Sunday, February 18, 2007

 

Climate Change: AAAS releases video and first board consensus statement

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released a new video [1] as well as the first consensus statement of its board of directors [2] regarding global climate change during a free public town hall meeting held in San Francisco, California on February 18, 2007.

The town hall meeting, part of the 2007 AAAS Annual Meeting, was organized by AAAS in collaboration with three leading U.S. education organizations - the California Science Teachers Association, the National Science Teachers Association, and the United Educators of San Francisco (representing the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers).

Reflecting a growing torrent of evidence, the AAAS Board statement confirms that "global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society." Fossil-fuel burning and deforestation have contributed to an atmospheric carbon-dioxide level that is higher than it has been for at least 650,000 years. As a result, "the average temperature of the Earth is heading for levels not experienced for millions of years," the AAAS board concluded. [Global Warming FAQ from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/NOAA]

Already, "Scientists are observing rapid melting of glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, rising sea levels, shifts in species ranges, and increased frequency of weather extremes," AAAS President John P. Holdren wrote in a cover letter to town hall attendees. "As droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms intensify, damages to ecosystems and human society are growing apace."

Some of the most dramatic changes are being experienced in the far North, where temperatures have risen much more rapidly than the global average, according to Holdren, who serves as director of the Woods Hole Research Center and Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University.

The plight of the 600 residents of Shishmaref, Alaska, provides a powerful illustration of the human impacts of global climate change. In Shishmaref, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, the retreat of sea ice and the rise of sea level are combining to drive them from their village and destroy residents' way of life.

Two Shishmaref teachers, two city leaders, and three high-school students who won an essay-writing contest will be on hand at the AAAS event in San Francisco to catch the premiere of a new short video featuring their experiences. The group will include Shishmaref Science Teacher Ken Stenek; Elementary Teacher Denise Thoreson; Transportation Planner Tony Weyiouanna Sr.; Mayor Stanley Tocktoo; and students Frieda Grierson (grade 9, age 14), Jaime Barr (grade 11, age 16), and Simon Weyiouanna (grade 11, age 16).

In the video, Stenek, Tocktoo, and Weyiouanna Sr. each describe their observations of dramatic physical changes in Shishmaref, a 4,000-year-old Inupiaq village, such as rapid beach erosion and thinning ice.

"The fish are way up river and gone somewhere else," Tocktoo said. "With the permafrost nowadays, we bury our fish and food very shallow because the sun is so hot, the sun might heat up the sand and then spoil all our food. That's what I'm worried about."

Weyiouanna said that hunting and fishing seasons have changed, too, because of warmer weather and shorter winters. Stenek noted that he has seen "probably close to a hundred feet of land that's been eroded away on the north side of the island." Village officials say that since 2001, the island has lost an average of nearly 23 feet of shoreline per year, and some buildings have collapsed into the sea. The village is seeking $180 million in government support for relocation.

Regions around the Arctic "are like the coal miner's canary, the early warning to the rest of us of the extent to which the Earth's climate is changing," Holdren said in recent interviews. "As we see Inuit villages being forced to be relocated, away from the shoreline, we see a preview of the fate that is going to befall London, and Washington, D.C., and New York, and Boston, and Bombay, as sea level goes up worldwide."

AAAS expected up to 1,000 K-12 teachers, students, scientists, and others to take part Sunday, 18 February in the town hall meeting where attendees will have been able to cast instant-tally votes for their favorite global climate-change solutions.

Other highlights of the free public town hall meeting included:

* The first very large-scale, interactive demonstration of the Stabilization Wedge concept, a hands-on learning tool from Princeton University researchers that illustrates the impacts of different strategies for reducing greenhouse gases; and
* A new global climate-change teaching guide from Project 2061, the science-education reform initiative at AAAS.

Speakers at the event will range from P. John Whitsett, President-Elect of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), to climate guru Lonnie Thompson of Ohio State University, and AAAS President John P. Holdren, Director of the Woods Hole Research Center, who also serves as Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University.

This event was planned under the auspices of the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology.

Source (Adapted): American Association for the Advancement of Science PR February 18 2007 "AAAS releases video and first board consensus statement on climate change".

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[1] Video: Windows Media Player | Real Player

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[2] AAAS Board Statement on Climate Change (Full Text)

Approved by the AAAS Board of Directors 9 December 2006

The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now.

The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a critical greenhouse gas, is higher than it has been for at least 650,000 years. The average temperature of the Earth is heading for levels not experienced for millions of years. Scientific predictions of the impacts of increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation match observed changes. As expected, intensification of droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms is occurring, with a mounting toll on vulnerable ecosystems and societies. These events are early warning signs of even more devastating damage to come, some of which will be irreversible.

Delaying action to address climate change will increase the environmental and societal consequences as well as the costs. The longer we wait to tackle climate change, the harder and more expensive the task will be.

History provides many examples of society confronting grave threats by mobilizing knowledge and promoting innovation. We need an aggressive research, development and deployment effort to transform the existing and future energy systems of the world away from technologies that emit greenhouse gases. Developing clean energy technologies will provide economic opportunities and ensure future energy supplies.

In addition to rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is essential that we develop strategies to adapt to ongoing changes and make communities more resilient to future changes. The growing torrent of information presents a clear message: we are already experiencing global climate change. It is time to muster the political will for concerted action. Stronger leadership at all levels is needed. The time is now. We must rise to the challenge. We owe this to future generations.

The conclusions in this statement reflect the scientific consensus represented by, for example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (www.ipcc.ch/), and the joint National Academies' statement (http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf).

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