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Climate change science with Andrew Glikson

Andrew GliksonAndrew Glikson

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Matt Smith:

This would be the La Trobe University podcast. I’m your host, Matt Smith, and I'm here today with Dr. Andrew Glikson. He’s a Climate Change scientist and a Visiting Fellow at the ANU, the Australian National University. Thank you for joining me today, Andrew.

Dr. Andrew Glikson:

Yeah, it’s a pleasure.

Matt Smith:

Now, you’ve been studying climate change for a fair while, what do you think is the conclusive science about it that proves that climate change is a problem?

Dr. Andrew Glikson:

Actually, I’m an air scientist and I have been looking at the evolution of atmosphere and climates in the deep past. I’ve been looking at climate change for a number of years now. Climate change, any climate change has to arise from what we call forcings. You have to have external vectors which drive the change and that’s true for changes in the atmosphere, physics, and chemistry, the atmosphere in the ocean right from the history of the earth. In the present time, the only contenders for driving the climate change, which we are witnessing, which is now well over 1 degree since the Industrial Revolution. That's the mean global average.

Out of the greenhouse gases which the industry has emitted to the tune of more than 300 billion tonnes carbon since 1750 all of the sudden. Now, we know that solar vector, forcing vector, energy rise vector is limited to plus/minus 0.1 degree or so. But there is no other forcing which can result at what we're looking it. All kinds of fix had been invoked but they turned out to be not applicable in terms of the size.

So it is the size of carbon which results in enhanced infrared defect in terms of Boltzmann equation and process, the emission and absorption and the emission of infrared radiation by unstable molecules such as carbon dioxide, methane, water, nitric oxide, which has risen to the tune of almost under half the previous atmospheric level eventually from 280 to say 388 parts per million carbon dioxide. But when you include methane and nitric oxide, it’s much higher than this. It’s 460, which is very close to the upper limit of the environment and of the climate in which humans have developed and even large mammals for the last 30 million years or so.

Matt Smith:

So how do we know that the variable in the climate change equation is human interaction now? Was climate change always happening in our Earth's past?

Dr. Andrew Glikson:

It's always been happening but with a good understanding of the driving factors from studies of marine sediments, of the ice poles, of various oxygenized isotopes. More recently tree rings and coal deposits in coral and so on. For each change in the past, there had been factors where most of them are pretty well understood.

The change that happened since the Industrial Revolution can only be attributed to one factor. You can eliminate the other ones like I just said before all of a sudden and this rise in carbon dioxide by almost half the previous level in the atmosphere. It is both from experimental point of view like the physics and chemistry of the greenhouse gas absorption and emission and also direct observation. When you look at nature, when you look at happens in the ice poles and the ocean currents are all in agreement that it’s these 320 billion tons of carbon has pushed the levels in the atmosphere and has pushed up the levels in temperatures in mean global temperatures affecting the poles, the Polar Regions. Average temperatures have risen four or five degrees, much more than at lower latitudes.

Matt Smith:

Interactions change the rate these sort of things have occurred, but is it possible that in the same amount of time that we can counteract the damage that we’ve done?

Dr. Andrew Glikson:

You see, the rise rates of carbon dioxide are now extreme, they are two parts per million per year. It’s never been that high before even in geological time. The life or resident’s time of carbon dioxide is in the order of centuries to millennia. So you can't get rid of it. It mixes well in the atmosphere right on the air. Unlike water vapor, water vapor has residence time of 10 years so it comes and goes. Clouds form, rain falls and so it goes on but the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is well up to even tens of thousands of years and this means it applying to your question, it can’t be bought down.

Well, I would think that human technology is up to it in terms of planting fast-growing trees which are going to absorb carbon dioxide in terms of carbon char, soil char, in terms of any chemical sequestration, but it has to be a monumental project on a scale which will be backed by hundreds of billions of dollars basically you’re looking it but it has to be global. This type of activity has to occur worldwide and most urgently. And so, we have truly ran out of time for any slow mitigation efforts.

Matt Smith:

We've run out of time?

Dr. Andrew Glikson:

Well, in terms of slow mitigation like the governments are talking about 5% or 10% or 15% or 20% emission cuts over the next few decades. That’s just totally insufficient. One reason that it’s insufficient is because of the feedbacks. It’s just not carbon dioxide which is rising, it’s the response of the oceans which are emitting carbon dioxides as they warm up and the response of the dying land and vegetation.

Plus you have the effect of methane, methane is a very sensitive component. It sits in sediments, in bogs and it sits in the permafrost and at the bottom of the arctic sea. It doesn’t take one to two degrees temperature rise for methane to become unstable and be emitted and the greenhouse-forcing potential of methane is more than 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide. So here’s another major problem.

Matt Smith:

If the data are so compelling that there is a problem, how can a concept of climate change denial exist? How does that sort of thinking come about that there is not a problem?

Dr. Andrew Glikson:

There are several factors here. One is natural human denial. People, when at risk or danger exceeds a certain threshold, people find it hard to believe it, accept it, whatever it may be. Even a motorcar accident, unreasonably high change. We don't want to think about it when we take a trip. And it goes all the way to vested interest like our way of livelihood or big profits depend on the tunes of tens of billions of dollars of exports of coal. And you always find people who are prepared to tell untruths, whether they believe in the untruths or not is not always clear.

So the signs have now spoken. I mean any number of scientific papers had been published and there had been several global projects which have been summarized the evidence. Mostly the IPCC but also Climate Research Institutes. And it’s all there, all published in peer-review journals for anyone who wants to look at it. But there's a huge resistance to change as a status quo and there’s a lot of fear and there are vested interests.

Matt Smith:

What do you say that needs to be done? What do you think of the key things that would need to be done for us to move forward or for us to have any sort of hope?

Dr. Andrew Glikson:

I think the world government and of course governments have woken up to it and there are major conference going on. There was Kyoto and there was Bali conferences. Now we have Copenhagen. Governments have woken up to it but the acting on the level of a little too late. What needs to be done? Well, my view is we have reached the crisis point and the whole range of things that need to be done, it needs political will, it needs economic resources and the technical parts of it, a lot has been suggested. Certainly, the most rapid transition to alternative clean energy but also rapid downhill of carbon atmospheric carbon dioxide. I think rapid planting of CO2-absorbing plants, soil, char. There are many methods but all of them together demands to a major human effort at sequestration.

Matt Smith:

Just lastly, do you think it’s a solution that everyone can help toward?

Dr. Andrew Glikson:

Well, I think once people understand the nature of the issue and how close the danger is, everyone ought to play it. Everyone needs to contribute in some way. Whether it’s by changing a light bulb or whether it’s by taking a stand about curtailing emissions from coal, switch to electric cars, planting of trees and pressure on governments to set higher much deeper emission targets. Everything is to be done on every level. Once people realize how dire the danger is, whether I’m optimistic or pessimistic, that’s a personal angle you know, perspective.

If you’re asking me for my personal perspective, well I hope, I hope against hope that in my role in science all I can do and the best I can do is just provide evidence so that people will look at it and make a decision.

Matt Smith:

Dr. Andrew Glikson, thank you for your time today.