by Douglas L. Sisterson
I have made over 450 public outreach and school presentations about climate and weather over the past thirty years. And I am greatly concerned that despite the enormous number of scientific publications, much of the information about climate change and its impact beyond weather patterns remains obscured from the general public.
A coworker at the Argonne National Laboratory approached me about writing a book that would dispel climate-skeptic arguments without equations and technical graphs. We would bust skeptic claims using evidence-based arguments in a conversational style appropriate for the dinner table or family gatherings. And rather than just pointing out the problems, we would offer viable energy solutions! So, we embarked upon our own journey to bring you a different book about climate change. I continue working to improve public understanding of global climate change one presentation at a time, but our hope is that we can reach a much larger audience with this book.
Like everyone, I find myself overwhelmed with difficult and immediate issues (finances, health, children, aging parents, etc.) that directly affect me and my loved ones. It is hard to find the time to plan for next year, let alone the next decade, and I often assume that the right people are making the best decisions for me and my family. But decision makers are often heavily influenced by groups with huge financial incentives that benefit a very small group of people. Even the general news media have not been a reliable, balanced source for the science-based concerns about global climate change. However, I have a leg up on climate issues because I have spent nearly forty years of my professional life as a researcher studying atmospheric science.
Current scientific knowledge suggests that human-based emissions may have already altered our planet’s climate to a state that cannot be reset to pre-industrial conditions. We may already be past the point of no return. While future discoveries may be a potential game changer (witness the tremendous medical advancements in our lifetime), game changers that drastically improve the outlook now predicted by climate science will only occur when everyone—especially the general public—is on the same page regarding the urgency of this problem.
But first, we have to clearly understand the problem. Global climate change is NOT someone else’s problem on the other side of the globe! If you look closely at the environment around you now, you can witness the not-so-subtle climate disruption taking place in your neighborhood. Rather than the garden-variety thunderstorms that we used to watch calmly from our porches, tornados and hurricanes and torrential rainfalls decimate our homes and cities with increasing frequency. It’s not only weather but all things that depend on weather patterns that are changing. Longer, warmer seasons allow plants to produce pollens that result in more of us suffering from allergies. Vegetation native to our areas are dying or diseased, which threatens agriculture. Warmer winters do not kill off harmful insects and disease that threaten the health of humans and domesticated animals. These events are the results of a changing climate!
I grew up contributing, albeit unknowingly, to the disruption of the Earth’s environment. As a husband and father of three, I also understand that it is unrealistic for me and everyone else on the planet to suddenly trade in gas guzzlers, put solar panels on our roofs, windmills in our backyards, and leave a zero carbon footprint. But as a scientist, I understand the urgency to strive for this, not in the some-day but today.
I believe climate-science skepticism is a misunderstanding that really threatens to disrupt the stable and comfortable environment within our children’s lifetime. Hopefully, our short book written in non-technical jargon by scientists (with humor, no less) and with simple illustrations will contribute to public awareness. I don’t want to sit idle and hand off this climate-disruption mortgage to my kids! The fact is we are all accountable for climate change through our energy consumption and waste. If this book gives its audience pause to reflect, it will have been a worthy endeavor. And who knows—maybe someone out there will come up with a practical and affordable solution to restore our Earth’s climate to something our children and their children can live with!
Douglas L. Sisterson, a scientist specializing in observations that support climate change research, and Seth B. Darling, a scientist specializing in energy research, are the coauthors of How to Change Minds About Our Changing Climate.