Purdue Climate Change Research Center

IPCC issues report on present and future climate impacts

April 14, 2014

As hundreds of scientists work this week putting the finishing touches on part three of an international climate change report four years in the making, a Purdue University expert shared his thoughts on the pending assessment.

Bottom line, said Jeffrey Dukes, associate director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, is that climate change is real and it isn’t going to correct itself.

“We know the climate has changed. There’s no question about that,” Dukes said Tuesday. “We know that carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has risen by 40 percent by now, or more. There’s no question about that.

“You can legitimately argue about how much the climate is going to change by the end of the century … but the direction is clear, and it’s clear that the more that the climate changes, the more problems we’re going to have.

“The wise thing to do, in my opinion, is to prepare for those changes, and to try to minimize the changes that are coming.”

At the end of March, Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report stating that the effects of climate change are already taking place, and that in many cases, the world isn’t prepared for the consequences of such change.

It’s the fifth massive assessment of climate change the United Nations-sanctioned panel has produced since 1990. Each assessment incorporates newer data and involves hundreds of scientists organized in three groups.

The latest report states that observed impacts of climate change have already negatively affected agriculture, human health, water supplies and more.

Dukes, associate professor of forestry and natural resources and biological sciences, studies the impact of global warming on invasive plant species, such as the yellow star thistle. He was an expert reviewer for the panel’s fourth major assessment in 2007.

He said rising carbon dioxide levels are giving some weeds, such as the yellow star thistle in the western United States, an advantage over native plants. His work involves finding out how rising carbon dioxide concentrations, rainfall variation and warming temperatures benefit some plants more than others.

He suspects some plants use the extra carbon dioxide, which all green plants need to grow, to develop deeper roots earlier than others, “and that may pay off later in life.” In the Midwest, poison ivy is enjoying a similar resurgence due to higher CO2 levels, he said.

The Working Group I report of the panel’s fifth assessment of climate change was released in September 2013, and the Working Group III report should be released this weekend at the end of a five-day finalization meeting in Berlin that began on Monday. In October, a synthesis of all three working group’s efforts will be published, concluding the fifth assessment.

“Preventing dangerous interference with the climate system entails mitigating climate change,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chairman of Working Group III. “On a transparent scientific basis, our report provides an understanding of the available options to meet this challenge.”

When speaking on the portions of the fifth assessment approved so far, Dukes called it an “excellent, useful document” that delivers a strong message.

“We’re not going to see the full consequences of this climate change in our lifetime. They’re going to be felt long after we’re gone, and to some extent, they’re already irreversible,” he said.

“Those thresholds are out there, but they’re invisible to us, and that’s a challenging thing because there’s no good way to factor the needs of future generations into today’s politics. The problems lie so far in the future that people tend to discount them — or at least they can’t feel them today, so they don’t feel urgent about addressing them.”

For Dukes, that climate change has become such a politicized issue is frustrating because, at heart, the problem is not political. Political pressure may cause some individuals with useful ideas and opinions to go unheard, he said.

“There are many smart people who don’t feel like they can speak candidly about the issue because of political reasons, and that’s a challenge we have to get by somehow,” he said.

With the pending approval of the Working Group III report, the topic of climate change will once again make headlines and give birth to opinion pieces on both sides of the issue.

Dukes’ advice for individuals concerned about global warming is to be on the lookout for bad information and turn to scientific societies, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science or the American Geophysical Union, for clarity.

“If you do an Internet search for climate change, you’ll come across a lot of misinformation that’s put out there — intentionally, I think — to confuse people on the issue,” Dukes said. “There are people who have a very vested interest in making the issue seem more confusing than it actually is. … The basic message is clear, and has been clear for a long time.”

Written by: Justin Mack

Contributing: David Smith/dsmith@jonline.com

Published by: JConline.com, Journal & Courier
                          Gannett - Lafayette, IN
                          April 9, 2014

Reproduced with permission.
 

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