Eric Dannenmaier, right, after his virtuosic performance. Beside him, one of his law students — and conference attendee — Emily Atwood. Atwood is a communications specialist with Indiana Municipal Power Agency.

Herein find my account of one session at the Indiana Energy Conference, entitled “Exploring Emerging Energy Issues” and held on the campus of IUPUI on Oct. 3.

The lunch session of the Indiana Energy Conference was called “Extreme Weather and the Water-Energy Connection: What’s been Happening with Indiana’s Climate, and How Will it Affect Policy and Long-Term Planning?”

Presenters were Brian Wilkes, Fox 59 Chief Meteorologist, and Eric Dannenmaier, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

It was not a blue vs. red, us vs. them, conservative vs. progressive tandem. Both gentlemen acknowledge something is happening to our climate, but their level of certainty was discernibly different.

Wilkes is a dynamic man, whose charming presence and presentation is filled with his palpable love for the weather. In fact, he grew up obsessed with the weather, motivated by the great blizzards in the late ‘70s.

He turned up to us, then asked if we’d noticed that winters since then are milder. Sure, of course we had. But, he queried, is it because of global warming?

Not so fast, he mused. The planet does seem to be getting warmer, but it could be cyclical, he surmised. He said there was a “debate” surrounding whether our warming trend is natural or human-caused.

Is there a debate?

It must noted that when it comes to climatologists, there is no debate, as 97% of them agree that climate change is real and human-caused.

But what about TV weathercasters? According to a 2011 report by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, only 19 percent said climate is changing due to “mostly human causes.”

So, kudos to Mr. Wilkes for being open to the possibility.

The organization to which he belongs, the American Meteorological Society, has certainly made a clear stand on the issue.

In August, they emerged from their national conference with the following statement:

“There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities.”

In his presentation, Wilkes mentioned 1934 as a hot year, and indeed it was. He spoke of 1934 to question claims of global warming, but according to Skeptical Science, my personal go to resource for all-things-climate-change:

“The year 1934 was a very hot year in the United States, ranking third behind 2006 and 1998. However, global warming takes into account temperatures over the entire planet. The U.S.’s land area accounts for only 2% of the earth’s total surface area. Despite the U.S. heat in 1934, the year was not so hot over the rest of the planet, and is barely holding onto a place in the hottest 50 years in the global rankings (today it ranks 47th).”

Wilkes admits his view is “short-term” — as a meteorologist this makes sense. He’s looking for immediate trends, in fact, he says his chief job is to “save lives” — i.e. warn people about dangerous weather events.

Late in his presentation, he asked again, “Is this global warming real?” Something IS going on, he acknowledged. Then he asked if we, as a human race, could alter the impacts of a warming planet, such as melting glaciers? “I think so,” was his reply.

He then asked the room “How many of you believe in global warming?”

I didn’t the see the answer, because I was too stunned watching the next speaker, Dannenmaier, NOT raise his hand.

So much for having a counterpoint at this event!

Dannenmaier’s turn

However, when Dannenmaier got up for his turn, he quickly referenced Wilkes’ query about whether attendees believed in global warming. Dannenmaier said it’s not a matter of belief — since it is a confirmed science — and so this question doesn’t even fit in the conversation.

Ah, that’s why he did not raise his hand.

To me, it’s like asking people if they believe in gravity.

Dannenmaier expressed his admiration for Wilkes, and called himself a “weather nerd who didn’t become a meteorologist.” But, as a paperboy he was profoundly affected by the weather.

Weather, Dannenmaier said, is an entry point to the broader story of climate and how it relates to energy.

Weather is not the climate, he stressed. Acknowledging the complexity facing, say, a meteorologist, one hot summer or one really cold day does not speak to larger, climate-scale trends.

What does the data say?

• There really isn’t a debate about the reality of climate change.

• Climate change is caused by humans.

Simple as that.

Dannenmaier walked us through a number of slides indicating this data, the connection between greenhouse gases and their impact on climate change, and thus on our weather.

The fact that neither he nor Wilkes ever got to the ostensible purpose of the event, “Extreme Weather and the Water-Energy Connection,” was not an affront. Overall, it was a scintillating couple of presentations to a room that was probably evenly divided between those who accept the reality of human-caused climate change, and those who do not.

 

 

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