29 January 2019

The Climate Threat is Much Worse Than You Think, But There’s Still Hope

Posted by Dan Satterfield

From Berkeley Earth Scientist Robert Rhode. At the current rate the temperature is rising, we will pass two degrees above pre-industrial times in about 40 years. The trend will almost certainly increase though.

I know a lot of people are tired of hearing the title of this post, but it’s true. The threat we face from climate change is a lot worse than you think it is. There is near unanimous agreement that we must strive to keep the Earth’s temperature from going above 2 degrees C from the pre-industrial times, and better yet would be holding it to 1.5 C.

That’s not going to happen, and two degrees is likely lost as well.

That’s bad.

This means we are now faced with a goal of trying to avoid a much more catastrophic change to our planet and with it will come some nasty surprises; consequences that we have no idea about now. The consequences we do know about for a two-degree rise are bad enough: The entire crop system on Earth will change. Water shortages may become quite severe, and what is already a severe shortage of water in the Western U.S. will become more critical. 

New Science

Just last Friday a paper in Nature announced research that showed several sites in Northern Canada are now ice-free for the first time in 115,000 years at least. In the last few months, several new papers have been published showing the ice melt in Greenland and Antarctica, is rising and this will lead to an accelerated rise in sea level worldwide. The New York Times does some of the best journalism on climate and this piece (from the 16th of January) about the consequences of the disappearing ice is a must read. 

Did you know that Antarctica is now melting at about three times the rate it was ten years ago? That was published in Nature last summer and the NY Times has that as well. They also published a summary of the research published in 2018, and I’ll warn you, it’s all bad news. 

Think the California fires had nothing to do with climate change? The evidence says otherwise. This is ctsy. Dr. Robert Rhode at Berkeley Earth. His climate infographics are always worth sharing.

So, what do we do about this??

Turning down your thermostat is not really the answer. Neither is taking shorter showers, but eating less meat would probably be helpful. Seriously though, the answer is straightforward, and we have little time to act:

We must transition away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy As soon as possible.

Here are some suggestions for different groups and what you can do to avoid a catastrophic change in our climate.

Teach the science. Explain how science works to your students and why it can be trusted and why the attacks on the science are based on politics and not facts. If the parents/school board members don’t like it, too bad. Science is not about presenting both sides. It’s about what the observations and experiments show. Spend some time busting some of the more popular myths as well. Yes, there are unknowns, but those are far beyond the science you will cover in anything from elementary to high school.

Journalists (Print and TV):
Understand what false balance is and stop doing it. Point it out when a fellow journalist engages in it.  A pat on the back to NBC’s Meet the Press host Chuck Todd who announced that there would be no more climate skeptics on that program. We don’t give equal time to those that think the Moon landing was a hoax every July 20th, so why should we do it for science skeptics who have a belief that’s just as silly. A quote I saw recently on the “We Are The Media” Facebook page sums it up perfectly:
“If someone says it’s raining & another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the ****ing window and find out which is true.”

Voters: Educate yourself on the issue. Whether or not Winston Churchill said “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” is debatable, but there’s some truth there. A democracy will not function well unless its citizens take the time to understand the issues. So, read up on the issue and quit voting for people who tell you that every science body on Earth is wrong about climate change.

Hint: Start educating yourself by reading Dr. Michael Mann’s book The Madhouse Effect. You will come away from it with a much better understanding of what has been happening and what the science really says, and what expert scientists like Dr. Mann have had to put up with over the last two decades. After that, read the books I listed here and you’ll be a much more science literate voter. If you live in a democracy I think you have a responsibility to be science literate, and every one of these books is free at your local library. 

Broadcast Meteorologists: If you’re not already talking about this issue online and on-air, then start today. Stick to the published science and explain what it means for your viewers. You’re the only person with a science background that most people see on a daily basis. Use that opportunity to provide good fact-based information to your audience. Even if you do not have a background in atmospheric physics you can educate yourself on the science, and give reliable information to your audience. There are a lot of people in the AMS and broadcast mets like myself who will help.

Everyone: We MUST urgently have the conversation that’s been delayed by special interests for 25 years: How do we urgently transition to clean and renewable energy? I think both sides of the political aisle will have good policy ideas on how this can be done, but one side must finally come around and admit that we face a catastrophe if we don’t act. We are getting closer to that happening in America, and fortunately for the planet, most nations are now striving toward a green future.