Experimenting with Climate Change

Here’s a Scientific American article about an experiment measuring the effects climate change might have on southwestern landscapes:

Experiments Suggest Grassland May Replace Forest in U.S. Southwest

I’m a natural skeptic.  I seem to have a hard time just accepting anything.  When I think about climate change, I tend to break the phenomenon into two parts, including first the observed changes in climate and second what those changes could bring.  The first part has never bothered me.  Those observations are based on a bunch of pretty simple measurements I see on the local news every night.  The other part, the part about what climate change will bring, has given me more trouble.

In conversations with friends, I have derided climate-change deniers as crazy people who accuse thermometers of having a liberal bias.  Climate is a measure of what weather can be expected in a given location at a given time.  It’s defined by temperature and rainfall amounts and the distribution of those two variables throughout the year.  Climate is measured with thermometers and rulers, essentially, and so when climate changes, the changes are based on simple observations made with those familiar tools.  There are a lot of factors that can make climate change observations more complicated, but nevertheless, climate is temperature and rainfall.  Climate change is a change in temperature and rainfall.

But what do those changes entail?  News reports tend to be about as specific as a politician who’s afraid to admit that he wants to destroy medicare so he says he doesn’t have time to talk about his plans in an interview about his plans.  I usually hear reporters talking about expectations of “more severe/extreme/cuckoo-bananas weather.”  That’s not helpful.

Scientists aren’t always helpful either.  I gave up reading an IPCC report once when I read a line about how if greenhouse gas levels stay at year 2100 levels then by the year 2300 sea levels would rise by X amount.  That’s a big assumption.  And the year 2300?  That’s the 24th Century.  When I realized that meant they were talking not about the century of “Star Trek” but about the century of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — well, you might understand why my eyes rolled.

I even heard a scientist talk about how climate-change-induced hurricanes are giving sea turtles a hard time.  Haven’t they always dealt with hurricanes?

The IPCC and sea-turtle guy might all be 100% correct.  They’re all good scientists, but that doesn’t stop what they’ve said from looking a little blurry.  Fortunately, interesting experiments like the one described in link above promise to focus the picture at least a little.  And here’s another:

Plants’ Carbon-Sinking Capacity Is Much Lower Than Thought


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