Bloomberg News

Climate Change Has Nothing to Do With Al Gore: Douglas

April 19, 2012

Clouds form over an empty road, in Kearney, Nebraska. Photograph by Ryan McGinnis

Clouds form over an empty road, in Kearney, Nebraska. Photograph by Ryan McGinnis

I’m a moderate Republican - a fan of small government, light regulation and market solutions. A serial entrepreneur, I founded companies that invented 3-D television weather graphics and the first app on a cell phone. I’m a Penn State meteorologist. My day-job since 1979: tracking weather for TV news.

If you know anything about American politics these days, and follow the climate war at all, you might anticipate with some confidence that I agree global warming is a hoax. That’s a shame, and I hope it changes soon.

In the 1980s I was skeptical that an upward blip in global temperatures was the result of manmade gases. Then the blips persisted. By the mid-90s I began to see them as unsettling changes. The weather was becoming erratic and even more unpredictable than usual. Storms were more frequent and intense. Curious, I began including climate statistics in daily TV weather segments, like annual trends in flash-flooding, hail, summer humidity, fewer subzero nights and decreased snowfall.

Mixing climate and weather was a problem in local TV news, with its reliance on Q-scores and market research. Finally, in 2008 I lost my job in local TV. I continued to write a daily column for the Star Tribune. Mixing climate news in with weather reports made me a lightning rod for skeptics there, too. The flame-mail was relentless. “Stop proselytizing, you crazy liberal – climb back under your rock!” wrote one reader. That's one of the tamer, more family-friendly messages I've received.

I don’t take speaking out on this topic lightly. My father escaped a communist regime in East Germany, moved to the U.S. and became a Republican. He taught me to never take my freedom for granted. He taught me “actions have consequences.” That’s true of nations as it is of individuals. It is sheer lunacy to pretend that releasing 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year won't come back to bite us.

Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get, the saying goes. Climate is the weather over a long period of time -- 15 or 30 years. We've pushed the bell curve of 'average weather' in a new and more extreme direction. There are simply too many coincidences not to take this seriously.

Climate science shows that over a long period of time, the statistics have changed. Things that used to happen a lot, like consistent winter snow cover, are happening less reliably. Things that happened every now and then, like droughts and wildfires, are happening more reliably. And things that almost never happened -- such as the 15,000 new U.S. temperature records in March -- sometimes now do occur. And they can’t be explained with purely meteorological reasoning.

The changes we’re seeing, far more than I can list here, seem like an accumulation of coincidences. Pieced together, reveal the full puzzle: There’s more heat and moisture in the atmosphere, and our emissions are largely responsible for keeping it there.

The millennium’s first decade was the warmest on record and included nine of the 10 hottest years. Greenhouse gas levels are at their highest in 800,000 years. Less heat is escaping the top of the atmosphere in the wavelengths of greenhouse gases. For the first time, scientists have recorded both hemispheres are warming – and the global temperature spike can’t be linked to an astronomical trigger, such as solar variability. Great Lakes peak ice has seen a 71 percent drop since 1973. Winters are shorter. Lakes melt earlier. Plants are moving north.

Worldwide, 95% of land-based glaciers are losing mass. September Arctic sea ice has lost 10 percent of its area every decade. Sea levels are rising. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic. Flooding and extreme storms are spiking in frequency and intensity. Last winter was the 4th warmest on record, despite the cooling influence of a La Nina phase in the Pacific.

Extremes are becoming more extreme. And none of it has anything to do with Al Gore.

During a 2007 homecoming banquet for Iraqi war vets I asked my personal hero, Senator John McCain, if he thought this could all be some cosmic coincidence. He rolled his eyes. “Paul, I just returned from the Yukon, where a village elder presented me with a tomahawk that had just melted out of the permafrost. The answer is no.”

How did so much of the Republican Party enter perpetual denial? We’ve turned climate science into a bizarre litmus test for conservatism. To pretend that heat-trapping gases can be waved away with a nod and a smirk is political fairytale. No harm. No foul. Keep drilling.

I’m a Christian and ultimately come to Christ through faith. With climate change no faith is required. There is a large and growing body of evidence. The way nature works applies the same to Republican and Democrat, Christian and Muslim, animal, tree and stone. Why do people who profess to love and follow God roll their eyes? 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.”

It’s a message that my father put succinctly: Actions have consequences.

Paul Douglas is a Twin Cities meteorologist and the founder of five companies, including WeatherNation TV, a new 24-hour weather channel.

Visit www.bloomberg.com/sustainability for the latest from Bloomberg News about energy, natural resources and global business.


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