Carbon’s The Name & The Message Remains The Same
As many of us ponder fresh ways to get the messages across, it’s good to keep the basics in mind, and those basics begin with carbon. There is no serious debate about the meticulous records kept at Mauna Loa and elsewhere showing the inexorable increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Even if geo-engineers come up with an appealing and diplomatically tractable way to shield and cool the planet, the oceans will continue to soak up more carbon dioxide, and the chain of marine life will be increasingly at risk. Bob Henson is a science communicator, who knows a lot about meteorology, psychology and journalism. He’s author of “The Rough Guide to Climate Change”. Read More
By Bob Henson
The name of this newsletter includes two critical syllables that often get omitted when discussing climate change. The carbon that lies beneath our feet is entering the atmosphere at a stunningly fast pace in geologic terms. Regardless of what twists and turns the weather may take, there is no denying the changing chemistry of the atmosphere.
In the United States, we’ve just endured a winter of discontent in many ways. The East Coast has been slammed with some of the worst winter weather ever seen, including the snowiest season on record in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In my hometown of Boulder, Colorado, this past February was the first month in at least 60 years in which the temperature failed to reach 10°C at least once. It hasn’t been a brutally cold winter—just a consistently cold one.
The chilly, snowy conditions across much of the nation coincided with the reverberations of the University of East Anglia e-mail hack and the emergence of several errors amid the vast amount of material in the 2007 assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These events appear to have teamed with a political climate of increased skepticism toward experts and elites of all stripes. The result: a significant turn in U.S. public opinion. A Gallup Poll released just last week shows that 48 percent of Americans now think the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated, versus 41 percent just last year and 35 percent the year before that. Almost as many people attribute the last century of warming to natural causes (46 percent) as to human activity (50 percent). The latter figure has dropped almost ten percentage points in the last two years.
For those of us who spend much of our time communicating about climate change, it’s been a difficult few months. Is it something we’re saying—or not saying? If we have a scorching summer, will the new skepticism remain? Is it simply asking too much of people to shrug off the natural variability of weather—the fact that some winters will still be rough—and recognize that small changes in an average can produce big impacts over time?
Many of us are pondering fresh ways to get the messages across. But perhaps it’s good to keep the basics in mind, and those basics begin with carbon.
There is no serious debate about the meticulous records kept at Mauna Loa and elsewhere showing the inexorable increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
The gradual acidification of our oceans due to that increase is something that often falls by the wayside when climate change is discussed.
Even if geoengineers come up with an appealing and diplomatically tractable way to shield and cool the planet, the oceans will continue to soak up more carbon dioxide, and the chain of marine life will be increasingly at risk.
Carbon is at the center of life. The ways in which we think about and use carbon tell us much about how life will evolve in the coming decades and centuries.
Bob Henson edits the UCAR Magazine and Highlights, the magazine-style summary of UCAR/NCAR/UOP research and support activities. He writes news releases and assist with media inquiries, particularly those involving severe weather (tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.).
He was born in the Great Plains metropolis of Oklahoma City, his hometown through high school. Surrounded by wild weather, he grew up fascinated by it. His bachelor’s degree at Rice University featured an interdisciplinary major in meteorology and psychology. He went to graduate school in both meteorology and journalism at the University of Oklahoma. For his MA thesis in journalism, he studied the broadcasting of severe weather warnings on local television.
He’s been at UCAR since 1989, covering the wide range of research and related activities conducted by NCAR, UOP, and UCAR’s members and affiliates.
He enjoys freelance writing on a variety of topics. He’s contributing editor of Weatherwise magazine and was a frequent correspondent for the The Weather Notebook radio show. He’s written Television Weathercasting: A History (McFarland, 1990), The Rough Guide to Weather (Penguin, 2002), The Rough Guide to Climate Change (Penguin, 2006), and Weather on the Air: A History of Broadcast Meteorology (American Meteorological Society, summer 2010).
Other interests? Bicycling: He’s done several tours of 200-800 miles and spend a lot of transportation time on two wheels.
Storm photography: Over the past 25 years, while on research experiments and personal travel, he’s seen around 30 tornadoes and a vast array of severe thunderstorms.