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  March 5, 2017

Climate Scientist: February Temperatures Consistent with Global Warming

Dr. Alan Robock says there's an increasing frequency of strong storms, droughts and flooding; more impacts on agriculture; and rising sea levels - but the situation is not irreversible
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KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I'm Kim Brown.

Many enjoyed February's unseasonably warm weather across North America, but do these warm days, in fact, speak to the ominous issue of climate change, as we sit on the precipice of drastic cuts to the EPA?

And are the recent record-breaking temperatures, in fact, part of a larger pattern. We should note, that earth's 2016 surface temperatures were the warmest temperatures since modern record keeping began in 1880. This is according to independent analysis by NASA and NOAH, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

This makes 2016 the third year in a row, to set a new record for global average surface temperature, and continues a decades long term warming trend. As well, The World Meteorological Organization announced Wednesday, that Antarctica hit a new record-high recorded temperature, at 63 and a half degrees Fahrenheit. The Antarctic ice sheet contains s90% of the world's fresh water, which would raise sea levels by 200 feet, if it were to melt.

And to discuss these issues we are joined by Dr. Alan Robock, who is a distinguished Professor of Climate Science in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University.

His areas of expertise include Geo-engineering, climatic effects of nuclear war, effects on volcanic eruptions, and on climate, also he studies soil moisture.

Welcome back to The Real News, Dr. Robock.

ALAN ROBOCK: I'm happy to be here.

KIM BROWN: So firstly, can we tie in these record-breaking temperatures to a pattern consistent with climate change?

ALAN ROBOCK: As the globe warms, we would expect to have more record high temperatures, and fewer record low temperatures. And so, yes, it's consistent.

KIM BROWN: So, is there a link between the heavy rains and snows that we're seeing in California, and along the West Coast? And the record-high temperatures across the country, such as 80 degrees in Denver in February and several days of 70 degree temperatures, as well, plus, an absence of snowstorms in Chicago, as well as, expectations that the cherry blossoms will bloom sooner than expected here on the East Coast?

ALAN ROBOCK: The warm temperatures that we're seeing in the central eastern part of the country are, of course, consistent with no snow, and with earlier blossoming of the cherry blossoms, and other vegetation.

And we typically see wave patterns in the atmosphere. So, if the winds from the south in one region, where it's warm, it would be from the north. And another region, and the boundary between that, would have storms. And so, it's all consistent, it's all part of the atmosphere, yes.

KIM BROWN: So, it's not unusual to have no snow in Chicago, and feet of snow in Oregon and California?

ALAN ROBOCK: No, that is unusual to have no snow in Chicago. As I understand, it's the first time, since we've been keeping records, that there's been no snow in January, February in Chicago. And that's consistent with global warming. As the planet...

Let me simplify global warming for you in ten words. It's real, it's us, it's bad, we're sure, and there's hope. And so, global warming is real, it's caused by the greenhouse gases that we continue to put in the atmosphere. And as the climate warms, you'd expect there to be more record-high temperatures.

So, the very warm temperatures we're having in the East Coast however, are quite unusual, compared to the rest of the world. There's other parts of the world right now, where it's not particularly warm. But the average global warming, the first ... global warming, is global. The average is going up.

KIM BROWN: Dr. Robock, its one thing to have warmth in the winter, and many welcome it, but what are the concerns if it continues into summer? I mean, could this result in devastating heat waves, droughts, and wildfires?

ALAN ROBOCK: There's no way to connect the warmth we're having now, with what's going to happen this summer. There'll be lots of weather changes between now and then. So, I think you're asking, in general, is global warming good or bad? What will be the impacts?

And there will always be winners. Some people like it warmer. But on the average around the world, there will be more losers. And so, the main impacts we're concerned about are, effects on our food, on our ability to grow crops, but also strong storms, sea level rise, and droughts and flooding. And the frequency of all of those events is going up over time.

KIM BROWN: So, it's one thing to have 80 degree days in Denver, it's quite another to have mild temperatures in the Arctic, and the Antarctic. So, are we getting close to a tipping point, in terms of setting off a climate change feedback loop, that will be very hard to come from.

After all, the Arctic posted recently a temperature of 63 and a half degrees, in the middle of winter. Which is, of course, somewhat unheard of. So, what does the rise in temperatures in that region speak to the climate change effects to come?

ALAN ROBOCK: There have been some warm air that's gotten up into the Arctic this winter, and caused quite a bit of warming. And this is consistent with the gradual decrease of ice in the Arctic. Every winter we still have ice. But in the summer, in September, which is the month of the lowest ice, the amount's been going down and down.

Episodically, but there's a trend downward, so, it's all consistent. But I don't think we should talk about tipping points. The system is more gradual than that. A tipping point implies that once we get to that, we can't recover. And that's not the situation. Every summer, we get very little sea ice, but in the winter it grows back, it freezes, as it gets cold in the winter.

So, even if we have no sea ice in the summer, we'll still have sea ice in the winter. If we stop putting carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and if we can take the carbon dioxide out, then the climate will cool back down again. And we'll go back to where we were. So, it's not irreversible.

KIM BROWN: It may not be irreversible, Doctor, but it took us several generations to get to this point. So, I would assume it would take us several generations to get us out of this point.

But human behavior doesn't seem to be changing all of that much, in order to take carbon, and methane, and these greenhouse gases, out of the atmosphere, in order, for example, for sea ice to regain its strength, as it were, in the Arctic during the winter months.

So, I mean, what type of timeframe are we looking at here? Because we would have to start doing everything correct today, in order for it to be restored to what it was pre-industrial times.

ALAN ROBOCK: Yeah, you're absolutely right. It's a question of how humans behave, and what choices we make. In terms of how we live our lives, and how we get our energy. So, the technology exists today to get energy from the sun and the wind, use electricity, and not use the atmosphere as a sewer to dump our carbon dioxide, with no fee.

To change that system, you would have to have strong political decisions around the world. And you would have to have companies that are making a lot of money, from continuing business as usual, to change their tune, and to get onboard.

The Paris agreement, a year and a half ago, was a good step in the right direction. Where all the countries agreed to reduce their increases of emissions, and limit their emissions in the future. But there's no police of carbon, there's nothing to enforce these commitments, and so, we need continued political will to move in that direction.

KIM BROWN: Indeed.

ALAN ROBOCK: The only way to do it economically, I think, more rapidly, is a gradually increasing carbon tax, or carbon fee, where you pay for your pollution. You know, somebody comes and takes your garbage, or if you use your toilet, you gotta pay somebody for that. But we don't pay anybody for dumping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

A gradual increasing fee -- that would be returned to the people -- would go a long way to incentivize many ways to use energy, without dumping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. On top of that, the price of solar panels is really plummeting. The price of wind power's going down, so there are economic reasons why this is happening anyway.

The United States emissions of carbon dioxide have been going down for the last decade, even though our economy has been increasing. But political action would make it go much more quickly.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. We have been speaking with Dr. Alan Robock, who is a distinguished Professor of Climate Science, at the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University.

Doctor, we appreciate you joining us today. Thank you.

ALAN ROBOCK: My pleasure.

KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.




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