The last few days here the weather has been more temperamental than that of the UK, which is saying something. It has gone from the mid 20s (degrees Celsius) to 8 and now is just starting to recover back to the warmer temperatures. During the brief cold snap, to which it was essential to go out with a hat and scarf, the snow pack began to start accumulating on the mountains encompassing the city’s horizon. However looking out of my window today it seems like most of it has disappeared and the short wearing weather has reappeared. Whist writing a report for my climate change class it got me thinking at just how weird the weather not just here in Salt Lake City, but globally, it will get and how people in the world view climate change.
In my class we looked at something called the Representative Concentrated Pathways (RCPs) which were used in the Fifth IPCC report on Climate Change. These are basically 4 pathways with set radiative forcing by the end of 2100 which then a whole host of models can use them to investigative projected emission, temperature, rainfall, land use and many more different changes. Why? Well by working on models that have a set forcing it allows us to change all the variables that control our climate and investigate how we can make changes as a global society to avoid going over the 2 degrees Celsius warming marker by 2100.
Weather is naturally extremely variable and sometimes unpredictable. There are hundreds of models that look into future weather conditions as a result of climate change and they do produce slightly different projections, but that is more down on what a researcher puts into their model. Globally there will be some significant changes, increased extreme events such as long-term droughts, wetter periods and higher magnitude storms. These are all just predictions based on how we intend to mitigate the effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
With any modelling process there are uncertainties from how the data is put in, how the model is set up and there are things that we just don’t know about the world’s physical system. It is the fact we have these uncertainties that has led skeptics to claim that climate change does not exist. A well known story is the “hiatus” in warming that has been observed in the last decade. The temperature predictions were greater than the observed temperatures, which would make you think that maybe there is a hiatus. However, the observed temperatures only record sea surface temperatures (SST) but it is the deep ocean that stores the heat energy. The deep ocean has a far greater time for the energy to circulate through the whole system in comparison to the atmosphere. And this factor is not incorporated in the observed temperatures, one thing for the skeptics to consider is the fact how over the last two years the average global observed temperature is beginning to increase and match the path of the projections (hint: it is not down to short term natural variability trends).
Yesterday, while shopping in Trader Joe’s I encountered some skeptics while paying for my weekly shop. The cashier asked what I had planned for the weekend and I, with a typical student said how I was procrastinating from writing a report about on of the projections for future climate change. To which point a woman behind me scoffed “the weather is cold, so obviously climate change doesn’t exist”. I may be biased in the fact I do a science based degree, but climate change and global warming are two different entities but both are real.This woman’s ignorance is one that many people have, mostly because in the media the two are interchanged regularly. Climate is regional. So while there may be an overall global warming across the world, some areas may experience colder periods whilst others warmer.
Also, this ignorance is often fueled by people in the media limelight, and as I am in America I thought it would only be appropriate to mention the two very different presidential candidates. Clinton describes climate change as “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time”. On her website she has numerous proposals in how to take action against greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas her competition has a slightly more skeptical approach to the subject. On Twitter he posted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S manufacturing non-competitive”. How he reached this conclusion is beyond me and quite frankly to post comments such as this is damaging to a population that apparently blindly follows you, especially when you have no scientific evidence to support your claim. He has also gone further to criticise Clinton’s proposed policies and how he intends to “slash” the EPA’s funding. If Trump gets elected there could be a very different approach that America will take in tackling climate change, one that could be harmful to the entire planet.
Returning to the weird weather, it will only continue to get weirder if we don’t acknowledge the fact that this is down to how we have damaged our plant by pumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere and shifting the balance on the Earth’s system. But also we have to entrust the right people within governments to create policies that can help mitigate climate change before we get to a point that there is no return.