Climate change: Pay now or pay later

By Bill Ray | Mar 13, 2014
Bill Ray

The Constant Curmudgeon asked for moderation and good sense about climate change.  I agree, but there is a lot of misinformation on both sides to clear away first.

He cites the “70’s ice age prediction,” which was never made in the scientific literature; it was Newsweek and other popular media speculative articles, not science.  A misunderstanding on the other side is “Tuvalu Island has been inundated by sea level rise,” which is not true.  Measurements since 1880 at tide gauges worldwide show a rise of 8 inches per century.  Sea level rise will not accelerate until later this century.

People tend to mention specific weather events to make points about climate, which is not valid. Climate is defined as trends averaged over 30-year intervals or more, long-term in order to average out weather events or cycles like El Nino.  Weather is like gaining 6 pounds over the holidays and losing them in the spring.  Climate is like gaining 1 pound net per year over 30 years.

The measured fact is that the planet as a whole has been gaining heat energy for more than a century, some decades a little faster and some a little slower.  Warming is obviously causing changes, not only polar bears losing summer ice, but changes directly relevant for our lives affecting agriculture, forest health and water management.

For example warming is changing the seasonal accumulation and melting of snowpack in the Sierras and Cascades.  As snow levels creep up, less winter precipitation sticks as snow.  More important, the fact that spring is arriving sooner causes the snow to melt off earlier and faster, reducing the amount available for summer needs.

The top graph shows the change in measured snowpack at April 1st between 1950 and 1997 due to these effects.  Red circles are less snowpack and blue are more.  Other dates give similar results.  The reservoirs and dams to control flooding and manage our water supply are becoming mismatched at the same time as water demand is rising.

The graph is mostly red reductions, except for the southernmost Sierras.  It’s normal for a climate picture to have some exceptions. Those exceptions allow people to mislead by cherry-picking the data.  Showing only Oregon and Washington delivers one message, showing only Southern California an entirely different one.

Temperature rise is not the only effect of adding heat energy to weather systems, hence the preferred term “climate change.”  Scientists are now working out how the added energy and evaporated water vapor will affect local weather -- clearly global warming will mean something different to Seattle summer stratus versus Buffalo lake effect snow.

The extra heat will probably affect the statistics of the weather, with growing support for the hypothesis that there are more extreme events.  Reinsurers, the firms who insure insurance companies, have already added climate change into their risk models based on their own research.  These hard-headed businesses cannot afford to wait for a broad scientific consensus on extremes.

We are in an interglacial period that began about 11,000 years ago.  The cycling between several ice ages and interglacials is well documented over more than 400,000 years.  Global average temperature swung roughly 20 degrees F and atmospheric CO2 cycled between about 200 and 300 parts per million.

CO2 was 275 ppm at the start of the industrial revolution and has rapidly climbed to 395 ppm today.  The rise can be traced to fossil fuels because of the radioactive isotope mix.

As we burn fossil fuels, we put carbon back into the atmosphere that was buried 100’s of millions of years ago.  CO2 has already risen one-third above an 800,000-year high of 300 ppm.

Humanity is conducting a planetary re-engineering project with significant consequences.  Success needs a discussion grounded in engineering terms:  tradeoffs, values, cost/benefit, science, risk management and elegance.  We are already paying for climate change.  Our choice is whether to pay now or later, and how much.  The human and financial cost is likely to be lower if we work smart now rather than handling it in crisis mode later.

Bill Ray, of Edmonds, is a computer engineer and an award-winning instructor in marine weather for the U.S. Power Squadrons.

Comments (2)
Posted by: steven d keeler | Mar 16, 2014 22:59


Guest views

I stopped reading right after the first lie.

" He cites the 70s ice age prediction, " which was never made in the scientific literature; it was Newsweek and other popular media speculative articles, not science.

There is no point continuing where the author begins his opinions by lying.  The only assumption one can make is that further non truths and unsupported claims will follow.  Lacking any citations, a reader can only assume the remainder of the piece will be propaganda.  And this leads us to the present state of warmest hysteria as opposed to current climate science and solar physics:  the "settled science" that is anything but "settled".    In the case of this guest view one must remember that the frame for considering why the above  statement is a lie has to be evaluated with respect to the state of science then, not now.  The media were reporting a condensation of the science available, in laymens terms.  There was ample scientific literature which illustrated the gravity and extent to which scientists were considering the planets future climate.  Do not be tricked into thinking that the media was pseudo science and that was all there was.  What you should explore are the samples of the science of the early 1970's.  Several are listed :

1975 John Gribbin, "Cause and Effects of Global Cooling." Nature 254: 14.

The Ice Age Cometh  -  James  D.  Hays, an oceanographer and paleontologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory.
The Saturday Review,  March 24, 1973,  pp. 29 - 32

In 1976 Stephen Schneider ** wrote The Genesis Strategy : Climate and Global Survival in which he said:
( "What Does It All Mean ? ", p. 90 ):  I have cited many examples of recent climatic variability and repeated the warnings of several well-known climatologists that a cooling effect has set in – perhaps one akin to the Little Ice Age - and that climatic variability, which is the bane of reliable food production, can be expected to increase along with the cooling.
**  Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford University.

It is further noted that George Kukla was awarded the European Geophysical Union's Milankovitch Medal in 2004.

When you hit the first lie in a guest view, are you smart enough to stop with that which will surely lead to an ominous sounding ending ?  Such writings always do, it's the eco mantra.


Posted by: Nathaniel R Brown | Mar 18, 2014 17:32

Thank you, Mr. Ray.  Now be prepared to be publicly flayed, called a liar, perhaps even a watermelon, for daring to take such a stand in these pages, dominated as they are by those who will not read past the first sentence (and be proud of it) but who will continue to dominate the Beacon’s on-line pages with (as of today) three blog postings and one comment. No one else dare speak – your courage is admirable.


After all, there seems to be only one side to all this - and it is certainly not the side of either caution or courtesy, given what the Beacon allows to go on in its name.


But comfort yourself that even Captain Smith, who felt that no caution was demanded before driving the Titanic into an iceberg, was in the end proven wrong. Let us only hope that the Captain Smiths of the world will not manage the same feat with the whole planet. At the very least, there is no excuse for the reckless way we are polluting the earth - for the unprecedented rising acidity of the oceans, the astonishing ride of atmospheric carbon dioxide, for the 50% of mammal species that are, or are going, extinct – in spite for what is incessantly repeated in the Beacon.


Thank you. It is good to hear that there actually is another view.

If you wish to comment, please login.