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A sculptured iceberg in North Bay, Rothera Point, Adelaide Island, Antarctica. Shrinking sea ice is significantly increasing the rate at which icebergs scour the Antarctic seabed.

Pete Bucktrout, Getty/afp - Afp/getty Images

'Luke-warming?' The world's scientists know better

  • Article by: JOHN ABRAHAM
  • February 16, 2013 - 9:10 AM

Counterpoint

In an error-ridden article written by someone who, it appeared, was a real scientist ("Call it 'luke-warming -- and invest appropriately," Feb. 12), Rolf Westgard made statements that are at odds with real scientists working in the fields of energy and climate change. A reader would be led to believe that climate isn't changing as fast as scientists predicted, that the consequences wouldn't be that bad, and that it is going to be easier to simply adapt to climate change than to stop the change.

Well, let's check the facts. For years, scientists have made predictions that we can check. Scientists predicted the Earth would warm, ice would melt, seas would rise, the ocean would become more acidic, some parts of the Earth would become drier while other parts became wetter, and intense storms would become more common. All of these things have happened and are continuing. Some are happening even faster than predicted. For instance, we have seen a 70 percent decrease in North Pole ice since 1980. We have seen the southwest United States become hotter and drier. We have seen an increase in heavy rainfalls and floods (like the Duluth flood or the floods in southern Minnesota). We have also seen storms become more intense.

But how does all this square with Westgard? He claimed that the past seven years have been quiet for hurricanes. You can measure hurricanes by their frequency (how many there are) or by their intensity (how powerful they are). In the Atlantic, the busiest year was 2005 (with 28 named storms). The third, fourth and fifth busiest years were 2012, 2011 and 2010. Two of the most damaging hurricane seasons were within the past decade. Also, the two largest storms on record were in the past three years. Finally, eight of the most expensive 10 storms were within the past decade.

So, what does this have to do with humans? How did humans impact a storm like Sandy? Well, scientists estimate that about 10 to 15 percent of the Sandy rainfall was human-caused. Just under a foot of the sea-level rise was human-caused, and the trajectory may have been impacted by humans. That is, Superstorm Sandy may never have hit land were it not for human-caused climate change.

Westgard then asserts that climate has taken a 10-year hiatus on warming. That would be good news, if it were true. In reality, climate has not taken a "breather." The vast majority of the heat we are adding to the Earth is ending up in the oceans. The oceans, land and atmosphere continue to warm, despite what Westgard asserts. How do I know? I study and publish in this very area. I also speak to colleagues around the world on a daily basis. No one I know would agree with Westgard.

What about his statements on biofuels? He is wrong there, too. It turns out that next-generation biofuels can be one part of the solution. They can provide clean fuel for our cars without the extensive use of water, fertilizers and land. They also would not impact the food supply. I was the author of a seminal 2009 study that surveyed biofuel production. Our results were published in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal.

There is one issue he brings up that has real merit. Is it smarter to try to stop climate change or just adapt? That is an open issue that is hotly debated. But it helps to look back on the impacts of climate change this past year. Approximately $75 billion from Sandy. Another $70 billion from the terrible 2012 drought. Approximately $100 million in costs from the Duluth flood. These are real costs, and they are only the beginning. I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that we could spend a fraction of this money on developing clean, renewable energy that could create jobs here in Minnesota, diversify our energy supply, improve national security and solve the climate problem. These solutions just make sense.

This is why we listen to real scientists who carry out real research. According to real scientists, humans are changing the climate but we can solve the problem today. We have the technology, we only lack the will.

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John Abraham is a professor of engineering at the University of St. Thomas.

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