Study in the Journal Climate received very little press attentionThe roulette wheel on the left, produced by MIT researchers and based on a new study, depicts different probabilities of global warming to the year 2100, assuming no policy action. The size of each slice represents the probability of that range of temperature change occurring. The wheel on the right assumes vigorous policy action. The largest temperature increase in the no-policy scenario is greater than 7 degrees C, with a 9% probability. Such change would likely be catastrophic. By contrast, the largest increase in the policy scenario is no greater than 3 degrees C.
Many environmentalists are rejoicing over approval in committee of the Waxman-Markey climate legislation, but a new study by MIT researchers suggests we have a much steeper mountain to climb than anyone thought. (Find the paper here; press release here.)
Using a model that takes into account both economic activity and climate processes, the researchers found that without dramatic and quick action to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, there is a median probability of surface warming of 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100 — more than twice what was predicted just six years ago. The model shows a 90 percent probability that the increase will range between 3.5 and 7.4 degrees.
The model did not find a significant difference in outcomes from previous projections if there is strong global action to reduce emissions.
Unless the world acts boldly, “there is significantly more risk than we previously estimated,” says study co-author Ronald Prinn, the co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change . (He was quoted here in an MIT press release.) “This increases the urgency for significant policy action.”
Environmentalists hope the Waxman-Markey legislation that passed yesterday will prove to be a significant step toward a global 80 percent cut in emissions by 2050. But the legislation is shot through with loopholes and give-aways to industry, and it falls far short of providing the level of funding for clean energy R&D that’s needed to avoid the terrible outcomes predicted in the roulette wheel above.
Meanwhile, the new MIT study received scant attention in the press, even though the hearings on Waxman-Markey provided a strong news peg.