I’ve been asked a number of times over the years my thoughts regarding climate change, given my undergraduate degree in meteorology. For a long time, my response was somewhat noncommittal in that although it seemed likely that something was changing, and evidence was increasingly pointing the finger of blame at man, I wasn’t clear on the ramifications of the increase of these greenhouse gases. We do our best to model what the atmosphere is going to do, but on a global scale, who is to say that other factors wouldn’t step in to moderate the worst effects? Truthfully, in college, we did not spend much time on climate studies or on climate change in particular. We were busy learning the “primitive equations” and thermodynamics. Those subjects were hard enough.
But, I was in college in the mid 1990s. In more recent years, evidence of increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being tied to the activities of human beings, as well as evidence of a clear global trend toward warmer temperatures, has made ignoring the scientific consensus about climate change truly dangerous not just for future generations but for all of us alive today. Climate change threatens the health and well-being of all of us, not just those living on the coastlines or on islands, or people who will live centuries from now. Whether it is the danger from melting ice and glaciers, coastal flooding and inundation, deadly heat waves, or more common and severe storms, the threat of climate change is real and current.
Undoubtedly, you’ve seen some of the charts showing the evidence of climate change. Two of the most significant are shown here:
This first graphic shows the steep and startling rise in global temperatures in the past century generally, but most dramatically in the past 30 years. Some of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 10 years.
(Credit: Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.)
This second chart shows the global levels of carbon dioxide over the past 400,000 years, sampled from ice cores. As you can see, carbon dioxide levels over the past 400 millennia have never been as high as they are now, and the burning of fossil fuels is by far the most likely reason for this change.
You also no doubt hear that there is some skepticism about climate change, and to be fair, as I mentioned upfront, not everyone is 100% convinced, even in the scientific community, about how the earth will respond as it gets warmer. But although some of the most dire predictions made in the past 30-50 years have yet to happen, we are unambiguously moving toward a future where lands will be flooded, ice will be melted, storms will be more severe, and climates will change. We know this because these things are already happening.
Former Vice President Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth, made in 2006, set forth in clear images and terms the dangers we all face. It was an excellent movie that I found moving and highly thoughtful. If you haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend it, particularly if you are on the fence about climate change. I am exploring climate change today because this weekend is the release of the sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, entitled An Inconvenient Sequel. This movie talks about the fight against climate change including the creation of the Paris accords signed by nearly every country on Earth, and from which Donald Trump has said he will pull the USA. But it seems that the movie has a hopeful focus, looking at how available and affordable renewable energy has become, and how people, businesses and governments are waking up to the realities and dangers of a changing climate.
Science should not be political. We are all in this together. We truly have (at least as of this writing) no other world to inhabit. So, to protect the health, well-being and environment of you and all those about whom you care as well as everyone else in the world: read, get informed, vote, conserve energy whenever possible, and support scientific research into weather and climate.
For more information about climate change, please visit these sites: