Global Warming Speeding Up: Scientist
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As feedback loops accelerate global warming, the Obama Administration steps up with early efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
Global warming is proceeding far faster than scientists had predicted as greenhouse gas emissions continue to build up in the atmosphere at faster-than-predicted rates, spawning environmental changes that only reinforce the climate change.
That's the word from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, according to an account of its annual meeting in the Washington Post.
The United Nations last convened the world's scientists to report on the state of climate science in 2007, but at that time, scientists were using data on greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 ... and the rate of pollution increased faster than predicted. Meanwhile, the effects of the warming climate are spawning "positive feedback" in ecological systems, causing Arctic permafrost to melt, for instance, which releases the potent greenhouse gas methane. Another major change is snowcover in the northern latitudes, which once reflected the sun's energy; in the absence of white snow and ice, the darker land, sea and forests absorb more of the sun's heat.
The cycle of warming-induced changes that only warm the atmosphere more will spiral out of control before the end of the century, according to another account of the conference, by Environmental News Service, unless governments take "decisive action" to stop releasing so much carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and clearing forests.
To that end, there is some good news. The Obama Administration reversed course on a Bush Administration policy this week, effectively stating that new coal-fired power plants can't be built without first considering their impact on the climate. Burning coal releases more carbon than any other fossil fuel, and coal is already used to produce roughly 50% of U.S. electricity.
Also, the massive economic stimulus package President Obama signed Tuesday funds a variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs at unprecedented levels:
* $16.8 billion for the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs -- a 10-fold increase. The money will fund everything from biomass energy production to electric vehicle research and development, as well as an array of state- and local-level incentives that individuals can claim, including $5 for home weatherization that translates into up to $6,500 per eligible house.
* $60 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy and electric transmission projects, and $4.5 billion for "smart grid" technology
* $4.5 billion to convert existing federal buildings into "high-performance green buildings" and $300 million to purchase greener vehicles for federal fleets.
* $8 billion for high-speed rail corridors and $10 billion total for public transit systems.
Expanded tax incentives for renewable energy businesses, and for individuals making energy efficiency and alternative energy improvements to their homes or vehicles.
It's important to note, however, that there are doubts about whether the energy efficiency spending for weatherization and the like will really stimulate the economy, and concern that despite greener energy investments might be offset by investments in highways or other greenhouse-gas emitting infrastructure.
For more specifics on new and expanded tax credits available for individuals, see 2009 Home Energy Tax Credits.