Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Testing the Waters


Andy Revkin has a new "must read" piece in the New York Times that is part of the series on "The Big Melt" that he's been working on with the Discovery Channel. Touching on the question about whether polar bears will survive the changes occurring in the Arctic, Revkin talks with climatologists who hint that the changes may be slow enough for the bears to adapt.

Bringing a long-term "paleo" perspective into the discussion of global warming, he writes:
Compared with that norm, the rapid buildup of carbon dioxide now from a binge of burning forests, coal and oil lasting for centuries (and counting) is but a blip

In fact, the planet has nothing to worry about from global warming. A hot, steamy earth would be fine for most forms of life. Earth and its biological veneer are far more resilient than human societies, particularly those still mired in poverty or pushed to the margins of the livable.
One of the climate experts that Revkin interviews in the article is Jonathan Overpeck, now director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona and the former director of the NOAA Paleoclimatology Program, whose Paleo Perspective on Global Warming is one of the most popular of NOAA's websites. Overpeck notes the Arctic "is filled with what amount to flippable climate switches, including natural repositories of carbon, like boggy tundra, that could emit vast amounts of greenhouse gases should the current warming trend pass certain points." Moreover, the recent rise in carbon dioxide may be 200 times faster than past rapid climate transitions, making for a strong case to slow the release of such greenhouse gases to allow as much transition and preparation time as possible.

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