Your Opinion: Understanding climate change
Thursday, January 9, 2014
About two weeks ago I took issue with you concerning the professionalism of an editorial cartoon on the subject of what I prefer to call the climate issue. This Saturday you did it again, although it was an imported cartoon rather that an in-house product. However I must give the paper credit for printing the article about the Arctic Vortex on the front page.
I wish that those of us who are into the science of climate could more effectively communicate with the public at large. However difficult that is, it does not make the task any less so when professionals such as you choose to not to cooperate. I feel the potential risks are too high for the issue to be taken lightly.
Having said that, I must explain why I feel it difficult for us to effectively communicate. To begin with, a basic understanding of thermodynamics, oceanography, atmospheric science and a few other disciplines is in order. The best I can do is to say that the planet is getting warmer and skip over how and why but then add that the planet is not getting uniformly warm everywhere at the same time. For example, while we anticipate a period of bitterly cold weather here, it was a record 127 degrees in the Outback of Australia a few days ago. Of course it is summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in our half of the globe. As long as our planet is tilted in reference to the sun, that should hold true. However, a few days ago it was warmer in Alaska than in the lower 48.
Yes, the Arctic Vortex is a factor, but the recent past has seen changes in the polar jet stream. For example, I experienced an unusual minus 40 degrees in the mountains of northern New York state in the mid 1950s. However, the ice cover of the Arctic was intact at that time, and now it is disappearing. That in itself is now changing the Arctic climate, likely because of the way the atmosphere has been transferring heat from the oceans to the poles.
Science is now providing more and better data on this topic, data that allows a statistical confidence that these events are not random. However, understanding the complexity of how all these changes will play out in the short term is difficult simply because many factors are changing simultaneously making specific forecasting more difficult. For example, I have been led to understand that the models used to predict short term weather are now less reliable, perhaps because of the “new normal.”
So, maybe the meeting on climate warming was canceled because of snow in, say Moberly, while the same meeting in Jefferson City proceeded as scheduled even though snow was predicted. Now produce a cartoon showing all these factors.