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By Paul Bendix

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About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Climate of Change

Uploaded: Feb 3, 2014
I admit to being obsessed, even haunted, by climate change. A banal saying from my youth – everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it – has acquired newly ironic depth.

What is there to do? Heed the warnings about fossil fuels and related greenhouse gases, of course. Unless it's too late. In which case, what am I worrying about?

Generally, this is one of those problems that seems so vast, so beyond human comprehension, let alone intervention, that it easily falls into the background. Oh, well. We did our best, and now desertification is turning California into a long, coastal Palm Springs. Too bad.

In my first full-time job, I was a science writer for Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Having absolutely no technical or scientific abilities, my role was observer, outsider. I came to respect the scientists enormously. To advance in theoretical physics, I learned, requires fluency in five or six languages. Somehow, many physicists had energy left over to dabble in rock climbing or playing the violin. All I could do in their presence was listen and learn.

It was a struggle to read the journals, Science and Nature. I understood a little of scientific publications, but mostly got the general hang of the discipline. Research is a matter of endless disputation, a lifelong Socratic dialogue. The trick, for a layperson, is to see where the argument is trending. Unfortunately, with our climate, it's been trending the wrong way for decades.

Which is why on a Sunday morning when I call Caroline, one of my British cousins, to have a chat...I carefully steer the conversation away from climate change. She's an MD, my cousin, and should know how to read scientific reportage. Still, she is a skeptic on the topic of global warming. Nevermind that the disastrous impact is currently on full display in the UK. This includes nearby Gloucester, where unprecedented hurricanes have collided with tides in the Severn estuary...flooding villages, overflowing sewage plants. Anthropogenic climate change? It's happening around the world. My cousin isn't buying it. Problem is, I'm not selling it. No one is. It's just there.

Comments

Posted by Rodents, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Feb 4, 2014 at 10:53 am

Sounds like your cousin listens to the scientific consensus. The evidence is just not there.

Web Link

"Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin"
"In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale"
"In summary, there is low confidence in observed trends in small-scale severe weather phenomena such as hail and thunderstorms because of historical data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems"
"In summary, the current assessment concludes that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century due to lack of direct observations, geographical inconsistencies in the trends, and dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. Based on updated studies, AR4 conclusions regarding global increasing trends in drought since the 1970s were probably overstated. However, it is likely that the frequency and intensity of drought has increased in the Mediterranean and West Africa and decreased in central North America and north-west Australia since 1950"
"In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low"


Posted by Paul Bendix, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Feb 4, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Thanks for an interesting article reference. With so much work going on in this area, the journal Nature Climate Change provides one of the best windows on the research.

Web Link


Posted by Martin Lamarque, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Feb 4, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Sounds like Rodents like to cherry-pick the "scientists" that cherry-pick the data on global warming that suits the needs of Big Industry:

Web Link


Posted by Donald, a resident of another community,
on Feb 4, 2014 at 11:37 pm

Many people are becoming convinced that our society will never be able to respond to the challenge of climate change quickly enough to prevent it. There are too many ignoramuses and short-sighted politicians. Even at the global level there is nothing but sniping and expecting someone else to solve the problem. Consequently climate engineering is increasingly being considered as an alternative. If we can't get people agree to reduce greenhouse gas emission, perhaps we can do something to mitigate their impact. Some solutions are scary because they could have unintended side-effects that would last for years, but others are less risky. One example is "foaming" the northern oceans by whipping the surface into white froth which would reflect sunlight and compensate for the loss of ice sheets. That could be stopped within hours if it were determined to be harmful. Some of these ideas sound crazy, but we need to take them seriously because we are rapidly running out of alternatives and we seem unable to restrain our emissions.


Posted by mike, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Feb 5, 2014 at 8:54 am

What folly and arrogance to think man can control the climate or weather. Have any of these people ever read Gulliver's Travels? If they have, they obviously missed the point of the book. And another thing. How old is the planet? Some 15 BILLION years old ... or something like that. I'm not a scientist, so I know my opinion does not count, but seems to me that to rely of statistics that are a couple of hundred years old in the face of the age of the planet is nonsense ... statistically TOTALLY irrelevant.


Posted by Donald, a resident of another community,
on Feb 5, 2014 at 9:12 am

There have certainly been periods in the Earth's history when it was much warmer than now, but we weren't here then. The question is not about history but what impact warming and sea level rise this will have on our present civilization, which has a fragile food supply and many people living near sea level. We do not need to control the weather, we need to control ourselves and our impact on the climate. If we can't do that through prior restraint then we should consider engineering solutions that can mitigate the effect of our emissions.

P.S. The universe is 15 billion years old, the Earth about 4.5 billion
P.P.S Gulliver's Travels is fiction


Posted by practical, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 5, 2014 at 9:29 am

we can certainly affect the weather, maybe not control it. Cloud seeding, anyone?


Posted by Denny, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Feb 5, 2014 at 10:38 am

"What folly and arrogance to think man can control the climate"

Yeah, how could man possibly effect something so large.

Next thing you\'ll tell me we punched a hole in the massive ozone layer!

Oh, wait....

We are changing the climate: "Earth had its fourth-warmest year on record in 2013, and all of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week."


Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Thank you, Paul for blogging about this incredibly important topic.

There was a very interesting chart published recently right here in the Almanac (Jan. 8, 2014, p 13) that showed:
1. CO2 concentration
2. Global temperature
3. Sea level
over the past 400,000 years. This chart showed that those 3 things rise and fall together, on a 240,000-year cycle. This chart was part of an article titled "Can we rise to the challenge of rising sea levels?" This article came out of a conference on Dec. 9, 2013, at CSM. One very important fact that came out of that conference was this sentence (from the article): "The seas are warming faster than at any time in the last 500 million years." !!

Don\\\'t believe me? Read the article -- it is available on the Almanac\\\'s website here : Web Link

Climate change is real, and is harming people now and will harm many people in the future. Denying it will not make it go away.


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