During the Republican National Convention in Tampa, climate change became a punch line. "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet" Mitt Romney said.
(Pause for polite laughter)
"My promise is to help you and your family."
All well and good. But denying climate change won't help any American family or our fledgling economy. And looking at the world with carbon-colored glasses, or using Solyndra as an excuse to snub renewables and clean-tech, is not only short-sighted, but makes America less competitive on the world stage. According to the World Economic Forum, America's global competitiveness fell from 1 to 7 place since 2007. Should we just accept that most breakthrough energy technologies are originating in China and Europe, where there is no more "debate" about climate trends? Why is America still questioning the science? For political entertainment? Something tells me Mother Nature may get the last laugh.
To be fair, Romney later adjusted his position on climate change. "My best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming," he said last week in an online debate with president Obama at ScienceDebate.org, "and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences." Bravo! That's leadership. But then sadly, in the very next sentence he veered into denial when he said "there remains a lack of scientific consensus on the issue." This is simply not true, and a candidate for president needs to be dealing in reality on an issue like this. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree. That's a consensus.
If it's not raining, why are we getting wet?
As a Republican business owner, entrepreneur, meteorologist and father of two upbeat, optimistic boys, I may not fit the stereotype of a "global warming alarmist." I'm an Evangelical Christian. I'm enthusiastic about streamlining government and letting the markets work. But unlike some, I see no inherent struggle between my faith and the ability of science to improve our understanding of the world. The Creator gave me a brain, to think and reason, and react to facts on the ground. And I'm disillusioned, because some in my party are pro-science-denial, and on the wrong side of history.
The word "conservative" no longer applies to the environment. The GOP's new energy platform shows this, in a stunning departure from 2008. Don't get me wrong. My party's focus on the economy and putting Americans back to work is dead on. And America has been blessed with a rich supply of natural resources and innovative technologies to wean ourselves off foreign crude. But our fossil fuel frenzy is impacting the weather floating above our heads. Denying that it's raining doesn't keep you from getting wet, and climate change has gone from theory to reality - while our side fiddles away like Nero.
What the data tells me
CEI. Climate Extreme Index. 46% of the USA experienced extremes in temperature and moisture (floods and droughts in 2012, breaking the old record in 1934. Source: NOAA NCDC.
If any climate change skeptic had spent the year I have watching the weather maps - I'm confident they would be saying the same thing. These maps passed "normal" a long time ago. 2012 is the most severe year in recorded history; 46% of the USA has experienced extremes in moisture, drought, temperatures and tropical cyclones, breaking the old record set at the height of the Dust Bowl in 1934. This has been The Year of All or Nothing: drought or flood. And jaw-dropping weather is accomplishing what climate scientists couldn't quite pull off: convincing a majority of reasonable, logical, God-fearing Americans that something is up. Something has changed.
I make predictions every day, and based on the data I'm seeing here's my long-range prognosis. What we just experienced was not an aberration. It's a conservative example (most climate scientists have been, if anything, extremely conservative in their projections) of what's to come. Sizzling summers will become the norm in the years ahead. We may soon look back on 2012 with fondness for its mild weather. We've experienced 7 times more record highs than record lows in 2012; expect that lop-sided ratio to continue. Meteorologists will be spending more precious airtime tracking brushfires -- when they're not warning of impending floods. Nights will trend warmer and fewer subzero outbreaks will reach the continental US, a big silver lining for many. But both Greenland and the Arctic are melting faster than computer models predicted, with the Arctic shattering the old record set in 2007. Scientists were once predicting it would be ice-free in 2080 or 2090. Considering this acceleration we're seeing, they're now saying it could be as early at 2030, and some have even said 2015. You heard right. More water absorbing sunlight and less ice reflecting sunlight is accelerating a feedback effect, speeding the warming we're already witnessing, worldwide.
A two-headed frog still might be a prince
On Earth Day I wrote a story for a blog post in Minnesota. The Huffington Post picked it up. A Republican concerned about climate change? Rare as a two-headed frog. And I can tell you, I got plenty of negative mail from conservatives. But here's the thing: this isn't a popularity contest. There's too much on the line. Some in the GOP mock climate science, but most voters under the age of 30 take the subject very seriously. Dismissing it out of hand is not only disingenuous, but politically short-sighted, and is a failure to care for our children as our parents cared for us. Your kids are following this issue closely. They vote.
