State of the Climate: (Hint: It Ain’t Good!)

“The planet is changing more rapidly … than in any time of modern civilization.”
Tom Karl, director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center

Many people struggle with the question of whether our planet is actually experiencing global warming or not. Mostly this is because Earth’s surface temperatures are dynamic and chaotic, and it’s easy to confuse climate with weather. A cold winter in North America leads many North Americans to believe the planet isn’t warming despite the fact that Russia, Argentina and Australia experience surprisingly high temperatures at the very same time.

And of course people often ignore the other telltale signs of warming such as melting ice in the Arctic, Greenland and glaciers all over the world. One piece of evidence that is also often ignored is our warming oceans. All of these signs are much less chaotic than surface temperaturess, and yet they get much less attention, particularly among skeptics and deniers.

A recent report from the NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center entitled State of the Climate in 2013 states that not only is our planet warming, but it’s doing so at an ever-increasing rate. One of their findings is that the “upper ocean heat content has increased significantly over the past two decades” as their graph shows:  Continue reading

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Science: It’s True Whether You Believe It or Not

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson

I remember doing a high school experiment in one of my science classes. It had a big impact on me because I can’t say that I remember any other experiment as well. But it taught me an important scientific principle that I think few people appreciate.

The experiment had to do with the rather lofty-named concepts known as “Latent Heat of Fusion” and “Latent Heat of Vaporization.” All we did was took some ice, put it in a beaker, put the beaker on a hot plate, and put a thermometer inside the beaker to record the temperature. Since the ice started at a temperature below freezing, we watched the temperature slowly climb, then watched the ice melt, then continued to watch the temperature climb, then watched the water boil and evaporate, and then finally watched the temperature of the steam climb.Doesn’t sound all that exciting, I know.

But here’s the interesting observation that people don’t usually realize until they see it for themselves. When the ice was melting, the temperature stayed the same for a few minutes before starting to climb again once the ice was all melted. Likewise, when the water started to boil, the temperature remained at the boiling point until it was finally all converted to steam. After that, the temperature rose once again as the steam got hotter.

It turns out that as heat is added to something, that object heats up and its temperature climbs. But when it goes from one state to another—such as a solid to a liquid, or a liquid to a gas—then it takes heat to change that state, but during the phase transition, the temperature doesn’t climb because the heat energy is being used for the transition itself. That’s what’s referred to as the latent heat of fusion (i.e. melting) and the latent heat of vaporization (or boiling off and evaporating).

So what does this have to do global warming? Continue reading

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Disease Spreads as the Planet Warms

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
—John Muir

In my book “Comprehending the Climate Crisis,” chapter five addresses the consequences of global warming. The title of the chapter is “Global Warming and its Devastating Effects.” In one subheading, I address the spread of disease. In fact, I previously posted an excerpt from this chapter and you can read it here if you’re interested. Briefly, I pointed out that as global warming continues, disease vectors such as mosquitoes are going to extend their territories, and diseases such as malaria and West Nile virus are going to affect greater numbers of people in regions previously safe from such diseases.

Sadly, we are seeing the evidence: that is precisely what is happening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2012 that West Nile had been detected in 47 states within the U.S. in either birds, humans, or mosquitoes. A total of 1,118 cases had been documented with 41 deaths among them.

The CDC simply reports the facts and doesn’t draw conclusions about the cause, but most people concerned about global warming including myself point out that this is exactly what the science predicted would happen. Continue reading

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Eat Less Meat, Reduce Your Emissions

When you factor in the fertilizer needed to grow animal feed and the sheer volume of methane expelled by cows, a carnivore driving a Prius can contribute more to global warming than a vegan in a Hummer.”
Christina Agapakis, synthetic biologist at UCLA

For those of us keen to keep our carbon footprints to a minimum, we tend to think about reducing carbon dioxide by addressing how we burn fossil fuels. We look to renewable sources of energy, minimize electricity use, and sometimes even purchase carbon offsets to cover the carbon dioxide we can’t avoid generating in our 21st century lifestyles.

But of course, carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas. Methane and nitrous oxide play a role too. In fact, methane is about twenty times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is, and nitrous oxide is more than 300 times as potent. Fortunately, they are in such smaller concentrations—for example, methane is around 1,750 parts per billion compared with carbon dioxide’s 394 parts per million—so carbon dioxide still plays a bigger part in global warming, according to most experts. At least for now.

A huge source of both methane and nitrous oxide is the meat industry. The number of cattle on the planet is about 1.3 billion, more than one head of cattle for every five people on Earth. So it would make sense that if we had less cattle and other ruminants like sheep on the planet, we would generate less methane. Continue reading

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BBC Will Start Reporting Accurately on Climate Change

“I know of no time in human history where ignorance was better than knowledge.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson

We’ve all seen it countless times before. A news item will cover climate change and there will be one individual arguing for what 98 percent of scientists argue, namely that present climate change is real, and mostly a result of our activities. And there will be another individual arguing along the denial spectrum: either it’s not real, or maybe it is real but it’s definitely not our fault. The average viewer of such a debate is completely misled on the subject: 50/50 coverage must mean this is a very undecided issue. Right off the bat, bias is introduced into the subject.

It’s a very poor form of journalism. Often it’s intentionally done because controversy attracts viewers. But sadly science experts are often the first journalists to get cut and so the skills to put balanced science stories on the air are missing. Either way, worldwide coverage on climate change is fraught with such “false balance” where both sides of the argument are assumed to have equal strength.

But the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is putting a stop to it. According to a report just released, the BBC wants to improve the accuracy and fairness of its coverage of science stories. Continue reading

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