"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Monday, September 20, 2010

Me on "Disruption"

This was September 8. I specifically advocated for "Climate Disruption" over "Global Warming".

I don't normally read from a prepared text, so I was a bit awkward.

The event was not a success; it was a press conference for a statewide environmental lobby that no press showed up for :-/ . I was actually talking to an empty room, the event organizer, the other speaker, and a cheap handheld video recorder...

But I stand by every word. Given three minutes to speak to Texas, I chose to emphasize "disruption" over "warming".
Humans have become the dominant force on our planet. A hundred years ago or further back, when the land changed, when the ocean changed, when the air changed, it was nature that did it. Now, when the land changes, or the ocean changes, or the air changes, it's us.

One of the biggest changes we are making is in how energy flows through the atmosphere. We do this with various pollutants including carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is the most worrisome for two reasons: first, much of our technology is built on a platform of fossil fuels, and second, because nature has no way of quickly getting rid of the extra carbon that we pump into the system.

The result of these changes in how sunlight flows into the earth and how heat makes its way back out is climate disruption. The most well-known part of this climate disruption is global warming, and global warming is real enough, and measurable. But to focus on "warming" leaves people with the idea that the changes are going to be gradual and gentle.

The way that the earth moves energy around from the light coming in to the heat going out is called "weather", and the usual patterns of weather are called climate. When we shift the inputs and outputs around, we change the climate, and that means we get weather we are not used to. When it rains in Pakistan as it would in a wetter place, or it warms in Moscow as it usually does here in Texas, the people, the ecosystem, and the infrastructure are unprepared, and unprecedented disasters may strike. The more we disrupt the climate, the worse these changes will get.

Climate scientists are not a very politically adept group, and there are clever people who don't want our results to be heard. We need to start taking real science seriously and to ignore the nonsense propagated by people with a financial stake in business as usual. It is our responsibility to future generations to take this problem seriously, and to look at ways not just to reduce, but ultimately to eliminate carbon-based emissions.


adelady said...

Disrupt also has an underlying tone of =unexpected= to it. Moscow's heatwave killed 1000s and 1000s of people. Adelaide, Texas, Greece all have long experience of unbelievably hot weather. We lost less than 200 people in our worst ever fortnight of heatwave - but if we'd been accustomed to temperatures 10C less, we'd probably have looked much the same as Moscow.

Unexpected. The place, the frequency, the severity, the length, the season - for flood, drought, downpour, heat, fire, storm, snowfall, glacier-melt. Disruption includes any or all of these things happening where or when they never happened before or worse than ever before.

It's also easier to make the link when people wail "where's the warming" when they have a huge snowfall entirely consistent with models. Saying that it's about energy and moisture flows being disrupted is a much smoother logical step for non-scientific citizens.

Global warming may be good technical shorthand. But for a term inclusive of likely weather impacts, climate disruption is heaps better.

Anonymous said...

"I was actually talking to an empty room, the event organizer, the other speaker, and a cheap handheld video recorder..."

Might be better to forgo all the expenses of setting up the event and sell the darn video recorder, and use the money to buy some fluffy ad space in a mainstream newspaper.

That's what I might do if I have, well, the resources of a lobby group, which alas I don't. And indeed, the Heartland Institute has done this sort of thing before (to rile up publicity for their International Conference of Climate Cranks).

This also has the advantage that you can take your message directly to the audience, and the message won't be hopelessly mangled by the pseudo-random brain movements of the 'journalists' covering the story ,even if said journalists do miraculously turn up.

-- frank