A Message from a Republican Meteorologist on Climate Change
Acknowledging Climate Science Doesn’t Make You A Liberal
By Guest Blogger Paul Douglas | Mar 28, 2012 | Comments (2)
Apollo 17 image courtesy of NASA
Meteorologist Paul Douglas
I’m going to tell you something that my Republican friends are loath to admit out loud: climate change is real. I am a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative; a fan of small government, accountability, self-empowerment, and sound science. I am not a climate scientist. I’m a meteorologist, and the weather maps I’m staring at are making me uncomfortable. No, you’re not imagining it: we’ve clicked into a new and almost foreign weather pattern. To complicate matters, I’m in a small, frustrated and endangered minority: a Republican deeply concerned about the environmental sacrifices some are asking us to make to keep our economy powered-up, long-term. It’s ironic. The root of the word conservative is “conserve.” A staunch Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, set aside vast swaths of America for our National Parks System, the envy of the world. Another Republican, Richard Nixon, launched the EPA. Now some in my party believe the EPA and all those silly “global warming alarmists” are going to get in the way of drilling and mining our way to prosperity. Well, we have good reason to be alarmed.
Weather 2.0. “It’s A New Atmosphere Floating Overhead.”
These are the Dog Days of March. Ham Weather reports 6,895 records in the last week - some towns 30 to 45 degrees warmer than average; off-the-scale, freakishly warm. 13,393 daily records for heat since March 1 - 16 times more warm records than cold records. The scope, intensity and duration of this early heat wave are historic and unprecedented.
Images courtesy of NOAA. Billion dollar disasters (upper).
And yes, climate change is probably spiking our weather. “Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” 129,404 weather records in one year? You can’t point to any one weather extreme and say “that’s climate change”. But a warmer atmosphere loads the dice, increasing the potential for historic spikes in temperature and more frequent and bizarre weather extremes. You can’t prove that any one of Barry Bonds' 762 home runs was sparked by (alleged) steroid use. But it did increase his “base state,” raising the overall odds of hitting a home run. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, more fuel for floods, while increased evaporation pushes other regions into drought.
Here’s what I suspect: the patient is running a slight fever. Symptoms include violent tornado sneezes, severe sniffles of flooding and raging rashes of jaw-dropping warmth. It’s 85 in March. What will July bring? It’s as if Mother Nature seized the weather remote, put America’s seasons on fast-forward, and turned the volume on extreme weather up to a deafening 10. This isn’t even close to being “normal”. Weather Underground’s Dr. Jeff Masters put it best. “This is not the atmosphere I grew up with.”
Some TV meteorologists, professionals who are skilled at predicting short-term weather, are still in denial. Why? Some don’t like being upstaged by climate scientists; we’ve all been burned by weather models, and some (mistakenly) apply the same suspicion to climate models. Others haven’t taken the time to dig into the climate science. “It’s all political” one local TV weather-friend told me recently. No, it’s science. But we’ve turned it into a political football, a bizarre litmus test for conservatism. Weather and climate are flip-sides of the same coin; you can’t talk about one without understanding the other.
Acknowledging Climate Science Doesn’t Make You A Liberal
My climate epiphany wasn’t overnight, and it had nothing to do with Al Gore. In the mid-90s I noticed gradual changes in the weather patterns floating over Minnesota. Curious, I began investigating climate science, and, over time, began to see the thumbprint of climate change, along with 97% of published, peer-reviewed PhD’s, who link a 40% spike in greenhouse gases with a warmer, stormier atmosphere.
Bill O’Reilly, whom I respect, talks of a “no-spin zone.” Yet today there’s a very concerted, well-funded effort to spin climate science. Some companies, institutes and think tanks are cherry-picking data, planting dubious seeds of doubt, arming professional deniers, scientists-for-hire and skeptical bloggers with the ammunition necessary to keep climate confusion alive. It’s the “you can’t prove smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer!” argument, times 100, with many of the same players. Amazing.
Schopenhauer said “All truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is violently opposed. Finally it is accepted as self-evident.” We are now well into Stage 2. It’s getting bloody out there. Climate scientists are receiving death threats and many Americans don’t know what to believe. Some turn to talk radio or denial-blogs for their climate information. No wonder they’re confused.
“Actions Have Consequences.”
