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By Katie O'Reilly
Katharine Hayhoe isn't your typical atmospheric scientist. Throughout her career, the evangelical Christian and daughter of missionaries has had to convince many (including her pastor husband) that science and religion need not be at odds when it comes to climate change. Hayhoe, who directs Texas Tech's University's Climate Science Center, is CEO of ATMOS Research, a scientific consulting company, and produces the PBS Kids' web series Global Weirding, rose to national prominence in early 2012 after then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dropped her chapter from a book he was editing about the environment. The reason? Hayhoe's arguments affirmed that climate change was no liberal hoax. The Toronto native attracted the fury of Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged his listeners to harass her.
The lakefront city of Erie, Pa. has been inundated by several feet of snow this week, “shattering many records," the National Weather Service said.
The historic storm—a whopping 62.9 inches since Dec. 23, with more flakes to come—prompted the city's police department to declare a “Snow Emergency" due to dangerous and impassable roads.
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ExxonMobil's deliberate attempts to sow doubt on the reality and urgency of climate change and their donations to front groups to disseminate false information about climate change have been public knowledge for a long time, now.
Investigative reports in 2015 revealed that Exxon had its own scientists doing its own climate modeling as far back as the 1970s: science and modeling that was not only accurate, but that was being used to plan for the company's future.
What's one of the most insidious myths we've bought into, when it comes to climate change?
It has nothing to do with the science: It's the simple idea that we have to be a certain type of person to care about climate change.
If I'm a liberal, if I bike to work and call myself a "tree-hugger," then of course I care about climate change. But what if I'm conservative, I drive a car or I worry about the economy—does agreeing with the science of climate change mean I have to change who I am?
When I moved to Texas 10 years ago, I didn't know what to expect. I study climate change, one of the most politicized issues in the entire U.S. If we're serious about it, we have to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. That's not a popular message in a state best known for its oil and gas.
But Texas surprised me. It surprised me by how many different kinds of people, from oilfield engineers to Christian college students, want to talk about why climate change matters—to us and to everyone else on this planet. I've also been surprised by the questions I get—some about the science, sure; but even more about politics, faith, and other topics near and dear to our hearts.
To answer these questions, I've teamed up with our local West Texas PBS station to produce a new PBS Digital Studios web series, Global Weirding: Climate, Politics, and Religion. Every other Wednesday, we roll out a new video exploring climate change and what it means to all of us.
This episode tackles the identity myth, head-on. Climate change is not some distant issue that only matters to the polar bears. It's affecting our lives right now, in the places that we live. And if we're a human living on planet Earth, then we already have every value we need to care about a changing climate.
We all depend on this planet for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the places we live. Unless we've signed up for the next trip to Mars, this planet is the only one we have. It just makes sense to take care of it: to ensure that it will continue to support us in the years to come. It's the sensible, fiscally responsible, and most conservative thing to do, in the truest sense of the word.
There's more to it than pure self-interest, though. When I was nine years old, my family moved to Colombia—not British Columbia, but Colombia, South America. There, I learned an even more important life lesson: that there are plenty of people on this planet far less fortunate than I am, and many of those people cannot count on having clean water to drink, or safe places to live.
This hard truth has always stuck with me and it's one of the main reasons I'm motivated to study climate science: because it affects all of us, but most of all the poor the world over—those who already lack sufficient food, who are already at risk for diseases that no one should be dying from in the twenty first century, and who—when disaster strikes—have no choice other than to leave behind their homes and flee.
Climate change isn't a niche issue that only matters to people who think or act or vote a certain way. Each of us, exactly who we are, with exactly the values we already have, already have every reason we need to care.
So what's our job, as people who care about climate? Our job is this: connect the dots between what some have called the longest distance in the world, from our heads to our hearts.
The field is still in its infancy, people argue and a lot more is needed before coming to consensus. After all, aren't scientists always changing their minds? Just a few decades ago, they were predicting an ice age, not global warming!
Even for those of us on board with the scientific consensus that climate is changing and humans are responsible, might be hard pressed to pick a year when climate science really began. Surely before 1990, when the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment was published? Maybe in 1988, when Jim Hansen testified to Congress? Or in 1981, when he published his first paper on the greenhouse effect of trace gases?
