Honing knowledge leads to bleak outlook for climate

Washington state’s Climate Impacts Group, based at the University of Washington, paints a pretty bleak picture in its latest assessment released today.

Donna Gordon Blankinship of the Associated Press summarizes the regional trends outlined in the report:

— An increase in annual temperatures of 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2040s, and 5.9 degrees by the 2080s.
— April 1 snowpack decreased by nearly 30 percent across the state by the 2020s, 40 percent by the 2040s and 65 percent by the 2080s.
— The Yakima Basin reservoir system less likely to supply water to all its users, especially those with junior water rights.
— Rising stream temperatures, which will hurt salmon.
— Forest fires burning twice the total area by the 2040s and three times as much by the 2080s.
— Increases in incidents of extreme high precipitation over the next half-century, particularly in the Puget Sound area.
— Energy demand for cooling is expected to increase 400 percent by 2040.
— More heat- and air pollution-related deaths throughout the century. Researchers project that by 2025 there could be 101 more deaths among people 45 and older because of heat waves.

About a year ago, I mentioned in Water Ways that I was troubled about how it seemed that climate scientists expected people to have faith that climate change was happening. I thought there had to be ways to make the science accessible to non-experts.

Since then, I have been pleased to cite an excellent 24-page booklet by the National Academies of Sciences called “Understanding and Responding to Climate Change.”

If that booklet could be considered Climate Change 101, I think you’ll find the new report by the Climate Impacts Group to be on the level of Climate Change 201. Climate change is so important that I urge you to download and read the executive summary. If you wish to dig deeper, tackle the entire report, one chapter at a time. You will find everything laid out on a Web page called The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment.

Frankly, I still have a lot of reading to do, but I no longer feel that the average person is left out in the wilderness.

Now, before anyone asks indignantly how we can talk seriously about climate change while experiencing one of the snowiest winters in recent years, let me quote from the report:

In this Assessment, it is necessary to distinguish between climate change (the long term trend), climate variability (year-to-year or decade-to-decade variations), and weather (the daily to seasonal changes with which we are all familiar). Pacific Northwest events — storms, floods, winters that seem colder and summers that seem hotter — need to be put in an appropriate context and time frame. Such events can be associated with climate, but only over many years — a single flood, back-to-back snowy winters, or an extended drought don’t necessarily signal a change in climate over longer time frames. Some common questions and their answers help distinguish these sometimes confusing terms.

Q. The last two winters have been cool in the Pacific Northwest. Has global warming stopped?

A. No. Rising greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, and others) continue to produce increasingly warmer temperatures. Additional upward or downward detours come from other important sources of climate variability. For example, an extremely strong tropical El Niño event helped make 1998 a record warm year, not to be matched until 2005, a year with a mild El Niño event. The 2008 La Niña event produced temporary global cooling, but even
so, the National Climatic Data Center still ranked 2008 as the 8th warmest year globally on record. Local cold weather, or heat waves, tell us nothing about global factors in climate like the effects of rising greenhouse gases.

Q. Isn’t the climate record dominated by natural variability?

A. Yes, but natural causes and natural variability cannot explain the rapid increase in global temperatures in the last 50 years. Scientists have searched for other explanations — heat from the ocean, solar variability, cosmic rays, instrumental error — and have used sophisticated statistical techniques, and nearly every study concludes that the rising temperature is a result of rising greenhouse gases. Laboratory tests, ground-based instruments, and satellite instruments show that adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere warms the surface — a simple physical fact.

One thought on “Honing knowledge leads to bleak outlook for climate

  1. Pardon me, but I’ve mentioned the whale video trailing a 350 foot line to a Facebook person and need to send them the url for it. BUT I can’t find it!

    They fish and need to see this for themselves…
    tia for the url,
    Sharon O’Hara

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