Impacts of the Erratic Beast

boy hood water

Coming from a family of Bangladeshi immigrants who want better opportunities for their children and for them to know their roots, my parents made sure my sisters and I knew our culture, language, and traditions.  My parents took my sisters and I to Bangladesh at a very young age so we can fully emerge ourselves into our culture.

This past summer I visited Bangladesh for the third time.  It was truly a wonderful trip like all of the other times I have visited.  However, during this trip I noticed the impacts of climate change; the Erratic Beast.  Bangladesh is a beautiful country with so much green scenery but it will soon be gone due to rising sea levels.  There was an interesting and thought-provoking film released about the impacts of climate change specifically in Bangladesh called Bangladesh: A Climate Trap.  It is a climate trap because of rising sea levels, weather patterns changing, and biological systems being affected with the rise of CO2 levels.

In Spencer R. Weart’s book, “The Discovery of Global Warming”, he address the influences which cause impacts of the Erratic Beast.  In 1980, it was found that CO2 played a vital role in climate change.  Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrates are also influences.

With the melting of ice caps, many countries and islands will soon disappear…

Woman With Arms Outstretched


Change and Complexity

climate change deny


This drawing illustrates two things.


1. Change is hard. People are often stuck in their own beliefs. It usually takes a generation or two of people dying out to change society’s beliefs. Just ask Ignaz Semmelweis, one of the first people to observe the germ theory. The scientific community thought his claims of hand washing to reduce mortality in hospitals were baseless and insulting. (Ironically, he was beaten by guards in a mental hospital and died at the age of 47 of blood poisoning when the staff treated his wounds without sterilizing their tools or hands.) The scientific laws and theories that we take for granted as accepted facts today were not always so widely accepted. There is always a struggle to gain acceptance of a truth that seems strange and complicated.


2. The science of climate change is extremely complex. Complex ideas are hard to grasp. They cannot be built up or taken down with just one accusation. They must be discussed and explained so that the public understands what “global warming” actually involves. In a study conducted by Bord and colleagues at Penn State, the correct understanding of the causes of climate change was what determined how the participants acted and voted on climate change.


The discovery of global warming was as complicated as content. It wasn’t straight forward at all; there were many false starts and persistent uncertainties. At first, scientists thought that there was too little CO2 to act as a greenhouse for the earth. Once that was disproven, no one thought there was enough CO2 in our atmosphere to make any difference in the climate. Then, no one imagined the industrial and population boom would be quite so big and quite so fast.Once global warming was even considered a possible threat, it was already the 1960s.


Getting the public on board with the warning of climate change was another task altogether. Scientists needed to convince the government, citizens, and industries that their findings on global warming were valid and urgent. This is not in most scientists’ comfort zones. Climate change is a complex issue, and it is difficult to transfer the scientific jargon into public knowledge. And today, scientists and citizens alike are arguing for action on climate change. The history of climate change is still being written today. Let’s make sure it has a happy ending.




The Discovery of the Truth: Revised and Expanded Edition

The Discovery of the Truth: Revised and Expanded Edition

by Elizabeth Plascencia

Courtesy of Balog: Columbia Glacier, Alaska from 2006 to 2012
Courtesy of Balog: Columbia Glacier, Alaska from 2006 to 2012

To divulge the whole story of global warming – what a task. Where to even begin? How would we explain the state of our existence on planet Earth to a foreigner? Human activities in the Anthropocene? The Industrial Revolution? Population growth? Fossil Fuels? I am unsure of the beginning and I sure don’t want to know the ending.

Weart carefully tells the story of global warming through meticulously weaving in and out of science and history in The Discovery of Global Warming: Revised and Expanded Edition. Additionally, to my surprise, Weart actually stated a handful of aggressive verbs, which is often unlikely for climate change activists who try to “speak the party talk”. I was pleasantly surprised. Often climate change speakers are lost in their sea of words when attempting to maintain their position in the middle and not appear too radical. In order to achieve some sort of movement I really respected when Weart presents to model ourselves differently in the name of change. Real change. Not just something that we talk about and agree on at a conference.

Discovering the truth about our state of being is so much more than just the idea. It is taking action and creating momentum in order to catapult change.

The Impact of Human’s Hamartia on Climate Change: Procrastination at it’s Finest


In a discussion about climate change with my father, I mentioned the dire circumstance of Earth’s future and the necessity for change on a global scale. He smiled at me and said with a shrug “Heather, they were saying that stuff when I was at school. And look, nothing happened, we are still fine and we will continue to be fine”.  I hate to admit it, but my father is a climate-change-denier.

