Friday, October 10, 2014

Fidley Watch: A Gentle Breeze

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

As many as 350 thousand people, emitting as much as 225 metric tons per day of carbon dioxide, converged on New York City late last month to take part in the People’s Climate March, protesting carbon dioxide and its terrible effects on the planet.

Among those present were climate activist and actor Leonardo DiCaprio and climate alarmist and former US Vice President Al Gore, who arrived separately by private jet.

Also on-hand were billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer from California, US Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland. The peaceful protest snarled traffic and left thousands of pounds of trash in its wake.

Speaking at a nearby conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry likened the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, at levels with which he is not comfortable, to the threats of Ebola in West Africa and Islamic extremists in the Middle East, saying global warming “…has even greater longer-term consequences that can cost hundreds of billions, trillions of dollars, lives, and the security of the world.”

You don’t have to take his word for it, Kerry said, or Al Gore’s. “You can just wake up pretty much any day and listen to Mother Nature, who is screaming at us about it.”

Well, it is an election year, after all.

Meanwhile, out West, cooler heads prevail. A study on the effects of all those protesters breathing carbon dioxide on our screaming earth has determined it’s really only natural. According to the new NOAA-sponsored study by two former University of Washington scientists, the rise in temperatures along the West Coast over the past century is almost entirely due to naturally occurring environmental forces, not human emissions of greenhouse gases.

Nate Mantua, now with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center, and Jim Johnstone, formerly with the UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans, published the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study says wind – specifically natural, wind-driven climate patterns in the Pacific Ocean, such as El NiƱo and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation – is responsible for more than 80 percent of the warming from Northern California to the Pacific Northwest.

Changes in ocean circulation as a result of weaker winds were the main cause of about 1 degree Fahrenheit of warming in the northeast Pacific Ocean and nearby coastal land between 1900 and 2012, according to the analysis of ocean and air temperatures over that time.

The authors determined that those temperatures would have been different if global warming had been the most powerful influence on land and sea temperatures. Most of the warming in the region occurred before 1940, when greenhouse gas concentrations were lower and winds were weaker, the study found. In contrast, winds have strengthened since 1980 and coastal ocean cooled, even as the rise in greenhouse gases has accelerated.

“It’s a simple story, but the results are very surprising: We do not see a human hand in the warming of the West Coast,” said co-author Nate Mantua. “That is taking people by surprise, and may generate some blowback.”

Blowback indeed. While most of us aren’t surprised at the findings, it remains to be seen how this new information will affect the maritime industry and the millions (or billions) of dollars it spends annually in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint. To be sure, the reduction of pollutants is an important and worthy goal, but only if those pollutants are actually known to be hazardous.

It turns out, then, that carbon dioxide, in spite of having been classed as a hazard to human health by the Environmental Protection Agency, probably isn’t as bad as Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore and John Kerry might think. The concern over the effects of man-caused carbon dioxide may turn out to be a tempest in a teapot compared to what Mother Nature can throw at us all by herself.