Reality versus fantasy: Climate change is real. It has been with us for eons.

Think of droughts. The Southwest has a documented cycle of droughts. The Anasazi/Chaco culture collapsed in part due to a decadeslong megadrought. About the same time, the Mayan culture collapsed in part due to changing weather patterns, aka climate change. Six thousand years ago, the Sahara was a verdant grassland until the climate changed. The megadrought of the 1950s decimated the cattle industry in Texas and changed the culture of that state. The droughts of the 1930s and the resulting Dust Bowl caused migrations out of the Midwest to California, thus changing the cultures of both areas.

Or, there are ice ages. Europe experienced the Medieval Warm Period (950 to 1250) followed by the “little ice age” (from about 1300 to about 1850). Then there was the “year without summer,” the result of the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies. This eruption put massive amounts of aerosols in the atmosphere, demonstrating the assertions of today’s scientists about how the atmosphere affects climate. This resulted in crop failures in New England, Europe, India and China, and resulted in famine and death.

The question we should be looking at is how much our impact might be accelerating normal cyclic changes. Climate change is real, and the failure to accept this fact and deal with it is in part why the New York subway system is flooded again and New Mexico chile farmers are facing water shortages. Who is planning for next year?

That’s reality. The fantasy is the unstated belief that reducing carbon emissions will return things to normal — if there ever was a normal. Humans have had a major impact on the global environment. An analogy to this delusion is the assumption that if it stops raining and flooding, my house will be dry just like before. If we achieve net-zero emissions, there will be no flooded subways, the Colorado River will flow full and the Rio Grande silvery minnow will thrive.

We need to come to grips with reality. There won’t be enough water for farmers in New Mexico and Arizona. San Diego will have to suck it up and pay for desalinization of seawater while dealing with environmentalists who object to discharging brine back into the ocean. I’m not sure what will happen to Las Vegas, Nev. What will Santa Fe do when there is no water to be diverted and we’ve pumped the aquifer dry? One only has to look at the central valley of California for examples.

People seem to think if we just stop producing carbon dioxide, we will be saved. We don’t talk about the methane from flaring oil wells because the energy industry has us focused on methane from cows. Politicians won’t face the problem because it means increasing taxes for infrastructure: flood barriers, waste water treatment and desalinization plants. We hope the auto industry will solve the problem but are neglecting to ask where will all the electricity come from? Really?

Twenty years ago, I was involved in PrepCon IV as a lead-up to the Rio Conference. The big thing then was saving the rainforests. Developing countries (dictators) wanted the G7 to give them money to save their forests. Today the forests are still being clearcut, and now those countries want money to cut their carbon emissions. In 20 years, the only change has been we are talking about carbon and not trees.

Ray S. Leonard, PE, is a consulting engineer at A Different Race, based in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe metropolitan area.

(27) comments

mark Coble

NO mention of our star controlling weather and climate so this is just more propaganda. Climate change is real but cause is debatable and can't be had without acknowledging our sun. Magnetic pole shift? Weakening magnetosphere? Increased cosmic rays? Don't ask! It will NEVER be spoken of in New Mexican as paper is pure leftist propaganda. Is it not obvious?

Khal Spencer

You left out hot air, Mark. And you didn't read this.

Laddie Mills

"Soylent Green"

Khal Spencer

I'll close with this, which I wrote six years ago when my brain still worked. Then I'll shut my pie-hole.

Climate change is real concern

By Khalil J. Spencer / Los Alamos Resident

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 at 12:02AM

Dennis McQuillan

Well, gentlemen, I disagree on the odds that humankind will abate, rather than just adapt to, climate change. As more and more climate-related calamities occur, there will be less and less doubt and denial, and the public will demand action. This may take a generation or longer. It is also possible that one or more severe catastrophic events will turn the tide of public opinion even sooner. Humankind eradicated small pox with vaccinations, abated cholera by disinfecting drinking water, improved land management after the Dustbowl, reduced coal burning after the deadly 1952 London Smog, decreased radioactive fallout after the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty, and knocked down lead blood levels in children by switching to unleaded gasoline. We just need to get the politics out of science and get to work on healing the damage we have done to our planet, as we have successfully done in the past.

