Foremost Climate Change Expert Speaks Out

One of the world’s foremost experts on climate change, Lonnie Thompson, university professor in the School of Earth Science at Ohio State University, has spoken out for one of the first times about the real possibility of a future in which we will have to adapt and suffer.

Thomspson – who usually lets his research data and conclusions speak for themselves – wrote a paper published in a climate change edition of the journal The Behavior Analyst wherein he laid out his views and fears for the future as well as laid out specific actions that need to take place to stop the continuing effects of climate change.

“Unless large numbers of people take appropriate steps, including supporting governmental regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our only options will be adaptation and suffering,” he wrote in the concluding paragraph. “And the longer we delay, the more unpleasant the adaptations and the greater the suffering will be.”

His opinion isn’t hyperbole, he said, but instead is based on a “very clear pattern in the scientific evidence documenting that the Earth is warming, that the warming is due largely to human activity, that warming is causing important changes to many of the Earth’s support systems, and that rapid and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future are possible. Such future scenarios emerge not, as is often suggested, simply from computer simulations, but from the weight and balance of the empirical evidence as well.”

“Clearly mitigation is our best option,” he said, “but so far most societies around the world, including the United States and the other largest emitters of greenhouse gases, have done little more than talk about the importance of mitigation.”

“Our best hope is to change our behavior in ways that significantly slow the rate of global warming, thereby giving engineers and scientists time to devise, develop, and deploy technological solutions where possible.”

Thompson prefaced his advice with examples of the Earth’s diminishing ice cover, examples that constitute some of the strongest supporting evidence of the current threat of global climate change:

  • The ice fields atop Mount Kilimanjaro have lost 85 percent of their coverage since 1912;
  • The Quelccaya ice cap in southern Peru – the largest tropical ice field on Earth, has retreated 25 percent since 1978;
  • Ice fields in the Himalayas that have long shown traces of the radioactive bomb tests in the 1950s and 1960s have since lost that signal as surface melting has removed the upper layers and thereby reduced the thickness of these glaciers;
  • All of the glaciers in Alaska’s vast Brooks Range are retreating, as are 98 percent of those in southeastern Alaska. And 99 percent of glaciers in the Alps, 100 percent of those in Peru and 92 percent in the Andes of Chile are likewise retreating;
  • Sea levels are rising and the loss of ice coverage in the North Polar region continues to increase annually.

“Everyone will be affected by global warming,” Thompson wrote. “But those with the fewest resources for adapting will suffer the most.”

The paper is available to read in full here (PDF).

Source: Ohio State University
Image: Lonnie Thompson

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