Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: An easier way to understand climate change

Climate change is again under attack. President Trump says climate change is a “Chinese hoax” and Scott Pruitt, new EPA head, says scientists “still disagree” about climate change. Both are wrong. Scientifically, there is no longer doubt that climate change is real and caused by human activity. However, about one third of Americans, including Congress, are still skeptical. The reason may be political, or it may be that many do not understand the usual explanation (carbon dioxide) given for climate change. Therefore, a second, easier way may help.

The science of climate change is simple: burning fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor. To date, scientists have focused on the role of carbon dioxide in causing global warming, probably because CO2 is easier to measure and track historically (from Arctic ice cores). This research shows that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have risen exponentially since the beginning of the industrial revolution, far beyond those expected for normal variation, a process which leads to global warming and climate change.

However, it is equally valid to talk about the water vapor produced by burning fossil fuels. Like CO2, water vapor is normally invisible, but can easily be seen on cold winter mornings as steam from car exhausts, home and factory chimneys, and as the vapor trails of jet planes in the cold upper atmosphere. In effect, all fossil fuel burners (cars, trains, planes, homes, factories) are “steam engines” constantly releasing water vapor into the atmosphere. Data shows that the human burning of fossil fuels adds about 40 billion tons of CO2 and 16 billion tons of water vapor to the atmosphere annually, massive amounts which contribute about equally to global warming. However, warm water vapor is additionally important since it is the breeding component for tornadoes, hurricanes, and other forms of precipitation. Therefore, excess water vapor alone is making our climate “warmer, wetter, and wilder.” As one insurance association states, “..severe storms (wind, tornado, hail) are occurring with more intensity and affecting more areas of the country. During the past five years, claims related to wind and hail damage on a national basis accounted for 40 percent of all insured losses, averaging approximately $15 billion annually, and growing each year.” One only has to look at the nightly news to confirm this.

Other predictions for climate change, such as polar ice melting, are also coming true, often faster than originally thought. And as the polar and Greenland ice sheets melt, sea levels will rise significantly, causing global flooding in all coastal cities and low lying areas, already classified as a national security threat by the U.S. military. This ice melting may also affect the warm Gulf Stream current which would cause further climate problems for North America and Europe. Obviously, no civilized society should chance any of this. Aside from nuclear war, climate change is our most important global crisis, one which needs to be understood by the citizens and elected officials of all nations. Education and action are essential.

For skeptics, some local examples may help. The expansion northward of ticks and Lyme disease (warmer, wetter weather) and the recent collapses of the cold water shrimp industry in Maine and the lobster industry in southern New England (due to warming Gulf of Maine waters) are three troubling examples of how climate change is already affecting our part of the globe.

Ken Sawyer is a retired math/science teacher and oceanographer for the U.S. Navy.

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41 Responses »

  1. There was a superb presentation last night in Farmington hosted by the Western Maine Audubon Society about the changes taking place in the Gulf of Maine due to climate change. It was a real eye opener especially in regards to how everything in nature is interconnected. The talk focused on certain changes (due to the warming climate) in the Maine rivers emptying into the Gulf and how that is greatly affecting the phytoplankton populations which are critical to the marine food chain. Also discussed was how, due to climate change and the ocean currents, the Gulf of Maine is the fastest warming portion of all the oceans on the planet. These changes in the Gulf are serious and we Mainers should all be very concerned.

  2. Yes, we are experiencing global warming. But is it caused only from mankind? Back during the times of the dinosaurs, vegetation was plentiful, the temperatures were warmer. What caused the prolific growth of plant life back then? We all know that carbon dioxide gives plants the air that they breathe. So, I don't think dinosaurs started burning fossil fuels back then. Mother nature provided it. Then, we had the ice age. I don't think mankind back then burned fossil fuels, either. Mother nature provided the cold. Now, with human interference and mother nature's input, we are experiencing global warming. It might be mostly from mankind -- burning fossil fuels and cutting down large areas of trees in favor of building homes and businesses. Or, it may also be a natural trend that mother nature has decided to follow to bring equilibrium.

  3. Frumpleton....I am inclined to believe the 97%+ scientists in the world who have trillions upon trillions of data points that support the fact that humankind is responsible for the rapidly increasing CO2 levels in the atmosphere. (Why would anyone believe instead, climate change denying non-scientist politicians, especially those who are receiving campaign funds from fossil fuel corporations.) At the onset of the industrial revolution (about the mid 1800's) the world's CO2 level was about 280 parts per million (ppm). Now, only about 150 years later the world CO2 average is 400 ppm. That's a very fast and huge increase. In 2015, the CO2 emitted by fossil fuel combustion in this country alone was over 5000 million metric tons. Check out the EPA website. We humans have been putting a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere for many many years.