Denial is a trait that we all share and exhibit to varying degrees, which can ultimately lead to procrastination.  When a hard-to-grasp or difficult situation arises, it’s easy to ignore the major issue and focus on the smaller ones.  In regard’s to climate change, human’s hamartia (fatal flaw) is denying that climate change is an issue, leading to the worldwide procrastination of changing our high-energy consuming lifestyles.  Fencer R. Weart discusses this dilemma through the historical analysis of scientist’s climate change discoveries in his book “The Discovery of Global Warming”.

Surprisingly enough, as far back at 1896, scientists already understood that global warming was occurring and human activities were responsible for contributing to atmosphere’s imbalance. Meaning that the academic world has been aware of climate change for 118 years and there has only been an increase in fossil fuel emissions.  It seems that as a race we are in severe denial about what is going on with our planet and the implications we are causing for ourselves for two major reasons. One reason is that climate change is a long-term issue that so far has not required immediate attention.  At least in American society, it seems that people would rather concentrate on the internal issues, such as gun laws and health care. These issues are important, but are more short term rather than long term.  Even though, the effects of global warming have not drastically affected our daily lives, there will be consequence for future generations around the world due to longevity of the feedback cycle.

The other reason is due to the orchestration of science is based on theory and uncertainties. People value certainty for when something is unsure it allows for people to believe there is another possible outcome or that action is not required because it COULD not happen.  For example, if the weather report predicts 100% chance of rain, then one will most likely wear a rain jacket; but if the report predicts for 50% chance of rain, one will most likely ignore the report. A problem that requires immediate attention will often receive action because it’s easier to act upon something that is more concrete. Throughout human history, the uncertainties have affected the credibility of climate change.  Even though, that’s how science works, people were able to foster in the unknown and say that even the professionals don’t know what is occurring.

When an issue is not set in stone and is at a global scale that requires an immense change in lifestyle, it is understandable why dealing with climate change has been pushed to the back- burner for over a hundred years. However, if we continue this extensive error in judgment about global warming, it could lead to our ultimate downfall.

The IPCC as an Avenue to World Peace


For as long as there have been humans, there has been conflict and attempts to remedy it. These attempts have been in the form of treaties, intergovernmental organizations, or merely a compromise between two people. The League of Nations was a notable example of an attempt to remedy global conflict. Formed in the aftermath of World War I to foster international security and sustain peace. It was notable in that it represented a fundamental shift from the diplomatic philosophy of the preceding hundred years: The League lacked an armed force of its own and depended on member countries to enforce its resolutions and provide an army if needed. The League of Nations ultimately failed, but it inspired a myriad of intergovernmental organizations post-World War II, among them the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). All of these organizations were created to in some way forge a more peaceful world.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovernmental body under the UN, created in 1988 to assess scientific information relevant to climate change, its impacts, and options for the mitigation of it. The creation of the IPCC was obviously a huge step forward in combating global climate change, as it brought together the ideas of independent scientists in separate fields around the world in an institution devoted to the full-time study of climate change and the addressing of urgent policy questions. But the creation of the IPCC might have been just as important in areas unrelated to climate change.

Stephen R. Weart only mentions it only in a very short, two-paragraph section in his book, The Discovery of Global Warming. But as an international relations major, this short section stood out to me. It discusses the IPCC as being an important player in the promotion of world peace.

One of the problems that international organizations have in creating more peaceful relationships between countries is that all member countries will naturally have conflicting national interests. Just look at the US and Russia—the US has vetoed 14 UN draft resolutions, and Russia has vetoed 11. Realist theory dictates that all states will act in their national interest and increase their power, even at the expense of other countries, because this is the only way for states to ensure their national security in an anarchic system—to become the most powerful state in the system. International institutions were created as a way to mitigate this anarchy, but as long as states remain sovereign the international system remains anarchic.

What makes the issue of global warming different from many other issues that the UN deals with is that the slowing of climate change is mutually beneficial to all countries. While it might not be in all countries; interest to allow Ukraine to join the EU, or to drive Bashar Al-Assad out of power in Syria, it is in all countries interests to mitigate global warming because the effects of a warmer climate on areas such a as a country’s economy, population and on the global food supply will be devastating. Getting countries to work cooperatively on an issue that is mutually beneficial is far easier than getting countries to work together on issues that are more decisive, and countries that cooperate form better relationships and will be less likely to come into conflict with each other. Why are we more scared of North Korea than of the UK, even though the UK has far more nuclear capabilities than North Korea? The UK theoretically should be a bigger threat to us than North Korea, but because we have a good relationship with the UK, we aren’t worried about coming into conflict with it. If these beneficial relationships can be formed between countries through cooperation on an issue that is mutually beneficial, it could be possible to foster more peaceful relationships in the international system. Of course, there are many other problems that must be dealt with before a lasting peace is achieved, but the IPCC could definitely play a major role in creating a lasting peace in the future.

