Warren Wiscombe — Global Warming: More Than an Inconvenient Truth (Fall 2018)


Good morning everyone. I have been drawn like many scientists to hot topics so in previous OLLI courses I’ve taught about a couple of hot topics: paleoclimate or the climate of the distant past, and exoplanets and their climates — which have just changed dramatically in the past 20 years — but now I’m drawn back to my roots which is global warming. I spent basically my whole forty-five year career in science in climate science. I began in 1970 before global warming was the huge topic it is today. So I watched it grow from almost nothing. I did myself research related to global warming until my retirement of several years ago and I knew most of the principal players in modern climate science. I have been drawn back partly because I feel I should share my experiences and partly because — unlike the hot topics I taught about before — this one was regarded as largely closed during the Obama era and it basically you’ve been punted from scientists over to the policy side. It’s been now punted back again and so I thought it’s worthwhile to revisit the science behind this area. My own background: I started… believe it or not ARPA funded the first large climate program in this country — you know the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Defense Department — and I was involved with that and that’s what drew me in. And later I went to the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, I taught at New York University for a while, and finally I spent the last 30 years of my career at NASA. My experience has led me to a point of view which may surprise you. I don’t minimize the eventual impact of global warming, which will be large however it may be less important in the short term than other threats. But I will also propose that global warming has a larger meaning as indicated by my course subtitle more than an inconvenient truth because it represents only the second case and a much bigger one in which humankind had to absorb the idea that we are now in many ways in control of the whole planet Earth whether we admit it or not. The first case by the way was the ozone hole. It’s a watershed era for the human race while our current civilization… whether we have a future or not depends on our taking responsibility for what we’re doing to our home. My course will cover the most salient issues in global warming. We’ll focus on the science but with excursions into the world of politics, climate skepticism, and even a little bit about fossil fuels. We’ll review the history of global warming research which amazingly goes back over 200 years. In fact it was regarded as largely a settled issue a hundred years ago that it will occur, it does occur. Then we’ll see how and why this subject exploded in the 1980s, who organized the campaign against climate science and their motivations, proposals for human management of the climate which is also called geoengineering, and finally — well not finally– but how research into past climates has iluminated our present and future climates. So I’m bringing in a little material from my previous course on paleoclimate. Then we’ll finish with recent speculations which are really rather new to the human race about the long-term future of climate and life itself on planet Earth. So join me on Monday afternoons this session. I promise it’ll be fun and we’ll have a lot of discussions. I expect to get a lot of questions. Please look at the syllabus if you’re registering for the course on the OLLI website because as a result of discussions with the OLLI management we’ve come to the realization that science courses are a little different than courses on say the movie Casablanca where you can just show up and gain a hundred percent knowledge and information. I’ll need you to somewhat brush up on a few basic areas of science you feel weak in and those areas are listed in the syllabus and they’re important for the course. So thank you.

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