  4. Trillions upon trillions of data points....can that be proven? One of many reasons I'm skeptical of the 'sky is falling' crowd. Climate change is real; and it was happening long before we figured out how to walk on our hind legs. What caused the ice age? What ended it?

  5. Could one of you warming zealots answer one question for me? What is the ideal temperature for mother Earth? After you find that answer for me, try this experiment. Fill a glass with ice then add water to the top if you like. Call me when it overflows. When the phone doesn't ring I will know it is you calling.

  6. They have modeled the atmosphere in the past, including ice ages. None of that can be used to deny the facts about our current atmosphere. It is true that scientists can be wrong. In fact, that's what makes science so powerful, it is self-questioning and ultimately self-correcting. Doctors can be wrong too. But if 97% of doctors believed you need a certain treatment to survive, would a rational person say, "well, maybe the doctors are wrong, other people have had similar symptoms without this disease..?" Our scientists are the experts who know more about this than anyone. It certainly is not rational to let politics decide this - and it appears that politics is often more persuasive than science for many people.

  7. Scientists make conclusions based on data following the scientific method. That is how science works. If you are not familiar with the scientific method, please research it. Perhaps you will then better understand why scientists have much more credibility than the politicians (most with no science background at all) who make statements denying climate change based on nothing... with no supporting data. Of course, in the past the earth when through periods of warming, we all know that. But that occurred over thousands of years. The problem today is the RATE of change and warming. Please research this and educate yourself from unbiased scientific sources.

  8. Antarctica is melting on one side, but getting bigger on the other. When dinosaurs roamed, the Earth had a mean temperature of 90. 10,000 years ago, what is now New York was covered by 5 miles of ice. Ice melts as the seasons change, we claim 4 seasons, meteorologically speaking there are only 2 seasons, winter and summer, no spring or fall, just warming and cooling. This happens globally as well, when it was warm, cold blooded reptiles prevailed, as the Earth cooled the few reptiles that remained started to adapt, grow feathers, turkeys are direct descendants of dinosaurs. Fur covered animals started to prevail, then the Earth started to warm up again, the glaciers that covered the northern parts of the world are still receding and will continue to do so until the earth begins to cool again. It's not man, its nature. 7 billion people all breathing 24/7, O2 in, CO2 out, every day, non stop all year long, maybe to prevent high CO2 levels as he claims there are, we should kill humans so that CO2 generating machine called the human body, quits contributing to global climate change. Let's start with the scientists and the lawyers first.

  9. Dear Frumpleton,
    When dinosaurs walked the earth sea levels were considerably higher and vast amounts of vegetation were deposited in inland seas much as peat is deposited in bogs around Maine. The vegetation sequestered much of the carbon in the atmosphere and eventually was compressed to form coal and oil. This lead to wide spread climate change dooming the dinosaurs and bringing on the ice ages. Warming periods would result from forces like vulcanism that would release large amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that would trigger a warming cycle. This is a simplified version but on the whole compatible with modern scientific thought. Unless we want to go the way of the dinosaurs we might want to attend to what is happening.

  10. Nerf

    Do your experiment with Ice 9 and call me back

    The Canadians are the real folks who fear climate change

  11. The Canadians are fearing the advance of the Polar Bear too.

  12. No denying with all the billions of humans consuming that they don't impact our environment.
    The question will be is there any real " fix "? Or do we just let politicians use this as arguing points and leverage more of our tax dollars from us to be used for " fixing " something that we really have very little control over since it is a global issue?

  13. Nerf

    Fill a glass to the top with water, then dump ice into it and tell me how things work out.

  14. Nerf,
    I think your phone is ringing off the hoof! Your analogy misses the point that the ice at the poles is above water, significantly. When it melts the water level will rise, unlike in your glass. Sea level is raising at a rate much faster than scientists, like myself, can't find in the geological past. There's no doubt we all agree there have been ups and downs in the past not related to human activity (we didn't exist in the Cambrian era) but there is no way to explain the recent surging in temps, with associated storms and changing weather, by geological processes. The last significant volcano was in the late 1800's, and lead to the winter that never ended ( it snowed every month that year in Maine. And here we are whining about snow this year!) That event, and other more recent volcanoes, can't come close to explain the modeling that's been done to document global warming.
    It takes time for people to accept change: for a long time people though the earth was flat, but science proved, even to the RC church, that it was indeed round(ish). Hopefully people will take a look at what virtually all scientists have done for research and change their thinking as well. If not there will eventually be a conflict between those being flooded and the deniers. That's not gonna be fun!