Trust your gut - and real experts. We should listen to peer-reviewed climate scientists, who are very competitive by nature. This is not about “insuring more fat government research grants.” I have yet to find a climate scientist in the “1 Percent”, driving a midlife-crisis-red Ferrari into the lab. I truly hope these scientists turn out to be wrong, but I see no sound, scientific evidence to support that position today. What I keep coming back to is this: all those dire (alarmist!) warnings from climate scientists 30 years ago? They’re coming true, one after another – and faster than supercomputer models predicted. Data shows 37 years/row of above-average temperatures, worldwide. My state has warmed by at least 3 degrees F. Climate change is either “The Mother of All Coincidences” - or the trends are real.
My father, a devout Republican, who escaped a communist regime in East Germany, always taught me to never take my freedom for granted, and “actions have consequences.” Carbon that took billions of years to form has been released in a geological blink of an eye. Human emissions have grown significantly over the past 200 years, and now exceed 27 billion tons of carbon dioxide, annually. To pretend this isn’t having any effect on the 12-mile thin atmosphere overhead is to throw all logic and common sense out the window. It is to believe in scientific superstitions and political fairy tales, about a world where actions have no consequences - where colorless, odorless gases, the effluence of success and growth, can be waved away with a nod and a smirk. No harm, no foul. Keep drilling.
In 2008, before it became fashionable to bash climate science, I had the honor of welcoming Iraqi war veterans back to Minnesota for a banquet. The keynote speaker was my hero, Senator John McCain. At dinner I asked him point blank “is it possible this warm, freakish weather is all one great big, cosmic coincidence?” He rolled his eyes, smiled and said “Paul, I just returned from the Yukon. The Chief Elder of a local village presented me with a 4,000 year old tomahawk that had just melted from the permafrost. The short answer? No.” How did we get from there – to here, with an entire party in perpetual denial? Is it still Al Gore? Fear of a government land-grab? My party needs to step up and become part of the solution, which, this century, will generate far more jobs and GDP than legacy, carbon-based industries.
“You’re obsessing,” my wife of 28 years complained recently. “People don’t like having this rammed down their throats.” Fair enough. I’m genuinely concerned, because I’m in touch with America’s leading climate scientists. They are beyond concerned; bordering on apoplectic. We fiddle while Rome burns.
Biblical Scripture: “We Are Here to Manage God’s Property”
I’m a Christian, and I can’t understand how people who profess to love and follow God roll their eyes when the subject of climate change comes up. Actions have consequences. Were we really put here to plunder the Earth, no questions asked? Isn’t that the definition of greed? In the Bible, Luke 16:2 says, “Man has been appointed as a steward for the management of God’s property, and ultimately he will give account for his stewardship.” Future generations will hold us responsible for today’s decisions.
I understand this: capitalism requires growth. Growth requires energy. Anything that gets in the way of insuring an uninterrupted flow of (carbon-based) energy must be inherently evil. My fellow Republicans have an allergic reaction to regulation, but do we really want to go back to the 60s, a time of choking smog and combustible rivers? There’s a palpable fear that Big Government will ultimately prevent the energy industry from extracting (and burning) trillions of dollars of carbon still in the ground; the fuel we think we need to keep America competitive, growing and healthy.
U.S. reserves of carbon based fuels are 586 GtCO2, according to the Congressional Research Service. Think Progress’s Brad Johnson estimates U.S. energy companies have roughly $10 trillion worth of carbon resources still left in the ground (coal, gas and oil). “A cap on carbon emissions designed to limit warming to 2 degrees C. will mean sovereign states and public corporations must strand 80% of their $27 trillion of proven (global) reserves and related assets, a loss exceeding $20 trillion” he said. This is what the fight is about. Big Energy wants to keep us addicted to carbon-based fuels indefinitely; shareholders want to keep the money-spigot flowing, and lock in future profits. Surprised? Me neither. But in business, as in life, you hedge your bets. We can slowly, methodically, wean ourselves off carbon-based fuels, while investing in carbon-clean alternatives. That doesn’t mean government picks winners. That’s anathema to free enterprise.
Climate Change: The Ultimate Test for Capitalism. Let The Markets Work
I’m an entrepreneur. The eight Minnesota companies I’ve created ultimately employed hundreds of professionals. Where others see chronic problems I see opportunity. One of my companies is Smart Energy, with a new level of wind forecast accuracy for global wind farms. Last summer, in response to the most severe two years since 1816, my partners and I launched a new, national cable weather channel (“WeatherNation Television”) - to keep Americans updated with 24/7 storm reports. “Global Weirding” has arrived. Why bother? Because it’s the right thing to do. And because going green will generate green. As in profits. We won’t drill our way out of this challenge; we’ll innovate our way into a new, lower-carbon energy paradigm. Something we’re pretty good at. Professional skeptics will hold up Solyndra as a reason why this will never work. For the sake of our nation’s future - don’t believe them.
