By Bill Nye
As you may know, I am very concerned about global warming and global climate change. The science of global warming is long settled, and one may wonder why the U.S., nominally the most technologically advanced country in the world, is not the world leader in addressing the threats enumerated by the U.S. military, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and others. I hope people will take the facts we face into account as they head to the polls this year.
The ocean is warming and expanding. This effect alone will displace millions of people. The effects on agriculture, water supplies, and weather patterns will create a great many problems for a great many of us. By my reckoning, our delay and the reluctance of conservative presidential candidates to embrace the problem and discuss it is a result of the diligent effort of a handful of climate change deniers. They have been especially successful at introducing the idea that routine predictive uncertainty, e.g. plus or minus two percent, is somehow the same as plus or minus one hundred percent. It isn't, and the deniers are wrong.
Since the presentation of the facts and science concerning global warming and climate change have been heretofore insufficient to motivate enough of us voters, I am now challenging the deniers directly. By showing enough people the techniques and ignorance of the deniers, I believe we can make warming and climate change a campaign issue, which will swing the upcoming U.S. presidential election in favor of a candidate who is not out of touch with our worldwide climate situation.
Both Marc Morano and Joe Bastardi are well-known climate change deniers (Mr. Morano said once that he prefers the term “extreme doubter"). In an opinion piece in the unusual Patriot Post online publication, Mr. Bastardi insisted that there is nothing unusual going on in our Earth's atmosphere and oceans. In time for Earth Day, I issued a video challenge that was published on The Huffington Post. I offered and still offer to bet Mr. Bastardi $10,000 that this year 2016 will be among the top 10 warmest years on record. I offer him another $10,000 that the decade 2010-2020 will prove to be the warmest on record. Mr. Bastardi wrote a second piece in which he re-stated his belief that carbon dioxide has little effect on global temperatures. Incidentally, despite publishing a “midday digest" every day, no one at the Patriot Post has responded to my enquiries.
Carbon dioxide has an enormous effect on planetary temperatures. Climate change was discovered in recent times by comparing the Earth to the planet Venus. When Mr. Bastardi and I appeared on the Bill O'Reilly show six years ago, Mr. Bastardi said, “[He doesn't] believe we have the proper measurements of Venus from over 10 billion years ago. So [he] can't tell the relationship with Earth." In planetary science we can tell several important things. Venus is extremely hot because of the greenhouse effect (and it's far less than 10 billion years old). The Earth is warm enough to have liquid water, because of the same greenhouse effect. I remind you that Mr. Bastardi's apparent belief that carbon dioxide has nothing to do with the Earth's global temperatures is absolutely wrong.
Incidentally neither Mr. Bastardi Mr. Morano would take either wager I offered. They both admit the world is getting warmer fast. Mr. Morano just said no, he would not take the bets. In complementary fashion, Mr. Bastardi did not address my offers. Instead, he proposed a new wager based on changes that may or may not occur over a single year. You may have seen his article from November 2015 in which he includes two graphs of the world's temperature over time. I believe anyone able to think critically can see that the graphs and data Mr. Bastardi's cited in this previous article are irrelevant. In his first graph, the four and half billion-year time scale is too long to reckon temperature changes over the last two and half centuries. In his second graph, the timescale is too short to accurately depict the overall rate of global temperature change. He has hidden or masked the phenomenon of global warming and climate change from the readers, or perhaps even from himself.
Mr. Bastardi suggested that I've been brainwashed and that I am irrational. While such claims may or may not be true, rather than address my proposed wager he changed the subject several times. Among the adjacent subjects he included were: nuclear energy, Middle East oil, creationist Roy Spencer's satellite measurements, veterans' health benefits, money used to study whether the Earth is flat or round, professors improving fusion [reactor] output, no use of fossil fuels for a year and television commercials for satellite dish service.
Contrary to Mr. Bastardi's statement, carbon dioxide certainly does affect the Earth's climate in a big way. I hope you will consider both Mr. Morano's and Mr. Bastardi's tendency to change the subject along with their misjudgment, or apparent misjudgment, of atmospheric and planetary science as you head to the polls this year.
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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