This has been one tough summer for heated rhetoric over global warming. Foreign Policy published an article with the subtitle, “It’s only a matter of time until major powers try to stop climate change by any means necessary.” One plot line is that Brazil is clear cutting the Amazon at an alarming rate, and that rain forest is critical to the world’s balance of nature. Then the Minneapolis City Council threw down the gauntlet; voting to outlaw drive-thru windows on new buildings to reduce needless vehicle emissions from cars idling in line. The original story said Minneapolis was the first city in America to do this, but later had to admit San Luis Obispo in California has had the same ordinance on the books for a generation.
But as this summer goes, which stories do you remember the most? That large parts of Europe had a massive heat wave that lasted the better part of a week, or the part about DFW’s having the latest arrival of a 100-degree day since 1989? Does anyone at all remember that just three months ago, California reported that May delivered a record snowfall for the Mammoth Mountain region in the Sierras ― 28 inches of new snowfall and a total of 59.5 feet for the season? That’s right, the ski lodge was still open in July. Or that an LA Times column of February 28 this year pointed out that, for the first time in 132 years of record keeping, Los Angeles never once reached 70 degrees in February?
Come to think of it, does anyone remember that California was in a dire drought just a few years ago, with many lakes near collapse? So much water was being drained from West Coast aquifers that ground level was actually sinking in many areas. Remember that?
That is the “funny” part of reporting on climate change. When California was deep in drought, the scientists unanimously blamed climate change. But when the rains and snows returned, and with a vengeance, the same group scornfully disclaimed, “That’s just weather.” Much in the same way, that super-cool LA February was dismissed as nothing more than a weather event, but when a heat wave hit Europe this summer, now THAT was climate change.
This January Fox News covered a column in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters, quoting NASA officials which concluded, “Climate change could cause substantial increase in extreme storms.” This resembles the October 5, 2016, Guardian story predicting that hurricanes will worsen as the planet warms. Apparently neither author, or NASA for that matter, remembers the ABC News coverage from May 13, 2015, when NASA admitted that no category 3 or higher hurricane had hit the United States in the previous nine years ― the all-time record time lapse between major storms. How could that be with global warming? -By the way, the number of F3 and higher tornadoes peaked in 1974.
Let’s clear up one point right now. The climate has changed over the past few hundred years, and even more so over the past 40. For those who remember the local winters of the late Seventies to 1983, we had some truly brutal ice storms; those seem to be a thing of the past today ― extremely rare, anyway. Most of us in North Texas would consider that a good thing. But it does seem that we are badly in need of a Fact Check page for climatologists’ predictions, or statements, the same way we fact check politicians in America.
After all, it was just this year that LA was hit by record cool weather in the winter followed by record snowfalls in the Sierras, but those weren’t international headline stories like the heat wave in Europe. But even here fact checking and perspective are sorely needed. For example, the Evening Standard of London published a column reminding everyone that the heat wave that hit England in 1976 was just as bad as anything that’s happened in recent history. Just as you have to travel back to June 23 through August 8, 1980 when we witnessed 42 consecutive days of temperatures of 100 or higher, the longest heat wave Dallas Fort Worth has ever had.
The LA Times reported that September 27, 2010, was the hottest day ever recorded in that city, 113degrees, but it didn’t take long to find out Woodland Hills hit 119 on July 22, 2006; and my hometown of Burbank hit 113 degrees on September 12 of 1971. In fact, other newspaper columns in the past also remembered brutal early September temperatures across the Los Angeles Basin starting at 110 degrees and staying above 100 for seven days. The problem is, that happened in 1955.
Again, climate change is real, and the long term science is beyond question. What is most disturbing is that, when one fact-checks the current stories and points out the discrepancies in previous reporting or outright distortion of facts, one is labeled a denier and obviously related to the church elders who slammed Galileo centuries ago.
Another case in point, in 2015 the New York Times reported, as did many other publications, about a 15-16 year pause in global warming. That was the year that NOAA claimed new data proved that tidbit was untrue. Ultimately NOAA was changing where it collected its data from so it could make the charge that temperatures did not remain static, but had been rising all along. When confronted with that, NOAA’s Thomas Karl said, “Science is always working to improve.”
The story also pointed out that other climatologists were in no hurry to embrace NOAA’s new scientific adjustments. But just the year before even Nature magazine had carried a banner story headlined “Climate Change: The Case of the Missing Heat.”
You see, I’ve kept so many of these articles and columns over the years. And every time a new one is published, I go researching to see if today’s “worst ever facts” are even true. I find it very troubling that LA has its coolest February on record and the most snow in May in the Sierras, and climate scientists say, “You twit, that’s just weather, not climate.” But the exact same group claim that a week-long heat wave in Europe is proof positive of global warming. Even in the case when one fact is true, such as the massive disappearance of arctic pack ice in the summer of 2012, apparently nobody read or remembered the Guardian newspaper on September 8, 2013, which reported that a 29 percent increase in northern ice returned things to near normal.
In reality, all of the issues above are nothing more than weather events. We just love to call the worst of them proof of climate change. The fact that forty years ago DFW often had horrendous winter ice storms on a regular basis and in the past 30 years less than a handful, that’s climate change. That’s good for us. Not so much if it happens above the Arctic Circle.
We Have the Technology
In the 46 years I’ve been around the auto industry, we have managed to increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles nearly 250 percent, while simultaneously lowering emissions to the point some vehicles are virtually clean. During that time, highway fatalities per one hundred million miles driven have fallen from 4.12 to just 1.16, a 71.8 percent drop. Of course the one thing that did happen every time the government demanded higher fuel efficiencies, or vehicles be made safer, was a massive corporate outcry from automakers worldwide; often automobile owners joined in their outrage, over the demands to make the newest, best technologies standard. All cried it couldn’t be done, it would cost so much cars would be unaffordable ― and for numerous other unstated reasons it was flat out impossible without destroying the automotive industry. Sound familiar?
Yet one has to wonder whether today’s SUV and truck craze would be a reality if we didn’t have fairly large crossovers capable of 30 miles per gallon highway, or if gasoline were still $4 a gallon. Come to think of it, one wonders how big the new car market would be if cars were no safer than they were back in 1973. And what would America’s smog look like now if emission control devices hadn’t been invented and put onto cars over the past 50 years?
The automobile industry is proof positive that a better outcome is always possible. In fact, it’s desirable. It helped end the smog crisis that enveloped most major cities in the Sixties and Seventies; it saved countless lives with safer vehicles; and it helped conserve fossil fuels, at least on a per car basis ― although everyone’s driving 80 miles an hour diminishes that accomplishment. All while we were hearing that those things could not be accomplished in a reasonable time frame or cost. Yet it all came to pass and actually saved the auto industry by being far sighted. Because today, even the customers who fought the future now demand all of those features and improvements for their new car purchase.
I suspect the same will happen regarding the long-term outlook for the climate.
Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, bestowed by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, and hosts the top-rated talk show, Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF AM. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org