Clean Energy Rationale: It’s The Climate, Stupid

The Obama administration’s main argument for backing renewable energy development has been that doing so will create jobs in a job-squeezed economy. Second on the list of rationales: It could bring the nation “energy security,” that squishy concept talked about by presidents dating back to Richard Nixon.

But now, with new evidence suggesting the climate could be in for more significant warming than scientists had hoped – evidence that comes right on the heels of the eye-opening Hurricane Sandy disaster, no less – it’ll be interesting to see if the argument shifts toward the stark concept of saving the planet.

image via Wikimedia Commons/Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen/U.S. Air Force/New Jersey National Guard

The startling research is out of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.  There, researchers set about trying to find out which of the dozens of climate models, which together show a big range of possible temperature-increase outcomes up to 2100 – might be better bets to be accurate.

What they found wasn’t good.

“There is a striking relationship between how well climate models simulate relative humidity in key areas and how much warming they show in response to increasing carbon dioxide,” NCAR scientist John Fasullo said in a statement. “Given how fundamental these processes are to clouds and the overall global climate, our findings indicate that warming is likely to be on the high side of current projections.”

If the NCAR scientists are on the right track here, the implications could be profound.

They say a benchmark for comparing model projects, called equilibrium climate sensitivity, has averaged around 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius), but the range of the ECS within the models has actually been quite large – from 3 to 8 degrees F. So if the actual rise is closer to 8 than to 3, the impact “in terms of sea level rise, heat waves, droughts, and other threats” would be substantial, the researchers report.

Rising sea levels and Barack Obama’s claim from 2008 that his policies would help stem the tide (literally) were a punch line for Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention this past summer. But after Sandy gave brutal notice of the potential impacts of such changes, it’s not hard to imagine more people being ready to respond to politicians who draw a link between renewable energy development and the very real climate-change risks we’re seeing. There was evidence to that effect in statements from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) the day after the election.

“Climate change is an extremely important issue for me and I hope we can address it reasonably,” Reid said in a news conference. “It’s something, as we’ve seen with these storms that are overwhelming our country and the world, we need to do something about it.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply November 15, 2012

    Alex Lester

    First Sandy was not that exceptional and nobody has shown a real relationship. Second if things are so bad it is time to adapt, since nothing that we can do will overcome emissions from developing countries. Simple!!!

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