Current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere

The curious case of the White House and the Arctic death spiral

Note: It has come to my attention that there are very serious questions about the accuracy of this story, enough so to prompt one of the people mentioned, Duarte, to ask for a correction from The Guardian. I will add additional information as things progress. Whatever happens, I will leave the original post intact.

White House warned on imminent Arctic ice death spiral:

Senior US government officials are to be briefed at the White House this week on the danger of an ice-free Arctic in the summer within two years.

The meeting is bringing together Nasa’s acting chief scientist, Gale Allen, the director of the US National Science Foundation, Cora Marett, as well as representatives from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.

This is the latest indication that US officials are increasingly concerned about the international and domestic security implications of climate change.

Senior scientists advising the US government at the meeting include 10 Arctic specialists, including marine scientist Prof Carlos Duarte, director of the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia.

In early April, Duarte warned that the Arctic summer sea ice was melting at a rate faster than predicted by conventional climate models, and could be ice free as early as 2015 – rather than toward the end of the century, as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected in 2007. He said:

“The Arctic situation is snowballing: dangerous changes in the Arctic derived from accumulated anthropogenic green house gases lead to more activities conducive to further greenhouse gas emissions. This situation has the momentum of a runaway train.”

This is intriguing, to say the least.

To say a bit more:

  • How often do we hear about White House briefings at all, let alone before they even take place? I’m not suggesting it’s unprecedented, but it is unusual.
  • Who, exactly, will be in this briefing? I have almost no expectation that President Obama will be in the room; rumor has it occupants of the Oval Office tend to have bizarrely busy schedules, so I would bet almost anything that the meeting will be the scientists mentioned above plus a small number of staffers, probably not even including the Chief of Staff. This is in no way a comment on what President Obama thinks of climate change or its ramifications, merely a recognition of the scheduling triage that’s required of any American President in the 21st century.
  • Why hold this briefing at all? This is where things get deeply interesting. Surely President Obama’s advisors are aware of the Arctic death spiral and the absurdity of the predictions, many made just a few years ago, that we won’t see Blue Arctic Events until late in this century, and therefore they don’t need to have several minivans of experts show up at the White House to tell them what a moderately talented Googleista could find in less than an hour.
  • Assuming the key people in the White House know what’s going on and what these experts will tell them — and the fact that there will be people there from both Homeland Security and the Pentagon very strongly suggests that this is the case — then why make the President’s knowledge of this highly inconvenient situation so conspicuously on-the-record?
  • Could it be, he typed nervously, that President Obama is looking for a legislative leverage point, a hook, if you will, so that he can make a strong argument for climate action on security and economic grounds? If there’s one thing the Republicans don’t want it’s to be seen as soft on defense. Push climate change as a huge threat on that front (which just so happens to be accurate, as the Pentagon has been warning for some time), and link it to something as highly visible, remarkable, and near term as the first Blue Arctic Event in human history, and I doubt that even the Republicans would remain united purely for the perceived political benefit of opposing the President.[1]
  • Perhaps I’m reading way too much into this; it surely wouldn’t be the first time my hibernating optimism awoke, stretched, yawned, and uttered a few naive inanities before going back to sleep. But there’s something about this situation that really feels to me like it’s much more than merely another routine White House briefing.

[1] Although a Senator from Pennsylvania recently admitted many Republicans did exactly that regarding expanded background checks for gun buyers: Pat Toomey confirms it: Obama is right about GOP So it might not be smart to assume we’ve plumbed the depths of the GOP’s political depravity.

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