Wednesday, September 5, 2012

An Updated View Of Climate Change

The American Meteorological Society updated their statement on climate change last week while much of the country was preoccupied with Hurricane Isaac.  Research has greatly increased our understanding of the climate system and the body of research continues to expand at a rapid pace.  It overwhelmingly supports the consensus that the earth is warming and it is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

The full statement can be found here.  This newer version is a better read and accessible to the general public.  It is a conservative document and I am sure does not go far enough for some.  However, it is an important one as it represents the position of the society.  It is based on the science and not someone’s ideology or political orientation.  The previous statement on climate change can be found here.

An important point is summarized at the end in the final remarks:

There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities. This scientific finding is based on a large and persuasive body of research. The observed warming will be irreversible for many years into the future, and even larger temperature increases will occur as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. Avoiding this future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions. The ongoing warming will increase risks and stresses to human societies, economies, ecosystems, and wildlife through the 21st century and beyond, making it imperative that society respond to a changing climate (emphasis is mine).

Every major scientific body and every national academy of sciences along with the IPCC agrees with this assessment.  Deniers of this say that nothing needs to be done, because we can adapt.  So far we have not adapted well and the situation is likely to get worse.

I look forward to hearing from republicans, democrats, independents, conservatives, liberals, and moderates on their ideas for drastically reducing heat-trapping pollution.  I especially look forward to ideas for changing the economic basis for society (i.e., moving away from fossil fuels) without destroying the economy.  Some in the investment community are now realizing that a fossil-fueled base economy is unsustainable.  At some point in the not-too-distant future there may be economic upheaval if the situation does not change.

Our climate is changing.  It is not just about global warming.  This change includes changes in atmospheric chemistry which brings on changes due to the physics of infrared radiation and moist air.  Ocean chemistry is likewise changing and combined with the atmospheric changes is impacting ecosystems worldwide.  The physical and dynamical structure of the atmosphere is changing leading to more extreme weather.

What is most disturbing is the speed at which these changes are occurring.  Past climate changes are known to have occurred over thousands of years.  The changes were initiated by natural events.  The current change is man-made and at a pace not seen in the paleoclimate record.

Climate science is not complete, but that does not mean that we do not know enough to act.  The first and easiest step is conservation.  The technology exists to make progress on reducing heat-trapping pollution.

It is time to look for solutions to our problems.  It is time for politicians to stop denying and posturing.  We need workable solutions and a plan.  The discord in Washington must stop.  Time is running out and the future is irreversible.