Global Warming/Climate Change Post 6 of 13: “On Our Watch”

The climate is changing now, we are causing it and solving it is our responsibility. We have no choice.

Climate Fact of the Week
on August 2, 2012, Oklahoma City had its hottest day in history, hitting 113°, tying the city's all-time heat record set on August 11, 1936. The low bottomed out at 84°, the warmest low temperature ever recorded in the city (previous record: a low of 83° on August 13, 1936.) Oklahoma City had three consecutive days with a high of 112° or higher, which has never occurred since record keeping began in 1891. Source:  Dr. Jeff Master’s Wonderblog  

Climate Quote of the Week
"Climate change is here — and worse than we thought”, Dr. James Hansen, Aug 2, 2012.

Post No. 6 in this 13 part series on climate change will explain why climate change is our problem to solve – and why we need to solve it now.

Previous and upcoming posts are listed below for reference. Past post titles will link to back to the original post.

  1. :  How I became interested in the climate issue
  2.   What do these mean, and what’s the diff?
  3. :  The debate that isn’t
  4. :   Summary of my talk with renowned climatologist Dr. Michael Mann
  5. :  The most common arguments and responses
  6. On Our Watch:  Science tells us that climate change is happening now
  7. Yep, We Did It:  Science tells us that this climate change is from OUR activities
  8. What It Means to Missouri:  How climate change will likely impact our region
  9. Save Money, Save the Climate!:  Simple ideas that save money while reducing CO2 emissions
  10. Our Choice:  What we can do to limit further harm while adapting to the changes to come
  11. Lead!  Climate Change is happening.  The United States can lead, or get left behind
  12. If We Don’t?  Geo-engineering the climate. What is it and why we don’t want to go there
  13. Final Thoughts:  Ethical considerations

“On Our Watch”

I used to think that climate change was some far off problem that my distant ancestors would be able to easily solve with some advanced technology that we don’t know about yet.   I was wrong, very wrong.

Unfortunately, human-caused global warming has already caused large increases in extreme heat waves. Global warming-caused extremes are happening now.

 “Extreme summer climate anomalies in Texas in 2011, in Moscow in 2010, and in France in 2003 almost certainly would not have occurred in the absence of global warming with its resulting shift of the anomaly distribution. In other words, we can say with high confidence that such extreme anomalies would not have occurred in the absence of global warming.”

This quote is from a new scientific paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper will be freely available online Monday August 6 as article #12-05276: Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., “Perception of climate change”, Hansen, J., Mki. Sato, and R. Ruedy. A draft copy can be downloaded here.

This summary of the paper by Earth Sciences professor Scott Mandia is also helpful

There are three facts that Dr. Hansen does not mention in his article that should be considered.

  1. There is a 30 to 40 year lag between CO2 levels and temperature.  This means that we are currently experiencing the weather of CO2 levels from when Ford, Carter and Reagan were Presidents.  It also means that the temperature is going to increase even if we stopped all emissions tomorrow.
  2. The temperature is likely to increase at an increasing rate.  It’s like a freight train.  Slow to start, but once it gets going, it can really move. 
  3. Tipping points.   The warmer it gets, the more likely that natural factors can increase the warming even more, and these factors, once “tipped” are virtually impossible to stop.

It’s not our fault, but it is our responsibility. 

We used to have the excuse that we didn’t know that we were causing harm.   We no longer have that excuse.       

When I was a kid in the late 60’s and early 70’s my brothers and I never wore seat belts when our parents took us somewhere in the old Ford station wagon.  I recall plenty of brotherly love wrestling matches in the back of that wagon, with my older, bigger brothers nearly always giving me a whooping. 

Fortunately, my dad was a super safe, and very slow, driver and we never had any type of car accident during that era of “freedom” or I might not be here to write this blog.

If something had happened to us in that old Ford, it wouldn’t have been my parents “fault”.  They didn’t know any better because there wasn’t any information to show us what happens to an unrestrained body when it is subjected to the laws of physics – laws that become very evident when a moving object (car)  meets a stationary one (tree).

Now, however, we know that our kids are at high risk if they are unrestrained in a moving vehicle and it is our responsibility as parents to make sure they buckle up.

