Also, since this is taking over my life, I have not a lot else to talk about.
What it says on the box. Today's lecturer was a chap who sits on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of lots (it's open to all UN nations) of representatives from a variety of countries, and exists to assess the state of climate change using analysis of current scientific research. So I guess you could call them a clearing house for the science of climate change. They produce a variety of reports, the main ones being the Assessment reports, which look at pretty much everything. It's divided into four panels - the Scientific Basis one, the Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability one, the Mitigation one, and a Task Force that does stuff that unfortunately I didn't note down. I'm guessing they address specific issues.
Anyway, our guy was from the first panel, but he was talking about the second panel's stuff. So we had another look at the science which can be summed up in observed changes that are happening now as follows:
1. The stratosphere has cooled 0.3-0.6°C/decade since 1979.
2. The troposphere has warmed 0.12-1.9°C/decade since 1979.
3. These, combined with measured near-surface temperatures have, by the magic of science, been calculated to show that the sea is warming by 0.13°C/decade and the land by 0.27°C.
4. Glaciers are shrinking.
5. Permafrost is thawing.
6. Rivers are freezing later and breaking up earlier each season.
7. Mid-high latitude growing seasons are getting longer.
8. There are poleward and altitudinal shifts of plant and animal ranges.
9. Trees are flowering earlier, insects are emerging earlier and egg laying in birds is happening earlier.
10. There is more water vapour in the upper troposphere.
11. Intense tropical cyclone occurrences are increasing.
12. Oceans ph is dropping (the oceans are becoming more acidic).
All that stuff has been measured and can be shown to be happening right now. Yikes. There are projections that are even scarier but I'll leave those for now.
The IPCC folks are tasked with the job of figuring out what the impacts of such things will be - things like sea levels rising, what will happen if the average temperature increases by 2°C, 4°C, etc. Naturally, this is a big job. They look at water, ecosystems, food, coastal issues, health, and singular events - and of course how these might affect specific countries, which countries are vulnerable to what impacts and so forth.
Turns out that the big deal issue is that in order for seriously nasty nastiness of the giant storms, big droughts, flooding, ecosystem collapse, widespread starvation and lots of people, animals and plants dying type, we need to try and keep the temperature increase under 2°C in total. This means reducing our carbon emissions as a planet by half in the next 40 years. Even then, some warming is unavoidable.
OK so none of this is really news. However, the 'unavoidable' thing means that countries need to be thinking now about how they'll deal with the impacts that will inevitably come, and part of the IPCC's job is to assess those. Turns out that for NZ, the three main ones are our ecosystems, our water security and our coastal communities. In addition we'll probably have a host of other things going on, including more rain in the west, more droughts in the east, reduced glaciers and snowlines (no more Ruapehu skiing), more extreme hot weather events with it being overall a bit warmer, more westerly winds, the migration south of warm-climate associated pests and diseases such as kikuyu grass and facial eczema. To be fair, there are likely to be opportunities as well, like wine growing in Otago.
The water one is scary. There's already a hoo-ha going on in Canterbury over water and from the sounds of things that will only get worse. Anyway, identifying these things based on science is what the IPCC does and this provides what they call 'policy-relevant science' to governments concerning their own countries, in the hope that policy will then be made to adapt to the changes that are coming. If you want to look at your own country's impacts, go here.
In the tutorial we pretended to be Wellington Regional Council and tried to come up with adaptation strategies for the things we considered to be most relevant to our area. Suffice to say it would be awesome to have a blank cheque and completely agreeable people. ;-) In reality, it's hard even in a classroom situation - conflicting priorities and agendas, different solutions, different economic impacts. Do you displace people or risk them dying? etc. So yeah, it gave us an insight into the kind of questions that get asked when addressing the evidence, and a bunch more sympathy for those that do it.
The afternoon was more of the same, with a focus on the workings of the IPCC itself and how it goes about the assessment process. Based on what I saw today, anyone who tries to say that the science is wrong or that the IPCC has an agenda is probably a dick and an idiot all rolled into one:
It was pure coincidence, I googled dick idiot and that's what came up.
I was a little disappointed not to be able to draw this guy out on the interactions between the evidence and the policymakers in respect of the various priorities and incentives that they face (or where climate change might sit in that priority list), and he was too smart to give me a straight answer on whether he considered the NZ government's approach to be conservative or cautious in the face of pretty compelling evidence. He did say, though, that our policymakers are pretty good when you look at it globally. Diplomatic, I thought. ;-)
Tomorrow - ICE CORES!
In other news, I'm embarrassed to admit that I bought the last of the Earth's Children books today. Yes, I carried it home under my jacket. SHAME!
Shut up, I read the first one when I was 14 and they were part of my formative years. Ayla was a role model for me as a young woman (before she became the world saving, everything-inventing porn star of the later books) and I admit I'm curious how the larger story arc will be finished. I well let you know how it works out.
 Today in the tutorial the tutors started asking people to say their names when they ask a question so they could track class participation, which influences your final mark. I'm not sure how I feel about this - does your ability to speak in a group affect your knowledge of climate change issues, or are we being assessed on our communication skills? I know I'd get pinged if I put participation as an assessment parameter in a unit standard about knowledge of building law. It won't affect my mark because I'm a chatterbox but I'm a bit *gnng* about it.