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Heat seekers

Science | The UN is preparing to release another alarmist climate change review

Issue: "50 years after the bomb," Sept. 21, 2013

Warning: Climate alarm about to sound. An international panel of hundreds of scientists is due to present a major report on global warming to world leaders in late September. A leaked copy of the draft suggests the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations agency in charge of the report, will press its hardest case ever to blame warming on human activity and urge multibillion-dollar mitigation efforts.

The IPCC has written four other climate reports since 1990, the most recent in 2007, when the panel asserted it was 90 percent certain humans were the primary cause of global warming. In the new report, the authors have ratcheted their certainty level up to 95 percent. They predict sea levels will rise somewhere between 10 inches and 3 feet by the end of the century.

To the panel’s embarrassment, though, a relative lack of warming since 1998 is forcing it to offer theoretical explanations for the missing heat. The absence could be due to a dip in the solar cycle that affected Earth temperature, unexpected ocean heat absorption, or the annoying possibility the Earth is less sensitive to atmospheric CO2 than scientists predicted. The panel is also giving a more conservative prediction of future warming than its previous report had offered.

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The panel’s report will be the primary goad used to pressure UN members to sign on to a climate treaty. Oddly, the very governments the report is supposed to influence will have the opportunity to tweak the language of the draft during the September meeting, amplifying or downplaying its claims. Former members of the UN panel have admitted the reports have become politicized to advance a larger goal: a treaty in which developing nations would extract payments from Western nations in exchange for emissions cuts.

Sneaky heat

James Balog/Extreme Ice Survey/AP

Computer climate models attempt to predict climate change by accurately replicating aspects of the real-world environment, such as ice cover, CO2 levels, or sea temperature. But when the models overlook a significant environmental variable, they produce wrong results.

German researchers, publishing in Nature Geoscience, have found such an oversight. Melting glaciers in Greenland are thought to contribute one-quarter of the observed sea level rise each year, but a little-recognized process proves the melting isn’t all due to hot air: Beneath Greenland—an 840,000-square-mile, ice-covered island—the Earth’s crust is unusually thin, and heat from the core is helping melt glaciers from the bottom up. The crust temperature also seems to vary from place to place, presenting a complex thermal distribution system for future climate modelers to wrangle with. —D.J.D.

Highly Medicaided

Chelnok/iStock

The inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services is investigating the heavy use of antipsychotic drugs among children enrolled in Medicaid, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Prescriptions of antipsychotics used to treat conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or irritability in Medicaid patients under 20—including thousands under 5—tripled between 1999 and 2008. 

A study of 2004 data showed children were four times more likely to take antipsychotics under Medicaid than under other insurance programs. Some experts are worried doctors too often prescribe drugs instead of using therapy to address emotional problems. An August study also found that childhood use of antipsychotic drugs triples risk for Type 2 diabetes. —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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