Now that the academic summer is over, I have left Australia and returned home to Canada. It is great to be with my friends and family again, but I really miss the ocean and the giant monster bats. Not to mention the lab: after four months as a proper scientist, it’s very hard to be an undergrad again.
While I continue to settle in, move to a new apartment, and recover from jet lag (which is way worse in this direction!), here are a few pieces of reading to tide you over:
Scott Johnson from Ars Technica wrote a fabulous piece about climate modelling, and the process by which scientists build and test new components. The article is accurate and compelling, and features interviews with two of my former supervisors (Steve Easterbrook and Andrew Weaver) and lots of other great communicators (Gavin Schmidt and Richard Alley, to name a few).
I have just started reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. So far, it is one of the best pieces of science writing I have ever read. As well as being funny and easy to understand, it makes me excited about areas of science I haven’t studied since high school.
Finally, my third and final paper from last summer in Victoria was published in the August edition of Journal of Climate. The full text (subscription required) is available here. It is a companion paper to our recent Climate of the Past study, and compares the projections of EMICs (Earth System Models of Intermediate Complexity) when forced with different RCP scenarios. In a nutshell, we found that even after anthropogenic emissions fall to zero, it takes a very long time for CO2 concentrations to recover, even longer for global temperatures to start falling, and longer still for sea level rise (caused by thermal expansion alone, i.e. neglecting the melting of ice sheets) to stabilize, let alone reverse.
“In a nutshell, we found that even after anthropogenic emissions fall to zero, it takes a very long time for CO2 concentrations to recover, even longer for global temperatures to start falling, and longer still for sea level rise (caused by thermal expansion alone, i.e. neglecting the melting of ice sheets) to stabilize, let alone reverse.”
So Doctor, how much time do our grandchildren have?
In the 1960s atmospheric CO2 concentration was increasing at about 0.60 ppm per year. Today atmospheric CO2 concentration is increasing at about 2 ppm per year, and that rate of increase is still increasing. We are well past the 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentration, which scientists considered recoverable from, and there are no signs of us letting up on that atmospheric CO2 production rate anytime soon; cars and trucks are being produced at record rates. Many oil-producing countries have passed the peak-oil production point where only half the known reserves remain, but the fracking process to accelerate release of the second half’s CO2 into the atmosphere is being perfected.
Why are climate scientists so mute on this subject? It seems that they would rather tell each other what they want to hear than tell the public what they need to hear. Atmospheric CO2 concentration will not begin to decrease until fossil fuel consumption rates have dropped 90% from today’s levels, and numerous catastrophic events will happen before that day. When CO2 levels become well above 400 ppm, which they are sure to exceed 500 ppm in the coming decades, significant recovery will take many centuries. With more than half of civilization living in vulnerable, crowded cities, mass starvation and suffering are inevitable.
And then we have idiots producing stuff like this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/climatechange/10294082/Global-warming-No-actually-were-cooling-claim-scientists.html People are listening to them, because they have gotten tired of chicken-little yelling, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling.” http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/green-fatigue-sets-in-the-world-cools-on-global-warming-8513826.html What people need to hear is what climate scientists are not screaming from every rooftop, but mostly discussing quietly amongst themselves. Climate scientists are the authorities on the perils of runaway climate change, not politicians, so it rests with climate scientists to shout out calls to action, not Al Gore. Climate scientists should be heard loudly and clearly in the public media. Why are these responsibilities left mainly to a few concerned folks at http://www.350.org?
My message to climate scientists is: Stop preaching to the choir and start preaching to the public. Preach the dangers of rising global temperatures and ocean levels. Preach the dangers of increasing atmospheric moisture and desertification. As sure as the frog will perish sitting comfortably in its pan of water above the flame, humanity will perish if it conveniently ignores the ominous signs of disaster lurking just over the horizon.
Are the experts at http://www.ipcc.ch/ doing any good? Let’s have a show of hands from the general public. How many know what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is? Probably many fewer than have heard about the IPCC scandal. And those who have heard about that scandal probably use it to justify their continued speeding of gas guzzling SUVs down the highways. How many know what the IPCC experts do, besides attending meetings and writing reports? Unfortunately I’m not a climate scientist, so I haven’t had the inclination to dig into the IPCC’s thousands and thousands of pages of Climate Change documents. http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.shtml#.Ui0HT2R4bAg Why don’t we hear anything from IPCC in the public media about the dangers of Climate Change?
I understand Roger’s frustration, but Kate has done more than almost all and she is still an undergraduate.
Science communication is so very different than general communication. A scientists highly likely means so much more than uncle Frank’s dead cert.
There are a number of climate scientists who are very outspoken. There are even more who are educating the public in their own neighbourhood (at universities, letters to the editor). There are groups, like the Climate Rapid Response Team, who debunk the nonsense put out by the idiots and provide information for others who want also want to do debunking.
Congrats, Kate, on your papers. Three already! Nice. I’m trying to get our third (and final) one published from work we did in 2006. Two rejections for this one so far (and we keep adding more data from work we’ve done since then). So, well done!!
By the way, Bryson’s book really is good, isn’t it? I’ve bought four copies now (I end up giving them away to someone to read, and then I want to reread it again myself).
Dr. Roy Spencer says, it’s “Time to push back against the global warming Nazis”
Very classy of him.