#137 – Dick Bernard: “Climate” vs “Weather”: A matter of huge consequence.

Written by admin on December 27th, 2009

From time to time I’ll add updates to the end of this post. For other blog entries on Climate, see “Climate Change” under Categories.
For current information, see International Panel on Climate Change.

Early yesterday morning came a brief e-mail from someone who reads these posts: “…if the world doesn’t limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2020 or shortly thereafter, the chaos and conflict will be overwhelming. You don’t remind your readers of that; 2010 is a good year to begin; have a happy one.

While not sure what he meant by the 1.5 degree reference*, I responded in agreement, but saying also “…[people] have limited capacity for dealing with issues. So, Health Care Reform [has been] the only game in town…Climate Change will be an even more crucial and difficult issue.”

A few hours later came a Christmas letter from someone I’ve known his whole life: “…this last week replacing my furnace that was so high tech and energy conserving that it [has] failed to keep the house warm during this crisis of Global Warming.” I’m never quite sure how to take his comments, but his implication is one would fit the profile of the anti-climate change scoffers.

Around and in between the two accounts, the news was dominated by the guy who apparently tried to blow up the plane on the ground in Detroit. I say “apparently” because you’re never quite sure what to believe in these accounts either. Since then, he’s been linked to al Qaeda, and is said to have admitted that he was somehow connected to a Middle East terror cell. And, crucially, he has a Muslim sounding name….

So it goes in the world of virtual reality that we inhabit. Fully two pages of the Sunday paper in our metropolis was devoted to this endlessly dramatized story.

I have noticed that the climate change deniers like to focus on the more immediate issue of local weather to buttress their anecdotal case. So, I was shoveling heavy, wet snow on Christmas Day, and my uncle in North Dakota was talking about a pretty serious blizzard in his area; both usual winter activities in both places. Therefore, so goes the reasoning, everything is “normal”.

Climate is a far more complicated and long term and much scarier kind of phenomenon. It is, therefore, easier to scoff at, to deny. Recent news is that countries bordering the North Pole are now interested in claiming it…it will be, quite possibly soon, a year round shipping lane.

Unfortunately, the term “Global Warming” has been over-used, and later seized, as somehow proving that the Climate Change folks are alarmist idiots. It sells well, along with stolen e-mails supposedly proving, again through highly selective anecdotal (though stolen) “evidence” that even the scientists can’t agree on the issue nor how to “sell” it to a skeptical public.

One thing is pretty certain: if the scoffers prevail, future generations – possibly even our own – are stuck with their shortsightedness, IF (as is likely) they turn out to be wrong. Even if we immediately implement every means of changing our lifestyle, we may already be too late.

I’m reminded of the story of the frog in the water: put him on a stove, and very slowly increase the temperature in his environment and he’s oblivious. Sooner or later, he’s cooked. He realized his problem a bit too late. “He” will be our kids and grandkids….

Perhaps a half dozen years ago, a college friend of mine, then a long-time PhD and chair of a department of the physical sciences at a major university, wrote me that climate change was going to do us in, starting with small but crucial changes in ocean current patterns due to subtle changes in water temperature. This was long before anybody had Al Gore to kick around.

I wish I would have kept my friends e-letter from back then.

I think he’ll end up being right. As will my friend who sent me the brief e-mail yesterday*.

UPDATES:
Dec. 27: Why climatologists used the tree-ring data ‘trick’, here

Dec 27: * Response on the reference to 1.5 Celsius reference above (from the source, a thoughtful senior citizen who prefers to remain anonymous.)
1 degree C = 1.8 degrees F
1 degree F = 0.56 degree C

There are many sources on the Web, and this seems to be one of the best for lay people. “Climate Math: 2 = 350 =40

In summary: 2 = 350 = 40 (means that) to avoid a global warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius we need to reduce our current atmospheric CO2 concentration from 387 [parts per million] ppm to at most 350 ppm within this century. To ensure we are on the right path, the first step has to be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40 percent by 2020. Now let’s get to work!

That and the following article note that the most climate-vulnerable nations, especially the Pacific and sub-Sahara Africa ones, are warning that the increase in world temperature must be limited to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) instead of the developed or developing nations 2 degrees C (3.6 F) by 2020 to avoid catastrophic effects in their regions.

See “Vulnerable nations at Copenhagen summit reject 2C target.”

What Obama and Clinton brought to Copenhagen was a pitiful 4-percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 or so. That’s partly because many members of Congress and their constituents are pathologically denying reality, with [MN] Cong. Bachmann being one of the worst.

See “U.S. EPA says greenhouse gases threaten human health as UN climate conference opens.”

Fortunately we also have Minnesotans like Will Steger who has launched a strong campaign to reduce atmospheric CO2 from its current 387 ppm level to 350 ppm by 2020. At public televisions preview of Ken Burns’ “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” he delivered a sobering lecture on ice-core research in Greenland and other polar areas that documents atmospheric CO2 changes in the last 400,000 years. The current ones are unprecedented. See Steger’s website.

Along with the economic barriers to achieving “2/1.5 = 350 = 40, we have the demographic barriers of exponential population growth, especially in many of the so-called developing nations where climate change effects are likely to be the most severe. But for various reasons those barriers are too often ignored.