Climate change revisited

September 17, 2014


In January 2010 I wrote an essay for CalCoastNews entitled “The Climate Change Challenge.” It is interesting but sobering to see in what ways the picture has and has not changed since then.

A good portion of my 2010 article was in response to misinformation from a local office seeker who repeated some of the most common myths about climate change. In perhaps the most discouraging way in which the situation has not changed, these same myths are continually being regurgitated. This, despite the growing evidence for a warming planet, the consequences of this warming, and the dominant role that fossil fuel emissions are playing in this warming. In the following, I have provided references to sources I have used, but in order not to interrupt the flow of reading, I have referenced them in the text as R1, R2 etc. and at the end of this essay provided the links to them.

There have been two significant changes over these four ½ years. First, the signs of a changing climate and more extreme weather events are becoming ever clearer. So too are the causes of these signs: the insulating blanket of greenhouse gases we have thrown into the atmosphere, primarily as a result of our dependence on fossil fuels, grows unabated. Second, while it is still almost an article of faith for current conservative political office holders to deny the scientific consensus concerning the severe risks of continued heavy use of fossil fuels, a growing number of prominent businessmen, former administration officials, mainstream media, and the insurance industry are recognizing these risks and speaking out publicly.

Let me consider these two items in turn: Hardly a day goes by without some new sign of a changing climate accompanying a warming world. Here are news items from just the past few weeks:

Health impacts

Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said there is “overwhelming” evidence that climate change endangers health. “Climate change is already causing tens of thousands of deaths every year from shifting patterns of disease, from extreme weather events, such as heat-waves and floods, and from the degradation of water supplies, sanitation, and impacts on agriculture.” (R1)

Food supply

The world is headed “down a dangerous path” with disruption of the food system possible within a decade as climate change undermines nations’ ability to feed themselves, according to a senior World Bank official. (R2)

Species extinction

The combination of climate change and destruction of habitat is already having a severe impact on wildlife and the situation will only get worse. A very recent report from the Audubon Society paints a grim picture for bird life in the U.S.

The numbers are stark. Of the 588 species Audubon studied, 314 are likely to find themselves in dire straits by 2080. Unless, that is, the oil boomers in the Bakken—and everyone else—start to consider the future. Unless we begin to reduce the severity of global warming and buy birds more time to adapt to the changes coming their way. (R3)


“In Indian-administered Kashmir, heavy monsoon rains led to surging floodwaters and the deaths of at least 175 people. Across the disputed border in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the floods have claimed more than 60 lives, in addition to 131 in Punjab province. It is the mountainous region’s worst flooding in six decades…” (R4)

But it isn’t just India. Recent record floods have occurred in Detroit, the East Coast of the US, Japan and in Arizona and the incidence of such events in more than expected from natural variability.

Ice sheet melting and sea level rise

It is an observed fact that global sea levels are rising and at a rate that is now nearly twice what the historical average over the 130 years between 1870 and 2000 has been: (R5) The same link will show you the recent melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Glaciologists have recently concluded that continued melting of portions of the Antarctic ice sheets is irreversible. (R6) See also: (R7)

Commenting on this work, glaciologist Eric Rignot, who was lead author of one of the two ice sheet studies, said “All these studies clearly point toward an increasing contribution of ice sheets to sea level. What the layperson should get out of the recent news, however, is that ice sheet melting is a serious thing, there is no red button to stop it, we can slow it down or get it as fast as we can. Right now, we have chosen the latter”


Readers of this column do not need to be told of the severe drought facing most of California. But, as emphasized in a recent excellent report, drought involves more than just the total amount of rainfall. When record heat is added to lack of rain, soil evaporation increases adding to the dryness and exacerbating the heat. As the report notes, the average California 2014 temperature for the period January-June set an all-time record. As in the case of floods, we are now seeing the human fingerprint of these events. From drought expert Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona: “We are fairly certain that the unusual warmth is mostly due to human-caused global warming.” (R8)

And, not coincidentally, the CO2 level in the atmosphere continues to increase rapidly (R9)—“The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin showed that the increase of atmospheric CO2 from 2012 to 2013 was 2.9 parts per million (ppm), the largest year-to-year increase in 30 years.”

