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Letter: Strong action needed on global warming

Over six days last week, New Hampshire experienced temperatures over 90 degrees each day. On Friday, the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning and temperatures were predicted to hit 100 in some parts of the state. This is sadly just the latest example in a trend of increasing temperatures – not to mention extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy and the drought that devastated much of the country last year – that scientists warn is being fueled by global warming.

We know what we need to do to tackle global warming: clean up the largest sources of the carbon pollution fueling the problem. Right now, the Obama administration is implementing its comprehensive climate plan to begin addressing global warming. While we need the best parts of that plan, especially setting the first-ever carbon pollution limits on power plants, to prevent the worst consequences projected to occur, this challenge calls for further action. Our communities cannot afford further delay. I urge all elected officials to follow the example of President Obama by taking strong action on global warming. Doing so will help us fulfill our obligation to protect our children and future generations from global warming.



Thank you both for the reading recommendations. But I do take exception to Walter's statement that our climate was stable until 1950. This from a newspaper article in 1950: MR. I. TENNEHILL, chief of the reports and forecasts section for the United States Weather Bureau, says evidence of this weather change is becoming too impressive to be ignored. Careful studies must be made of what is now happening. Weathermen are unable to agree on the cause, but the rise in temperature has been going on for about 100 years. In Boston (Washington) the average temperature was found to have risen between three and four degrees in that time. Temperatures taken at 400 stations scattered around the world showed that in 18 out of 22 the year's average temperatures were decidedly above normal. Fish are reported to be moving farther north in oceans in the Northern Hemisphere. Forests in Alaska are growing farther north. Most of the world's glaciers are melting faster. In the State of Iowa the length of the growing season has increased by 20 days in the past 40 years. Then, of course, we had: Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned of "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation." Science Digest (February 1973) reported that "the world's climatologists are agreed" that we must "prepare for the next ice age." The Christian Science Monitor ("Warning: Earth's Climate is Changing Faster Than Even Experts Expect," Aug. 27, 1974) reported that glaciers "have begun to advance," "growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter" and "the North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool." Newsweek agreed ("The Cooling World," April 28, 1975) that meteorologists "are almost unanimous" that catastrophic famines might result from the global cooling that the New York Times (Sept. 14, 1975) said "may mark the return to another ice age." The Times (May 21, 1975) also said "a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable" now that it is "well established" that the Northern Hemisphere's climate "has been getting cooler since about 1950." Today, of course, it's very profitable to play chicken little and predict the dire consequences of global warming. Personally, I'm not opposed to a little global warming - too cold in Concord anyway. Maybe we could plant a few palm trees during the Main St. renovations. Seriously though, we all know that meteorologists have an accuracy rate inversely proportional to the time to the event. We have never been able to accurately forecast future climate and still can’t. Should we address a potential problem? Yes, of course. Should we turn our economy upside down and spend billions of dollars on a weatherman’s forecast? No, we shouldn’t.

capthall...While you may find, throughout the past century, many articles, both in national newspapers and some journals, it is the totality of the available data that was used by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. More than 1.2 BILLION data points, more than any other study, ever. The project's report stated that the 'hockey stick' analogy used by some climatologitst was correct. The results showed that average temperature varied very little from 1750 to 1950. In the middle of the last century, average temperature, worldwide, began increasing. Charles Keeling, in 1958, began collecting atmosphere samples for carbon dioxide measurements. His early results were around 180 part CO2 per million of air. Now, these measurements are nearing 400 ppm. My concern: at what level of CO2 in the atmosphere could there be a 'tipping point' at which there is nothing that mankind can do to slow or stop global warming. Warming to such temperatures that we cannot, as a total population, continue living here. It is currently estimated that around 300,000 people die each year from global warming. By 2030, that could be half a million per year. We may be a species that has grown to large and too smart to continue existing here.

While it's true there were some stories in the media about a possible ice age, most of the research papers even in the 1970's were pondering the likelihood of a warming planet--contrary to the impression conveyed by some media outlets of the time. And as for turning the "economy upside down"--that's exactly what a warming climate has the potential to do. Using what is called the "precautionary principle", and if we can somehow learn to look past the next quarterly earnings report, it will be much less costly to begin to address greenhouse gas pollution now, rather than try to cope with the possibly catastrophic consequences of business as usual. In fact, a transition to a more sustainable economic structure would be a win for both the planet and the world's economies. Look at what steps the insurance industry is already taking to prepare for a warming planet and the potentially huge financial losses they anticipate. Or look at what steps the Pentagon is planning in a warming world far less reliant on fossil fuels.

Steve, with all due respect, July is typically the hottest month of the year. The heat wave you refer to really isn't even close to the records in terms of both temperature and the number of consecutive days. You have to go back several decades to produce the top 5 July heat waves.

gdn't...Did you know that 11 of the hottest years on record (since around 1850) have occurred since 1998. You might also read my post to capthall, below, for reference. Or, read 'Overheated' by Matt Guzman, an economist/lawyer, you might get nervous about man's future, though.