  15. I have little patience for people who claim "it's nature" and then list "facts" that are not facts at all, but nonsense. This is a real threat to the quality of life of our children. I have lots of patience, on the other hand, for those who say "it's real, it's a problem, but the politicians may not have the best solution." I get that more regulations and heavy handed government might create as many problems as they solve. It's legit to question some of the solutions and policies being proposed. I think it's putting one's hand over ones' eyes to say "there's no problem." Still, we humans learn the hard way, and I suspect we'll go through a crisis (or our kids will) before we adapt. That's not optimal, but when I look at my own life, I have to admit, I tend to learn the hard way too....

  16. The fishing in the lakes in the Belgrade area has gotten very bad..... I am looking forward to catching some of those nice salt water fish ... haddock, cod. etc.. some scallops ....and getting some of those nice big Gulf shrimp..

  17. Funny, a few years ago Chicken Littles were wailing 'Global Warming!!'. That didn't pan out for them so now we have climate change for awhile. What's next? I know, let's take up this possible threat after we deal with global problems that could kill Americans tomorrow, like Muslim terrorists or the Korean weirdo.

  18. The best thing about water is that the atmosphere can hold just so much relative to temperature and then you get the condensation cycle. 

  19. Captain Planet, the driving force of the ice ages was a reinforcing albedo (the reflection of heat and energy off of the surface of a planet) loop. The ice age ended because of volcanic activity under the ice. Everyone in this comments section needs to stop saying "when dinosaurs roamed the Earth". The dinosaurs were on the Earth for almost 200 million years, you can't describe that long of a period as if it had the same climate the whole time. I compel everyone in these comments to read some scientific articles on the subject of climate change and stop watching youtube debates and taking their fun facts.

  20. Yes, let us not deny it. Let's shift into second gear and decide how we are going to get the globe, the consumers, every single person to change what is reinforced by the media. " Spend, consume, newer is better, cheaper is
    better ? " Out of sight out of mind.

  21. I think Ian is correct - so many people dismiss climate change by ridiculing those who are concerned (chicken littles) and making absurd statements about the past. The evidence is real, easy to find, and extremely compelling. That's why in the rest of the world climate change is not political - conservatives, liberals, etc., agree there is a problem and humans almost certainly are part of the cause. Even in China scientists have warned the Chinese government that many cities could be under water if this isn't halted, which is why China has changed their policies. It's easy to ridicule others and make unsubstantiated claims. But we owe it to our children and grand children to take the science seriously. It doesn't have to be expensive to make changes - Germany's economy improved because of the technology gains they made when they met the criteria of the Kyoto accords (and they've moved well beyond that now). Indeed, the EU in complying with the Kyoto criteria has put their green technology up front, with China representing a very interested market.

  22. Interesting. When I was in college, I was taught that the scientific method demanded that any theory be able to have predictive value.

    "Global Warming" and "Climate Change" don't answer that demand. Predictions made using its models constantly fail to deliver, and have for FORTY YEARS. It is unsupported.

    Much of the data used to come up with these most certainly NOT "universally accepted" theories has now been proven to have been manipulated. I was taught that means you must start over, re-formulate your question, and obtain 'clean' data.

    Science is ALWAYS open to question; being told 'the debate is settled' is a sure sign that YOU are being manipulated by something that is NOT science.

    For many in one political grouping, none of this matters. That is why it's much more like the beliefs held by cult members than actual scientists. Heck, they even want to BLOCK discussion about doubts, their position is so untenable! Like many other "lefty" ideas, they're based on coercion rather than consensus, which GW or "climate change" absolutely does NOT have.

    WHO are the flat-earthers again?? We're seeing them burning books about ideas they disagree with - you sure you want to stake your entire future on unsupported pseudo-science??

  23. To combat global warming we are using solar panels to absorb some of the suns energy .I hope we dont use to many and cause another ice age.

  24. "Increasingly, however, laypeople don’t care about expert views. Instead, many Americans have become insufferable know-it-alls, locked in constant conflict with each other, while knowing almost nothing about the subject they are debating." See this link for an episode of "In My Humble Opinion".

  25. Marie... sorry I cannot view the PBS Stuff... They are too darned lopsided in most of their stuff... However, would you consider AlGore an 'expert'?

  26. I have long said if I were to find myself in the classroom (JrHS/HS - civics-ish) again, the PBS wood be required watching Many of the adult Bulldog pseudo/unnamed faux commenters might be well served by watching the Newshour

  27. Chuck.... send em your money... not mine. You might help get another U.S. Senator get a start... PBS would/wood not be a requirement if I go back teaching...

