Islands' Sounder


Mass says: global warming is real

Islands Sounder Reporter
July 29, 2014 · Updated 1:26 PM

The good news is that global warming is happening much slower than predicted.

The bad news is that we are doing absolutely nothing to stop these inevitable changes.

These are the facts according to Dr. Cliff Mass, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

“The problem is that greenhouse gases are increasing rapidly, and we are the cause of it,” he said during his July 23 talk sponsored by the Orcas Public Library and at Orcas Center.

Mass, known for his popular weather blog, discussed truths and myths about global warming, the media’s incorrect coverage of topics relating to the health of the globe and the effects of coal production on our lives.

Global warming

Although global warming may have a more predominate role in our conversations and news sources as of late, Mass says the idea is nothing new. He referenced a paper published in 1896 that pointed to concerns that still are applicable today.

Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, was the first to claim in the late 1800s that “fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming.”

What is new is the question of how warming will affect different parts of our country. According to Mass, global warming is not uniform. For instance, in Southern California and Mexico the climate will be dryer. On the other hand, areas like the Pacific Northwest and Alaska will become wetter. The Pacific Northwest in itself is an interesting region to explore when it comes to climate change because of how little it has warmed.

“There is relatively little human-caused warming in the Northwest,” said Mass.

Our weather is controlled by the Pacific Ocean, and research has shown that the Eastern Pacific has not warmed.

According to an article in the journal Nature climate change has increased trade winds blowing east to west, creating cool temperatures on the surface of these waters.

An article in The Scientific American goes on to say that, “findings outlined in the paper bolster the idea that much of the warmth that would otherwise have heated the Earth’s surface has gone into the Pacific Ocean.”

Despite the anomaly of the Pacific, Mass said

overall we should be concerned about the planet. He referred to earlier research that suggested climate models were too sensitive and therefore  pointed to more extreme predications.

“I want to make it clear global warming is happening,” he said. “It’s just slower than predicted.”

The pause

Mass calls the media portion of his talk “the fun part.” Over the years, Mass has watched incorrect reporting of science from major mainstream news sources.

“Much of the media information is downright wrong,” he said.

For example, the lack of global warming in the past decade, also known as “the pause,” has been used in the media to prove that climate change is not occurring.

“Pauses are expected,” Mass said.

He explained that human-induced warming is not strong enough to overcome natural periods of cooling. A recent lull in sunspots, El Ninos and volcanoes has also contributed to the lack of warming.

“Eventually, human-induced warming wins,” Mass said.

As for the overall question of why the media is failing, Mass believes too many media outlets do no take the time or have the time to fully research science issues.

After a quick Google search, this author found several well-researched articles pop up from the Scientific American and the Economist about this very issue and the reporters made the same assertions as Mass about “the pause.”

According the Economist, “ Like the Terminator, global warming will be back.”


The main problem, as Mass sees it, is that fossil fuel production is increasing at a much higher rate than renewable energy.

After an audience member asked what we can do in our community for the environment, Mass answered: “Change China and the rapidly growing number of coal emissions. To change China, we must develop energy technologies.”

In the meantime he agrees with the many islanders who have said no to the nearby proposed coal terminal.

If approved, the $650 million Gateway Terminal would be the largest bulk export facility on the West Coast, perhaps in the nation.

At full capacity, it would be capable of exporting up to 54 million metric tons of coal a year from the plant that SSA Marine, which operates an export terminal at the Port of Seattle and others worldwide, is seeking to build at Cherry Point, just north of Bellingham.

The facility, as proposed, would store coal transported by rail from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin on coal-train caravans, each more than a mile long, circulating daily through the plant. The coal would then be shipped through the Salish Sea and San Juans by cargo ships, many of which measure more than three football fields in length, to Asian markets, where it would be sold as fuel.

Mass told the crowd that coal and oil trains are a bad idea because of the potential for an oil spill in the water.


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