Meteorologist Paul Douglas says he isn't your typical voice for action in the climate change debate.
“I'm a Christian, I'm a Republican,” he told an audience of several hundred attendees at the ninth annual Senior Expo in Mankato. “And I believe climate change is one of the greatest challenges we've ever faced. We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg. We're going to be seeing more crazy weather.”
With all the charm that made him one of Minnesota's favorite forecasters, Douglas made a case for taking climate change seriously.
Douglas, who rose to Minnesota fame after getting a job at KARE-11 in 1983, said he noticed in the 1990s that something odd was happening with the planet's weather patterns. More than ever, weather was hitting extremes in a way it never had.
“It was like Mother Nature lost her equilibrium, and now we're floundering somewhat,” he said. “This week, we're gonna go from frost on Mother's Day, to 100 degrees in two days. I've never seen that.”
He says skeptics, meanwhile, will sound their usual refrain: “They'll say, 'Where's you climate change, Paul? It's snowing in May.' To that I say, 'Can you see the entire globe from your window?'”
The problem with most skepticism is that people make judgments about climate change without having the facts, by listening to someone who doesn't have the facts (such as talk radio), or by making assumptions about global weather trends based merely on what's happening in their backyard.
Armed with facts, he says, any reasonable person must conclude that climate change not only is real, but that humans are contributing to it.
Natural weather disasters, Douglas said, have increased by a multiple of three or four times over the past few decades.
For more recent evidence, he said, look at the scale of Hurricane Sandy. That was a storm three times the size of Hurricane Katrina and drove 776,000 people from their homes on the East Coast.
“And that was only a Category 1 storm,” he said. “It was big, but what if it had been a Category 3 or Category 4 storm?”
Douglas says a bubble of high-pressure air above Greenland had been just sitting there waiting to cause trouble. Why? Increasing water temperatures caused by the melting of the polar caps produced warmer than average air. Douglas says that air, while it didn't cause the hurricane, probably made Sandy a lot worse than it would have been.
“A warmer atmosphere probably sounds pretty good to a Minnesotan,” he said. “But, when you warm up the atmosphere, you increase the amount of water vapor.”
And that causes Sandy-level trouble.
The numberof 3-inch downpours has doubled, he said, and just since 2004, there have been four so-called 1,000-year floods in Minnesota – three of which occurred in southern Minnesota.
On top of that, he said, 97 percent of the peer-reviewed and published climate change research suggests humans are contributing to the warming of the planet.
“I tell people, don't look at your thermometer. Look out at your back yard and see the things that are there now that weren't there 20 years ago,” he said.
Climate change is an opportunity to reinvent our country, he said. He called renewed focus on natural gas energy and fracking a “definite step in the right direction” because it burns half as much carbon as coal.
“But we need to put more focus on renewables,” he said. “We have the ability. What we don't have is the political will. … Kicking the can down the road and saying, 'Well our grandkids will figure it out' isn't the right answer.”