The link between the increased CO2 present in the atmosphere and a warming, and thus changing, climate is not mysterious. The basic physics has been understood for over a hundred years: CO2 molecules intercept some of the infrared heat emitted by the Earth’s surface and returns a portion of it back to the surface. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the larger the fraction of infrared heat returned to the surface. We have increased the amount of atmospheric CO2 by 40 percent since the start of the industrial revolution, much of that increase in the last few decades.

I have illustrated some of the recent effects of climate change not to “alarm” but simply to point out that climate change is happening now—it is not some speculation concerning a distant future. I mentioned above that one change is the growing awareness of the need to deal with climate change on the part of many who, by no stretch of the imagination, could be called “tree-hugging environmentalists.”

Here are some examples, all quite recent:

Former Treasury Secretaries, Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson—one a Democrat, the other a Republican, have spoken forcefully on this issue: Rubin states that “the costs of ignoring climate change are catastrophic” and concludes that “We do not face a choice between protecting our environment or protecting our economy. We face a choice between protecting our economy by protecting our environment − or allowing environmental havoc to create economic havoc.” (R10)

In a June 2014 opinion piece Secretary Paulson says, “There is a time for weighing evidence and a time for acting. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my work in finance, government and conservation, it is to act before problems become too big to manage… We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked. He goes on to advocate a tax on carbon. (R11)

Four previous Republican EPA administrators serving Republican Presidents have also spoken out on this issue: They “have a message that transcends political affiliation: the United States must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally…and go on to state that “the costs of inaction are undeniable”. They also suggest that “A market-based approach, like a carbon tax, would be the best path to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.” (R12)

Increasingly, the insurance industry, both at home and abroad is recognizing the seriousness of this issue: In an article headlined “For Insurers, No Doubts on Climate Change”, we read “Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming. (R13)

I want to close with comments about “expertise” and “opinion”. If a licensed electrician comes to my house and says that some wiring is unsafe and that opinion is confirmed by another licensed electrician, I give those opinions more weight on that subject then I would from my dentist. If this were an opinion piece about the dangers of smoking, the need for sunscreen when being outside in the sun, or the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet, it would attract little comment, pro or con. We acknowledge that there are people whose training in specific areas has given them expertise and whose opinions we should give more weight to than those without such training.

My experience though, is that this is seldom the case when talking about climate change—and especially on the part of those who deny that human-caused climate change is occurring. They are all consider themselves “experts.” They troll through the more prominent denier websites and opine indignantly in the comments following the opinion piece. But they rarely understand the basic physical laws governing the climate, whether it is the laws of radiative transfer, thermodynamics or hydrodynamics. And they are rarely present when invited to come to talks by climate scientists who do have that expertise and where they can be shown the observations supporting the material I have described above.

We hear a lot of talk these days about “critical thinking”. That means discarding preconceptions based upon ideology, taking the time and making the effort to be exposed to the data and gaining some understanding of the basic science. For those who want an introduction to this topic by real climate scientists—with no ideological or financial axe to grind I recommend the booklet prepared under the auspices of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (R14). I especially recommend the excellent video with one of the authors, a past President of the American Meteorological Society (R15).

Ray Weymann is a graduate of Cal Tech and holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Princeton. He lives in Atascadero.

Links to references:

R2 – ixzz3BhY10o86



  1. Rambunctious says:

    Okay Dr. Weymann
    Explain this story from the Los Angeles Times from this morning. You see Dr. if you want to convince people that we have so damaged the ecosystem and because of that we are in grave danger from the changes in weather you will need to deal with stories like this. You can’t pick and choose your scientific evidence to fit your scenario without being noticed. That is the biggest problem with the GWA’s. Tunnel vision in the face of scientific objections to your theory.

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  2. RayWeymann says:

    Earlier today a posted a detailed response to Maxfusion’s infrared “expert”. Over the
    next couple of weeks I will respond in detail to some of the more inane comments that have been posted in response to my opinion piece. But science is not rhetoric–it is about
    observational data and the understanding of this data in the light of the laws of physics.
    In order to be able to show some of this data I will post my responses on my website.
    I will post another brief comment on this comment thread when those responses have
    been posted.
    However I would like to respond right here to “Old Salt:
    who wrote:

    09/17/2014 at 3:37 pm

    Dr. Ray Weymann like Al Gore
    earns $$$$ for lecturing his Opinions concerning Global Warming…

    Would Old Salt care to document that statement? If true it never reached me! In point of
    fact I receive no $ for the talks I have given, and most recently when it was offered
    I declined it and asked that it be donated to educating science teachers. Lord knows we
    need better science education than the generation of many of those who have commented here seem to have received.

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    • Maxfusion says:

      Have you ever been involved in a “global warming” project that was funded with taxpayer money. Yes or no question professor.

      (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  3. RayWeymann says:

    Regarding Maxfusion and his infrared astronomer friend:
    I am very curious about the identity of this “professional infrared astronomer” that Maxfusion met at the McDonald observatory. The Director of the observatory has emailed me that there are no retired infrared astronomers on the staff there, and moreover that there has been no 10 micron equipment to observe with at the observatory for at least 25 years. Since he/she says “I’m retired so I don’t need to keep my mouth shut anymore” I assume he/she has no reason not to reveal his/her identity and faculty affiliation. In any event, for someone claiming to be an expert on the relative importance of CO2 and H2O insofar as the greenhouse effect is concerned he/she has some very serious misconceptions: 1) The most significant cause of global warming since the industrial revolution is the “radiative forcing” associated with increased carbon dioxide and to a lesser extent nitrous oxide and methane. A simplified definition of such radiative forcing is the difference between the infrared radiation emitted at the Earth’s surface and that escaping into space relative to the same quantity at the start of the industrial revolution. (Reference B).This escaping radiation can now be measured very accurately by satellites. If the interested reader will examine Figure 3a in reference (A) and/or Figure 1 of reference (B) it is obvious that, contrary to the assertion of our infrared expert, the CO2 band centered at 15 microns (600 -750 cm-1) is the dominant and very important contributor to radiative forcing. 2) The figure in reference (A) also shows the nearly perfect agreement between the calculations and observations. The figure quoted by him/her of 95 percent H2O to 3 percent CO2 is wildly off. This is discussed in reference (B) Depending upon the amount of cloudiness, the contribution of CO2 to the amount of IR trapping varies but is typically about 20 percent of the trapping. (Reference B) (For a technical and detailed discussion see reference (C).
    3) Most appallingly, he/she misunderstands the difference between long-lived greenhouse gases like CO2 and water vapor. The former governs the latter since the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere responds to the warming driven by CO2. It amplifies this warming and is thus a powerful feedback mechanism in the climate system. (Reference D) None of this is new and readily understandable to anyone with a modicum of understanding of the science—provided they are really interested in understanding.
    Ref A:
    Ref B:
    Ref C: Schmidt et al: Journal of Geophysical Research Vol 115 Issue D20, 27
    Ref D:

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  4. GoneBabyGone says:

    Climate change happens as a natural cycle of our planet, if not we wouldn’t have things like well… fossil fuels; the argument is that we are causing it to happen at an accelerated rate and causing it to get warmer than what would happen at a “normal” rate; and to be honest there is very little argument to the contrary! If you have noticed the right has recently stopped saying that Global Warming IS NOT happening, they instead choose to say: “I don’t know the science” or “I’m not a scientist”, when asked their position on the subject.

    If you continue to rely on the likes of Forbes Magazine for your “scientific”, “fact based” opinions you might as well have you conservatives heads buried in the sands of ignorance; what else would a profit driven, stock holder owned magazine say? They represent pure profit driven, to hell with common sense, what’s good for the bottom line a-typical corporate mentality rather then what’s good for all of mankind.

    To say that what we are doing to our planet has no long term negative effects is sentencing your family’s future generations to a certainty of a planet less inhabitable then what you inherited; the thing that bothers me about that is while doing so you sentence my family to the same. Selfish ignorance… The mantra of the Conservative Right!

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    • ml1999 says:

      You wrote: “and to be honest there is very little argument to the contrary!”

      The general public started out open minded years ago. Then when the polar bears, who were supposedly threatened, thrived, and the seas didn’t rise, they kept an open mind. THEN Global Warming “researchers” computers were hacked, and it was revealed that they had LIED about some of the data!