Every Day Is April Fool’s Day In Washington D.C.
Amazingly, America already has the technology and creative minds necessary to ensure future growth and more jobs, without treating Earth like a battered ATM card. We can tackle this problem, like we’ve tackled every other problem in our nation’s history. But do we have the political will? Our political system is broken, utterly incapable of dealing with long-term threats. Compromise is seen as weakness; our natural resources put at risk by political paralysis. Will getting serious about climate change require a third political party: a pro-jobs, pro-clean-energy Common Sense Moderate Middle - to prove that America can move forward and thrive, without trashing the land and air we value? Perhaps.
The climate is warming. The weather is morphing. It’s not your grandfather’s weather anymore. The trends are undeniable. If you don’t want to believe thousands of climate scientists – at least believe your own eyes: winters are warmer & shorter, summers more humid, more extreme weather events, with a 1-in-500 year flood every 2-3 years. For evidence of climate change don’t look at your back yard thermometer. That’s weather. Take another, longer look at your yard. Look at the new flowers, trees, birds, insects and pests showing up outside your kitchen window that weren’t there a generation ago.
This is a moral issue. Because the countries least responsible will bear the brunt of rising seas, spreading drought and climate refugees. Because someday your grandkids will ask what did you know…when…and what did you do to help? We’ve been binging on carbon for 200 years, and now the inevitable hangover is setting in. Curing our addiction to carbon won’t happen overnight. But creative capitalism can deal with climate change. I’m no fan of big government or over-regulation. Set the bar high. Then stand back and let the markets work. Let Americans do what they do best: innovate.
“The Mother of All Opportunities”: Turning America Into The Silicon Valley of Energy
We can figure this out. Frankly, we won’t have a choice. But I’m a naïve optimist. We can reinvent America, leaving us more competitive in the 21st century, launching thousands of new, carbon-free energy companies - supplementing, and someday surpassing anything we can expeditiously suck out of the ground and burn, accelerating an already-warming planet. We don’t have to bury our heads in Saudi sand – we’ll never “frack” our way to a sustainable future. It’s time for a New Energy Paradigm. There’s no silver bullet. But there’s plenty of (green) buckshot, if we aim high and point America in the right direction. We need real leadership, and a viable, bipartisan blueprint for inevitable energy independence from President Obama and Congress. Yes, healthcare is important. So is the long-term health of our air, land and water.
There are steps all of us can take today. I own one hybrid, another on order. I bought a home a mile away from my office, to reduce my carbon footprint (and preserve some sense of sanity). But there’s much more I can do. Let’s challenge ourselves to reinvent our own energy ecosystems.
America 2.0. The Best Way to Predict the Future? Invent It
I don’t pretend to have the answer key. But the same Tenacious, Fast-Forward, Can-Do American Spirit that built the transcontinental railroad, the Internet, lasers and the first artificial heart - sending men sent to the moon in a breathtakingly short period of time - will ultimately figure this out. My youngest son is graduating from the Naval Academy in May, then heading to Pensacola. He’ll be flying choppers or jets; F-18s that can already run on biofuels. The Navy is serious about renewables and alternative fuels. Because it’s the best way forward - protecting our troops, securing supply lines, creating economies of scale that will make biofuels more competitive, leaving the Navy less vulnerable to price shocks in the oil markets. Hedge your bets. Put fewer troops at risk. Think ahead. Only the paranoid survive. In the words of my Eagle Scout brethren “Be Prepared.” Go Navy. Beat Army.
We don’t have much time. Earth Day is April 22, but every day is Earth Day. Native Americans remind us of the sacred responsibility we have for all those who come next:
“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors…we borrow it from our children.”
Paul Douglas is a nationally-respected meteorologist, with 32 years of broadcast television and 36 years of radio experience. He is the founder of several companies and author of two books, “Prairie Skies, the Minnesota Weather Book”, and “Restless Skies, the Ultimate Weather Book.”
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Tags: Anticience, Climate Change, Politics, Economics, Education, Freedom, Environment, Science, Republican, Democrat, Health