(Written October 2007)
I've had friends, family, or just about anybody ask me about my position on Human Caused Global Warming (referred to as global warming in the rest of this page) the last few years. So here it is.
First, my education: I have a B.S. in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington. 1991. I forecast for two years in the private sector and now have worked in Portland television for about 14 years. Let me point out that I am NOT a climate expert and publish no climate studies. But as a meteorologist I deal closely with climate-related issues regularly.
I know meteorologists have a wide range of positions on the issue. At one end, let's say a "10", you have those who believe the end of the world is just about upon us and global warming will be the undoing of humanity. At the other end, let's say a "1", those that believe it's all a big conspiracy and there is no such thing as global warming (human-caused or not). You'd have to put me at about a 6 or 7. I find it hard to believe that the hundreds (or thousands) of climate scientists that make up the IPCC, National Academies of Sciences or other working groups are all wrong when I look at the information available out there. If anything the case for global warming has become stronger in the last 5-10 years, not weaker. Is it a "for sure" thing? Nope, but neither is evolution, although we generally accept that theory (in one form or another).
The American Meteorological Society just issued it's statement on Climate Change earlier this year. Very good, reasonable reading here: AMS Statement on Climate Change
I really like what they say in the final remarks here:
"Despite the uncertainties noted above, there is adequate evidence from observations and interpretations of climate simulations to conclude that the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; that humans have significantly contributed to this change; and that further climate change will continue to have important impacts on human societies, on economies, on ecosystems, and on wildlife through the 21st century and beyond. Focusing on the next 30 years, convergence among emission scenarios and model results suggest strongly that increasing air temperatures will reduce snowpack, shift snowmelt timing, reduce crop production and rangeland fertility, and cause continued melting of the ice caps and sea level rise."
and especially this one:
" ...Some continued climate change is inevitable, and the policy debate should also consider the best ways to adapt to climate change. Prudence dictates extreme care in managing our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life."
If you're looking for more information on global climate change, I would suggest avoiding any political sites. That's from either side of the "aisle". Also avoid most media sites as they often have agendas. I'm not referring to radio or TV station web sites, I mean opinion sites such as editorials and talk show sites. One that I use from time to time is Real Climate . So far I haven't been able to detect much of any bias, plus it's science discussion with no political or policy discussion by scientists themselves. I feel strongly that scientists should present the facts/outcomes only, not suggest (or debunk) policy. That drives me nuts when I hear them doing that.
Here are answers to a few questions that people have asked me the last few years:
Q. Has management at FOX12 or previous T.V. stations ever pressured you to "push" global warming or ignore it? I know this will be hard to believe for some of you, but I don't think I have ever had a discussion about this subject with news management! And there has never been pressure (or even a conversation) to do either.
Q. Why do you so rarely talk about it in your evening weathercasts? Generally viewers tune in for the forecast for the next 7 Days, along with some sort of perspective or "story" in the weathercast (what's happening with the weather). I have a good feeling that viewers at the end of their day don't want a monologue about global warming. And to be honest, tv news thrives on neat pictures/video and compelling stories. Global warming is a slow-moving phenomenon that rarely presents any of those elements. So, the only way I would mention it during a newscast would be it's effects on the local area. For example, when the Palmer Snowfield became too small for Timberline to continue operating on early this Fall. As far as I know, that's the first time it has happened up there. That would have been a great moment to say "an increasing decline of the late summer snowpack on Mt. Hood is consistent with what we would expect to see in the future from global warming." But, you will never hear me tie just one weather event (Katrina) to global warming, that's not possible.
Q. What do you think of the "skeptics" or "contrarians"? I disagree with them, some more than others of course. Some are only "skeptics" really because they are skeptical that we can do anything about the effects of global warming. Some of them are great people or even friends. George Taylor is probably Oregon's most well-known skeptic, and I know he's the nicest guy on the planet. Others appear to be contrary for political or personal reasons. It does seem that vested interests in the "status quo" use them to advance their own agendas.
Q. How about the constant politicization? I hate it. I refuse to discuss global warming in the context of liberal vs. conservative or political parties. For the record, I'm happy to say I don't belong to ANY political party.
Q. What would make you shift your opinion significantly? A 10-20 year period of significantly cooler global temperatures or a pile of studies that say it's not happening as expected. I reserve the right to change my opinion of course.
Mark Nelsen - Chief Meteorologist - FOX12
(UPDATE: FEBRUARY 2012)
It’s been almost 5 years since I typed the thoughts above; so has my thinking changed? No, not significantly. That’s because we haven’t seen either of the two effects I mention in the last question above. I see A LOT of misinformation and/or cherry-picking of data on both sides, especially those not convinced of global warming. I get so tired of that.
In these 4.5 years I don’t think I’ve mentioned it once on television. In fact just a week ago I had a discussion with my news director about the “Forecast the Facts” group going after meteorologists who aren’t lining up “correctly” behind human-caused global warming. She more or less just shrugged. About the response I expected.
Between the economy, violence across our planet, shrinking energy supplies, and overpopulation, I don’t think global warming (at least at this moment) is one of the major and pressing issues of our time either in the USA or Worldwide.
The latest forecast of a possible “Grand Minimum” in solar activity the next 20+ years is fascinating. Could it be enough to cool us or at least cancel out future warming? I don’t think anyone REALLY knows; another good reason not to expend too much energy worrying or arguing about it.
(2nd UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 2013)
Well, two things finally happened. First, I mentioned global warming on-air (8pm PDX-TV, September 27th, 2013) for the first time in about 4 years. Second, a local meteorologist and skeptic happened to be watching. Then the pile of nasty and harassing emails started adding up…
Some context; we ran a quick story about the IPCC’s latest report. Weather was next and I popped up on the screen.
What did I say? First I made a joke, saying this weekend’s storms “were caused by global warming”…silence, then said “just kidding” (I was). Then I said something very close to, or these exact words “if we do have a warming world, which we THINK we do, then we would tend to see more extreme weather events”. I was referring to a paper presented last summer (and reported all over the web), pointing out that the north Pacific Jet is about 15% weaker in the past 10 years or so, which the authors think may lead to more meridional flow. That’s more of a north/south orientation in the jet or upper level flow. That’s also more “flipping around” of the upper level flow which can tend to leave patterns more stagnant with stronger ridges and deeper troughs. So a weaker jet stream could lead to more cold weather or snow in isolated spots. Or more sunshine and droughts in others. Or more spots of flooding otherwise. The reasoning seemed quite sound to me. But once again, let me point out I’m not a climate scientist, and most people that send me nasty emails aren’t either.
Because of that, I have probably been labelled a “global warming alarmist”. What a toxic environment it is out there. Of course they couldn’t see me rolling my eyes (off-camera) at the 0.5 degree to 9 degree temperature change range forecast by the IPCC report. I said to my co-anchor something along the lines of “the lower end of that would be nothing to even worry about”. And I’ve accepted that we’ve pumped so much CO2 into the atmosphere now that it’s just a grand human experiment in process. The ball is rolling and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. One more reason that I don’t generally talk about it on-air and figure we have much larger problems (see above). Not sure how that makes me an “alarmist”.
I was also harassed last spring with a bunch of emails from pro-AGW folks. They wanted to know why I don’t talk about it on-air. They all appeared to come from some sort of form letter. Most likely I was targeted by someone at Forecast the Facts. Wow…everyone hates me now, I must be doing a good job eh?
Of course the “hiatus” in warming is very interesting...very little warming since around 1998. If that continues for another 10 years, then the whole AGW theory has a problem doesn’t it?