Chris Field says rate of climate change faster than estimated

At the AAAS meetings in Chicago Chris Field gave a presentation that argues that the Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates:

“We are basically looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations,” Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Field, a member of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said emissions from burning fossil fuels since 2000 have largely outpaced the estimates used in the U.N. panel’s 2007 reports. The higher emissions are largely the result of the increased burning of coal in developing countries, he said.

Unexpectedly large amounts of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere as the result of “feedback loops” that are speeding up natural processes. Prominent among these, evidence indicates, is a cycle in which higher temperatures are beginning to melt the arctic permafrost, which could release hundreds of billions of tons of carbon and methane into the atmosphere, said several scientists on a panel at the meeting.

The permafrost holds 1 trillion tons of carbon, and as much as 10 percent of that could be released this century, Field said. Melting permafrost also releases methane, which is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

“It’s a vicious cycle of feedback where warming causes the release of carbon from permafrost, which causes more warming, which causes more release from permafrost,” Field said.

Evidence is also accumulating that terrestrial and marine ecosystems cannot remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as earlier estimates suggested, Field said.

While it takes a relatively long time for plants to take carbon out of the atmosphere, that carbon can be released rapidly by wildfires, which contribute about a third as much carbon to the atmosphere as burning fossil fuels, according to a paper Field co-authored.

Fires such as the recent deadly blazes in southern Australia have increased in recent years, and that trend is expected to continue, Field said. Warmer weather, earlier snowmelt, drought and beetle infestations facilitated by warmer climates are all contributing to the rising number of fires linked to climate change. Across large swaths of the United States and Canada, bark beetles have killed many mature trees, making forests more flammable. And tropical rain forests that were not susceptible to forest fires in the past are likely to become drier as temperatures rise, growing more vulnerable.

Preventing deforestation in the tropics is more important than in northern latitudes, the panel agreed, since lush tropical forests sequester more carbon than sparser northern forests. And deforestation in northern areas has benefits, since larger areas end up covered in exposed, heat-reflecting snow.

Many scientists and policymakers are advocating increased incentives for preserving tropical forests, especially in the face of demand for clearing forest to grow biofuel crops such as soy. Promoting biofuels without also creating forest-preservation incentives would be “like weatherizing your house and deliberately keeping your windows open,” said Peter Frumhoff, chief of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ climate program. “It’s just not a smart policy.”

7 thoughts on “Chris Field says rate of climate change faster than estimated”

  1. Some of us have known that this was likely to be true for some time.
    When are the rest of you going to wake up to the idea that addressing global warming is not a plot to make life harder, but is likely to be vital for the future of anyone under 50

  2. Me thinks Mr. Fields [deleted personal attacks and factually incorrect comments]

    [If you are going to criticize someone's work please use your real name on this blog, and criticize the work not the person. Otherwise your comments will be deleted. - Garry]

  3. I like the way you censor anything that goes against the climate cult. I think what really lies at the heart of these “global warming” cults is good old fashioned snobbery. You don’t like the fact that formerly poor and backward countries are developing and unlocking better lives for themselves.

    Sure I don’t like the fact that rainforests are being decimated but what do you propose? You think turning off a light bulb is going to save the world? Get real!

    The world is using more and more energy every year with new technologies and luxuries available at increasingly lower prices. What we need are better methods of generating power, and i’m not talking about solar or wind like the hippies always love to yap on about, they’re completely inneficient on a power/cost ratio compared to fossil fuel buring power stations.

    We need new technologies not stupid hippies trying to bring about some kind of neo-communism.

  4. Since it appears that nature is going to work against us anyway, and since the world has never united on any front, and there have been major issues like the holocaust, starving children, etc., do we expect that people will stop advancing based on something they can’t see themselves? It’s winter in the midwest, cold, and snow in March, my eyes distort what you tell me. Would it not be a more prudent use of scientific research not to have so many people working on declaring the problem, but maybe in generating uses for the CO2 we are producing. Can’t we turn it into something useful?

  5. unity,and optimism is key for this issue.
    Ewerybody have to understand in simple words that temperature is rising and we are responsible for it.
    Efficient use of energy is available,its just helping and communicating with each other that lacks.

  6. We can, and should, find better ways to generate electricity. However, the less coal we burn, the more China burns. How do we compensate for that? One can’t even breathe in Beijing. It seems hopeless. We can’t even stop them from promulgating the extinction of the elephants for God’s sake. One thing is for sure: when humanity creates a great enough instability, the Earth will compensate by eliminating us.

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