“[There] is not really a question anymore about whether climate change is occurring or not. It certainly is occurring.”
“You don’t actually have to go a hundred years or a thousand years into the future before things can get quite disrupted relative to today.”
04/27/2017 06:38 pm ET | Updated 1 day ago
By Ariel Conn
Too often, the media focus their attention on climate change deniers, and as a result, when scientists speak with the press, it’s almost always a discussion of whether climate change is real. Unfortunately, that can make it harder for those who recognize that climate change is a legitimate threat to fully understand the science and impacts of rising global temperatures.
I recently visited the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO and met with climate scientists Dr. Kevin Trenberth and CU Boulder’s Dr. Brian Toon to have a different discussion. I wanted better answers about what climate change is, what its effects could be, and how can we prepare for the future.
The discussion that follows has been edited for clarity and brevity, and I’ve added occasional comments for context. You can also listen to the podcast here or read the full transcript here for more in-depth insight into these issues.
Our discussion began with a review of the scientific evidence behind climate change.
Trenberth: The main source of human-induced climate change is from increasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And we have plenty of evidence that we’re responsible for the over 40 percent increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, and more than half of that has occurred since 1980.
Toon: I think the problem is that carbon dioxide is rising proportional to population on the Earth. If you just plot carbon dioxide in the last few decades versus global population, it tracks almost exactly. In coming decades, we’re increasing global population by a million people a week. That’s a new city in the world of a million people every week somewhere, and the amount of energy that’s already committed to supporting this increasing population is very large.
The financial cost of climate change is also quite large.
Trenberth: 2012 was the warmest year on record in the United States. There was a very widespread drought that occurred, starting here in Colorado, in the West. The drought itself was estimated to cost about $75 billion. Superstorm Sandy is a different example, and the damages associated with that are, again, estimated to be about $75 billion. At the moment, the cost of climate and weather related disasters is something like $40 billion a year.
We discussed possible solutions to climate change, but while solutions exist, it was easy to get distracted by just how large – and deadly ― the problem truly is.