Stop Global Warming

What a Leading Climate Scientist Has to Say

Published December 11, 2009 @ 11:48AM PT

Provided by Peg SkorpinskiBerkeley climate researcher Inez Fung doesn't really like politics. She's a scientist. But over her distinguished career, she has regularly waded into political battles, like when she contributed to the IPCC work that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and advised Massachusetts during its successful suit to force the EPA to count CO2 as pollution.

Next week, rather than go to Copenhagen, she will attend the American Geophysical Union's (AGU) annual conference, one of the biggest collections of Earth scientists in the world. spoke to her on Friday as she hurried to prepare.

Q: So what are you hoping for from the Copenhagen conference?

Inez Fung: What I'm hoping for I don't think will happen. I'm hoping for drastic reduction in emissions and I do not see that in the cards. So now what I'm hoping for is that they give a sense of urgency. To pretend we can do two degrees [conservative estimate for temperature rise] is a pretense. The greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere have already committed us to over two degrees. The reason [temperatures have not risen] over two degrees is that we are counting on aerosols to offset. But aerosols are bad guys. They are pollution.

Q: Do you think that enough science is getting into the policy debate?

IF: Well, the science of climate change is based on very sound physics. What we are working to improve is the details. We love these little decimal places - is it 3.1, is it 3.5? But the big message has been around and it is very robust.

Q: So what you want is a renewed sense of urgency?

IF: What I really want to hear out of Copenhagen is: Are people working on solutions? In addition to the governmental agreements for emission reduction we need action. I don't need doctors standing around discussing whether I'm going to have another fever, I need doctors in the laboratory working for new cures.

Q: What one aspect should people who are not atmospheric chemists but who are very passionate about climate change focus on?

IF: Focus on long-term reductions, which are a generational thing. But in the meantime we can work on shorter-term solutions. Shorter-term solutions would involve working on methane. Say, the methane that is leaked out of landfills. It's economically stupid to let methane into the atmosphere. That would buy us some time while we work on the longer-term solutions.

Q: Because methane is a more effective greenhouse gas?

IF: Yes, but also methane has a shorter lifetime. So whatever you don't emit will not be there. Whereas with CO2 we are doing this post-facto thing. Reducing methane is an interim solution and it's economically advantageous.

Q: Over the past five years what have been the biggest advances in climate models?

IF: In the last five years we have started to look at regional climate change with confidence. I am not talking about San Francisco versus LA; I am talking about the Southwest versus the tropics.

Q: Why are you going to AGU instead of Copenhagen?

IF: Somebody has to be doing the laboratory work, thinking about the next "cure." Personally my strength is there, not in negotiation. I'm a scientist, [laughing] compromise is not easy for me.

Q: A lot of people have been talking about the so-called "scandal" at Hadley. Do you have any comments?

IF: I look at that as a royal distraction. You know, if you say "we don't like those guys" then junk that whole data set. You still have Jim Hansen's data set, the NASA data set, we have the NOAA data set, ice melting, and we have so many other measures. So if you don't like the British version, use the NASA version.

Q: Next week is going to be very busy for you at the AGU meeting. Will you also have your ear to Copenhagen every day?

IF: I will be listening to Copenhagen every day, but trying not to have my blood pressure rise. Hoping to stay calm.

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Comments (4)

  1. Erik Vance

    Stay Tuned, Geekocrats, next week I will be reporting from the AGU Meeting in San Francisco.

    Posted by Erik Vance on 12/11/2009 @ 01:02PM PT

  2. Rev Bookburn

    Thank you. We should read what she has to say regularly.

    Posted by Rev Bookburn on 12/11/2009 @ 06:09PM PT

  3. CTYankee Aeon

    The most significant aerosol in the atmosphere is {drum roll} salt -- NaCl, every time a wave breaks on a beach or a berg or simply whitecaps in the open ocean, a tiny particle of salt is added to the atmosphere.

    3.1 what, or 3.5 what???  I think Lord Kelvin said: "...the only thing left for physicists to do is to add a few more digits of precision to what we've learned about the universe..."  That was before the discoveries that made modern civilization possible.

    But she is a scientist that can only say things are heating up...  What's her opinion as to possible solutions?  Other than the obvious and useless advice "curb emissions" 

    Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this {raises arm}
    Doctor: Don't do that.

    There really wasn't much content in the rest.  "royal distraction" was a euphemism for what??? ^_^

    The data shows the relative impact for uncontrolled emissions of hydrocarbons, and this is certainly a good place to start.  It makes good economic sense, and it makes climate sense.  If every leaking propane tank in Mexico City was repaired, the owners wouls save millions of $$$ in lost fuel costs and supress the plume of elevated temperatures that allowed scientists to suspect the millions of leaking tanks were the culprit.

    Hey Erik,

    You seem like a reasonable voice, unlike others I'v tangled with.  How would you like to do an interview with a hard-boiled denier... (your's truly)?

    I mean, it's sort of unfolding anyway...  are you game?

    Posted by CTYankee Aeon on 12/12/2009 @ 10:24AM PT

  4. Craig Nazor

    Erik, this is a great interview. I just heard Dr. Gerald North, a physicist from Texas A&M give a great lecture at UT Austin on climate change last night, and he was saying essentially the same thing. It is very important to hear from the scientists who are actually doing the research.

    Posted by Craig Nazor on 12/12/2009 @ 03:01PM PT

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Erik Vance

Erik is a professional science writer and has written for both national and international magazines and newspapers. Topics have ranged from electron beams to hamster sex. Climate change is his favorite and least favorite story. Favorite because it is vital to the health of the planet. Least favorite because to do it well, you have to dive into some of the hardest science known to man. No wonder it is so poorly understood by the public.


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