Climate change revisited

September 17, 2014

sun heatOPINION By DR. RAY WEYMANN

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)

Floods

“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”

Drought

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:

R1 http://who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/climate-health-risks-action/en/
R2 http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/climate-change-may-disrupt-global-food-system-within-a-decade-world-bank-says-20140827-108w8x.html – ixzz3BhY10o86
R3 http://climate.audubon.org/article/storm-gathers-north-american-birds
R4 http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/09/08/kashmirs-epic-floods-link-india-and-pakistan-in-disaster/
R5 http://climate.nasa.gov/key_indicators/
R6 http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1511468/melting-west-antarctic-glaciers-irreversible-two-grim-studies-find
R7 http://www.latimes.com/science/environment/la-sci-0513-antarctic-ice-sheet-20140513-story.html)
R8 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/11/record-heat-extreme-drought-california/13904797/
R9 http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/09/09/3564900/wmo-climate-change-co2-report/
R10 http://www.rtcc.org/2014/08/04/robert-rubin-costs-of-ignoring-climate-change-are-catastrophic/R11 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/22/opinion/sunday/lessons-for-climate-change-in-the-2008-recession.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias&


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Maxfusion

This from an astronomer I met at the McDonald observatory at Ft. Davis, Texas.


“I’m a professional infrared astronomer who spent his life trying to observe space through the atmosphere’s back-radiation that the environmental activists claim is caused by CO2 and guess what? In all the bands that are responsible for back radiation in the brightness temperatures (color temperatures) related to earth’s surface temperature (between 9 microns and 13 microns for temps of 220K to 320 K) there is no absorption of radiation by CO2 at all. In all the bands between 9 and 9.5 there is mild absorption by H2O, from 9.5 to 10 microns (300 K) the atmosphere is perfectly clear except around 9.6 is a big ozone band that the warmists never mention for some reason. From 10 to 13 microns there is more absorption by H2O. Starting at 13 we get CO2 absorption but that wavelength corresponds to temperatures below even that of the south pole. Nowhere from 9 to 13 microns do we see appreciable absorption bands of CO2. This means the greenhouse effect is way over 95% caused by water vapor and probably less than 3% from CO2. I would say even ozone is more important due to the 9.6 band, but it’s so high in the atmosphere that it probably serves more to radiate heat into space than for back-radiation to the surface. The whole theory of a CO2 greenhouse effect is wrong yet the ignorant masses in academia have gone to great lengths trying to prove it with one lie and false study after another, mainly because the people pushing the global warming hoax are funded by the government who needs to report what it does to the IPCC to further their “cause”. I’m retired so I don’t need to keep my mouth shut anymore. Kept my mouth shut for 40 years, now I will tell you, not one single IR astronomer gives a rats arse about CO2. Just to let you know how stupid the global warming activists are, I’ve been to the south pole 3 times and even there, where the water vapor is under 0.2 mm precipitable, it’s still the H2O that is the main concern in our field and nobody even talks about CO2 because CO2 doesn’t absorb or radiate in the portion of the spectrum corresponding with earth’s surface temps of 220 to 320 K. Not at all. Therefore, for Earth as a black body radiator IT’S THE WATER VAPOR STUPID and not the CO2.”


January 25, 2014 at 11:28 pm


Mike

Everyone I have ever talked to about global warming says the same thing about water vapor vs. CO2. But the problem is it is almost impossible to TAX water vapor — but it is easy to tax carbon fuel sources.


zaphod

warmest August ever.


Mike

Ever? Really? Where did you get those temperature records?


shelworth

Warmest? Really? I’ve always lived in Los Osos and worked in North County and this Summer seems to be way below normal in temperature. Did we even have 10 days over 100? Or any over 105?


zaphod
zaphod

your tax dollars at work.


Mike

I wonder how much they fudged the data?


zaphod

the slide rule does not lie.


ml1999

Actually, in the USA this has been a below-average year for temperatures. Use google.


nurse1

I mean really, its not rocket science right?


mikeGB

The GW alarmists are still pushing their religion based on faulty models, data manipulation, and poor methods of data collection.


One thing often not discussed is how an increase in CO2 is not linear. Each increase in CO2 adds less to the CO2 effect than the previous addition.


http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/08/the-logarithmic-effect-of-carbon-dioxide/


Few of the alarmists will discuss the recent sea ice levels. Even fewer want to discuss the fraud at East Anglia by climatologists to “fix the data” or keep those with opposing points of view out of peer reviewed journals. Few talk about the global warming on Mars – hint: it’s not from Martians driving SUVs.


http://a-sceptical-mind.com/co2-the-basic-facts


http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/11/20/myths-and-facts-about-global-warming/


http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamestaylor/2014/08/07/global-warming-pause-puts-crisis-in-perspective/


The computer models continually fail to predict accurately, or explain the past. Yet we are expected to accept a lower standard of living, costly regulations, increased taxes, and higher energy prices for something that is just a theory, that fails to show predictable results.


Has the earth warmed recently? Yes.

Has man contributed to the warming? Yes.

Are the results going to be catastrophic? Highly unlikely.


And if you believe the models, Americans drastically cutting back will have little perceptible impact.


mkaney

The global warming caused by CO2 causes an increase in H20 in the atmosphere, thus amplifying the warming… but when the amount of H20 reaches a point where it condenses into more frequent cloud cover, it reflects the light back from the sun. The effect is not immediate cooling, since simultaneously the water traps the heat from the earth in the atmosphere, but eventually, it should just cool off again.


The only thing that will make the earth consistently hotter is it’s gradually diminishing distance from the sun…. although I imagine that the decreasing speed of its orbit will also make the extremes worse.


roberttorrance

emotive bs…..


Perspicacious

No proof whatsoever that man is causing the “problem”. Quit screwing up our standard of living by regurgitating this garbage.


isoslo

At least our leaders from the DNC who preach global warming as a serious problem practice what they preach…NOT. Look at how much fossil fuel is wasted by Obama, Gore, Edwards, all of the Kennedys, Pelosi, Reid, and I could name thousands of other democrats who preach climate issues and yet are the biggest users of fossil fuel in America. To me that is proof that the issue is a political issue not a real issue. If our leaders do not take global warming seriously why should any of us???


jonhartz

Since my previous comment disappeared I will post it again:

(Astrophysics? This makes the dude a climate expert? Me too.)

Such a long a scary list of consequences! Of course, for this to happen you must have an almost religious faith in the Trinity: 1.) Global warming is actually happening. 2.) Humans are the cause. 3.)These horrors will be the results. This is a high bar for thoughtful people…

But before making this frightening list, how about explaining the 17 YEAR lack of warming?

How about explaining how the “97% of scientists” nonsense has been debunked by real scientists?

How about explaining what happened to past scares, like Global Starvation, Global Freezing, and Global AIDS?

This religion is just another attempt by the Big Government crowd to separate the low information citizens from their earnings.


jonhartz

The most prevalent greenhouse (sounds benign to me) gases are water vapor and carbon dioxide, both considered beneficial and impossible to stop. But the Astrophysicist know this.


Rambunctious

http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterferrara/2013/05/26/to-the-horror-of-global-warming-alarmists-global-cooling-is-here/


It appears runaway warming predictions may have been fantasy


While the basic premise of global warming has a solid basis in fundamental physical chemistry — that carbon-containing gases trap sunlight, turning it into heat — a great unknown is how the Earth will respond to this heating by increasing levels of atmospheric carbon.

– See more at: http://www.dailytech.com/After+Missing+5+Predictions+IPCC+Cuts+Global+Warming+Forecast/article33457.htm#sthash.D7bTnP8K.dpuf


http://www.dailytech.com/After+Missing+5+Predictions+IPCC+Cuts+Global+Warming+Forecast/article33457.htm


You know what Dr Weymann?


There are electricians that will tell the owner of the home the total and complete truth and then there are electricians that will only tell the owner enough information to maximize his profit. In that case your Dentist would be a better person to refer to. In the 1970’s I had the hell scared out of me by my high school biology teacher. He fervently believed that by the time I was an adult the oceans would freeze! lol He called it global cooling, a new Ice Age and he had stacks of scientific reviews to prove his theories. He would proclaim “We will be able to walk to Russia” lol


The so called scientist (mostly self proclaimed) that he refereed to were as convinced as you are that they were correct with their dyer predictions. They were not correct. It’s a monumental shame; that instead of seriously battling real environmental devastation we are instead chasing a harmless boogie man called Carbon.


Rambunctious
zaphod

warmest August ever .


zaphod
Rambunctious

If the planet were actually warming… Dr.Weymann would really be on to something.


http://www.nature.com/news/climate-change-the-case-of-the-missing-heat-1.14525