Thanks to the Mercer County Master Gardeners and the Princeton Public Library for bringing NJ's climatologist, David Robinson, to Princeton this past week.
Here are some notes from the presentation. Unlike events on climate change years ago, this one was packed, with the audience spreading out into the hall. Robinson is an excellent ambassador for the subject of climate change. As I was taught by a theater director, even the darkest subjects or emotions must be presented with some element of joy, and Robinson does that.
- Climate is your personality; weather is your mood.
- A drawing of the biosphere, cryosphere, and atmosphere. Cryosphere is his favorite. Editor's comment: The cryosphere is all the frozen water on the earth, in ice sheets, glaciers, snow, ice caps, etc. The cryosphere has been doing a lot of "crying" as we warm the planet with our machines' emissions, and if all of it melted, your house would likely be under water (unless you're higher than Nassau Hall), which is one reason to be grateful for cold in our world.
- Princeton was home to the foremost expert on the history of weather, David Ludlum.
- You can see the urban heat island effect in the temperature patterns of NJ. Seemed like a five degree difference on the map. Air conditioners belching out heat, and the solar energy absorbed by asphalt, concrete, etc. extend hot spells.
- While NJ was experiencing extreme cold recently, the rest of the world was warmer than usual.
- There's 7 inches of evaporation happening in July/August, which means that even if we get 5 inches of rain, the ground is getting dryer.
- He doesn't use the word "believe" with climate change. It's not a matter of belief. It's a matter of understanding what's going on.
- It's hard for a lot of people to understand the difference in time frame between climate past and now. Human activity (the combustion used to power our machines) is changing climate much faster than it would happen naturally.
- El Nino and La Nina may not be completely natural anymore, given how much we've heated the oceans.
- The gases in the atmosphere--CO2, methane, etc.--bring the temperature of the earth's surface from zero degrees up to 55 degrees F.
- The oceans are absorbing huge amount of the excess heat caused by global warming. Because there is so much extra heat already in the system, "the train has left the station" with climate change. Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases will slow climate change rather than stop it.
- NJ precipitation showing increased variability. "We're primed for more storms."
- Hurricane Sandy rode ocean waters that had been above normal for 22 months leading up to the storm, plus a seasonal dip in the jet stream that caused the storm to come in towards land.
- Climate change looks like it will be particularly extreme for the southwest U.S., where drier,
hotter summers are predicted. The snowpack out there this winter is only 6% of normal.
- Dr. Robinson mentioned Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist, evangelical, and an excellent speaker, based at Texas Tech. Editor's note: She is also a longtime member of the advisory board for Citizen's Climate Lobby, which has a local chapter.
- There's a weather station at Stonybrook/Millstone Watershed.
- Nice photo of the Great Falls at Patterson during the recent deep freeze.
- In the Q and A, I asked him about how people are to learn about climate change when journalistic convention doesn't include basic facts in day to day reporting, like the graph showing the dramatic departure from historical patterns of temperature and CO2, or how we've raised CO2 levels in the air by 40%. He said that he only gave 160 interviews this past year, half of previous years, which for him is telling about the diminishment in science reporting as news services struggle to survive.
- Clouds are hard to "parameterize" in climate models. They'll have different impacts depending on whether they are over dark water, land, or snow that would reflect the light back up into space regardless of whether the clouds were there.
- Research shows that the main determinate of view of climate change is ideological.
- He had expected climate change to get more attention when Clinton/Gore were elected, but Clinton administration had lots of other things on its agenda.
- Someone asked about the 3% of climate scientists who supposedly disagree about the amount and cause of climate change. Robinson questioned whether that 3% really exists.
- If you want to see some of his slides, an internet search revealed that ANJEC (an umbrella organization for town environmental commissions) has one of his powerpoints at this link.
After the talk, an acquaintance confided that she still didn't understand the basics of how the extra CO2 got into the atmosphere, and why it is a problem. A NY Times primer on climate change explains to some extent, but still doesn't make clear that the extra carbon, now active in the atmosphere warming the earth, was previously safely stored in underground deposits of coal, oil and natural gas. Both the origins and dangers of human caused climate change have a great deal to do with storage. Coastal cities exist only because vast amounts of water are being stored in ice sheets perched on Greenland and the Antarctic. There are 220 feet of sea level rise stored in those ice sheets, and by creating warmer conditions on earth, we will steadily lose that wonderful storage service.
In this short video, the CO2 molecule comes to life to explain the situation.