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Is it a Pearl Harbor if it has to happen twice?

Cross-posted from Heliophage

Prodded by Andy Revkin at the Times, Joe Romm offers a list of “Pearl Harbors” that might lead to the second-world-war scale of effort against climate change that he (and to an extent I) see as necessary. Here it is:

1) Arctic goes ice free before 2020. I have bets out on this. It would be a big, visible global shock.

2) Rapid warming over next decade, as recent Nature and Science article suggests is quite possible

3) Continued (unexpected) surge in methane

4) A megadrought hitting the SW comparable to what has hit southern Australia.

5) More superstorms, like Katrina

6) A heatwave as bad as Europe’s 2003 one.

7) Something unpredicted but clearly linked to climate, like the bark beetle devastation

8) Accelerated mass loss in Greenland and/or Antarctica, perhaps with another huge ice shelf breaking off, but in any case coupled with another measurable rise in the rate of sea level rise,

9) The Fifth Assessment Report (2012-2013) really spelling out what we face with no punches pulled.

What strikes me about this list is that most of it has already happened. Leaving aside the question of whether it was a superstorm, Katrina happened. So did the 2003 canicule. So did the Australian drought and the bark beetle devastation. A decade of rapid warming took place in the 1990s, and so did a surge in methane. “Another huge ice shelf breaking off”? — clue’s in the “another”.

Now it may be the case that these things will have a greater impact the second time round; it may be that now opinion has been primed, they will matter more when seen again than they did the first time. But I have to say that that sounds a priori unlikely. The second time something happens the response is much more likely to be “oh, this is the sort of thing that keeps happening, is it?” than “oh my god — unprecedented calamity — we’re at war”.

Pearl Harbor’s force was in its unprecedented shock. If there’s a precedent, I don’t think it’s a Pearl Harbor — or likely to act as one.


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    Mark Duffett said:

    Only 1) will do it. All the others are either too esoteric (methane, increase in average global temperatures) or not unprecedented (droughts, heatwaves, storms). The thing about Katrina wasn’t that it was particularly ‘super’, more that it directly hit an area that was both highly populated and highly vulnerable.

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    Maurizio Morabito said:

    This is an interesting post. It sorts of spells very clearly the issue, on the AGW side, of being unable to show anything tangible to associate to the alleged upcoming AGW disaster. That’s exactly what pushed me to the “other” camp…

    Keep looking!

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    PaulM said:

    This gives a fascinating insight into the state of mind of the global warming fanatics – they want a disaster like Pearl Harbor to happen.

    And they say that most of these things have already happened, when in fact none of them have.

    1. Arctic ice is now back to normal, see

    2. There has been no warming at all over the last decade.

    3. Methane levels are stabilising, see

    4. What SW megadrought?

    5. Storms are decreasing, see

    Like Maurizio, it was this extreme exaggeration and hysteria that first gave me doubts and converted me to skepticism. So please keep it up Olive, Oliver, Andy, Joe – I expect it will have the same effect on others.

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    Olive Heffernan said:


    No, no quite. On the contrary, the loss of Arctic summer sea ice is about as tangible as it gets…

    Maybe it’s the case that people don’t realise just how serious or far-reaching that would be, but perhaps more likely that people just don’t respond to things unless they impact them directly.


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    Kiwiiano said:

    What about ‘all of the above’?

    I gather the general leveling off of the ill-effects of AGW are attributed to a quiet sun and the El Nino/La Nina oscillations. Both are now shifting and we are likely to see ‘business as usual’ for rising temps.

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    Alastair McDonald said:

    The cause of the rapid warming at the start of the Holocene is unknown but it was accompanied by a dramatic loss of the sea ice in the North Atlantic which had spread as far south as Ireland.

    If, as seems obvious to me, the loss of this sea ice triggered the rapid warming through ice albedo feedback and the runaway effect of water vapour, then when the Arctic becomes ice free there will be another rapid warming.

    So the loss of the Arctic sea ice will be the Pearl Harbour, but it will then be too late to take retaliatory action. How can we possibly replace the sea ice? How will we feed the world’s six billion when the global climate changes rapidly? At the start of the Holocene Greenland warmed by 15 F “in about a decade or possibly even faster.” [Alley, R., 2000, The Two Mile Time Machine, p. 114]

    Cheers, Alastair.

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