Joseph Fourier (1768- 1830).
Good guesses—but all wrong. The field of climate science stretches back almost 200 years. That's right: Scientists have been studying our planet for that long.
For more than 150 years, we've known that mining coal and burning fossil fuels produces heat-trapping gases. For more than 120 years, we've been able to put numbers on exactly how much the Earth would warm if we artificially increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And it's been more than 50 years since the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology formally warned a U.S. president—Lyndon B. Johnson—that building up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would "almost certainly cause significant changes" and "could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings."
It all started in the 1820s, when a French mathematician named Joseph Fourier realized that, for the Earth to be in equilibrium with the energy it was receiving from the sun every day, it should be a lot cooler than it actually is: around 33 degrees Celsius or nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. In fact, it should be a ball of frozen ice. But it isn't.
Eunice Foote was an amateur scientist with a lively interest in many topics, from campaigning for women's rights to filing patents for boot soles. In 1856, she wrote a paper for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, reporting on her measurements of the heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide. She even speculated that if, "at one period of [Earth's] history the air had mixed with it a larger proportion [of CO2] than at present, an increased temperature from its own action must necessarily have resulted"—in other words, if there were more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, then it would trap more heat, and the Earth would be warmer.
All this has to do with the planet's natural atmosphere, though. How long have we known that humans can impact climate? Over in England, a scientist and professor at the Royal Institute, John Tyndall, was asking similar questions, at around the same time.
John Tyndall (1820 – 1893).
With his rigorous scientific training and access to a state-of-the-art laboratory, John laid the foundation for our modern understanding of how molecules absorb and emit radiation. He also connected the dots between human activities and heat-trapping gases.
Svante Arrhenius (1859 – 1927).
By extracting and burning coal, oil and natural gas, we're putting extra carbon into the atmosphere. And this thicker blanket traps more heat, making the planet warmer. How much warmer? In the 1890s, a Swedish chemist named Svante Arrhenius decided to calculate, by hand, the very first climate model. It took him two years to figure out how much the world would warm if humans doubled or tripled the amount of carbon in the atmosphere: and his numbers were amazingly close to what the most recent global climate models, run on powerful supercomputers, still find today.
But wait a minute. We know the climate has changed in the past, when there weren't any humans around. How do we know the planet's not just still warming after the last ice age?
During WWI, a Serbian concrete expert named Milutin Milankovic was told he could continue his studies—as long as he focused on something that had nothing at all to do with the war effort. So he thought, why don't I figure out why we had ice ages in the past?
Milutin Milankovic (1879 – 1958).
So he did. He discovered that ice ages, and the warm interglacial periods like we're in right now, are initiated by changes in the shape of the Earth's orbit around the sun and the tilt of its axis of rotation. Over time, these cycles cause the great continental ice sheets to expand and retreat.
Variations in the tilt of Earth's axis and the shape of the orbit around the sun that occur over millennia act as triggers for glacial maxima, or ice ages, and the warm periods in between.
So, does that explain what's happening right now? No, because the warming after the last ice age peaked between four to eight thousand years ago. Today, according to natural cycles, we should be gradually and slowly cooling, in preparation for the next ice age. But, thanks to all the coal, oil and gas we've burned since the Industrial Revolution, that's no longer the next event on our geological calendar. Instead, we're heading into unknown territory—unknown, that is, since the time of the dinosaurs, when there weren't any ice sheets, when the sea level was more than 300 feet higher than today and when the land where a third of the people on this planet currently live would've been under water.
Historical departure from annual global mean surface temperature average (1961-1990), showing that warming after the last glacial maximum peaked between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago.
Yes, it's been warmer before and it's been colder. But human civilization is not built to deal with the changes we are making to this planet, the only one we have. That's why we care about a changing climate.
In what's widely being described as the most shocking upset in U.S. election history, Donald J. Trump has beaten Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the U.S.
As one of the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters, any change at the top of U.S. politics warrants a consideration of what it might mean for the country's climate and energy priorities.
For example, Trump said he thought climate change was a "hoax" perpetrated by the Chinese. In addition, he pledged to end federal spending on low-carbon energy and to pull the U.S. out of the UN's Paris agreement on climate change. Carbon Brief has been asking climate scientists for their reactions.
