Forget a climate shift in centuries, more like decades, climatologists claim

23 Mar 2016

Despite efforts by world governments to establish an acceptable level of global warming as a means of tackling climate change, some climatologists are arguing that it’s all too little too late.

Last December, at a meeting in Paris, world leaders gathered to discuss what would be deemed an acceptable rise in global temperatures over the coming centuries in the face of an inevitable climate shift.

According to the final draft agreed upon by those there, nations would try to hold the increase in global average temperature to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, which was mooted as limiting the most damaging effects of climate change.

Now, however, according to The New York Times, some of the world’s best-known climatologists have published a research paper warning that some of the worst effects of global warming are likely to be seen within a few decades, rather than centuries, as once predicted.

Led by former NASA climatologist James E Hansen, the paper says that our burning of fossil fuels so far and in the coming years will contribute to a radical climate shift due to the introduction of fresh water from melting land ice.

Conflicting view with wider climatologist community

Once this enters the Earth’s oceans in large quantities, it will create a damaging feedback loop that will rapidly melt the polar ice caps much faster than once predicted and that this effect has already led to the extreme weather we’ve seen in the previous few years.

In the worst-case scenario, the paper argues, we could see sea levels rise by as much as several feet within 50 years, with an increase of violent storms predicted based on their own findings from the last warm period on Earth 120,000 years ago.

However, it appears that the paper released by Hansen and his 18 colleagues has not been met with universal approval from their peers, most notably Maynooth University’s highly-regarded climatologist Peter Thorne, who commented on a preview draft of the paper back in July of last year.

Yet, despite misgivings about Hansen et al’s findings, many climatologists concur with Hansen – who also acts as a campaigner for climate change awareness, much to the chagrin of his more formal climatologists – in his belief that our efforts to reduce emissions have been far too slow.

Melting glacier image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic