Planet Now 'Hottest in 4,000 Years' as Wall Street Prepares to Profit on Climate Disasters
March 11, 2013 NBC & Science Magazine & Justin Gillis / The New York Times & James Temple / San Francisco Chronicle
Global temperatures are warmer than at any time in at least 4,000 years, scientists reported Thursday, and over the coming decades are likely to surpass levels not seen on the planet since before the last ice age. Meanwhile, even as free-market think tanks continue working to discredit solid science on climate change, Wall Street itself is already busy exploiting the unfolding tragedy.
A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years Shaun A. Marcott, Peter U. Clark, Alan C. Mix (College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon) and Jeremy D. Shakun (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Science 8 March 2013:
Vol. 339 no. 6124 pp. 1198-1201
(March 10, 2013) -- Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time. Here we provide a broader perspective by reconstructing regional and global temperature anomalies for the past 11,300 years from 73 globally distributed records.
Early Holocene (10,000 to 5000 years ago) warmth is followed by ~0.7°C cooling through the middle to late Holocene (<5000 years ago), culminating in the coolest temperatures of the Holocene during the Little Ice Age, about 200 years ago.
This cooling is largely associated with ~2°C change in the North Atlantic. Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
NEW YORK (March 7, 2013) -- Global temperatures are warmer than at any time in at least 4,000 years, scientists reported Thursday, and over the coming decades are likely to surpass levels not seen on the planet since before the last ice age.
Previous research had extended back roughly 1,500 years, and suggested that the rapid temperature spike of the past century, believed to be a consequence of human activity, exceeded any warming episode during those years. The new work confirms that result while suggesting the modern warming is unique over a longer period.
Even if the temperature increase from human activity that is projected for later this century comes out on the low end of estimates, scientists said, the planet will be at least as warm as it was during the warmest periods of the modern geological era, known as the Holocene, and probably warmer than that.
That epoch began about 12,000 years ago, after changes in incoming sunshine caused vast ice sheets to melt across the Northern Hemisphere. Scientists believe the moderate climate of the Holocene set the stage for the rise of human civilization roughly 8,000 years ago and continues to sustain it by, for example, permitting a high level of food production.
In the new research, scheduled for publication on Friday in the journal Science, Shaun Marcott, an earth scientist at Oregon State University, and his colleagues compiled the most meticulous reconstruction yet of global temperatures over the past 11,300 years, virtually the entire Holocene. They used indicators like the distribution of microscopic, temperature-sensitive ocean creatures to determine past climate.
Like previous such efforts, the method gives only an approximation. Michael E. Mann, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University who is an expert in the relevant techniques but was not involved in the new research, said the authors had made conservative data choices in their analysis.
"It's another important achievement and significant result as we continue to refine our knowledge and understanding of climate change," Dr. Mann said.
Though the paper is the most complete reconstruction of global temperature, it is roughly consistent with previous work on a regional scale. It suggests that changes in the amount and distribution of incoming sunlight, caused by wobbles in the earth's orbit, contributed to a sharp temperature rise in the early Holocene.
The climate then stabilized at relatively warm temperatures about 10,000 years ago, hitting a plateau that lasted for roughly 5,000 years, the paper shows. After that, shifts of incoming sunshine prompted a long, slow cooling trend.
The cooling was interrupted, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, by a fairly brief spike during the Middle Ages, known as the Medieval Warm Period. (It was then that the Vikings settled Greenland, dying out there when the climate cooled again.)
Scientists say that if natural factors were still governing the climate, the Northern Hemisphere would probably be destined to freeze over again in several thousand years. "We were on this downward slope, presumably going back toward another ice age," Dr. Marcott said.
Instead, scientists believe the enormous increase in greenhouse gases caused by industrialization will almost certainly prevent that.
During the long climatic plateau of the early Holocene, global temperatures were roughly the same as those of today, at least within the uncertainty of the estimates, the new paper shows. This is consistent with a large body of past research focused on the Northern Hemisphere, which showed a distribution of ice and vegetation suggestive of a relatively warm climate.
The modern rise that has recreated the temperatures of 5,000 years ago is occurring at an exceedingly rapid clip on a geological time scale, appearing in graphs in the new paper as a sharp vertical spike. If the rise continues apace, early Holocene temperatures are likely to be surpassed within this century, Dr. Marcott said.
Dr. Mann pointed out that the early Holocene temperature increase was almost certainly slow, giving plants and creatures time to adjust. But he said the modern spike would probably threaten the survival of many species, in addition to putting severe stresses on human civilization.
"We and other living things can adapt to slower changes," Dr. Mann said. "It's the unprecedented speed with which we're changing the climate that is so worrisome."
A version of this article appeared in print on March 8, 2013, on page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: Global Temperatures Highest in 4,000 Years. How Wall Street Banking Aims to Profit off Global Warming James Temple / San Francisco Chronicle
(March 8, 2013) -- As free-market think tanks continue working to discredit solid science on climate change, Wall Street itself is already busy exploiting the unfolding tragedy.
An infuriating Bloomberg Businessweek article published Thursday revealed that hedge funds and other financial firms are pouring money into ventures that stand to profit as the world warms and oceans rise throughout this century.
Among the examples:
-- Private equity firm KKR snagged a 25 percent stake in Nephila Capital, which trades in derivatives that hedge against natural catastrophes and extreme weather events. Think Superstorm Sandy.
-- New York hedge fund Water Asset Management is betting water rights and treatment plants will soar in value as the drier climate and rising seas shrink or poison our fresh water supplies.
-- NunaMinerals is cranking up mining operations in areas of Greenland that were, until recently, covered by glaciers.
-- Land Commodities is pitching wealth funds on buying up non-coastal Australian farmland on the promise that creeping seas will tighten supply and increase values.
As investors consider the effects of climate change, "there is an overemphasis of its negative impacts," Michael Richardson, head of business development Land Commodities, a Swiss company, told the publication.
So true! Why all the whining about disappearing glaciers, sinking islands, climate refugees and loss of species, when there are big dollars to be made!?
But the opportunism and tone deafness aren't the only distressing things in the article. Even more worrisome is the corollary trend of investors shifting money away from addressing the root cause of climate change: greenhouse gas emissions. Investments into clean energy technologies like wind or solar that could help shift the world away from fossil fuels dropped 34 percent in 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Instead of spending money to prevent the mess, investors are now betting on mops.
The thing is, the real money to be made here is in clean energy. Firms that invent, refine or commercialize renewable sources that can truly disrupt the coal and gas industry will be the financial juggernauts of the 21st century.
But that's a long, hard problem with an uncertain outcome, the sort of bet that increasingly doesn't jibe with the investment philosophies and timelines of hedge funds, venture capital firms and Wall Street. It's why so much of the critical renewable energy research is happening in academic and government labs, like Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stanford - and why the government needs to spend as much as it can to accelerate such efforts.
Denial More Difficult
To be fair, there is some good news in the trend Businessweek highlighted.
First, when an industry that's demonstrated remarkable power to sway public policy can at least admit the world is warming once it spots dollar signs, it should make it increasingly difficult for politicians to carry on pretending there's a scientific debate on the matter.
Second, it's already clear to any impartial observer that it's too late to escape unscathed from climate change: Species are already relocating, ice caps are melting faster than scientists predicted, and extreme weather events are becoming more common and costly.
Investing in infrastructure and technology to adapt to these and other impacts will, unfortunately but obviously, be a necessary component of society's climate change strategy.
To be clear: We don't need hedge funds creating financial instruments to wring money out of global warming or speculators betting on the seafront property of the near future. But we do need operating companies that are doing something about these new challenges.
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