Khal Spencer

Well, I hope are right but we shall see. Thing is, energy underpins virtually everything else and going abstemious on fossil fuels is a major paradigm shift in how we power our global economy whereas vaccinations, replacing tetraethyl lead with hardened valves, and most of those other examples are more incremental change to existing processes (medical advances, reformulating existing gasoline and changing engine technology, building sewers and clean water systems...).

I do think that the best job for the Federal and State government is to pump a major amount of money into R and D towards carbon-lite energy sources and mechanical devices that work well in specific applications as well as general ones, and stop being squeamish about stuff like nuclear power (Gen III and IV reactors, for example). The fastest way to get people off of dinosaur juice is to invent something that is better.

Secondly, as I said below, stop rewarding waste. We need to do a European style gas tax and change our land use practices to make urban sprawl less desirable. Subsidize conversion to heat pumps for home HVAC where it is environmentally practicable. All of these major changes will have constituencies screaming bloody murder, which is why I'm less optimistic than you are.

But meanwhile, the world economy runs on fossil fuels. I do think we will phase them out one way or the other but since CO2 has a residence time in ocean/atmosphere circulation of hundreds of years, we will have to adapt to the change we have already instigated. I strongly suspect we will at least double the CO2 in the atmosphere before we rein ourselves in. Let's hope the ECS is indeed not 4 or 5 deg C per doubling but falls at the low end of the current estimates. The nice thing about methane is that its residence time is really short so if we curtail mining and using natural gas, it has a more immediate effect on atmospheric concentrations.

There was an article in the paper today about how the Biden Administration is pushing the airlines to go to "renewable" fuels. But as has been said in the past, there is no free lunch on biofuels. It seems we are talking about adding jets to the beings that consume foodcrops, along with cows, pigs, humans, etc. I can't wait for the really good cost/benefit studies to come out, all the while watching agribusiness lick its chops at one more subsidy. Aside from diverting land to power airplanes, my guess is the energy in/energy out will be marginal.

Finally, I would advise the folks talking about every single storm or sneeze is due to the climate crisis. That is to some degree question begging. The trends define the poison but obviously, one has to have a trend line to have a trend and a reasonable model solution. I think a lot more can be done to silence the "science deniers" by actually being careful when we describe the state of the science, which is getting better by the decade but frankly, doing these global models is hard even with today's supercomputers. Yep, most everything I have read indicates the American SW will be drying out (i.e., the temperature vs. precipitation issue) as Our Lady of the Perpetual Subtropical High (with apologies to Catholics) becomes more entrenched and so far that has not been disproven. We will likely have to live with it.

Dennis McQuillan

Dinosaur juice if your fossil fuel comes from Cretaceous rock, trilobite juice if it is Permian. Obviously a combination of interventions will be needed to abate climate change, and I know there are some brilliant scientists and engineers working on potential solutions. I remember there were a number of people and organizations who pointed to Superstorm Sandy as "proof" of climate change and more severe weather events. But cautious scientists countered with a "not so fast" response. The trends define the poison, well said, Khal.

Khal Spencer


Khal Spencer

Regarding my last paragraph, a snippet from here:

"...A good guess as to what’s “tuned” in the GCMs that leads to unstable behavior might be what’s left out of MiMA – it has no clouds. The albedo (think of “reflectivity”) of clouds exerts a net cooling particularly over latitudes away from the tropics. MiMA (Model with an Idealized Moist Atmosphere) artificially decreases the earth’s albedo because of its lack of clouds, from constant 27% down to about a constant 20% (in reality it is never constant), which represents a massive 25% increase in solar radiation heating the earth’s surface...."

I guess some folks are still doing that. I spoke with my friend Gary Barnes, a Prof. of Meterorology at the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences (U of Hawaii) several years ago and he commented that one weakness of most of the global climate models is that they are too coarse to make clouds by themselves, so clouds have to be added or subtracted by the modeller. That's one of the drawbacks of trying to model something as complex as the earth and stating that Model = Reality. Well, not until the data show that's true and that you are not begging the cause/effect question.

Khal Spencer

I prefer the American Geophysical Union position paper, Dennis, perhaps because I'm a geochemist and most of the climate work I look at is done by geologists.