  28. "PBS stuff" is "journalism". "In My Humble Opinion" is a segment that is just that, OPINION. But it is usually well-considered, informed opinion.

    And regarding PBS' News Hour: "In 2010, the program was recognized with the prestigious Chairman’s Award at the 31st Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards for its “significant and distinguished contribution to the craft of broadcast journalism.

    The broadcast’s mission — to provide a substantive alternative combining civility, objectivity and thoughtful reporting and analysis — remains as critical today as when the broadcast began more than 35 years ago."

  29. I have been a "watcher" of the PBS Newshours for over twenty (20) years

    I have yet to see the Newshour or/and its staff/editors take a position (+0 or (-) on anything or subject they have covered

    An easy one hundred dollars ($100) awaits any Bulldog reader with a real name who can point out and direct an inquiry to any PBS Newshour show/program and point out the bias complained of

  30. Let’s look on the bright side. The expression “climate change” is superbly vague. It could mean anything. The climate is always changing, but slowly. I choose to believe it will be getting WARMER. Halleluiah !!! We should not try to slow it down. Think about it. There will be more CO2 in the air. That means that the plants will grow better. Farms will be more productive. It also means that there will be an increase in O2 in the air because plants breath in CO2 and out O2. We’ll have easier breathing !!!! It will be warmer which will save us a lot of fuel because it will not have to fight cold as much. Let us hope that the sun will be burning hotter, as it is said to happen. Think of the benefits to all of us in Maine. We might just warm up enough so our Maine climate. Winters will be milder. Swordfish will return to the Gulf of Maine. We might develop cotton and and tobacco, and think of the new animals that will grow here. magnolia trees, black walnut, palm trees, many sorts of oak trees and other trees will find a hospitable environment. Put your thinking caps on and consider all the benefits that will come to Maine. Think on the bright side ! Take heart ! Don't get stampeded by the worry warts.

  31. Mr pied Piper.. Please tell them the sky isn't falling.
    Does the piper have an agenda?

    Overregulated...Good comment but unless they hear it from their piper.. They'll just keep being "led".

  32. Overregulated: Here is the argument that makes climate change a non-political issue in all the rest of the world, accepted as much by conservatives as liberals. First, the science is very accurate. You are wrong to say it doesn't follow the scientific method. All that the models cannot do is say EXACTLY what the temperature will be, since there are so many variables. The trend is clear and well verified, each year the data is "spikey" because different variables affect individual results. This is totally in line with the theories and models, so your claim is wrong.

    But you are right that all is up to debate in science. The argument that wins it for most people is this: "Almost all climate scientists believe warming is clearly due to human activity due to the data, and that the impact is likely to be devastating. Some climate scientists aren't convinced (a small minority). It's possible the minority are right. But if we prepare for it and do things to prevent climate change and are wrong, the consequences are minor. It might slow economic growth (though if the EU experience is indicative, the technology gains are actually an economic benefit!) If we do nothing and the majority are right, our children and grandchildren suffer severe problems - ones that could have easily been avoided.

    So yeah - it's possible the scientists are wrong. It is open for debate. But it is it worth the gamble? It's our children and grandchildren that will pay the price.

    Also, I find it interesting that those who want to deny global warming tend to use ridicule - chicken littles, pied piper, etc. That usually is not a sign of a good argument. We should be able to discuss these things in a public forum without ridiculing those who think differently.

  33. Vanceboro - alas, current models suggest that the melting of polar caps into the North Atlantic means that the northeastern US and a good chunk of western Europe will very likely be cooler due to changing jet streams, even if the planet as a whole is warmer. So we may not get the benefits you await - though my son, an avid skier, was very happy to hear that the ski season might even get longer!

  34. Scott Erb- you're a smart guy. Keep up the good work.

  35. New UC/Vox video series takes on climate change:
    "Why are humans so bad at thinking about climate change?"

    "That’s the provocative question that opens a new video series, Climate Lab, that the University of California and Vox launched today.

    The videos can be viewed on the UC Climate Solutions website ( and Vox’s YouTube channel (, along with related information, quizzes and articles."

  36. "skepticism" is the refusal of a claim that lacks sufficient evidence. refusal of a claim in spite of sufficient evidence is not skepticism, it's just denial, or willful ignorance. climate "skeptics" are not taking a rational position in the face of overwhelming evidence that negates their position. they should be called client ignoramuses instead.

    if you want to go that route, and play a game of maybes, you can maybe yourself into thinking climate change is not occurring, or maybe yourself into thinking climate change is not influenced by man-made factors. it might not be such a fun game for long...

