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  • Tim McGill

Why I Care About Climate Change

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Climate Crisis & COP26

I have six good reasons to be concerned about the state of our climate. They include, in no particular order, Liam, Lucas, Kenley, Jonah, Makayla & Haley. They are my four grandchildren plus two children of close friends that I would like to adopt as grandchildren if they would let me. It's their generation that could face much bigger challenges from our changing climate than we already face.

What happens the next few days in Glasgow, Scotland at COP26 is critical to their future. COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference.

Most of you know me because of my work in broadcasting but I have been a college instructor in Chicago for nearly 20 years too. Part of my course focuses on climate change but the topic seems to seep into almost every facet of my weather course. One of my favorite documentaries I show my students is "Chasing Ice". It tells the story of a man who wants to spread the message about the impact of a world that is warming the best way he knows how. James Balog installed numerous cameras in several countries to capture the changes to glaciers from climate change. It is a powerful documentary that shows a real, tangible, visible impact from climate change played out on our world's vanishing glaciers.

Here is a quote from his documentary that really hit home for me:

“When my daughters, Simone and Emily look at me 25 or 30 years from now and say 'what were you doing, when global warming was happening? And when you guys knew what was coming down the road?' I want to be able to say, 'guys, I was doing everything I knew how to do.”

James Balog

I've been aware of the warm shift in our world's climate for over 30 years. My first exposure to the idea of "global warming" came during an American Meteorological Society conference in Boulder, Colorado back in 1990. We took a field trip during the conference to NCAR, or the National Center For Atmospheric Research. They were developing and implementing weather models to simulate what the atmosphere on earth would look like in our warmer future. It was eye-opening to this meteorologist, to say the least.

A few years later I was invited along with nearly 100 other broadcast meteorologists to attend a "climate summit" hosted by then President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. The President spoke first but it was the Vice President who really helmed our meeting. It was obvious he was passionately invested in the issue of climate change.

I realize that some people reading this may tune out because I brought up the names of some politicians. The topic of climate change isn't as partisan as it used to be. There are many prominent republicans that recognize the dangers of a world that is warming (because of us) beyond our control. The first one that comes to mind for me is former California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. A group of republicans are actually now attending COP26.

Political affiliation doesn't necessarily predict one's opinion on climate change and neither does religious belief. A prominent evangelical, republican entrepreneur and meteorologist has been outspoken about the topic. Paul Douglas wrote a book called “Caring for Creation: the Evangelical's Guide to Climate Change.”

“What I’m trying to do is convince people that acknowledging climate change doesn’t make you liberal. It makes you literate.”

- Paul Douglas

He is among the vast majority of the scientific community that recognizes climate change is human-caused. A recent study showed that more than 99% of peer reviewed scientific literature agrees with that conclusion.

The warming of our planet has been relentless. September was the 441st consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th-century average. That means if you are 36-years-old or younger, you have never lived on earth when the global temperatures was below the 20th-century average.

The global surface temperature for September 2021 was 1.62° above the 20th century average of 59.0° and was the fifth warmest September in the 142-year record.

Year-to-date the January–September period was 1.49° above average. That makes it the sixth warmest such period in the 142-year record. It is virtually guaranteed that 2021 will be a top ten warm year globally. There is a greater than 99% chance it will end up on the list of the ten warmest years on record.

We are unfortunately getting used to these top ten warmest years. NASA ranked 2020 as THE warmest year on record (tied with 2016), while NOAA ranking it as the second warmest. The top 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000.

One of the goals of the COP26 climate summit is to limit our planet's warming to 3.6° Fahrenheit (2° Celsius). It is an ambitious goal. Those numbers may seem small but they are very large when talking in terms of our climate. We are already seeing some dire consequences and they will only get worse if we don't do more than what we are doing. The impacts we are experiencing right now come from about 2° Fahrenheit (1.1° Celsius) warming.

We are on track to see warming of 4.9° Fahrenheit (2.7° Celsius) warming by the end of the century.

Climate Central did an analysis of how 246 cities across our country would be locally impacted by either warming from continued emissions of greenhouse gasses or a better-case scenario with significant cuts. The range of warming in the United States could vary between 1.8° to 9° Fahrenheit (1° to 5° Celsius).

In the worst-case scenario Chicago would warm nearly 10° and in the best-case scenario our city would warm about 4° by the end of this century compared to about fifty years ago.

Last year was the 5th hottest year on record for the United States. Of the top 10 hottest years on record for our country, 6 have occurred since the year 2000. The top 5 years have all occurred since 2012.

Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters to hit our country each year have been increasing. In the 1980s we saw an average of 3 events each year but in the 2010s that number quadrupled to 12 events on average per year. 2020 set a new record with 22 billion-dollar disasters that cost a combine $99 billion in damage.

We can barely catch our breath between these billion-dollar disasters.

Climate Central reports that "the average time between billion-dollar disasters—time to help communities across the nation recover—has dropped from 82 days in the 1980s to just 18 days on average in the last five years (2016-2020)."

Some of the most rewarding work I have done lately involves spreading the word about climate change. I am a regular contributor to @Currently, a Twitter weather service. Our goal is "to provide critical weather and climate information to folks that need it, everywhere in the world, and to build communities while we're doing it".

There is a lot we can do as individuals about climate change. The countries coming together at COP26 and the agreements they forge on how we fight climate change have the potential to shape the future of our planet. They will also influence the future of the people who live on it now.

For the sake of Liam, Lucas, Kenley, Jonah, Makayla, Haley and the rest of their generation and generations to come, I am praying that politics can be put aside and real progress can be made in Scotland to begin to fix our planet's climate and keep the growing crisis from getting worse.


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