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Podcast: Tough Talk on the Hard Science of Climate Change

Podcast: Tough Talk on the Hard Science of Climate Change
Ray Orbach, director of the Energy Institute, breaks down the science, and the politics of the science, on climate change. Ray Orbach Talks Climate Change by djopps


Daniel Oppenheimer: Hi, and welcome to the inaugural podcast of the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. I'm Daniel Oppenheimer, a writer and editor for the college. In today's podcast you'll hear an excerpt of an interview I did recently with Ray Orbach.

Orbach is the director of the Energy Institute here at UT Austin. Before that he was undersecretary for science in the Bush administration, and before that he was, among other things, a theoretical and experimental physicist and the chancellor of the University of California Riverside.

In this four minute clip, Orbach breaks down for me what we know about climate change, which is basically that it's happening, it's happening quickly, and the consequences of it are likely to be severe, even for wealthy nations like the united states. The two reports he mentions are from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and from the National Academy of Sciences.

Just to give you a sense of why I picked this clip from this interview, of all the  interviews I do and all the clips that could hypothetically be excerpted from them, there are three reasons. One is that it's nice to have such a concise, direct summation of what the state of the science is about climate change. Reason number two is that it's an issue that's often highly politicized (maybe it's always very politicized), and I think it's valuable to have somebody llike Orbach, whose political service was in the Bush administration, as an expert on climate change. And the third reason why I like this clip is because Orbach just has a kind of wonderful, gravelly, authoritative voice, and when you hear him talking abaout things like how large swaths of the country are going to just disappear into the ocean, it's kind of frightening and neat in this cinematic way i liked. So for all those reasons, I hope you enjoy. hear it is.

Ray Orbach: In the first report, they've looked at global temperatures and they had ten different things to look at—the average temperature, the sea ice, all the things there in that document —and all ten point in the same direction, namely to substantial global warming.

Then they did a study, and what they found was that the average temperature in the decade of the 1980s was the highest ever on record. Then they looked at the decade of the '90s, and the average temperature was higher than the average temperature in the 80s, and every year in the 1990s was hotter than the average temperature of the ‘80s. The reason they just published this is that they’ve now completed the 2000-2009 study, and the average temperature of 2000 to 2009 is greater than the average temp of the 1990s, and every year in the 2000-2009 is hotter than the average of the 1990s.

Dr. Ray Orbach is the director of the Energy Institute at UT Austin. Prior to that he was undersecretary for science in the Bush administration.

I don't know how much more incontrovertible evidence one could require, but the earth is getting warmer, and it’s getting warmer at a substantial rate.

The second paper is from the National Academy of Sciences. The argument is that what we're seeing now, this increase from 1980, is a consequence of all those slow responses of the globe ever since the industrial revolution. And guess what? That was almost 200 years ago. So what we put in now will do the same thing. You combine those two articles and it scares the hell out of you, bluntly. And the consequences are really severe.

Weather changes will be more and more dramatic as the earth warms. On top of that our style of life is going to change. We're going to lose a lot of beach. The sea level will rise at what people are now calculating—I thought it was horrible at a meter —now they're talking about three meters. That’s nine feet. We're going to lose a lot of land. You've got the lowlands, like the ones that were injured by the oil spill in Louisiana. They're gone. We’re talking about the Keys and half of Florida. It's gone. And okay, people can move, and they'll figure out something else, but a sea level rise of that magnitude is quite serious.

The difficulty is that it's not tomorrow. It's a decade from now, two decades from now, and it's rare that populations will think in the long term. We're talking about a time period that’s so far away, but it’s not far away. But it appears to be so far away that, well, we don’t have to worry about it now.

People have argued that it's a political issue, that scientists have politicized it. But when 300 scientists from 38 countries all agree, you can ignore it and claim that it's scientific bias, but where do you go if you have cancer? You go to the best doctor you can find. Well your climate, what do you do? You go to the best people you have, and they're all singing the same tune.
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Sunday, 05 July 2020

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