Ryan V. Stewart | Contributing Writer

Albert Owino, PhD, director of the Weather Center at WCSU.
Albert Owino, PhD, director of the Weather Center at WCSU.

What is human-induced climate change? What are its causes, and how does it affect our world? How will it affect my life?

These are pressing questions that — considering the severity of the threat that scientists say global climate change poses — need to be communicated effectively to the public, most of whom have little to no knowledge of climate science.

Now, who better to communicate climate science than a scientist who studies the climate?

Enter Albert Owino, PhD, associate professor and director of meteorological studies, and head of the Weather Center, at WCSU. A well-traveled researcher, Owino’s career has lead him across the world: he has followed the weather — and documented the details — from Kenya, to the U.K., India, Niger, Jamaica, and finally to the United States.

I had a few choice questions for Owino. Namely these four, which I think cover many people’s concerns regarding our warming climate: (1) “What is climate change, and what causes it?,” (2) “What differs between natural changes in climate and those caused by humans?,” (3) “What are some of the global and regional (in the Northeast U.S.) effects of human-induced climate change, how are they impacting people, and how will they impact people in the future?,” and (4) “What solutions exist to tackle and adapt to climate change?”

A paraphrased version of Owino’s responses * — very thorough, enlightening, and even alarming — are presented below:

1.     “Science has pieced together records of Earth’s climate changes and variations… These changes occur over a wide range of timescales… Science can explain climate changes and variations prior to [the] Industrial Revolution by natural causes such as changes in solar energy, volcanic eruptions ([creating] episodic changes) and natural cycles in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

“Recent climate changes cannot be explained by natural causes alone. Research indicates that warming since the mid-20th century can be explained by human activities… Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are on the rise.

“The global average temperature increased by more than 1.4°F over the last century… Many places have experienced changes in rainfall, resulting in more intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves… Oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising.  All of these changes provide evidence that our world is getting warmer.”

2.    “Natural variations [in climate] are controlled by cycles in their various timescales: the solar cycle, the carbon cycle, El Niño and La Niña, etc. The [workings of the] climate system, complex as it is, may be explained by combinations of these natural cycles…

“Climate change due to human activities is often discussed in terms of predictions about what may happen in the next 100 years or more as average global temperatures rise. Global average temperatures have increased more than 1.4°F over the last 100 years. Scientists project that Earth’s average temperatures will rise between 2°F and 12°F by 2100 due to human activities… Based on our current understanding of [the] climate system, a change in 2°F will impact crop yields, precipitation patterns (e.g. flooding) and changes in stream flows, and make more areas susceptible to wildfires.”

3.    “An emerging field of science is dedicated to discerning whether climate change is already having effects, and what those effects might be…

“The amount of sea level rise expected to occur as a result of climate change will increase the risk of coastal flooding for millions to hundreds of millions of people around the world… Some small island states are projected to completely submerge. Global sea level has risen approximately nine inches, on average, in the last 140 years… By the year 2100, sea level is projected to rise another 1.5 to 3 feet…  Rising seas will make coastal storms and the associated storm surges more frequent and destructive…

“In the Northeast [United States] in particular, human health (e.g. due to heat waves), precipitation and sea-level rise (e.g. via storm surges, etc.), agriculture, ecosystems and winter recreation will be impacted in a warming scenario.”

4.    “Individuals, communities, businesses and governments can, by taking appropriate actions, tackle the problem of climate change and adapt to changing climates. It is not too late to reduce the impacts of future climate change… Reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the promotion of… clean sources of energy will lower the risk of much greater warming and [more] severe consequences. Planting the right kinds of crops… taking into account environmental risks when installing new structures, etc. will lead to adaptation and mitigation of adverse effects. At the individual level, sources of lighting and heating both at home and at work, and raising awareness of these factors in schools and colleges, is an important contribution toward the solution.”

The Guardian calls global warming “the biggest story in the world.” Such a story cannot go unaddressed, and such a problem — international in its scope and global in its impact — cannot go unsolved, lest we risk everything.

*  Owino’s full responses, featured as a PDF file, can be read here.