Dr. Philip B Duffy, executive director of the Woods Hole Research Center and former senior policy analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy:
Dr. Malte Meinhausen, senior researcher in climate impacts at the University of Melbourne and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:
"Trump said a lot of things. It looks like the Trump administration could do anything. From playing a destructive role in international climate protection to just letting others get on with the job … However, despite the momentum for climate protection having, in part, an autonomous motor due to the economics of lower cost renewable energies, a hostile Trump administration towards the Paris agreement could do a lot of damage.
"Trump won't be able to withdraw from the Paris agreement for three years (Article 28) now that it just entered into force—one of the world's major success stories. A hostile Trump administration could, however, withdraw from the UNFCCC Convention and thereby also from the Paris agreement indirectly. In theory, that could happen quicker. It's unlikely that the administration would do so much self-harm, so. But Trump seems to defy conventional wisdom, so we don't know.
"The Paris agreement without the U.S. would live on, but the spirit and the international focus on one of the defining challenges of our time could get lost. And the economic opportunities for the U.S. will get lost too … Not a good outcome for the U.S. in that respect. Not a good outcome for the climate. Too early to tell how bad it will be, though. One can hear the world gasping for air."
Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:
"President-elect Donald Trump's stance on global warming is well known. Ironically, he contributed to the popularity of our recent Turn Down the Heat report series for the World Bank by attacking it on Twitter.
"Yet apart from this, science cannot expect any positive climate action from him. The world has now to move forward without the U.S. on the road towards climate-risk mitigation and clean-technology innovation.
"The U.S. de-elected expertise and will likely show a blockade mentality now, so Europe and Asia have to pioneer and save the world. Formally leaving the Paris agreement would take longer than one Presidential term, yet of course the U.S. could simply refuse reducing national emissions which would mean a de facto exit out of international climate policy. Now the U.S. are one of the world's biggest economies and even just four years of unbridled emission staying in the atmosphere for many hundreds years would make a substantial difference. The climate system doesn't forget and it doesn't forgive. The U.S. is prone to potentially devastating climate change impacts. Hurricanes hit U.S. coastal cities, the California drought affected farmers and a state like Florida is particularly exposed to sea-level rise. Sadly, in the long run nature itself might show the U.S. citizens that climate change as a matter of fact is not a hoax. But it might be too late."
Dr. Rachel James, research fellow in climate modeling at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford:
Dr. Twila Moon, lecturer in cryospheric sciences at the University of Bristol:
"Having a person in the position of U.S. President who does not acknowledge scientific facts establishing the clear reality of human-caused climate change is a disgrace. This is a sad and scary outcome for science and for action on halting harmful climate change.
"But I am hopeful that the American people—from all parties—are realizing that climate change is happening in our own backyards and the will of the people will push the political needle. I think our response must be to work harder, together to move forward on climate action locally, regionally, and, as best as possible, nationally. As a human being, I think it is our moral obligation."
Prof. Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University:
"I don't think anyone knows what this means for U.S. policy on climate science or emissions reductions. I think we all expected that the Clean Power Plan would end eventually up in front of the Supreme Court and its fate there is more doubtful now that Trump gets to appoint the next Justice. On the other hand, renewable power is getting cheap fast and my optimistic hope is that renewable energy gets so cheap that we switch to it without any national government policy. I guess we'll see!"
Prof. Shaun Marcott, professor in palaeoclimate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:
"This election in terms of future global climate change was critical as the new president will be making decisions that will have long lasting consequences, both in the policy being set in the homeland and policies that they will help set with their international counterparts.
"Much like Britain and the Brexit vote, the U.S. now finds itself at a crossroad and heading in a direction that, in my opinion, does not appear to be sustainable. This is obvious, I think, to most people. I think the best way I've heard it described is that decisions made by this incoming president will set in policies that could have lasting climate change effects extending 10,000 years into the future. The stakes were high and unfortunately both of our leading candidates didn't even discuss, or did so very rarely, climate change at large in any of the debates."
Charles F Kennel, distinguished professor emeritus at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography:
Dr. Emily Shuckburgh, head of open oceans at the British Antarctic Survey:
"A significant theme of recent political discourse has been the use and misuse of evidence. In moving forward, rather than bemoan a 'post-truth world,' those of us who have roles in gathering, curating and disseminating evidence must strive to understand the process of human decision-making better.
