Monday, January 30, 2006

Climate Change: Why Government Scientists are Speaking Out

The New York Times today describes efforts by the Bush White House to silence NASA climate expert James Hansen and other government climate scientists, and the efforts of these scientists to fight back and get the word out about what they consider to be disturbing trends in the earth's climate. Why are climate scientists feeling so fiesty? Why is the White House so upset at what they have to say?

Excellent articles in the Washington Post and the Guardian provide some clues. The Washington Post describes how scientists are increasingly concerned that the climate is rapidly approaching a "tipping point," after which feedbacks in the climate system will encourage more rapid warming, which in turn trigger additional changes which trigger still more warming. The Guardian article provides details on a particularly disturbing recent piece of evidence of such a feedback mechanism: a recent study that found that a large area of permafrost in Siberia is melting, to reveal the peat bog beneath. This event could result in the release of substantial amounts of methane and, by exchanging white ice for dark peat bog, cause the earth to absorb more solar energy. Not a happy prospect.

The White House is committed to putting out the perspective that we have endless time to act on global warming. No urgency about it at all. Information that suggests the problem might be more urgent is clearly unwelcome.