Monday, November 26, 2018

Mars Success and Climate Mess

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There are two news stories out today that show the highs and lows of the current state of science. On the one hand, news broke today that the NASA InSight Mars exploration lander made it successfully to the planet. On the other hand, the President of the United States stated that he didn't believe the climate report put out by some of the best scientists in the nation--including many from NASA.

Just consider what would happen if the various reports put out by NASA on space exploration were dismissed by politicians. Would the landing sight be disbelieved or the needed fuel be questioned by non-scientists that had little knowledge of astrophysics or space technology and engineering?

That is essentially what is going on right now with climate change. 

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There was a time in this country when scientific knowledge on big national and international issues was believed and respected by politicians. There might have been some disagreement as to how to address a particular problem like air pollution but there was not wholesale dismissal of fact. Right now, however, there is broad denial of major scientific facts by national and state leaders.

We have great science to get to Mars, but the great science that is used to look at our own planet is being dismissed by leaders who know little about the topic.

It is far past the time when climate science can be up for debate. It is not an elusive concept like Santa Claus that one can choose to believe in should one wish. It is real and serious and deserves a studious policy approach. Every family should consider that in a generation or two there will be real impacts on those who will follow us.

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It is thrilling to learn of the marvelous technological work of NASA scientists in getting a new probe on the Red Planet. Yet, it is disheartening to see our Blue Planet under serious threat from climate change due to the inability of leaders to act responsibly. 

What is particularly troubling about the contrast between the news of the Mars landing and the news on climate change is that the Mars news is interesting but will probably lead to little real impacts on our society. The science that emerges from this project may benefit us in the future in unknown ways, but today it is hard to see the direct societal benefits. In contrast, climate scientists have been tolling the warning bell for years. The science has direct benefits to us if we and our leaders would act. 

As we celebrate the news of NASA's latest successes, it is worth remembering that NASA scientists are among the world's leading experts on climate change. One cannot celebrate one and dismiss the other without playing us all for fools.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees C--Part 3 How to Protect the Planet

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In my last post, I noted that I am highlighting some key findings from the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that came out earlier this month. This last post in this three-part series highlights some of the ways we can protect the planet.

One of the key takeaways from the report is that we are not doing enough to limit temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Failure to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions will require a much more aggressive global response. Depressingly, there is little political will, particularly in the United States, to address this complex issue. The report does note that there are some areas of the world that have made a sufficient transition to reduce greenhouse gases as needed. However, the efforts of these places are dwarfed by most other areas of the world that have not done enough to significantly reduce greenhouse gases.

The report does point out that we have the tools to make the needed changes. Certainly we have many choices in alternative energy and we also have knowledge on how to change our agricultural practices to reduce greenhouse gases. We also have the ability to store carbon naturally and through innovative technical means. What we lack is the will as well as national and global political strategies to work together to solve the crisis.

It is clear from the report that our planet will need to focus much more on mitigation in the next several decades. The failure to act on climate change will lead to real behavioral changes on our planet as seas encroach on cities, as agricultural zones change, and as whole ecosystems disappear.

Consider for a moment the social, political, and economic impacts on society in the coming years. How will your family adapt as we start to see the impacts of climate change accelerate?