A Change at Home

Over winter break last year I was on a hike in the hills around my home in San Rafael, California with my two siblings. It was in that space of time between Christmas and New Years and it was an incredible day; not a cloud in the sky and perfectly warm sunshine was hitting us. I have spent long mornings and afternoons throughout my life running and hiking in them, surrounded on either side by tall grasses and oak trees. When you get to the top you are guaranteed a particularly beautiful view of the Bay Area. You can see the Golden Gate Bridge and all the way to the financial district of San Francisco, the East Bay, the Headlands, and the beginnings of Napa.

We were taking a break near the top, gazing at our stunning surroundings. But instead of being comforted by the familiar sights I was on edge looking around. The grass should have be green this time of year but it was the color of straw, we hadn’t needed to jump the creek as we normally did in December; this was the landscape I knew as summertime not winter.

California is in the middle of the worst drought it has ever had on record. In parts of the state the ground has raised up to half an inch because water is no longer weighing it down. Just in the last few years the landscape of my home is being completely altered because of climate change.

I do not consider my self a scientist or even a scientist in the making. Nor have I ever really attempted to delve into the world of science aside from the mandatory classes in elementary through high school. However, in The Discovery of Global Warming, Spencer Weart lead his audience not just through the scientific milestones behind our current understanding of climate change but how other major historical events interacted and informed the blunt science. From the 1896 calculation that asserted global warming was possible through human emissions to the media coverage informing the public in the 80s. The fact is the weather has been changing since the beginning of the industrial revolution and it has been swift. However, we are reaching a point where the consequences are dire if action is not taken just as rapidly.

While reading this book I thought back to that moment with my siblings when I fully understood for the first time that climate change is not in the future, it is here. I also thought back to a poem by Donald Marquis entitled “What the Ants are Saying.” For me, one stanza sums up all the science I know and the personal experiences I have with climate change:

what man calls civilization

always results in deserts

man is never on the square

he uses up the fat and greenery of the earth

each generation wastes a little more

of the future with greed and lust for riches


Before And After: Statewide Drought Takes Toll On California's Lake Oroville Water Level

The Short Past and Long Future of Global Warming

Adelie Penguins at Paulet Island
Adelie Penguins at Paulet Island


By Maeve Hogel

In 2005, when I was only 12 years old, I asked my parents for something extremely unusual; a trip to Antarctica. To be honest, I have no idea what sparked my interest in Antarctica, but my parents, being avid travellers, looked into taking the trip. After much research, they told me no because trips were only available in January and February, the heart of Antarctica’s summer and the middle of my school year. I vowed that day that I would make it to Antarctica someday. Little did I know that someday would be only a few years later in 2008. The retreating ice was allowing boats to arrive at Antarctica as early as December 25 at that time. For my 15-year-old self, this was the greatest news I had ever heard. However, once we got there, I started to understand that although this loss of ice and increased temperatures allowed me to take the trip of my dreams, it also meant decreased penguin populations and possible rises in sea levels all over the world. All of a sudden the concept of global warming, which was a hot topic of conversation at that time, seemed much more real to me. I was amazed that in just three years, there could be enough of a change to allow tourists to get to Antarctica several weeks earlier. It has now been six years since I was in Antarctica and the IPCC in its most recent report, last year, stated, “there is high confidence that the Antarctic Ice Sheet is in a state of net loss”. Today I looked at the National Geographic website, at the exact trip that we took, and saw that their tour dates now start as early as November 28th, almost a full month earlier then what was available six years ago.

I am amazed now, that in 2008, when I was just beginning to understand global warming, so was the rest of the world. The history of the discovery of global warming, although very complex, is relatively short. Spencer Weart in his book The Discovery of Global Warming” does a fantastic job showing the progress and evolution of global warming. Although he cites discoveries as early as the 1920s, the majority of discussion about global warming doesn’t begin until the 1970s and it wasn’t until the late 90s into the 2000s that these discoveries start to become accepted. Weart writes that “Business week called 2006 ‘the year global warming went from controversial to conventional for much of the corporate world”’ (Weart, 188). In every year since 2006, I think we have seen global warming becoming more and more conventional, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t still people who doubt its existence completely. The acceptance of global warming and the policies to prevent it have come along way in the very short period of time since its discovery, and hopefully will continue to evolve at such a rapid pace. However, it takes the efforts of every person and every country to combat such a global issue. As we look to what the future of climate change looks like, its important to begin to recognize the effects its already had in our very recent past and present, and you certainly don’t have to go half way around the world, like I did, to understand that.

