by MATT MOLINAR//Associate Editor
Atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe has taken it upon herself to gather data and analyze the patterns of the weather in order to prove global warming.
Hayhoe, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University, spends her time traveling the world studying climate change and recently wrote and produced a PBS short series titled, “Global Weirding: Climate, Politics and Religion” that aired in September of 2016. She is also a member of Time Magazine’s top 100 Most Influential People and has received numerous awards recognizing her contribution to climate research.
While enrolled in a course during her undergraduate years in college as an astrophysics major, Hayhoe became interested in climate change because it also involved physics.
“So I took this class, and I was completely shocked to realize that, number one, it was all physics, and I also had no idea how urgent it was,” Hayhoe told the Plainsman Press in a recent interview. “It’s seriously affecting poor people today. I grew up as a missionary in South America, so I had friends who lived in houses made of bamboo and mud, and I know what happens when it rains there. How could I not help work on this when it’s affecting so many people today?”
On Feb. 22, Hayhoe gave a lecture about climate change’s causes and effects to students in the Science Building on the Levelland campus at South Plains College. She began by asking questions about the weather we experience in West Texas and how the variances of the weather in between a small number of days can have a wide range.
“If you live in Lubbock or Levelland, you know that our weather can dramatically vary,” Hayhoe said. “You guys remember when it was 90 degrees the other day. And we’re probably going to have snow, or at least one ice storm, before April.”
Hayhoe says that if you look at the weather patterns of Lubbock from the past five years, there have been extreme drought, fire hazard weather and large dust storms during one year, and extreme flooding and blizzards the next year.
“So why does it matter if things are changing long term?” Hayhoe asked the audience. “Even though we have these highs and lows, and wet and dry periods, society has this idea that it all averages out in the end. Farmers have bad years and good years, but it’s all going to average out in the end.”
Hayhoe says the state water plan is based on the assumption that 1950 was the drought record, and a drought will never be as dry as the drought of 1950.
Hayhoe says the question she gets most between November and April is, “It’s freezing outside; where is global warming now?”
“The reality is if you say that what’s happening right here in this one time in this one place means that the entire world isn’t changing, it’s as if you are on the Titanic and you said, ‘Well, the Titanic can’t be sinking, because my end just went 200 feet in the air.’ The big picture is that it’s going down, even if part of it is going up.”
Hayhoe says one main reason people oppose renewable energy is because humans don’t like change.
“People throw out these arguments that aren’t real arguments,” she told the Plainsman Press. “They’re what I think of as smokescreens to their real objection that’s just, ‘It’s new, and I don’t like it.’ Opposers say wind turbines kill birds, which they do. But when you compare that number to the amount of birds killed by cell phone towers, those kill 100 times more birds. And domestic cats kill one thousand times more birds.”
Hayhoe explained that if you analyze the long-term data for temperature, you see that every season Texas’ average temperature has been climbing since the 1950s. She continued her explanation with another visual aide showing the climbing average temperature of Texas during the course of 60 years.
“If you look at the entire United States over the past 100 years, you can see that different parts have warmed more than others,” she explained. “The West and North have warmed more than the Southeast. And that’s just looking at the temperature.”
According to Hayhoe, in 2015, the United States broke its record for the hottest year and surpassed it again in 2016. She says if she were to bet money on 2017 breaking the record again, she would bet on it not breaking the record, because of the patterns the temperatures have created in the past 60 years.
Hayhoe says that taking a look at the physical changes of the earth during the past few decades reveals more proof of a warming planet.
“We see evidence of a warming planet up in the Arctic, where what used to be permanently frozen ground is now thawing,” she said. “In Australia, heat waves have gotten so severe that around three years ago, the Australian Bureau of meteorology had to add a new color to their temperature map. It’s 129 degrees Fahrenheit. If you look around the world, we see there are 26,500 indicators of a warming planet.”
Hayhoe went on to explain that in order to find out what exactly is causing global warming, you have to rule out any natural causes first.
According to Hayhoe, the sun’s energy goes through a cycle when there are times of high energy, and times of low energy. She says that the only way the sun could be causing the planet to become warmer is if the energy is increasing.
“The energy of the sun was going up,” Hayhoe explained. “But only until about the 1960s. After that, it was actually going down at the very time the temperature of our Earth is increasing. So for the last 50 years or so, the Earth’s temperature and the sun’s energy have been going in completely opposite directions. So it can’t be the sun that is causing the warming. We should be getting cooler.”
Hayhoe then explained one cycle that many use to attempt to disprove global warming, the same cycle that created the ice age. This cycle changes the shape of Earth’s orbit, shifting from an elliptical shape to a more circular shape.
“So aren’t we just getting warmer from the last ice age?” Hayhoe asked the audience. “Well, if you look at the last 6,000 years of the Earth’s history, the answer to that is no.”
She explained that the warming from our last ice aged reached its peak more than 6,000 years ago, and Earth is simply “sliding into the next ice age.” According to geological cycles, the planet should be heading into it’s next ice age.
“We were supposed to be heading into another ice age,” Hayhoe said. “But something happened.”
Hayhoe says that as the temperature rises, we see the same rise in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. She explained that when humans began to dig coal and burn it is when the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere began to rise.
“Shortly after we began burning it, we learned that this stuff produces carbon dioxide,” she added. “It matters, because our planet already has a natural blanket trapping in gasses. Without this natural blanket, there would be no life on Earth. The problem is by burning gas and coal, we are creating another blanket on top of the one we already have.”
Hayhoe says the reason she cares about a warming planet is because it exacerbates the risks we already face today
“If we look over the last 25 years and you add up all the natural disasters in the United States, there’s one state that has more weather and climate risks than any other state – Texas,” Hayhoe explained. “Texas experiences floods, hurricanes, droughts, hailstorms, blizzards, haboobs, and tornados. In a warmer world, that variability is actually increasing these natural risks.”
According to Hayhoe, warmer water takes up more space. She says that the reason the sea level has been rising twice as fast as it was 30 years ago is because the warming waters have caused land-based ice to begin melting.
“Two thirds of the world’s largest cities are within a few feet of sea level,” Hayhoe explained. “You can’t pick up the entire city of Miami and move it. With seven billion people on the planet, we can’t just pick up and move.”
Hayhoe advises that climate needs to be factored into future planning and figure out how to get energy from different sources. She says that the solution is not to go back to the Middle Ages, but to begin innovating and finding new methods of energy production.
“Fort Hood, one of the biggest Army installations in the U.S, just signed a new electricity contract for the cheapest rate you can get,” she said. “That cheap energy came from wind and solar energy. By signing this contract, they are going to save taxpayers $168 million. Did you know we have enough wind energy in Texas to supply the entire country?”
Hayhoe says that the simplest thing you can do about global warming is to talk about it. She says the biggest thing we are not doing is talking about climate change.
“There’s awesome benefits that come with this stuff,” Hayhoe added. “What if climate change is a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing? I think that would still be awesome.”
[Photo by TOVI OYERVIDEZ/PLAINSMAN PRESS]