Reading that, I see little evidence that we are taking climate change seriously. Review the suggestions in the AGU position paper against what we are doing:

-No efforts to control global population

-Americans are outsourcing their consumption-based carbon budget to China and elsewhere, brown delivery truck by brown delivery truck

-When I look at the street in front of my house in liberal, Progressive Santa Fe, big SUVs outnumber E-cars by a vast ratio

-We've made nuclear power the third rail of the carbon-free energy discussion in spite of its immense capability to put out a lot of electricity with almost no emissions (mining, fuel processing, etc, notwithstanding) and tie into existing distribution systems

-American's idea of urban planning continues to rely on sprawl which results in vehicle miles driven going steadily upward and alternatives to the individual car less attractive. Want to replace internal combustion by batteries? The mining industry will leave no hole undug.

-our food habits continue the process of deforesting/habitat destruction and feeding much of our grain to animals

-politicians continue to suggest there is a Green New Deal free lunch to continuing our lifestyle and still reduce emissions to net zero

-When we rebuilt Europe, we did a Marshall Plan. When we got to the moon, we had done a huge new technology investment. When we are talking about climate change...we build new subdivisions and drive cars.

Given we can't even get politicians to agree on whether the sun rises in the east or whether vaccinations are a good idea or totalitarianism, I'm not convinced we can tackle a problem as serious as climate change management. I hope I'm wrong. That said, if we can't manage climate change, it will be at our own expense. Maybe that is a good thing. Ma Nature made it 4.5 billion years without us and will do just fine when we are gone. Mass extinctions, after all, are a regular occurrence in Earth History as Dave Raup noticed back when I was an undergrad. We are just the Anthropocene version of the Chicxulub Meteorite.

Mike Johnson

I would definitely agree Khal. While we were debating the AGU statement, and many of us disagreed with the strident and urgent nature of the language and it was certainly not a consensus of the members, only the ruling council (which is inherently left wing political), the nations of the world basically did nothing. The scorecard for the Paris Accords is a sorry example of global politics, the shakedown of rich nations by the poor ones (mostly benefiting the despots who rule the poor nations), and nothing is happening nor will it. Anyone who actually thinks the world can unite to reduce emissions at the expense of their economies is delusional. The same goes for the US, "climate actions" are nothing but political pork barrel rewards for special business interests and will accomplish NOTHING! But then again, I would trust Mother Nature and Mother Earth to fix things far more than any politicians. That will be the saving grace in the end, just get over it or get used to it.

Dennis McQuillan

There is simply no doubt that climate change has occurred over geologic time, and that humans have greatly influencing climate change over the past century. The American Chemical Society is one of many professional organizations that has a good position statement on human-caused climate change. Right now urgent action is needed to enable humankind to adapt to the climate changes we are causing, and to slow down and mitigate our influences on this change. Scientists will guide the necessary abatement actions, despite anti-science political ideologies and those who have abandoned the scientific method of logic and reason.

Mike Johnson

"Urgent action" will not happen, for many reasons, except of course for adaptions as it should be as that is the most prudent and practical, and I am OK with that.

Dennis McQuillan

Climate-change deniers typically omit information that contradicts their position. The NOAA graphing tool actually shows that in New Mexico’s precipitation has decreased, temperature has increased, and drought conditions have increased since 1895. See for yourself. Go to the NOAA link cited in this discussion, click the “Display Trendline” button, change the Time Scale to “Annual”, click the “Plot” button, and observe that annual precipitation in NM has decreased by about 0.05 in/decade since 1895 (a total decrease of 0.6 in). From here, change the parameter to “Average Temperature”, click “Plot” again, and observe that New Mexico’s average annual temperature has increased by about 0.2 degrees F/decade for total warming of 2.5 degrees since 1895. The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) uses both precipitation and temperature. A decrease in PDSI means more severe drought. From the previous graph, change the parameter to “PDSI”, click “Plot” again, and observe that PDSI has decreased by about 0.18/decade, meaning more severe drought conditions, since 1895. The drought trend is visually evident by comparing the wet years (green bars) with the dry years (orange bars), especially since the mid 1940’s. Don’t be fooled by the smoke, mirrors, and half-truths spewed by climate-change deniers. And be sure to add a trend line to NOAA graphs. New Mexico has become drier, warmer with more severe droughts since 1895.