"We absolutely need to make policy on climate and other matters that is consistent with the evidence base. But within a democracy, this has to be achieved through the will of the people. That requires broad and deep engagement by us with all sections of the wider society to understand the contextual circumstances and to proactively place the evidence in frames that are relevant to people.
"If we are to meet the objectives of the Paris agreement, it is abundantly clear that a major transformation of society will be required. This is a significant technological challenge, but the political events in the U.S. and UK that have surprised the establishment also serve to remind us the importance of recognizing the implications of change for all sectors of society. If we can learn from this, there is hope that we may be able to successfully navigate the perilous journey ahead of us in responding to the climate challenge."
Prof. Jean-Pierre Gattuso, professor of biological oceanography at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Sorbonne University and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations.
"The result of the U.S. presidential election is very worrisome on many counts, including of course for climate negotiations. The Paris agreement is a construct that was many years in the making and is, therefore, extremely fragile. Even though the U.S. cannot formally leave the agreement in the next 4 years, not having the U.S. on board and pushing for the full implementation of the Paris agreement may well affect billions of people for hundreds of years. The outcome of this election is clearly not the end of the world but the consequences for humanity are potentially dreadful."
Prof. Jason Box, professor in glaciology at the Geologic Survey of Denmark and Greenland:
"Those of us in the sciences are all about the rational and we surround ourselves by rational media. The U.S. election outcome reflects the irrational and how those voters were influenced by irrational media."
Dr. Michael. E. Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University
"To quote James Hansen, I fear this may be game over for the climate."
Prof. Eric Steig, professor of earth and space science at the University of Washington:
"It's impossible to know just how far Trump and the Republican controlled House and Senate will want to push an anti-intellectual, anti-science agenda. I suspect there will be more immediate political concerns. In the medium term, I don't expect there will be major cuts to science funding; I think Trump will likely govern less as an ideologue and more as an opportunist in this respect. It now is exceedingly unlikely, of course, that any international climate change mitigation agreements will proceed; or if they do, it will not be with the U.S on board."
Dr. Niklas Höhne, professor for mitigation of greenhouse gases at Wageningen University and founding partner of the NewClimate Institute:
"This election result seriously threaten the U.S.'s federal climate action. In the worst case, Trump will work towards reversal of the Clean Power Plan. If the Clean Power Plan was to be permanently stopped, emissions projections would be significantly higher than in its absence and we would be seeing an increasing emissions trend over the next decade—at around 6 percent below 2005 levels in 2025. All eyes are now on the federal states to pursue further climate policies, but the impact on the USA's overall contribution may be limited. This means that the climate target that the USA communicated as part of the Paris agreement process, the 'nationally determined contribution,' will probably not be met and U.S. emissions will remain stable at current levels until 2030.
"In spite of this grave eventuality of no climate action from the new U.S. federal government on the horizon, there is still hope that global greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. Technological developments can be triggered by transformative coalitions, smaller groups of countries that actively support a technology, to eventually achieve global scale. We have seen this model work for renewable energy. The renewable energy agenda was initially supported by a few pro-active countries such as Germany, which brought the costs down to the extent that renewable technologies are now the 'new normal' for new power plants in many places in the world. Similar developments can be seen with electric mobility where Norway, California and, in particular, China are aggressively supporting electric cars. It is fair to believe that these would also become the 'new normal' in a few years time."
Prof. Jim Skea, professor of sustainable energy at Imperial College London and co-chair of IPCC Working Group 3:
"IPCC is a scientific body with 195 countries making up its membership so I don't expect it to make any pronouncement on political developments. But as a scientist involved in IPCC, I can say that U.S. scientists have made a huge contribution to climate science in general and IPCC in particular across all the assessment reports. This is something that the U.S. can be very proud of. It's far too early to tell how the next administration will approach these issues. In my experience there has been a remarkable consistency in the U.S. approach to IPCC across different administrations. And, again, with much practical climate action in the U.S. taking place at the city and state level, it's too early to say how things will pan out in the policy domain."
