Once again the American media, so quick to hype absurdly improbable risks and disasters like West Nile Virus or Ebola outbreaks, has ignored a real one: in this case the likelihood that global warming disaster is much more imminent than the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has led us to believe.
The bad news, so far completely ignored in the mainstream US media, comes from James Hansen, the top climate expert at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Hansen, lead author of a new scientific study published in the May issue of the British journal, href="" target="_blank">http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2007/2007_Hansen_etal_2.pdf"> Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, says that the slow melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets predicted by the IPCC as the basis for their estimate of a rise in sea levels of only 59 centimeters (less than two feet) by the end of this century is wildly off the mark and doesn’t fit current data on ice melting.
Hansen, saying that recent evidence of melting at the poles shows ice melts much differently, and faster, than once assumed, warns that a few degrees’ rise in temperatures in northern regions could produce much worse results. While he says we could see a resulting rise in sea levels over this century of several meters (bad enough), he also warns that with only the widely predicted 5-6 degree Fahrenheit rise in this century that the IPCC has predicted, the earth could see these two huge ice sheets collapse almost entirely over the next century, with a resulting sea rise of some 80 feet or more. That would be enough to wipe out most of the world’s coastal cities and populations, and to cause massive climate change. (The US, for example, could kiss New Orleans, much of the Gulf Coast, the Florida peninsula, and most of the East Coast goodbye.)
The reason for Hansen’s much direr outlook on the ice sheets’ longevity is that the IPCC apparently did not consider the effect of a change in reflectivity of ice when the surface melts and becomes wet, a so-called “albedo switch,” which Hansen says makes it much more absorptive of solar energy. As well, it is now known that instead of simply melting slowly from the top down, ice sheets form large surface pools of water, which both absorb more heat, and also melt their way through the ice, forming a kind of “Swiss cheese” effect that weakens the ice sheet structure. That same water then lubricates the sheet and allows it to move more rapidly to the sea. All of this makes loss of ice sheets much more rapid than in the IPCC model.
Since a rise in sea levels of even 10 feet or more by 2100 would be catastrophic, not just for low-lying countries like Holland or Bangladesh, but for the U.S., and since an 80-foot rise would be beyond imagination, one would think that it would be the stuff of banner headlines in the sensationalist American media, but instead, there is nothing.
Similarly, there has been no reporting on Hansen’s other warning, embedded in this same May Royal Society report—that failure to hold the global temperature rise to within about two degrees Fahrenheit (quite a challenge, and highly unlikely) could lead to massive release of methane from the arctic permafrost, thus tossing out all current predictions about the future (methane is 24 times as potent a global warming gas as carbon dioxide, and there are 400 billion tons of the stuff frozen as so-called methane cathrates under the permafrost).
Perhaps a key reason Hansen’s frightening warning is not being published and broadcast in the US media is that the Bush administration and NASA have been successful in silencing him. He went public with a NASA administration order silencing him and other government climate change experts, and has defied those efforts, but the official efforts to shut him up may have made overly timid editors and reporters cautious about going to him.
A second possibility is that American journalism’s notorious provincialism has prevented the domestic media from even noticing an important article in a British journal.
Whatever the reason, the news, which got big play in the British newspaper The Guardian, has yet to even make it into the American media.
We are being failed yet again by our corporate media, on an issue of critical importance.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based investigative journalist, whose work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net. His latest book, co-authored by Barbara Olshansky, is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006 and now out in paperback).