The Progression and Importance of GCMs

Science is always evolving. Climate science experienced great leaps forward during the 20th century, largely due to computers and the work of many leading researchers. Before 1896 no one had proposed a theory describing a cooling or warming of the earth, thus with his 1896 publication, Svante Arrhenius was the first to propose the theory of global warming. He found nothing to explain the forcings of the glacial epochs, there was no current understood mechanism that would explain these climatic transitions, but he knew they existed and that something was causing them. However, this landmark publication set the scene for a 20th century full of progress in understanding how the global climate fluctuates and changes.

In the 1930s, the Serbian Milutin Milankovic published about climate forcings due to changes in the earth’s relationship to the sun describing changes in the earth’s axis and elliptic orbit every twenty one thousand, forty one thousand and one hundred thousand years. Milankovic’s work provided the mechanism that Arrhenius had described to force the climate into and out of ice ages (eccentricity being the main driver over the past one million years). Milankovic was able to build on the work of James Croll and use glacial varves present in sediment deposits to correlate celestial events in relation to the earth. Milankovic’s work was crucial in advancing knowledge about paleo climates and thus allowed researchers to dive deeper into the past.

Edward Lorenz looked at much finer scale events in comparison with Milankovitch. In 1965 Lorenz used his computer model to show that small changes in one of his 28 variables in the fourth decimal place (and smaller) could have implications for future weather in as little as days, meaning that small changes in climate models have large implications. These models attempt to reconstruct nature using a computer as a predictive tool, but his observation was important nonetheless. This not only showed the importance (and need for further investigation) of computer models, but also provided a hypothesis as to how the climate could react given small (and seemingly insignificant) human inputs.

Any discussion on climate computer models is not complete without James Hansen. During his time with GISS, Hansen became the most famous climate scientists of the 20th century. Hansen and his team were able to maintain one of the leading models of the earth’s climate systems. Among other accomplishments, Hansen was able to correctly model how the earth’s atmosphere would react in the face of the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption. Hansen predicted that the earth’s climate would take several years to eliminate the cooling aerosols pumped into the atmosphere by the volcano. In his 1996 publication he confirmed that his predicts had indeed come to fruition, that the earth’s global average temperature did not return to pre-Pinatubo eruptions until 1995.

Weart describes all of this and more in his book “The Discovery of Global Warming”. Over the progression of the timeline above (the Weart’s book) we moved from a vague understanding of global warming with Arrhenius to the complex computer models that have helped to produce our current understanding of future warming trends. Over time, we found smaller scale changes because better techniques and equipment were developed to measure small changes in climate, such as volcanic activity, ENSO events, and other oscillations. These methods have allowed scientists to more precisely determine climate forcings (such as a medium-sized volcanic eruption) instead of speaking in broad terms about large-scale orbital forcings.

Weart seemed to focus a great deal of his book around the importance and history of GCMs (both general circulation models and global climate models). This originally surprised me, but I came to realize the true importance of these models and how effective they can be in helping to predict the future. Current climate science relies on these models to help us understand how the world will be impacted by anthropogenic emissions decades into the future. These models are especially important as we begin to plan on climate adaptations in helping governments and the global community predict where climate change is going to impact the greatest number of people.


Some sources and further reading:

Arrhenius, Svante. “XXXI. On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground.” The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science 41.251 (1896): 237-276.

Hansen, J., et al. “Global surface air temperature in 1995: Return to pre‐Pinatubo level.” Geophysical Research Letters 23.13 (1996): 1665-1668.

Hansen, James, et al. “Potential climate impact of Mount Pinatubo eruption.”Geophysical Research Letters 19.2 (1992): 215-218.

Lorenz, Edward N. “A study of the predictability of a 28‐variable atmospheric model.” Tellus 17.3 (1965): 321-333.

Now That We Know The Planet Is Warmer, What Do We Do?

So let’s see if I can get this timeline straight: in 1824 Joseph Fourier began to question how the Earth’s average temperature is determined. He then found that the atmosphere is responsible for trapping infrared radiation that reflects off of the surface of the Earth. Fourier also decided that the atmosphere must let out some of the infrared radiation. In 1859 this phenomenon was tested by John Tyndall. Tyndall discovered that some gases such as Carbon Dioxide are not transparent to infrared radiation, as was the commonly held belief. He proposed that if changes in the concentrations of these gases (now known as the greenhouse gasses) could bring about changes in the climate system. His research was picked up in 1896 by Svante Arrhenius who, using crude data and a pencil showed that by adding Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere humans could change the temperature of the Earth.