Drought Index:

Khal Spencer

Of course if you trend 1895-1955 you get a decrease of 0.38 in per decade.

The temperature effect, as I said below, is the important part as it increases evaporation and sublimation rates and dries things out. Couple that with millions of people with their straws in the bucket and you get a crisis.

There is a reconstructed PDSI for the last 300 years in Figure 10 of this. Drought is nothing new to the American Southwest, as anyone following John Fleck knows. I do suspect we will intensify it.

Mike Johnson

Trends are interesting to plot. If you plot the trend in temperatures from 1895 to 1995, it shows an increase of 0.0 degrees F/decade. If you plot 1995-2021 it shows 0.5 degrees F/decade. So what happened over the 100 years as CO2 was increasing from about 270 ppm to 360 ppm?

Mike Johnson

Looking back even further than the NOAA data, which shows any droughts to be cyclical, and no real trend that follows or correlates with constantly increasing CO2 emissions since 1870, we have this research, which states: "A new tree-ring-based reconstruction of 508 years of Colorado River streamflow confirms that droughts more severe than the 2000-2004 drought occurred before stream gages were installed on the river." Which means more severe when CO2 was much lower, so CO2 is NOT causing any droughts in the west.

Khal Spencer

Here is a 2015 version of tree ring science.

Figure 2-9 is a tree ring reconstruction of flow at Lee's Ferry since 800 A.D., with whopping droughts in the 9th and 12th centuries. The interesting research is to pinpoint what likely caused those megadroughts and project forward in terms of what kinds of variables can cause future ones or as the authors say, "...The reconstructions indicate that more severe and sustained droughts occurred in the centuries prior to 1900 than those seen in the gaged records, including the most

recent drought (FIGURE 2.9)."

Connie Woodhouse et al's paper is getting a little long in the tooth but is worth a read as far as looking at climate variability in the Southwest. I suppose if we cause an anthropogenic warming similar to that of the Medieval, we should look at what happened in the Medieval.

A 1,200-year perspective of 21st century drought in southwestern North America

Connie A. Woodhouse, David M. Meko, Glen M. MacDonald, Dave W. Stahle, and Edward R. Cook


"A key feature of anticipated 21st century droughts in Southwest North America is the concurrence of elevated temperatures and increased aridity. Instrumental records and paleoclimatic evidence for past prolonged drought in the Southwest that coincide with elevated temperatures can be assessed to provide insights on temperature-drought relations and to develop worst-case scenarios for the future. In particular, during the medieval period, ∼AD 900–1300, the Northern Hemisphere experienced temperatures warmer than all but the most recent decades. Paleoclimatic and model data indicate increased temperatures in western North America of approximately 1 °C over the long-term mean. This was a period of extensive and persistent aridity over western North America. Paleoclimatic evidence suggests drought in the mid-12th century far exceeded the severity, duration, and extent of subsequent droughts. The driest decade of this drought was anomalously warm, though not as warm as the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The convergence of prolonged warming and arid conditions suggests the mid-12th century may serve as a conservative analogue for severe droughts that might occur in the future. The severity, extent, and persistence of the 12th century drought that occurred under natural climate variability, have important implications for water resource management. The causes of past and future drought will not be identical but warm droughts, inferred from paleoclimatic records, demonstrate the plausibility of extensive, severe droughts, provide a long-term perspective on the ongoing drought conditions in the Southwest, and suggest the need for regional sustainability planning for the future."

I am reaching back in my lousy memory but one thing I might have read is these megadroughts may have coincided with highly luminous periods of solar insolation coupled with low volcanic aerosols in the atmosphere. If future greenhouse/Tyndall gas concentration increases cause similar warming, perhaps the past is indeed the key to the future.

Mike Johnson

And just look at how little correlation there is between CO2 and tornadoes.....and mush more data shows the same non-correlation with hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves, cold waves, etc.......

