Thursday, 10 October 2013

Might as well try and catch the wind

Today in the Guardian and on the Skeptical Science blog John Abrahams writes about a new paper by Mora et. al. (same article) about the timing of climate change impacts. At the same time, ScienceDaily covers a new paper by Ostberg et. al.: Critical impacts of global warming on land ecosystems. 

By coincidence I came across the latter yesterday and was already preparing to write about it because I found the conclusions both interesting and important. The Mora paper is behind a paywall, but the Ostberg one is Open Access, here, thanks to the excellent EGU-supported (link in sidebar).

We can't directly compare that articles unless we subscribe to Nature (which I don't), but we can compare what is written about them, and consider one or two other points related. The ScienceDaily review is a reasonable summary of salient parts of the paper, though I would possibly have had a slightly different focus had I reviewed it directly. I must presume that the Abrahams review (along with the Abstract) also gives us a reasonable summary.

A couple of things are quite striking immediately, though. Both papers use models to look forward to environmental change out to 2100 in response to AR5 scenarios. Both reach very similar conclusions, through different methods, about the timings connected to changes. Both indicate that we are already along a pathway to changes which cannot now be diverted, even with radical mitigation.

Not surprisingly, Mora and SkS/Guardian focuses on the Climate - the word is used 20 times - and climate extremes (the subject of the paper). In contrast, the Ostberg paper focuses on ecosystems. Though I write mainly about climate change myself, I find I prefer the Ostberg et. al. approach much more compelling (not least because I can actually read the material). 

In part this is probably because I am not comfortable with the focus-shift in the entire agenda to climate/weather extremes. My suspicion is that this has in part been driven by the (correct) historical perception that neither policy makers nor the general public was getting the point of climate change, and also driven by the fact that weather extremes have a measurable economic cost, and there has been a general shift towards placing economics at the centre of the sustainability concept, a shift with which I have profound concerns.

My reaction, though, is probably mainly driven by my ability to grasp and imagine what an ecosystem change might actually look like, whereas I struggle to conceptualise and visualise what a climate change might look like, beyond the obvious weather extremes, which, coincidentally, I don't see as the most important aspect of climate change.

Which leads me to what may be a the spark of an original thought. The air is invisible and often intangible. The earth (ground) is the opposite. As human beings we engage with the immanent far more readily than the insubstantial. Is climate change 'resisted' by many members of the public for this reason -it is just too difficult to 'grasp', literally?

There is so much more to be said about these pieces of research and the collective message they give, independently, about where we are going and what it might look like, but for now, I can only recommend that you read the Ostberg et. al. paper (it is not 'too' mathematical for a layman to get to grips with) for yourself, and consider whether it matters that we mitigate future climate change impacts now.

Postscript: The Mora paper has been widely picked up in the media, less so the Ostberg. The Daily Mail response, found after trawling down through endless z-list nonsense, is a pice of classical alarmism (on the surface). This is an interesting disinformation strategy, since it serves to perpetuate the myth that GW discussion is 'commy' alarmism. If you want to be truly horrified by our ability to learn nothing and care less, skip the article, which is drivel, and go to the comments. The message is not getting through!