Ice sheet slippage could raise global sea levels by more than six metres in less than half a century from now, former US vice president Al Gore is being quoted as suggesting.
Accelerating rates of glacier melt mean that Greenland’s huge ice sheet could break away, in half, and slide into the sea, raising ocean levels.
These claims are contained in news coverage of Gore’s new documentary and book “An Inconvenient Truth.”
Media reports say the documentary shows the collapse of a huge slice of ice 50 kilometres wide and 270 kilometres long from the Antarctic in 2002 – with Gore quoting scientists as saying this happened a century earlier than expected.
Gore’s documentary is the most alarming report yet among new studies showing accelerated global warming from feedback loops and tipping points.
If accurate, Gore’s predictions adds to fears of rapidly accelerating environmental doom for nearly two dozen Pacific Island states and low lying areas that are home to hundreds of million of people – including some of the biggest cities in the world.
Arguments continue to rage over the accuracy of global warming science, pushing out debate on whether scientific certainty is being placed higher than risk to human life, possibly sooner than later.
Either way, better safe than sorry, global warming concerns have somehow remained a low priority within the Pacific Islands.
Part of the problem may be that the South Pacific Regional Environmental Office takes a low profile approach to the issue, its latest workshop being “community level adaptation to climate change.”
Despite a multimillion dollar budget, SPREP website reports “no project” to engage governments at the policy development level.
Behind the scenes, some environmentalists claim that SPREP donor countries like Australia – whose government refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocols – have also refused to fund a SPREP policy project because they are wary of the impact the Pacific might have as a votaing bloc on the world stage.
Events on the world stage continue to move ahead without the region, given high profile impetus by Gore and his film.
Already, copies of a separate slide presentation by Gore based on his book and documentary have been uploaded to the internet.
Sceptics have rubbished Gore and his documentary, but news media are also reporting significant shrinkage in the number of critics of global warming concepts.
Even if some scientists remain unconvinced, Gore’s documentary is meeting with wide critical support.
A movie critic monitoring site, Rotten Tomatoes, reports that 53 media in the United States have reviewed the documentary favourably – zero opposed it.
"An Inconvenient Truth can't, of course, reveal a future that is still up to us, but by the time you're done watching, the real question is, which way on God's green earth would you want to err?" asks a reviewer at Entertainment Weekly.
Environmentalists have often attacked the United States for its preoccupation with Hollywood glamour in the face of global concerns but now activists like Gore are using entertainment-based responses to get their message across.
His approach seems to be working.
Roger Ebert, a movie critic whose trademark “thumbs up” reviews are iconic in many countries said: "In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.”
Even scientists have welcomed the documentary as an opportunity to educate the public, with Scripps University of California convening a scientific panel to answer questions from the media.
More scientific estimates are expected to emerge as a World Climate Research Programme workshop ends today in Paris. Involving at least nine satellite based environment programmes, well known sponsors including NASA, NOAA, Australia’s Greenhouse Office and multiple UN agencies, the workshop will release a report “in support” of a 10 year WCRP strategy for 2005-2015.
“The report will be different from the forthcoming IPCC Assessment Report in that it will not contain projections of future changes,” reads advisory notes on the workshop website.
IPCC is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a world body of thousands of scientists predicting 9 to 88 centimetres in sea level rise by the year 2100.
Doubts surrounding the IPCC estimates range from sceptics who question whether man can have any effect on a planet to environmentalists who say the panel is far too conservative.
Today’s workshop objectives include identifying “major causes of uncertainty” for “present and projected future rates of global sea-level rise.”
While rejecting projection models, the workshop objectives reinforce nearness of environmental problems facing the planet in “associated variability ranging from long timescales (i.e. decades to centuries e.g., due to climate change) to short timescales (i.e., hourly to daily, e.g., due to storm surges.”
Previously, most scientists have described ‘long timescales’ as consisting of millennia rather than centuries or decades.
The Australian Greenhouse Office quoted by the BBC in late May warns that current estimates of global warming are “being challenged” by new studies.
The studies say estimates may be too low by as much as 75%.
It is unclear what if any change will come from all the reports or the Hollywood excitement.
Gore’s message is not the first doomsday warning – a 2004 report prepared for the Pentagon warning that climate change was a much bigger threat than terrorism sunk without trace despite being greeted as “hugely embarrassing” for the Bush Whitehouse.