Skip ahead to 1938, when Guy Stewart Callendar spoke on the topic of climate change before the Royal Meteorological Society. He argued that rising levels of Carbon Dioxide were leading to rises in global temperature averages. After World War II the U.S. office of Naval Research began to pour money into scientific research. Some of this research was very useful in understanding climate change. It was justified by the idea that in war, controlling the natural elements or at least predicting them could lead to victory. Roger Revelle was one of the benefactors of this funding. He and Hans Suess published a paper that while contradictory in writing showed the the oceans would absorb some of the atmospheric carbon but not all. After this publication it became obvious to Revelle and others interested in studying climate change that if carbon emissions were to increase exponentially, then real changes in the climate could be seen within several decades.

During the 1950s Charles Keeling was building an instrument that could accurately measure Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. In 1960 he published his findings, a rise in annual concentrations of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. This publication led to the recognition, that research into the possibility of Global Warming, was serious. Over the next two decades more funding was put into the hands of scientists researching elements of global climate change. These scientists began to organize and share findings at meetings and conventions. The field was becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. Certain environmental disasters and Earth Day also lent a hand to the credibility of the research. The public began to become informed, and concerned. This meant that the political sphere was getting involved too.

With a combination of interdisciplinary research, advances in technology, and interest from parties such as NASA it was becoming clear that greenhouse gasses resulting from human activity were leading to a warming planet. This led to several international conventions and agreements. In 1990 the first IPCC report stated that the planet has been warming and continued warming is extremely likely. That has really brought us to where we are today, heading into COP 20, with a big decision to make and not a large amount of time to make it. It is recognized by large governments what is going on. Parties are coming to the table, but they are not communicating.

Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming tells that tale that I wrote of above in much more detail. It describes the wrong turns that research took in the face of what appeared to be good evidence. It shows the influence war and political games had on the research as a whole. More importantly it leaves a message just at the end that tells how every single human being will need to adjust the way they live as the planet warms. Part of this begins with staying informed and informing others, it also means acting responsibly whether that means walking to the farmers market instead of driving to the supercenter, or choosing to act on behalf of the world’s citizens while sitting as a member of the United States Congress instead of on behalf of industry lobby groups.


Seeing the Bigger Picture: Harmonizing Weather and Climate Variability

Photo from the New York Times Magazine.

As humans, we have a finite amount of RAM in our brains at our disposal at any given moment to observe and analyze the world around us. It’s difficult for us to take what we see day-to-day and compile it all together to analyze the various trends at play over a longer period of time. We all can easily observe that, recently, there have been a lot of ups-and-downs in the weather that are unusual and uncharacteristic for summers in Central Pennsylvania: the week of July 7th – July 13th saw an average high temperature of about 87⁰F in Carlisle, while the week immediately following it (July 14th – July 20th) was 79⁰F, nearly ten degrees cooler. This sort of drastic change in temperature seems to be becoming the norm more than the exception.

It’s harder for us, however, to place those observations against the perspective of the trends going on at a higher plane, in the climate rather than in the weather. “Rising sea levels, warmer global temperatures, increasing ocean temperatures, and shrinking ice sheets seem like a distant reality, one that surely doesn’t affect me directly.” However, climate and weather are undeniably and inseparably intertwined; a changing climate will have severe repercussions on the weather we experience on the ground in our own lives, from more extreme summers and winters to increased flooding and longer, more frequent droughts around the world, as expressed in The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer R. Weart.
Putting variations in the climate over hundreds, thousands, and even millions of years in harmony with the weather variability we see on a day-to-day basis is a tall order. To do so, a systems-centric perspective is required in order to connect the dots between our personal experiences and what’s working above them, and how long-term changes in the climate trickle down to affect short-term weather patterns. Just as a drop in a body of water ripples throughout the whole body, so does a change in a process within a system affect the system as a whole and how it operates. Our climate is a system of weather patterns, and a change in it will have far-reaching effects on these weather patterns in turn. Our humanness doesn’t make this perspective readily accessible, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely out of reach. It is essential, however, for us to think more holistically towards the relationship between weather and climate variability in order to see the system as a whole, and to fully understand the different mechanisms and processes at work within it.


All weather data from Weather Underground (