Tag Archives: climate

Talking About Climate on This American Life

Last week while running errands I tuned into the NPR program “This American Life.” I caught the first act of “Hot in My Backyard,” the story of how climate change is impacting Colorado and how Colorado’s State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken talks about it — or doesn’t.

It was an interesting story that left me thoughtful and sad. The reporter had interviewed three other scientists (not Doesken), none of whom will tell the public what they know about climate change. They are making plans to take care of themselves in the difficult future ahead, but they weren’t telling others how to prepare. And who can say that isn’t wise. In four states, climatologists have lost their jobs because they talked about climate change.

The state climatologist who was the focus of this story, Nolan Doesken, seems like a very earnest and honest person. He’s a conservative whom farmers and ranchers have turned to for years for the information they rely on. And he’s so fearful of talking that he’s avoided saying anything for years. When he does finally say something – and the reporter is there to hear it – it’s so little that people don’t even recognize the import of what he’s said.

It’s disheartening that someone who has the trust and respect of the community – someone just like them – can’t find a way to communicate the truth of this dire situation we all face. A person like myself could never reach those people. But when a person in their sphere cannot or fails to communicate the message, how can we hope for the situation to change?

Of course, I can say that because I believe the situation can – and must – change. He may not believe that. Bubbling up throughout the interview I heard what may be the underlying reason for this failure to communicate: a belief that there is nothing anyone can do. That would make sense. After all, why damage relationships, why make people mad, why risk one’s career if there is nothing anyone can do?

He may believe that – lots of people do – and that’s what makes me sad. We really don’t know what we could do if we threw ourselves at this challenge the way we did the space race or the fight for victory in WWII. However, if we succumb to the belief that there is nothing we can do, it ensures there is nothing we will do.

400 Reasons to Fight – 400 Reasons to Care

Record floods, record storms, record heatwaves, record droughts. 2012 was a year for the record books, but one that didn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserved occurred in June. That’s when 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide was recorded in the atmosphere in the Arctic. It’s important to know this because rising CO2 is a factor in all of those other unfortunate records.

It’s important to know this because if we want to have a chance at heading off permanent, deadly climate change, we need to reduce CO2 to 350 parts per million. We’re not even close and we’re heading in the wrong direction.

It’s important to know this because every day you, your family, your business, make choices that can increase or decrease the amount of CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) you put into the atmosphere.  And every day you have a chance to make a different choice.

400 Parts Per Million – 400 Reasons to Fight

Why should you take action today to curb your carbon footprint? That’s what MN350 is asking people in its “400 Reasons to Fight” project.

  • Who and what do you love?
  • What makes life worth living?
  • What do you not want to lose?

When you find yourself wondering if anything you are doing will make a difference, pull out your list or the photos of your kids or the dog or your favorite camping place and remind yourself that THIS is why you are making the effort. THESE are your reasons to fight.

Make your reasons visible every day. And if you feel like it, share your reasons with MN350.

How Will Climate Change Affect Minnesota?

It’s easy to find predictions of the global impact of climate change coming from the scientific community — temperature extremes, drought and flooding, giant storm systems. In fact, we’re already seeing the effects because the climate has ALREADY CHANGED. What has been a bit harder to find is information about how climate change has affected Minnesota and how it is expected to impact us in the future.

Last night I attended Policy & A Pint at the Varsity Theater. The main speaker was MPR News’ chief meteorologist Paul Huttner. Special guests were The Theater of Public Policy, an improv group that uses comedy to bring serious issues to life. I learned a few things about climate change — and the reporting of climate change — that I didn’t know.

The U.S. states experiencing the greatest change in climate are Arizona (1) followed by the upper midwest states — Minnesota (3), Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan (4). The Minnesota Climatology Working Group reports that Minnesota has seen a significant increase in the rate of warming since 1980. We are warming faster – in some areas of the state (central and southeast) much faster — than the previous 100 years.

We’ve seen some pretty warm summers recently, including 2011 when Moorhead and Madison, MN, hit a record dewpoint of 88 degrees and Minneapolis/St. Paul also had its highest dewpoint of 82 to 84 degrees. Combine dewpoint – which is a measure of humidity – and temperature and you get a heat index rating (Who holds the record? Appleton,Wisconsin. In 1995, it had a dewpoint of 90 degrees and an air temp of 101, giving it an extraordinarily dangerous heat index reading of 148.)

