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The good and the bad sides of climate change

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11th-Jan-2017       
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John Abraham :
(From previous issue)
Terrible flooding the UK, Myanmar, Argentina, Indonesia, Spain, and Egypt, and others. There have been simultaneous flooding and heat waves in Australia, crazy hot weather in India and the Middle East.
And typhoons and hurricanes are getting stronger because of climate change. As we warm the planet and its oceans, there is more energy available to fuel these hurricanes. According to expert Jeff Masters, 2016 saw the strongest storms ever observed in two regions. We also witnessed seven Category 5 storms, which is a huge number. Among typhoons that hit land, two of the top five occurred this year. These listed weather events, which are increasing, have been predicted to be an outcome of global warming. The scientists making these predictions got it right.
One of the two events in this category should come as no surprise - the election of Donald Trump. While I continue to hold out hope that Trump will take climate change seriously, he is surrounding himself with people who are not scientists - rather, they are advocates for the fossil fuel industry. Many have histories of not only denying the science but working to undermine the science and the scientists who study climate change. There is very little evidence that Trump or his administration will take climate change seriously.
However, there are rumors Trump's daughter may be more understanding of science. There is also the possibility that Trump will realize he is in a powerful position, a Republican President with a Republican Congress. If he realizes the economic and social peril that climate change poses, he may take it upon himself to be a savior of sort for the world. If, on the other-hand, he kills climate funding, pulls us out of our international agreements, and goes backwards on our own emission reductions, we will see a devastating effect for our climate and a probable rise in energy prices. It would be so ironic if, for instance, energy prices are higher in four years than they are now. The second ugly event is the continuation of the ubiquitous misinformation on climate change. With the reduction of responsible and professional staff and organizations, news has been abdicated to second-rate non-reporters. Some examples are David Rose from the UK who writes for The Mail on Sunday. In November he wrote an article wherein he claimed that the recent record temperatures were a result of El Niño, not global warming. His fake news article was embarrassingly wrong. You might have thought Mr. Rose was a climate scientist by reading his article, but he ignored 7 out of 8 climate records, he focused on a portion of the atmosphere and threw out out most of the warming data, he cherry picked his data set, ignored records set without El Niño, and he omitted the entirety of the Earth's oceans in order to get his result - and he was still wrong. But, when articles appear in newspapers, even ones like The Mail, they have a veneer of credibility. Simply put, the reason 2014, then 2015, and now 2016 are all-time records is that we have emitted heat trapping gases. Rose is full of baloney. But misinformation wasn't limited to the UK, it had its normal huge presence in the US. In the Wall Street Journal, contrarian Roger Pielke Jr. published an article where he described himself as a climate heretic. His name might be familiar as a former writer for Nate Silver's 538 blog before they rapidly parted ways. Pielke claims that he was attacked by "thought police in journal, activities groups funded by billionaires, and the White House".
What Pielke didn't tell his readers is that he threatened colleagues who dared to confront his faulty science (For which Nate Silver apologized). He also wrote misleading pieces that discussed tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes as though they were weather events (or at the very least, he failed to distinguish the difference to his readers). They are not weather events. Roger Pielke Jr's problems were of his own making by poor science and shoddy professionalism. There are many other examples including those of second rate scientists or non-scientists finding high-profile media venues to spin their fantasies. It has become harder for readers to discern the real from the fake, the low from the high quality, the good from the fodder. And this issue brings me to the end, and my hope for 2017.
After this year of fake news in US politics and elsewhere, I am hopeful that consumers of news will become much more discerning. I am hopeful that people who were duped this year will have higher standards next year. I hope that the thirst for reputable news and responsible sources will revitalize news media in the US. In particular, I hope that we see a resurgence in real reporters. People who have a professional obligation to get things right. People who live and die by their reputations and therefore cultivate those reputations. I understand that the Washington Post is actually hiring news reporters. This is unheard of in US print media but I hope it is a harbinger of things to come.
If news consumers ask "where is this information coming from?" "Is it reputable?" "Can I double-check this article?" "What conflicts of influence might be present with this reporter of news?" Then, 2017 will be a glorious year and set us on a path of recovery. I am also hopeful that the economic position of renewable energy continues to improve. If so, the president of the USA won't matter. We will be on a path to a cleaner safer world just based on unstoppable economics.
Here's to 2017!

(Dr John Abraham is a professor of thermal sciences. He researches in climate monitoring and renewable energy generation for the developing world. His energy development work has extended to Africa, South America and Asia).

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