Climate Change is On A Roll

Climate Change Is On A Roll by Dr. Alan K. Betts

Vermont has seen a warm summer, but rainfall in Pittsford has been high enough that we have had a large vegetable crop, as well as far too many weeds!

Near-stationary waves in the jet stream produced record July temperatures in regions around globe, particularly in western US and Canada and across Europe. This is the face of climate change. Stationary high pressure regions produce long periods of warm dry weather with little cloud cover, so temperatures creep up and humidity falls. This sets the stage for drought that damages crops, and for the forest fires that have been burning across many regions.

California has had especially devastating fires. On July 26, a full-fledged firestorm in Redding, California, produced the strongest tornadic firestorm winds ever recorded, with winds over 140mph – as powerful as an F3 tornado. Between July 27 and September 1, the Mendocino fire complex burnt 459,000 acres, far larger than any other fire in modern state history. The smoke from these massive fires produced severe air pollution.

The summer climate off the coast of southern California is typically associated with a cold ocean and low clouds; but this summer, ocean temps reached 79F. People swarmed to the beaches and tropical marine life moved north into the region. In a bitter contrast, beaches in Florida were empty as a result of massive die-offs of marine life coming from the toxic red tide growing in the ocean along 130 miles of Florida’s south-west coast. Inland in Florida, blue-green algae, which grow in warmer water that has been polluted by the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers, have poisoned rivers and lakes. These are the same cyanobacteria that are affecting Vermont’s lakes, as we too are reluctant to manage our runoff from urban and rural landscapes.

The extremes of climate and the pollution of our waters are all indicators of society’s reluctance to manage our waste-streams for the good of our children and all life on Earth. This is both our personal responsibility and the responsibility of government, but now short-term financial interests are taking precedence over smart long-term planning.

One dismal example is that the EPA is planning to roll back auto efficiency standards which were set to rise to an average of 54 mpg for passenger vehicles by the model year of 2025. The deceitful logic is convoluted. They are claiming that more efficient cars must be more costly, so people won’t buy them; and older cars are less safe, so more will die in accidents. The fact that more efficient cars save money by burning less gasoline, which also reduces on-going climate change, is totally ignored, because the EPA has been told to ignore it.

This is deliberate cruelty to our children who will have to live with accelerating climate extremes, if we continue to burn all the fossil fuels this century. We can build much more efficient cars today that reduce gasoline consumption by 80%, which cost no more to build and cost much less to maintain. In addition, computer assistance and collision avoidance radar does make them safer to drive.

Let me give an example from our own experience. We were amazed that our plug-in Prius Prime has averaged 136 mpg on the first 21000 miles with no compromises. Its all-electric range is only 30 miles, but this is enough that local travel in Rutland County is mostly all electric. For long trips, this car quickly reverts to gas-electric hybrid mode, with a range of 600 miles on a tank of gasoline, because of its remarkable efficiency. Last month we toured the Canadian Atlantic provinces. We drove 2100 miles in two weeks, plugging in overnight on most days, and we averaged 82 mpg, far more than the 2025 standards. This is the most efficient car on the market, because of the tightly integrated electrical power, and the recharging when braking and going downhill. Most manufacturers will of course build them anyway for the much smarter global market; but the EPA wants to limit the availability of fuel efficient cars in the US to prop up the oil industry.

Dr. Alan K. Betts is the head of Atmospheric Research in Pittsford and was the keynote speaker on May 9, 2018 at the 8th GEWEX Open Science Conference: Extremes and Water on the Edge, May 6-11, 2018 Canmore, Alberta, Canada.

Article originally published by Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus, September 08, 2018.

Return to Home page

Share on Facebook

Our Responsibility to the Earth

Our Responsibility to the Earth |

by Dr. Alan K. Betts

Spring came late in Vermont, as the daffodils did not start opening in Pittsford until April 18, and the forsythia were 10 days later. Rain for days on end from slow moving weather systems led to substantial flooding. The grass grew profusely weeks before it was dry enough to mow. I planted cool-weather crops, lettuce, kale and broccoli, by the first of May, and by now even the summer squash and tomatoes are growing fast. Earth Day was a Sunday this year. In the morning I spoke at the Dorset Church about our failing to accept our deep responsibilities to the Earth. In the afternoon, I spoke to a group called “Earth Matters” on the green in Manchester. The challenge we face is the same whether framed in spiritual or secular language: time is running out for humanity if we continue down the path of mindlessly exploiting the Earth for short-term profit.

The glaring question facing us all is: who is responsible for solving this mess? In early May, I spent a week in the mountains of Alberta, Canada, speaking to an international meeting of hundreds of scientists working on global water and energy issues. The title of this open science conference was “Extremes and Water on the Edge.” Introducing the conference, the Deputy Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada explained how fast the Canadian north is changing as ice, snow and permafrost melt. Planning for the future is well underway, but the adaptation costs are immense. Ironically, Alaska has just the same changing climate, but planning is very difficult, because federal policy requires them to pretend it isn’t happening!

As the climate changes, so the global water and energy cycles are changing. The long-frozen north is melting and floods, droughts and heat waves are becoming more frequent across the globe. Disaster response and future planning for resilience were hot topics. Scientists are in no doubt about what needs to be done to move away from a fossil fuel economy to a renewable-energy economy; but traditionally, scientists have preserved the integrity and independence of science by leaving policy to others. My message to this scientific community was that we all have a moral obligation to the Earth, especially earth scientists, who can see clearly the dire future that lies ahead under “business as usual.”

This moral responsibility, of course, extends to all of us, and it is time for citizens and professionals to speak up for the interests of all our children and life on Earth. We can no longer leave issues of “policy” to a federal government that is simply ignoring all that we know about the climate system in order to protect the massive investments of the fossil fuel industry (who are bribing them).

Across the U.S. and on a global scale, the renewableenergy transition is going nowhere near fast enough to stave off disaster. The Earth’s energy imbalance is about 1.3 watts per square meter, and 93 percent of this extra energy is being stored in the oceans for the decades and centuries to come. This may seem small, comparable to a night light, but it is about 250 times as large in total as the entire global electrical energy production. Rising sea level comes from this heating of the oceans, along with the melting of glaciers, which puts all our coastal development at risk. The flooding of New York by Hurricane Sandy illustrates what happens when warmer seas give us stronger storms with powerful storm surges, along with higher sea levels.

So, redouble your efforts for the renewable energy transition. Work together to build creative synergistic solutions that will work for everyone, because so much is at stake, and discuss openly the moral issues we face with your colleagues and neighbors.

Dr. Alan K. Betts is the head of Atmospheric Research in Pittsford and was the keynote speaker on May 9, 2018 at the 8th GEWEX Open Science Conference: Extremes and Water on the Edge, May 6-11, 2018 Canmore, Alberta, Canada.

Article originally published by The Times Argus June 02, 2018.

Return to Home page


Share on Facebook