Solving climate change is similarly our responsibility as parents and citizens of a global community.

We need to begin shifting away from dirty, expensive fossil fuels such as coal and oil, and begin to add cleaner, cheaper technologies such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal to the grid. 

We also need to hold our politicians, government, religious and industry leaders accountable for developing plans to adapt to the increased temperatures that are coming and to prevent further damage to the climate system.

To close, I’m reminded of the simple wisdom of a Joplin high school student after last year’s tornado:

"The tornado really taught me how to appreciate what matters. All the things accumulated in a lifetime can be strewn across counties in a matter of seconds, but what matters in life are the loved ones that walked out of that basement with me and being strong, even when you have nothing but the clothes on your back."

Here are a few other quotes to ponder:

“The only certainty is that we have to act. How could I look my grandchildren in the eye and say I knew about this and I did nothing?”  David Attenborough

“The biggest challenge is how to get people to wake up and realize this is a one-shot deal. If we fail, we are witting participants in the biggest experiment humans have ever done: moving CO2 levels to twice their value in the past 670.000 years and hoping it turns out okay for generations to come.”  Chemistry professor Nathan S. Lewis

Note:   The next post “Yep, We Did It” discusses how we know man’s activities are changing the climate.

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 scientific organizations.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Julie Brown Patton August 13, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Patch terms of use encourage user names provided on this site to be real names. MidMo commenter, please consider engaging here not as an "anonymous" person. Thank you.
Peter S. Mizla August 13, 2012 at 12:04 PM
What climate cycles are you talking about? Ice ages and interglacial periods? Do you know what caused them? Have you heard of the End Permian Extinction 250 million years ago- or the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum of 55 million years ago- the last two 'great global warming events' HINT- they where caused by massive infusions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. C02 during the last 800,00 years- through 6 ice ages and 6 interglacials has not varied more then 100ppm- the higher figure for an interglacial at 280ppm- and 180ppm for an ice age. It took a mere rise of 100ppm from 180 to 280 to melt the massive ice sheet covering NYC- we have risen from 300ppm a century ago- to nearly 400ppm today due exclusively to the burning of fossil fuels- a rise of nearly 100ppm takes thousands of years. Lets look at real science, data and figure, observation and reality- not misinformation.
Larry Lazar August 13, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Hi MidMo and thanks for your response. The reality is that natural cycles would have our climate cooling, not warming. The positive feedback of an additional trillion tons of atmospheric CO2 has more than overwhelmed the natural cooling cycle. Which is why the National Academy of Science issued the following statement in 2010. ‘The compelling case that climate change is occurring and is caused in large part by human activities is based on a strong, credible body of evidence, says Advancing the Science of Climate Change, one of the new reports. While noting that there is always more to learn and that the scientific process is never "closed," the report emphasizes that multiple lines of evidence support scientific understanding of climate change. The core phenomenon, scientific questions, and hypotheses have been examined thoroughly and have stood firm in the face of serious debate and careful evaluation of alternative explanations. "Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for — and in many cases is already affecting — a broad range of human and natural systems," the report concludes.
Peter Russo August 14, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Try this test: Get a pot and put 1 glass of water in it. Now turn the gas (Or Electric) on. Immediately Put your finger in the pot of water. Is it Hot? Is is Warm? Now turn off the gas. Is it cold? Would someone please explain how something that is "Warming" can suddenly be cold? Can someone explain WINTERS?. How can we have one cool day in summer if the WARMER (Gas) is ON. You can't. Because GOD wants our minds to figure it out. The answer will be---While there might be a global warming, MAN HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT>
Larry Lazar August 14, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Interesting comment Peter, unfortunately, man's activities have contributed more than a trillion tons of additional carbon into the atmosphere. We know this because it is easily measured. We also know that carbon in the atmosphere warms the earth and that a warming earth will change the climate - hence the increasing termperatures, more frequent storms, floods and droughts that we have been experiencing the last few decades. Winters and summers are explained by a tilt in the earths axis. When the northern hemisphere tilts away from the Sun, it is winter. When it's tilted towards the Sun it is summer. The tilting of the earth's access has nothing to do with the trillion tons of carbon in the atmosphere that is causing the overall warming. Thanks for your interesting comment


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