majority concern about climate change is moderate, but greater concern regarding associated impacts and minimal support for inaction suggests a deeper level of worry. This disparity may be due to climate change, once considered a scientific and ecological issue, becoming a highly politicised discourse being played out in the media.

There is a large segment of the population with a latent concern for climate change and its associated implications that are not quite yet convinced of a need for action. This segment is likely to be available to be “won” by any side of the debate.

Australians are prepared to do their bit so long as government and business shoulder responsibility and perform better. Business performance gets a far stronger net performance disapproval rating than the federal government. Only the media’s performance is rated worse than business.

Attitudes have, however, been overwhelmingly impacted by the bitterly partisan public policy debates and eroding trust in political parties and institutions.

Twice as many Australians agree that Labor has a more effective emissions reduction plan than support the Coalition’s, but both need to convince a third to half of Australians to get majority support. Less than half of Australians – 44 per cent – think that the Coalition will repeal the carbon laws.

The carbon pricing laws are unpopular, but support grows when the laws are explained. This suggests that a significant proportion of Australians who are uncertain about the laws are open to be convinced.

What is clear is that Australians overwhelmingly support renewable energy, particularly solar power, and greater energy efficiency for industry and households. Coal trails nuclear in the preferred energy mix, which is dominated by renewables: solar, wind and hydro.

The collapse of bipartisan support for carbon pricing, cost of living concerns and contradictory scientific opinions have had an impact on climate change concern and support for solutions.

However, the evidence suggests deeper levels of concern and potential for rebound as the reality of carbon price impacts emerge and with early evidence that the carbon price is changing business behaviour.

How these mix with underlying values, views of prosperity and trust in messengers will determine the climate of the nation in coming months and years.
John Connor
CEO of The Climate Institute.

Rising sea level is a threat

Earlier this year I asked Mr Andrew Constance what his position was on the science of climate change. He responded by asking to see “the evidence that sea level rise will be 900mm over the next 100 years and why this needs to stifle property development and affect all property owners near the region’s beaches and waterways having had tens of thousands of dollars wiped off the value of their places.”

That’s a fair question, and one that is particularly relevant to our part of the world.

A new analysis released earlier this month in the journal Science (‘Ice Volume and Sea Level During the Last Interglacial’ Dutton, et al. 13 July 2012) implies that sea level could rise dramatically higher over the next few centuries than scientists previously thought – somewhere between 18-to-29 feet above current levels, rather than the 13-to-20 feet they were talking about just a few years ago.

That is a projection of between 5.5 and 8.8 meters over the next few centuries. That would put hundreds of coastal cities around the globe entirely under water, displacing many hundreds of millions of people and destroying untold trillions in property.

The increase in sea level would largely come from the partial melting of giant ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica, which have remained largely intact since the end of the last ice age, nearly 20,000 years ago. Fortunately we have several hundred years to prepare for that level of inundation.

What can we expect by the end of this century?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report report indicated that there would be up to 59 cm of sea level rise over the next century, as a result of the expansion of the oceans due to warming. The IPCC did not include contribution from melting ice caps due to the uncertainty in modelling ice melt rates. It is therefore generally acknowledged that the IPCC’s assessment is conservative.

What all of this means for sea level rise by the end of the century isn’t entirely certain. We know that currently sea level is rising at between 3 and 4mm each year. We know that the rate of sea level rise will increase as that planet warms. Current projections still put the most likely increase by 2100 at somewhere under a meter, which is bad enough. But scientists still barely understand the dynamics of the world’s great ice sheets. They could turn out to be more stable than glaciologists expect.

Or, as new results seem to imply, they could be much less.

There is a large amount of scientific information, using multiple lines of evidence, published in the most respected peer reviewed scientific journals, from scientific bodies across the globe to suggest that we should expect and start planning for sea level rises.
Matthew Nott

Greenland is melting

The Greenland ice sheet is poised for another record melt this year, and is approaching a “tipping point” into a new and more dangerous melt regime in which the summer melt area covers the entire land mass, according to new findings from polar researchers.

The ice sheet is the focus of scientific research because its fate has huge implications for global sea levels, which are already rising as ice sheets melt and the ocean warms, exposing coastal locations to greater damage from storm surge-related flooding.

Greenland’s ice has been melting faster than many scientists expected just a decade ago, spurred by warming sea and land temperatures.

New findings show that the reflectivity of the Greenland ice sheet, particularly the high-elevation areas where snow typically accumulates year-round, have reached a record low since records began in 2000. This indicates that the ice sheet is absorbing more energy than normal, potentially leading to another record melt year just two years after the 2010 record melt season.

“In this condition, the ice sheet will continue to absorb more solar energy in a self-reinforcing feedback loop that amplifies the effect of warming,” wrote Ohio State polar researcher Jason Box. Greenland is the world’s largest island, and it holds 680,000 cubic miles of ice. If all of this ice were to melt – which, luckily won’t happen anytime soon – the oceans would rise by more than 20 feet.”

In a new study, Box and a team of researchers describe the decline in ice sheet reflectivity and the reasons behind it, noting that if current trends continue, the area of ice that melts during the summer season is likely to expand to cover all of Greenland for the first time in the observational record, rather than just the lower elevations at the edges of the continent, as is the case today.

Freshly fallen snow reflects up to 84 per cent of incoming sunlight, but during the warm season the reflectivity declines as the ice grains within the snowpack change shape and size. In addition, once snow cover melts completely it often reveals underlying ice that has been darkened by dust and other particles, whose surface absorbs more solar energy, promoting heating.

“It appears that we’re about to cross a threshold in summer . . . you might even call it a tipping point as we go into a net energy absorption of the higher elevations”, Box said. “Then we’ll see the melt area expanding abruptly and potentially covering the entire ice sheet in summer for the first time in observations.”

“The frequency with which Greenland record melt years are being established is exceptional, and certainly supports the notion that the Arctic climate is warming, and moving away from an equilibrium climate state.” Colgan said.

Segments of this article are taken from one originally published by Climate Central.