Earth Doom-o-Meter: Are We There Yet?
I loathe predictions, especially big ones. They're so slippery. Today for example, the world isn't coming to an end. Ask China – they're still here.
But climate experts have made some dire predictions, particularly about the planet's future. As we celebrate the world not ending today, it only seems fitting to look back at several notable legitimate scientific predictions and see where we are on the "Oh No!" scale.
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Is Earth actually heating up, or is it just me? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in 1990 that global temperatures would rise between 0.15 and 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade between 1990 and 2005. The IPCC's own data showed an actual global temperature rise of 0.2-degree per decade. This year, NASA scientists reported that the global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880.
NASA's .jpg']global temperature graph over time looks like the ascending ridgeline on a mountain range.
When global average temperatures go up, what happens to the coolest parts of the planet? The Telegraph quoted NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally in 2007 saying that at the rate things were going, "the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012." Compared to the average minimum extent during the Arctic summer, one could argue that prediction came true this year; the sea ice hit "the lowest level since modern records began," reported DNews writer Kieran Mulvaney.
And as DNews writer Larry O'Hanlon reported, 2012 marked a point of no return for the Arctic. The new warmer climate state isn't just over the Arctic ocean either. Greenland's surface ice turned into a giant slushy over the summer. The next prediction has climate scientists arguing when the summer sea ice in the Arctic will disappear entirely.
The EPA's website predicts that "the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes is likely to increase as the ocean warms," although the Agency said the hurricane frequency is likely to remain relatively unchanged. This year NOAA closed 2012 as an above-average hurricane season, with only one storm hitting a category 3 scale and it wasn't Sandy, but rather a storm that stayed out over the Atlantic. Connecting climate change to Sandy was actually much simpler than the predictions of increased hurricane intensities in the future based on warmer oceans. Despite only reaching a category 1 in strength, Sandy had a larger impact because: 1) sea level rise along the eastern shore has water lapping the coastline 18 inches higher than 60 years ago making storm surges more dangerous; and 2) Sandy was the largest hurricane to ever hit the Mid-Atlantic and Eastern Shore with a diameter spread for high winds of 940 miles — and that spread was the result of combining with a Nor'easter after a turn inland toward the east coast that most hurricanes would have avoided. Sandy was forced to make that turn due to a rare high pressure system over Greenland. The source of that high pressure system? Likely the warming Arctic ocean.
Back in 2006, Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" scared me — and a lot of people. "It takes time to connect the dots, I know that," Gore said then. "But I also know that there can be a day of reckoning when you wish you had connected the dots more quickly." It's nearly 2013 now. As far as I can tell, we're still drawing the dots.
Photo: Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth," 2006. Credit: Image via Andre Soares.