But the real change has been in overnight lows not being as low, and in warmer winter temperatures.

The temperature of the water in Lake Superior hasn’t been measured for all that long – only since the early 80s. Climatologists, who study trends over long periods of time, appear uncomfortable making definitive statements about lake warming over that short a time period, but the measured temperature rise in the past 25 years has exceeded 4 degrees.

Huttner told the audience of primarily University students that no one born after February 1985 has experienced a colder than average winter.

If You Can’t Predict the Weather, How Can You Predict the Climate? 

The surprise statement of the evening was on the role that meteorologists have played in informing the public about climate change — or rather, the role they have NOT played.

Huttner said, in his experience, most meteorologists are climate change deniers. When asked how much of that denial is due to pressure from news directors — news stations routinely refuse to cover climate change because it is “too political” — he said he believes that perhaps as many as half are pressured into denial.

Unfortunately, meteorologists are the people most accessible to the general public, which is why it is critically important that they not contribute to the distortion of information in the news. Forecast the Facts is a grassroots organization that seeks to hold broadcast meteorologists and the news media accountable for misinformation and false balance.

Bill McKibben’s New Math Should Mean Action

Doomsday Clock: We have 5 minutes to change the world

Since 1947, the world has lived with a Doomsday Clock telling us how close we are to annihilation of all life on this planet. Before 2007, that time was based on the likelihood of nuclear war. Since 2007, that clock includes the impact of climate change.

Bill McKibben’s article on climate change, appearing in the July 19, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone magazine — “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” — is one of the most important articles you will read this year.

In it he explains that the planet has experienced a 0.8 degree (Celsius) increase in average global temperature (hotter in some places, colder in others). And now that we’ve gotten the ball rolling, it won’t stop there. We’ve triggered a feedback loop of thawing permafrost and polar ice melt that will release even more greenhouse gases. Scientists say the feedback loop will result in (at least) another 0.8 degree temperature increase, regardless of the actions we take.

Knowing the impacts that climate change is already making (see the Climate Vulnerability Monitor), world “leaders” agreed in Copenhagen to limit climate change to 2 degrees of hell. However, they did so without any actual plan to achieve that limit.

McKibben likens that agreement to playing Russian roulette with 5 bullets in the gun.

  • The first bullet hurtles toward island nations like Kiribati, which cannot survive rising sea levels. But it’s not just island nations that will disappear, so too will inhabited low-lands, areas along the ocean coasts, the city of Venice, the lowlands of Holland.
  • The second bullet will hit nations whose water supply is dependent upon seasonal snow and ice (notably parts of China, India and the American West), which will suffer increasing desertification.
  • The third bullet — heat — stresses food crops, drives massive wildfires and kills plant and animal life. We’ve already seen catastrophic corn crop failure throughout the U.S.
  • The fourth bullet — torrential rains and cyclones — will hit in old, familiar places, like Bangladesh, with increasing frequency and intensity. But we’re seeing the consequences of torrential rainfall even in Minnesota, where “once in a lifetime” floods now come every few years.
  • The fifth bullet hits when plant and animal life that cannot adapt as quickly as humans begins to disappear. We may think we can live without polar bears, but just how many animals and plants can we really live without?

World “leaders” found this price acceptable, in exchange for the ability to continue burning fossil fuels and conducting business as usual. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to have backed off even this very minimal agreement. The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern, has said that countries should pick their own goals without any internationally agreed upon requirements. In essence, allowing some to do nothing.

Those in the Transition community might once have hoped that decreasing oil supplies would keep climate change in line. McKibben makes it clear that there is enough oil, gas and coal in the ground to load that last bullet in the gun, with ammunition to spare. We cannot count on luck – or on the promise of technology – to save us. We must actively choose life.

Read Bill McKibben’s article.
Understand what this means.
If you find it too distressing, find a supportive community in which you can begin to engage the problem of greenhouse gas emissions in positive and meaningful ways.

Whatever you do, please don’t read it and then think you’ve done enough.