      Years ago the Warmists predicted that by now, 50,000 island inhabitants would have to relocate due to rising sea levels. How many have moved? Zero!

      The predicted gloom and doom of increased hurricanes also never happened.

      Parallel to all of this, we have had between 18 and 23 years of NO Global Warming! It is referred to as a “Hiatus”, and so now we have theories on top of theories to try to explain what is going on.

      By now, most citizens see theories of GW as extremely low on their priorities list.

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      • GoneBabyGone says:

        Oceans have risen, from NOAA (April 2014):

        There is strong evidence that global sea level is now rising at an increased rate and will continue to rise during this century.

        While studies show that sea levels changed little from AD 0 until 1900, sea levels began to climb in the 20th century.

        The two major causes of global sea-level rise are thermal expansion caused by the warming of the oceans (since water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice (such as glaciers and polar ice caps) due to increased melting.

        Records and research show that sea level has been steadily rising at a rate of 0.04 to 0.1 inches per year since 1900.

        This rate may be increasing. Since 1992, new methods of satellite altimetry (the measurement of elevation or altitude) indicate a rate of rise of 0.12 inches per year.

        This is a significantly larger rate than the sea-level rise averaged over the last several thousand years.

        Polar Bear Population (IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Unit – 2014):

        The IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group also lists sea ice losses from a warming Arctic as the biggest threat to polar bear survival. At their 2013 meeting, scientists reported that of the 19 sub-populations of polar bears:

        4 are declining
        5 are stable
        1 is increasing
        9 have insufficient data

        More hurricanes? No! More powerful ones? Could be! The jury is still out on this one…

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  5. r0y says:

    It really does not take much to earn a Ph. D. now-a-days, I suppose. I guess it’s like running for office: who you know / who you blow… it’s all about the pedigree and the absolute dedication to the current narrative (as handed down from on high by way of grant monies).

    No one, not a single person I have ever met and spoke with does NOT think that there is no such thing as Climate Change. It was hot today, but cold this morning: Climate change. Oh, that’s right, “weather” is not “climate” – so what is climate? A collection of figures over the course of a few decades that are really accurate, and maybe over one or two centuries that are so-so in accuracy?

    Ask any real scientist (if you haven’t drummed them out of the system) what it means to base a theory on 200 years of data for a planet that is, what, 4,000,000,000 years old? Uh oh, did “climate”-as-not-weather just become a statistically insignificant footnote in the evolution of the earth? Why is GREENLAND called Greenland? Think it might have been warmer at some point? How long in earth’s history has ice even existed on the planet?

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    • zaphod says:

      Greenland is the name they chose to lure followers away from Iceland, deceptive vikings !

      (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
      • GoneBabyGone says:

        And Iceland was used to keep others away! Intresting…

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    • ironyman2000 says:

      It’s simple to determine climate change using 200 years of data……IT IS HAPPENING
      OBVIOUSLY AND QUICKLY. This writer is obviously a deluded right wingnut with no
      sense of reality beyond the cement of its clogged excuse for a brain.

      (-3) 5 Total Votes - 1 up - 4 down
      • Messkit says:

        Oh? Please tell us all, of the hysteria of the 1970’s with the coming of a new ice age.

        According to ALL the climate data of that decade, we are RIGHT NOW experiencing record cold, snowfall, receding seas, and massive increases in the polar ice caps. It’s OBVIOUSLY and QUICKLY happening today!!

        Or is it just my brain clog that makes me fail to see the scientific proof of glacial reality returning to Ohio?

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        • zaphod says:

          the new ice age was predicated upon a nuclear war that did not happen. that’s is why it is still known as nuclear winter

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          • Messkit says:

            bzzzzzzzzt!! Sorry zappy, wrong answer!!

            The very same warming climate bullshit today, was hashed out in panic mode through the 70’s and early 80’s, and ALL about a global ICE AGE….

            …NOT nuclear winter.

            If you lived it then, you would remember it quite clearly now.

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      • ml1999 says:

        Please stick to the facts or theories, not judgements on mental soundness.

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down

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