"The weather has always been extreme. Why is this any different?" There's no denying the trends. Actions have consequences. Releasing 90 trillion tons of greenhouse gas, 90 trillion hot air balloons of CO2 and methane in just the last 50 years, is spiking our weather extremes like never before. So rather than focus on the green skin of the messenger, put your ear up to hear what he's saying.
Paul Douglas's Top Ten Reasons to Accept Reality on the Climate
Here's my Top Ten Reasons Why This Isn't Business as Usual for the Climate - things that convince me -- and should convince you too.
10). Shifting Weather Patterns - The jet stream is shifting north over time. I'm seeing things on the weather maps every other day that can't be explained away as "normal extremes".
9). Rising Sea Levels - whatever your skeptical uncle Joe says, seas are warming, and as they warm, they expand and sea level goes up. Most scientists predict 3-4 feet in the next 80 years or so. Think twice about buying that retirement condo right on the beach. Find something 4 blocks inland, and be patient.
8). Warmer, More Acidic Oceans - if you scuba dive, you've probably noticed that corals reefs aren't what they used to be. That's ocean acidification from absorbing carbon dioxide. It's radically changing the ocean ecosystems and fisheries right now.
7). Straining Water Resources - water for drinking, "fracking", farming, ethanol production, soda pop, or energy generation - whatever your flavor, it's getting scarcer. That affects all of the above.
6). Dying Forests - not just by massive, historic wildfires, but by pests like the pine beetle that no longer gets killed off in the warmer winters, turning entire rocky mountains brown with dead pine trees.
5). Extreme Rains and More Severe Local Storms. 4-5% increase in atmospheric moisture - warmer air holds more moisture. That means it gets drier on the ground because more is absorbed by the atmosphere. But it also means when it rains, it rains harder as that higher water content rains out. But dry soil and heavy rains equal floods, and that means more damage and more water lost to runoff.
4). Spike in Wildfires - less water plus pine beetles and other crawly critters that kill trees plus drier soil means more wildfires.
3). More Drought -- more water in the atmosphere means less on earth and thus more drought.
2). Superheated summers -- the above combine to create hot, hot, hot summers. Drier air is hotter without water to moderate it. Hotter air absorbs even more, even quicker. And hotter air means more air conditioners, means more carbon going back into the atmosphere.
And the number one reason:
Arctic Sea Ice Monitor. The latest value: 3,593,750 square kilometers on September 9, 2012. A new record minimum of Arctic sea ice extent was set on August 24, 2012. The four lowest values of Arctic sea ice have been observed since 2007. Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Earth Observation Research Center.
1). Record Arctic Ice Loss. As I said, less ice reflecting means more water absorbing. We used to say the Arctic might be ice free by the middle of the century. Now scientists are saying it may happen as early as 2015. That's in three years, people. The ice is melting this year at an unprecedented rate, and if we have another warm winter, it won't be replenished. This could tip the scales for a lot of larger climate changes to come. A comprehensive article in the Wall Street Journal on September 7 summarized "...the six lowest Arctic sea ice levels on record all occurred in the past six years."
How Mitt Romney can really help you and your family
With the problems facing America today, from record deficits to stubborn unemployment to Iran and The Bomb, why fixate on climate change? Because this will impact all our families; your kids and mine, as well as America's competitive footing in the 21 century. If Mitt Romney is genuine about his promise to "help you and your family," he needs to acknowledge this, and work for a solution that will solve both the economic and the climate crisis. He needs to help America to innovate our way into a new energy paradigm, one that will fuel growth, add jobs, and launch new companies focused on cleaner, more sustainable American energy sources.
Will the GOP rise to the occasion, or bet the farm on carbon, and ask our grandkids to deal with the mess? It's time for bold leadership. Climate change is a threat, but it is also an opportunity to transition to a cleaner, greener, more sustainable economy. American Exceptionalism shouldn't stop when it comes to innovating new energy sources. We have the technology and entrepreneurial DNA to mitigate climate change, foster innovative, job-producing clean energy technologies, and reinvent America's economy. Let's put it to work, Governor Romney. As one prominent supporter said at the convention: "Go ahead, make my day!"
Paul Douglas is Founder and President of The Media Logic Group. His company provides weather data, graphics and mobile API's via Ham Weather, advanced forecasts for renewable energy companies with Smart Energy, automated severe storm alerts and daily briefings with Alerts Broadcaster, and daily video forecasts for new and legacy media from Broadcast Weather. Broadcast Weather is providing content for WeatherNation TV, a 24/7 linear channel on multiple platforms dedicated to meteorology and storm coverage across the USA. Minnesota's first Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, Douglas writes a daily print and online column for the Star Tribune.