UC Davis talks global warming
As devoted a student of global warming as Al Gore may be, he’s not a scientist. So, SN&R sought out a handful of the leading scientists at UC Davis who have been studying global warming or its effects to get their views on the issue and what the science is now saying. What follows are excerpts from those conversations.
Ruth A. Reck
Professor of atmospheric sciences
Department of Land, Air and Water Resources
Former director, National Institute for Global Environmental Change
“In the last two or three years, the evidence has become so compelling. All the facts are in. We see all of the changes that are happening. We see the shifts in the climate zones going farther north. We see the effects on the biosphere, on plant and animal habitats. We see the melting of the permafrost. I’ve seen pictures of buildings that were sitting on permafrost that had melted, and they were falling down. It’s unquestionable at this point. Everything that you might think of is happening. All the science is there.
“I don’t see it as an economic issue. I see it as an issue we have to deal with because it will cost our economic base so much if we don’t. I think you would want to have a Manhattan Project on how to respond to this. It would seem to me the appropriate response would be that, in everything we do, we should consider climate change.
“You wouldn’t think of taking your family in an old run-down vehicle that wasn’t running well, would you? You would know if you had an accident that they wouldn’t be protected. If we let our world be run-down and uncared for, then we’re risking the lives and the habitat of natural species and the habitat of all humanity.”Rick Grosberg
Professor of evolution and ecology
College of Biological Sciences
“Not just in our lifetimes, but probably in much of the history of life on Earth, insofar as we can reconstruct it, there is no precedent for the rate at which the climate is warming now. None. There’s no evidence for any climate change having occurred at such a rapid rate over such a comprehensive scale. The correspondence between the production of greenhouse gases and the timing, scope and rate of global climate change is incontrovertible. More than that, we understand the mechanisms by which greenhouse gases cause the climate to warm. So, we have a mechanistic understanding, and the pattern, the correspondence between the rate of change, the time it began, and our independent knowledge of the rate at which greenhouse gases have been produced by human activities. There’s no other plausible explanation.
“No one has ever proposed that we cut off all greenhouse emissions tomorrow. Nor would I. So, really, the best-case scenario is to stop the rate of increase of the production of greenhouse gases tomorrow. Even if that were the case, there would still be potentially catastrophic ramifications of global warming. By catastrophic effects, I have in mind the collapse of ecosystems, that functioning ecosystems will cease to provide the services that they provide to the biosphere and to human beings.”
Professor of meteorology and meteorologist
Department of Land, Air and Water Resources
“We’re in a period of human-induced climate change—I think it’s almost certain. The fact that in the last 50 years we’ve had a substantial increase in the temperature of the globe is pretty well-documented now. The fact that that’s tied to carbon dioxide is pretty well-established. I think what’s important is that climate change will occur much more rapidly than it would have without human influences. Now we’re talking about things which happen over the course of a century being compressed into a much shorter time period. That means it’s faster than natural adaptation would occur under. Societies are going to have to adapt, plan on how to adapt, rather than just evolving in the way they’ve been. They’re going to actually have to think about it.
“Almost everybody’s agreed that putting less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will help slow down the changes in climate, but that help will be relatively small and relatively slow. We’ve already been adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the last several hundred years. We can’t do anything about what’s happened in the past. It’s already there. That will continue to have an effect on climate for a very long time. Part of the scheme for carbon dioxide is to have less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But part of it is accepting the fact that the carbon dioxide we’ve already added is going to influence climate. What are we going to do about it? How are we going to adapt?
“I think at the moment there’s relatively small planning for adapting for climate change. We’re just gearing up to that. I haven’t seen the details, but the governor has mentioned something like that. That’s something that’s going to have to be done.”Geoffrey Schladow
Professor, civil and environmental engineering
Director, Tahoe Environmental Research Center
“As I remember, there were some graphs I used to see back in the ’70s, of gross national product plotted against power output for a country, or oil consumption. Supposedly, there was a linear relationship; if you wanted your economy to grow, you’d have to consume more energy. That correlation turned out to be a spurious one, and I think the same thing will be evident in the case of climate change.
“There’s no doubt that a global warming effect caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity is occurring. Where the doubt is, is the magnitude of the change and the spatial distribution of how that change will manifest itself. One of the troubling parts that the climate models seem to agree on is that there will be more extreme events. I think it’s not clear, to me at least, just how extreme “extreme” events are. How can we as a nation afford another year like the last hurricane season, if we are to have that every two or three years and have cities the size of New Orleans devastated by being hit by hurricanes?”
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