Prof. Katharine Hayhoe, atmospheric scientist and associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University:
"The bright light of hope the Paris agreement shone on the bleak and discouraging landscape of climate change has been dimmed but not extinguished."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
During an hour-long sit down about climate change at the inaugural South by South Lawn (SXSL) with President Obama and leading climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe on Monday, Leonardo DiCaprio made a clear dig at climate change deniers.
"The scientific consensus is in, and the argument is now over," the Revenant actor and environmental activist said in his opening remarks. "If you do not believe in climate change you do not believe in facts or science or empirical truths, and therefore in my opinion, you should not be allowed to hold public office."
Even though DiCaprio did not name names, the comment has been interpreted as an attack on Donald Trump, who believes climate change is "a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese" (even though the Republican presidential candidate denied what he actually said at last week's presidential debate).
As The Guardian observed, Stevens said he plans to screen the film at college campuses and swing states such as Florida, where Marco Rubio is running for his Senate seat again.
"Rubio is a climate change denier, and we want to get these deniers out of Congress, to make them understand the Paris [climate] accords are important and that we need to do more," Stevens said.
Back at the SXSL stage, DiCaprio pressed the president to grade the global response on climate change thus far. While Obama said he was hopeful about some progress such as the Paris Agreement, more fuel-efficient cars and investment in clean energy, Obama warned that "obstructionist politics" are an obstacle in combating rising emissions.
"Climate change is happening even faster than five years ago or 10 years ago," Obama said. "What we're seeing is the pessimistic end of what was possible, the ranges that had been discerned or anticipated by scientists, which means we're really in a race against time. We can't put up with climate denial or obstructionist politics for very long, if we want to leave for the next generation beautiful days like today."
Obama also said that "the likelihood of an immediate carbon tax" to force businesses to curb emissions "is a ways away."
"It's frustrating because the science tells us we don't have time to compromise, but if we want to get anything done we have to take people's current views into account," he said.
President Barack Obama, scientist Katharine Hayhoe and Leonardo DiCaprio on the South Lawn of the White HouseWhite House screen grab
DiCaprio asked Hayhoe to name the most urgent threats facing modern-day civilization.
"We think of poverty, hunger and disease and people dying today from preventable causes that nobody should be dying from in 2016," Hayhoe said. "We think to ourselves climate change, we can deal with that later. We can no longer afford to deal with climate change later."
"On average every year 200,000 people die from air pollution from burning fossil fuels," in the U.S. alone, Hayhoe said. "Air pollution alone gives us all the reason we need to shift toward clean energy, let alone climate change."
Hayhoe suggested that a way of reaching climate skeptics "is to connect this issue to what's already in our hearts."
While climate change is a highly politicized issue, Obama said that people across the political spectrum must agree that tackling global warming is important for our future.
"There are many entry points into this issue, and we have to use all of them to get people to care about this," Obama said. "But at the end of the day, everyone cares about their kids and grandkids and the kind of world we pass on to them."
Before the Flood will air on the National Geographic Channel globally in 171 countries and 45 languages on Oct. 30.
DiCaprio said at SXSL that he was purposely releasing the documentary before the November election to highlight the political importance of the issue.
Watch the entire SXSL here (starts at 38:20):
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President Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio will meet at a White House event Oct. 3 to discuss ways to combat climate change.
At the inaugural South by South Lawn or SXSL, a play on SXSW, Obama and the Academy Award-winning actor will take part in a conversation with renowned climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about "the importance of protecting the one planet we've got for future generations."
Following the conversation, DiCaprio's new climate documentary Before the Flood will be shown on the South Lawn in what is being billed as a "first-of-its-kind film screening."
The film, directed by Fisher Stevens, chronicles DiCaprio's international campaign to highlight the perils of a warming planet. Before the Flood will air on the National Geographic Channel globally in 171 countries and 45 languages on Oct. 30.
The actor also made climate change a centerpiece of his Oscar acceptance speech earlier this year, calling it "the most urgent threat facing our species."
In his speech, he addressed the need to support leaders who fight the biggest polluters, as well as the need to stand up for the rights of indigenous people and for the "billions and billions of underprivileged people" affected by global warming.
"For our children's children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted. Thank you so very much," DiCaprio said.