Yeah, Obama needs to tell China to immediately shut down their 600+ coal-powered generating plants! And North Korea, too. Another problem, equally as unlikely to change, is our planet has too many people using too much energy. The demand for energy (and everything else) is constantly rising. Even as cars get better mileage and pollute less, there are more and more people, and thus cars on the road. Also, as US companies indirectly provide more manufacturing jobs for people in places like China and India, more and more people can now afford to own cars. Our planet is losing ground in the pollution battle.

As the world's leading economy, AND the world's leading historical contributor of CO2, we have a moral obligation to take the lead on climate change/global warming. We need to show the world that it is feasible to make the transition to a low-carbon future. If we lead, others will follow. China, for one is not hobbled by a deniers' industry of 19th century thinkers who disseminate distortions and outright lies about the issue under the claim of 'balance', and who have certain politicians, like Sen. Imhofe of Oklahoma, in their pocket.

Steve...I think that rather than pushing carbon limits, the government should: a) order all US coal power plants to convert as soon as possible to burning natural gas, and b) begin funding modular nuclear power plants. The nuclear industry has advanced to the point where building modular plants, transporting them to the site, installing them into the ground, then inserting nuclear materials is (in my opinion) no more dangerous than breathing the smoke from coal plants.

Steve, one of our fishermen recently pulled up a mastodon tooth from offshore in about 120 feet of water. The tooth is estimated to be 11,000 years old. The ocean depth was, obviously, much lower 11,000 years ago. The subsequent rise in ocean levels was not caused by "carbon polution." To the best of my knowledge, there were no power plants or manufacturing facilities 11K years ago. We are undergoing a normal fluctuation in the earth's temperatures. Incidentally, the record high for New Hampshire is 106 degrees, set in 1911,

capthall...there are alot of ways that the mastodon jawbone could have been deposited offshore. One that comes to mind is 'ice rafting', which would occur if a glacier picked up the mastodon, either alive or dead, and dropped it when the ice melted. A steady warming, which interglacial causes interglacial periods, obviously was not caused by mankind. However, the rise in global earth temperatures, caused by rising CO2 due to burning cubic miles of coal and billions of barrels of petrolum, will have devastating effects in the next few decades.

Walter, think about what you wrote. If a glacier deposited the tooth offshore, we would have been, obviously, in an ice age - which in fact we were. 12,000 years ago there was an ice pack on top of New Hampshire. But it's not here now so what happened? Yes, you guessed it, the earth warmed. We have had, in fact, five ices ages that have been identified and, after each one, the earth warmed. There was also a "Little Ice Age" that started around the 13th century. In 1790, New York Harbor froze solid. People could ice skate from Manhattan to Staten Island. Subsequently, the planet warmed. This was before coal, oil and Al Gore. While man is probably not helping things at all, it's ludicrous to blame cars and power plants for a normally fluctuating climate.

capthallo...I would refer you to Richard Muller's book 'Energy for Future Presidents', wherein he gives the results of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. Using more than 1.2 billion data points (about everything available), their end result confirmed the 'hockey stick' analogy. That since 1750, global earth temperatures were pretty stable until 1950, when they started rising. Of the 36,000 weather stations, about 12,000 showed a decline of temperature; however, more than 24,000 showed temperature rising. Our climates IS NOT normally fluctuating. What we should be studying is whether there is a 'tipping point' where greenhouse gas concentrations could cause an unstoppable increase of global temperatures. IF we are nearing it, there may be no stopping temperature increases which could make human life impossible on this planet.

Capthall: just to follow up on Walt's post; while it's true that the planet has cycled through ice ages and periods of greater warmth over the eons, we humans are currently adding fossil CO2 to the atmosphere at a rate and to a level not experienced in as much as 4-6 million years. Past changes in greenhouse gas levels (which can be thought of as the planet's thermostat) happened much more gradually than now. Using ice cores, tree rings, coral reefs, and other sources, scientists have accurately measured CO2 levels going back many hundreds of thousands of years, and know there is a near perfect match between levels of CO2 and climate changes. When CO2 levels go up, the planet warms; when CO2 levels go down, the planet cools. Usually, these changes require a precipitating event--a change in our planet's tilt, wobble, or orbital path. These astronomical changes occur over very long cycles--from 20,000 to more than 100,000 years, and seem to be enough to tip our planet into climate change. What we are doing now is over-riding these natural cycles (according to the cycles, we should be in a slightly cool 'interglacial' period) by burning fossil fuels and releasing CO2 previously stored for millennia by the carbon cycle. Also, the physics and chemistry of CO2 and the other greenhouse gases is well understood. Without those greenhouse gases, the planet would be a far chillier place-- they help moderate temps and make our planet a more hospitable place--without them the average temp. on the planet would not get much above freezing. The physics of how greenhouse gases like CO2 capture and re-radiate infra-red energy is well understood--well enough that climate scientists know that our on-going enhancement of CO2 levels is likely to have profound consequences--most of them bad-- over the decades to come, unless we can slow and reverse those levels. For more information, besides the book Walt mentioned, see Spencer Weart's "The Discovery of Global Warming". It's available at the Concord Public Library, and also on line, in an expanded version with lots of links and sidebars. Also, Richard Alley of Penn State U. has a great slide show talk on Youtube about CO2 and its role as planetary thermostat.

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