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MIT Doubles Warming Warning: Or, Why George Will Should Read Washingtonpost.com

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There is plenty of reason to be frustrated with the Washington Post when it comes to its striving for "fair and balanced" when it comes to global warming, producing science-based editorials calling for action and having articles that discuss climate change in serious ways. Balancing this, to be fair to anti-science syndrome (ASS) sufferrers, is quoting global warming deniers amid the articles and turning oped space over to serial deceivers like Charles Krauthammer, Robert Samuelson, and George Will. Sadly, to top this off, the Washington Post is ready to defend untruthful work by the likes of Will.

Not all The Washington Post merits criticism in this regard and better work merits highlighting. Just yesterday, the top-notch Capital Weather Gang published a story meriting attention (and concern): MIT Group Increases Global Warming Projections. The MIT study concludes that, without significant ("stringent") reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, we might see far more significant climate change in the 21st century than previous assessments have suggested. From Probabilistic Forecast for 21st Century Climate Based on Uncertainties in Emissions (without Policy) and Climate Parameters,"

The MIT Integrated Global System Model is used to make probabilistic projections of climate change from 1861 to 2100. Since the model's first projections were published in 2003 substantial improvements have been made to the model and improved estimates of the probability distributions of uncertain input parameters have become available. The new projections are considerably warmer than the 2003 projections, e.g., the median surface warming in 2091 to 2100 is 5.1°C compared to 2.4°C in the earlier study.

Six years later and their "BAU" (business as usual) scenarios is more than doubling the warming by the end of the century: some 9+ degress fahrenheit of warming.

By the way, yet again more data is proving that the models were wrong ... in understating the implications of climate change and the risks we face us.

As Joe Romm puts it,

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change has joined the climate realists. The realists are the growing group of scientists who understand that the business as usual emissions path leads to unmitigated catastrophe

To place into context, the recommendation is to keep warming below 2 C (or 3.6 degrees F) to avoid catastrophic climate change. MIT is saying that that is impossible with just some change, we need a massive shift in course.

Sadly, being a realist means that we should be increasingly concerned about (terrified at) the world that we are creating for ourselves and our descendents ... unless we undertake some significant change in our path forward.

Back to the Capital Weather Gang

The new findings, released this month by MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, showed significantly increased odds that by the end of the century warming would be on the high end of the scale for a so-called "no policy scenario" as compared with similar studies completed just six years ago. The main culprits: the cycling of heat and carbon dioxide in the climate system are now better understood and projections of future greenhouse gas emissions have increased.

As we learn more, the scenarios are getting worse ... not better.

The results also showed that even if nations were to act quickly to reduce emissions, it is more likely that warming would be greater than previous studies had shown. However, the increase in projected temperatures under the "policy scenario" was not as large as for the no policy scenario.

In other words, ACT! Even if there will be problems if we act, those problems will not be as bad as might otherwise occur.

The modeling experiments are not meant to provide precise forecasts of future temperature changes, but rather to serve as what one related MIT study calls "thought experiments" to help policymakers and the public understand how decisions regarding emissions reductions may affect the magnitude of climate change. They show how human activities are loading the dice in favor of a warming climate, and cast doubt on the feasibility of limiting temperature increases to the lower range of what the influential U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected in its most recent assessment report in 2007.

To update their findings that were first unveiled in 2002, the MIT researchers used an in-house computer model known as the MIT Integrated Global System Model that incorporated new insight into how the climate system functions.

A main conclusion is that feedbacks within the climate system, which MIT says can be more accurately simulated in the updated version of its model, may act to increase the magnitude of climate change in response to increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. The more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere ... the more significant the feedbacks may be.

The IPCC, to date, has excluded feedback cycles which has led many (including this blogger) to call them conservative optimists: conservative in terms of how they limited their work and, therefore, optimists in terms of how those constraints limit the severity of their conclusions.

For the no policy scenario, the researchers concluded that there is now a nine percent chance (about one in 11 odds) that the global average surface temperature would increase by more than 7°C (12.6°F) by the end of this century, compared with only a less than one percent chance (one in 100 odds) that warming would be limited to below 3°C (5.4°F) .

To be clear, climate deniers like George Will are willing to stake America's future, the future of your children, of my children on a spin of the roulette wheel. I wouldn't risk my lunch money on a 1 in 100 bet, let alone my children's lives.

The median warming value, with even odds of the temperature increase being above or below that value, was 5.1°C (9.2°F).

9.2 F!

For comparison, the same research group's no policy scenario yielded a median value of just 2.4°C (4.3°F) in 2002.

Seven years, nearly five degrees.

"The take home message from the new greenhouse gamble wheels is that if we do little or nothing about lowering greenhouse gas emissions that the dangers are much greater than we thought three or four years ago," said Ronald G. Prinn, professor of atmospheric chemistry at MIT. "It is making the impetus for serious policy much more urgent than we previously thought."

Okay. To be even more concerned. What might the roulette wheel look like six years from now?

According to the research group, there was no single factor that caused the new computer modeling to project a greater amount of warming compared with their 2002 simulations.

"In our more recent global model simulations, the ocean heat-uptake is slower than previously estimated, the ocean uptake of carbon is weaker, feedbacks from the land system as temperature rises are stronger, cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases over the century are higher, and offsetting cooling from aerosol emissions is lower," the group's web site states. "Rather than interacting additively, these different affects appear to interact multiplicatively, with feedbacks among the contributing factors, leading to the surprisingly large increase in the chance of much higher temperatures."

The model becomes more robust. The data better. The science advances. The scenario worsens.

Very simply: as we continue to pump GHGs into the atmosphere we create circumstances in which we have less and less control over just how bad the situation will get.

Under the policy scenario, in which global carbon dioxide concentrations would reach about 550 parts per million by 2100 (the current level is about 385 ppm), the projected magnitude of climate change is significantly less than under the no policy scenario, but it still would warm more significantly than the 2002 projections. Under the policy scenario, there is a 90 percent chance that climate change could be limited to below 3°C (5.4°F), compared to just a one percent chance of that occurring in the no policy case.

Have to say that their "policy scenario" doesn't look like the aggressive "policy" that we should be striving for. We're at 388, a scenario going to 550? That's the good result?

"If greenhouse gas emissions are controlled to relatively low levels then the Earth systems feedbacks are much lower and the slight difference in Earth system properties is not as important -- again a result of the way in which these different factors interact multiplicatively," the researchers stated.

Again, 550 ppm is "relatively low levels"?

As with any computer modeling work, there are uncertainties involved in the projections, and MIT researchers went to great lengths to quantify them in their estimates of temperature increases and future greenhouse gas emissions. Prinn said that rather than obscuring the uncertainties, the roulette wheels "give our best shot of showing what the uncertainties are and at the same time showing the value of a policy."

For me, the graphics are for the deniers/skeptics who need picture books. Here MIT is providing an image to show the uncertainty.

In conclusion

The MIT work should scare us. This is serious confirmation of how bad our situation can get. And, it was well reported by a part of The Washington Post. A part, we can suspect, that George F Will and the opinion page editors don't bother to read.

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