    "maybe there is, or maybe there isn't really a food shortage due to drought and disease,"

    "maybe there isn't a mass exodus of populations from climate-change affected areas,"

    "maybe coastal and low-lying areas aren't really under water,"

    "maybe there is no economic crisis in the midst of all this catastrophe,"

    "maybe there was nothing that could have been done to avoid or mitigate such a global disaster, who can know for certain?"

    good luck, and have fun.

  37. ""skepticism" is the refusal of a claim that lacks sufficient evidence. refusal of a claim in spite of sufficient evidence is not skepticism, it's just denial, or willful ignorance. climate "skeptics" are not taking a rational position in the face of overwhelming evidence that negates their position. they should be called client ignoramuses instead."

    What shall we call people who insist that something is true, even after the 'data' that their claim is made has been PROVEN to have been falsified and manipulated...and after the major portions of their claim fail to be supported by scientific evidence?

    All claims put forward by this theory have failed to pan out; no predictions ring true. Every doom and gloom prediction has turned out SUNNY and IMPROVING. Now, I know the internet offers instant degrees in climatology for any who are willing to simply make a claim, because they like the POLITICIAN pushing their agenda...but, call US "flat earthers", yet you willingly deny what hard science is showing you?? Wow, speechless.
    The new science: "I WANT this to be so, so it must be!"

    Good luck indeed, you'll have us copying Venezuela next - remember when THAT was the next great thing? A good cure for 'global warming'....

  38. Tea Party co-founder Debbie Dooley says the problem with her fellow conservatives is that “they've been brainwashed for decades into believing we're not damaging the environment.” As a result, Dooley speaks with them about renewable energy in a political language conservatives respect, using phrases like energy freedom, energy choice, and national security.

  39. ever heard of pascal's wager?

  40. Overregulated - where the heck are you getting the information for your claims? The models have proven very accurate and the evidence is overwhelming. You deny that, but I can't for the life of me where you're getting your information from. Certainly it's not from scientifitic analyses, they contradict your claims.

    Also, this isn't a left-right thing. Conservatives across the planet take climate change seriously - the evidence defies partisanship. Indeed, if you're bringing politics into this, you probably are making statements you want to be true, even though there is nothing to support them.

  41. So "global warming" is different from "climate change"? Must be just like the difference between the ACA and Obamacare...many people who said they were against Obamacare said the didn't want to loose their healthcare under the ACA. They just didn't see that they were the same thing, just like climate change and global warming are two sides of the same coin.
    Blindly putting your head in the sand and ignoring the almost complete acceptance of the scientific community may actually work out ok because you will end up with deserts surrounded by a raising sea level that's been accelerated by the short sighted over reliance on fossil fuels. Calling "squirrel" by attempting to distract people by playing the terrorist card has always been used in the past quite effectively until people realized that scientists by their very nature are born skeptics who love to challenge and debate accepted beliefs. Hang out in a bar with some of them and there's bound to be a heated discussion about many scientific topics. Bring up climate denial and you'll get a good belly laugh. Scientific debate, questioning and coming up with hypotheses to test, collect data, and analyze is what's brought about technological advances that have changed the course of history.
    Study the ice logs from the poles, study the recent increase in severe weather, study the geological record of sediments and pair it up with the unprecedented melting of the glaciers virtually everywhere and then come back with facts, not rhetoric with no evidence to back you up. There's absolutely no scientific evidence that disputes global warming/ climate change has been influenced by human consumption of fossil fuels. The increase in CO2 coincides with the consumption of fossil fuels after the industrial revolution.
    Can scientists be wrong? Absolutely! Can virtually all of them be wrong? Not likely when you look at the actual research and consider that many of them didn't believe in it originally. If you've got some actual scientific research please post the links so we can all look at the facts. Maybe you can convince us but you're not going to unless you have hard evidence. Beliefs are great in religion but even most of organized religion has accepted evolution, and that was heresy not that long ago. It's interesting to realize that even organized religion, which for decades was opposed to science because the fossil record suggests evolution is actually real, has come to realize our over reliance on fossil fuels is accelerating climate change. Please provide links to actual scientific journals that show the research done to document climate change/global warming is wrong or has been manipulated. Not Fox News, actual scientific journals peer edited and reviewed. I'm willing to read anything that might be real, but don't waste my time with alternative facts.
    Is there an historical trend of global warming followed by cooling? Of course there is. Have we ever seen the rate of change be this rapid, ever, in the geological record? Never. Do we know all the answers? Absolutely not, but we can't ignore what we are seeing and I've seen zero evidence to contradict the scientific communities facts and knowledge. Please share with us so we can evaluate cold hard facts, not just rhetoric.