Climate Fact of the Day: The last 12 months in the US are the hottest 12 months in the historical record (since 1880).
Post No. 4 in what is now a 13 part series on climate change is about a conversation I had last weekend with climatologist Dr. Michael Mann about human influenced climate change and what it means to our future and the future of our children.
Previous and upcoming posts are listed below for reference. Past post titles will link to back to the original post.
- : How I became interested in the climate issue
- What do these mean, and what’s the diff?
- : The debate that isn’t
- Conversation with Dr. Michael Mann: Summary of my talk with renowned climatologist Dr. Michael Mann
- The Arguments: The most common arguments and responses
- On Our Watch: Science tells us that climate change is happening now
- Yep, We Did It: Science tells us that this climate change is from OUR activities
- What It Means to Missouri: How climate change will likely impact our region
- Save Money, Save the Climate!: Simple ideas that save money while reducing CO2 emissions
- Our Choice: What we can do to limit further harm while adapting to the changes to come
- Lead!: Climate Change is happening. The United States can lead, or get left behind
- If We Don’t? Geo-engineering the climate. What is it and why we don’t want to go there
- Final Thoughts: Ethical considerations
Conversation with Dr. Michael Mann
While I’m sorry to get off schedule from the posted topic list for this blog, I thought that hearing about what one of the leading climatologists in the world has to say about what is going on with the climate might be worth a slight schedule change.
Dr. Mann and I talked about many topics, including his observations of the financially, politically and ideologically motivated attempts to create doubt about one of the most , however, due to space limitations, this post will focus mostly on our talk about the science of human influenced climate change and what we should do about it.
For those readers interested in learning more about the McCarthy type attacks against science and scientists and the successful attempts to mislead the public about climate change, I urge you to read Mann's book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars” and Science Historian Naomi Orestes book “Merchants of Doubt”. Both books are alarming, but important, reads about climate change and how our dysfunctional political system is threatening our children’s future.
Before we get into the climate science though, just a little about Dr. Mann.
The first thing I noticed about Dr. Mann is that he is a really nice guy. He’s easy to talk to, open and quite witty. Despite the seriousness of the topic, we had quite a few laughs during the conversation – particularly at the expense of a few of our favorite science ignorant politicians (you probably know who they are!).
Dr. Mann and I also have something in common in that we are both Dads. He has a young daughter and great hopes that she will be able to enjoy something close to the same climate that all of us had while we grew up. Like most Dad’s in the world, what he seems to want more than anything is for his child, and all the children of the world, to have a decent shot at living a good life – like we had.
As parents, we all want to leave the world a better place for our children than the world we had. Climate change has the possibility of denying us this parental duty so it is up to us parents to get off the carbon highway and move down a road that secures the future for our children. Just like saving for college we need to start early because time has a way of creeping up on us. Kids grow up so quickly and climate change is happening just as quickly
This leads us to our talk about climate science and the “new” climate that we are leaving to our children to deal with.
I asked Dr. Mann to respond with “agree or disagree” to a series of statements about climate change and to provide a short response to each. His responses were quite detailed so I can’t quote them verbatim, however, I’ll do my best to compress his responses as accurately as possible to fit into a blog format.
CO2 emissions from Ford Model T’s that were driven a hundred years ago, and every car driven since then, is still in the atmosphere. Agree or Disagree?
Dr. Mann agrees.
He thinks it is highly likely that some of the C02 from the original Model T’s remains in the atmosphere today. Recent studies have shown that C02 can stay in the atmosphere for hundreds or even thousands of years.
The 2007 IPCC report put it this way: “About 50% of a CO2 increase will be removed from the atmosphere within 30 years, and a further 30% will be removed within a few centuries. The remaining 20% may stay in the atmosphere for many thousands of years."
We are currently experiencing temperatures, and climatic events (weather) of CO2 levels emitted from when I was in high school in the late 70’s. Agree or disagree?
Dr. Mann agrees.
He points out that there is a 30 to 40 year lag between CO2 levels and temperatures. This is known as “climate inertia” or “committed warming”. Dr. Mann compares it to a freight train: Once it is moving, it takes a long time to stop. So far global temperatures have warmed 1.5F. Another .75F on top of the 1.5F is guaranteed – even if we stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow. That’s how much momentum our freight train has already built up.
Temperatures, and related climate events like heat waves, droughts, storms and floods, are going to increase at an increasing rate for the foreseeable future (baring exceptional volcanic activity of significant changes CO2 emissions). Agree or disagree?
Dr. Mann agrees.
This also has to do with the climate inertia that was discussed. The train is slow to start, but once it gets going the faster it can speed up.
Dr. Mann and I talked about a number of different ways how to describe the higher rates of heat and weather related events. Here are some of my favorites:
“Loading the Dice” - meaning a higher likelihood of rolling 5’s and 6’s. Some scientists have suggested that we are also adding new numbers to the dice, so instead of a 6 sided die, it might be 8 sided with the 7’s and 8’s representing new levels of extreme weather.
“Ballplayer on Steroids”: Remember Barry Bonds and other ball players suspected to have used steroids? The weather in a warmer world is like a ball player on steroids – more “home runs”.
Here is a quote I found from Dr. Gerald Meehl of UCAR (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research):
"Just as steroids make the baseball player stronger and increase his chances of hitting home runs, greenhouse gases are the steroids of the climate system, they increase the chances of record breaking heat to occur compared to record breaking cold."
A Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences from Washington University recently gave us advice to reconsider our plans to retire in Arizona. Agree or disagree with the Professor?
Dr. Mann agrees.
Living in Arizona is already difficult and it is probably going to get worse as temperatures continue to increase. The higher temperatures and increasing droughts will be exacerbated by lower water supplies coming from the lower snowfall levels in the mountains.
Recommended reading: Regional Climate Change Impacts - Southwest
A criticism of the IPCC reports is that they are very conservative and may understate the possibility of much greater warming. Agree or disagree?
Dr. Mann agrees.
Science is inherently conservative to start with. Each IPCC statement requires hundreds of scientists to agree. In addition it has to pass through multiple layers of oversight. Therefore, the IPCC claims that ultimately get published tend to be more conservative than what many scientists really think.
At the end of our conversation I asked Dr. Mann how our group can help in the effort to limit additional harm to the climate. He responded with 3 suggestions:
- Communicate: Share your views and concerns by writing letters to your local newspapers, politicians and community leaders. Additionally, let your network of family, friends, coworkers and social networks know about your concerns
- Fight Climate Change Misinformation: Challenge misinformation by responding to misleading blogs, newspaper editorials and “radio commentators” with the facts and scientificly supported evidence
- Take Personal Action: While it will take systemic action to ultimately reduce the impact of the climate problem, taking personal action to limit your CO2 impact will help mitigate the damage and it will save you money as well. Professor Scott Mandia has some great suggestions to reduce personal CO2 emissions while saving money in his
The next post will return to the originally planned schedule. We will consider some of the most common “arguments” that are used by those who spread misinformation about what is likely to be mankind’s greatest challenge.
Author's note to commenters:
This is sure to be a controversial topic and I’m OK with that. I only ask that you keep your comments civil, respectful, informed and related to the particular subject matter discussed. As you can see from the topic list at the beginning of this post, there are plenty to topics to be talked about over the summer.
I also ask that if you dispute a claim, that you provide a link to a reputable source supporting your claim.
Disclaimer: I am not a climate scientist, nor do I claim to have scientific expertise in this subject. Scientific claims made in these posts will be sourced only from highly respected and accredited scientific organizations.