Mike Johnson

And again, for reference, here is the only direct measurement of CO2 we have, compare this "trend" with all the other data that have annual values, if the correlation doesn't exist, then CO2 is not causing it even if you want to use the logical scientific fallacy of single factor correlation proving causation argument.

Khal Spencer

Thing is, there is nothing magic about 1895 or 1900, etc. One has to look at the long history of climate feast or famine in the American SW, entirely due to natural climate variability, and then model anthropogenic impact on top of that. Its pretty straightforward as far as a thought problem. A little harder in terms of computer modelling. I would hope we could all agree on that and I'm not suggesting that smokestacks are not a crucial part of the forward problem.

Khal Spencer

The nice thing about that NOAA site is you can smooth the curve in 1 yr, 2 yr, 4 yr, and 5 yr intervals. I liked the 5 year interval as it shows the major drought in the 1950's, long before we got to the present level of CO2, the major wet period in the nineteen eighties, when everyone and their dog decided to move here and assumed that "rain followed the developer", and now back into a dry cycle with minima around 2004 and 2015. To me, these look mildly like long term cycles such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or El Nino/Southern Oscillation. But I'm not a climate scientist nor do I play one on TV.

One issue though, is that if it warms, evaporation and sublimation will increase so constant precipitation doesn't mean constant water resource.

Thing is, humans are now passing the eight billion mark and of course we are climate-changers, whether it be with our modification to the CO2 and methane content of the atmosphere, downdraw of fresh water resources, damming of rivers, clearcutting of rain forest, or extinction of other species as we expand our habitat and eat ourselves out of house, home, and planet. We have been, to mangle a quote of Barack Obama, the change we did NOT want to see. CO2 has a residence time in the surface environment of hundreds of years, so even if we lower our emissions to net zero, the climate sensitivity factor of CO2 (I think we are now estimating the ECS of CO2 is between 2 and 4.5 deg C per doubling of CO2) as we go towards doubling pre-industrial atmospheric concentrations, will still be a thumb on the planet's thermostat for hundreds of years. Along with everything else than controls climate.

Good article. One thing the author doesn't mention is that when people show that strong increase in global temperatures since the 1800's, they usually manage to avoid saying that their "baseline" is coming out of the Little Ice Age. But still, things have apparently been warming but that's for several reasons.

The bottom line is that it is complicated, and the author hits that nail on the head. And as we kick the climate management can down the road and argue about abortion, guns, vaccinations, micro-aggressions, Critical Race Theory, and other B.S., Ma Nature is not waiting for us to get on the bus. The bus is leaving us behind.

Khal Spencer

Oh, what I meant by the NOAA site was the NOAA site that Dr. Johnson cited.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup] I can agree with much of what you said Khal, and as I follow this issue closely since my paleoclimate Ph.D. days (when we examined the Vostok ice cores and noticed CO2 increased 400-600 years AFTER temps started rising) and attend AGU regularly to "debate", man is certainly influencing things on earth, I just do not believe he is creating stronger, more frequent, or more damaging "weather events".

Mike Johnson

There are tons of data that show "extreme weather events" are not correlated to increasing CO2 and the 1 degree C increase in temperatures over the last 120 years. Thus even if you think single factor correlation proves causation (a logic fallacy), that cannot even be shown. Here is but one example, look at precipitation in New Mexico since 1895, as shown in the NOAA database. It is not decreasing and thus droughts are not, if there is less surface water available then you must blame the real cause, more people and more uses on the scarce water supply in a desert, deal with that, not CO2....

Kelly Garvy

I have to admit that I had my doubts about climate change but it’s been obvious to me that it’s actually happening now. The same people who said it was going to happen were right, and they been saying that we can do something about it so I’m listening to them.

We’ve known for over a hundred years that releasing greenhouse gases warms the planet. We might not be able to put humpty dumpty back together again, but the ability to grow food is going to become more difficult until it’s impossible if we just continue on this path. THATS the reality we have to deal with. It’s easier to tell ourselves there is nothing we can do about it than change our ways, but that’s a burden too great for ourselves, children and grandchildren.

I’m listening to the people who have been right about this, not some new form of denialism.

Cheryl Odom

Kelly: [thumbup]

Welcome to the discussion.

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