The podcast of the University of Colorado Consortium for Climate Change and Health
Episode 3: Climate Science 101, Part 3
Jake and Cam continue their crash course in climate science with Dr. Kris Karnauskas.
Dr. Karnauskas earned his Ph.D. in atmospheric and oceanic sciences from the University of Maryland-College Park followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in Ocean and Climate Physics at Columbia University. He is currently a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, an Associate Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, a member of the CU Consortium for Climate Change and Health, and a father of two kids.
To kick off our third and final climate science primer segment, Dr. Karnauskas talks about some of his research on small island nations.
One of the injustices inherent in global climate change is the fact that many of the nations least responsible (i.e. small island nations) for planet-harming emissions will be most affected by climate change. Unfortunately, some of the big climate reports lack the resolution to project the changes that will occur on small island nations. Some of these changes may lead to water insecurity for communities on these islands. On the left, Karnauskas et al. deploy climate models to illustrate the aridity change index (ACI, which basically captures future rainfall and evaporation predictions and combines them into a measure of aridity. Darker shades of red reflect worse degrees of fresh water stress.) for several island regions in 2050 (upper left) and 2090 (lower left). The original article is linked in the show notes.
Next, Dr. Karnauskas shared a few of his thoughts on what we can do to reduce our emissions and mitigate global climate change. To put it simply, we are past the point at which little things (like turning out the lights) are going to make a meaningful difference. Rather, we need sweeping, unprecedented global cooperation and transformation of our energy systems if we want to keep the worst effects of climate change at bay. While not specifically addressed in this interview, check out the schematic of low/zero-carbon energy systems below, adapted from a review (available in the shownotes) by Davis et al. (2018):
Dr. Karnauskas spoke about geoengineering, which refers to large-scale technological manipulation of the global environment to reverse some of the effects of climate change. While these ideas–including injecting sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to cool the earth–might sound like easy fixes, they do not address the root problem (our production of greenhouse gases) and may make the problem more insurmountable down the road.
In the final minutes of our climate science primer, we asked Dr. Karnauskas if he would like to inoculate the lay listener against again common climate change myths. He mentioned the circulating misconception stating that climate scientists might not agree on global warming. This is demonstrably false–nearly 100% of actively publishing climate scientists believe in climate change, and believe that it is largely driven by human activities. A nice review of the myth and the true “consensus on consensus” is available in a paper by Cook et al. (2016), which is linked here and in the shownotes.
To close out our discussion, he acknowledged that there are a lot of climate change myths out there, and that when it comes to combatting the spread of this misinformation, “it’s not really a fair fight”. It is tough for scientists–who strive to remain objective and follow the evidence–to dispel myths spread by lobbyists and industry “hired guns”. An overview of this topic appeared in early 2019 in the journal Nature–check it out in the shownotes if it interests you.
background readings and resources for the interested listener: