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Climate Change Experts tell Tom Skilling “There really isn’t another side to this”

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The eyes of the world will be on Stockholm, September 27th, 2013, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change- I.P.C.C. releases it’s latest findings.  Five years ago, that panel won a Nobel Prize for it’s climate work.  And Atmospheric Science Professor Don Wuebbles from the University of Illinois, shared in that high honor.  Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling traveled to Urbana last week to catch Dr. Wuebbles for a preview of their report before he left for Sweden.

Friday marks the fifth time since 1990 that the IPCC has released it’s assessment of the science on climate change. Armed with the latest data, Dr. Wuebbles says they’ll state in stronger terms than ever before; the climate is warming, that warmer temperatures are creating more extreme weather events, and humans are driving this.

Hurricane Sandy, killer floodwaters, and raging wildfires.  Scientists from all over the world, including Dr. Don Wuebbles, say our changing climate may be impacting these extreme weather events.  “So we have a lot of concerns about what those changes in climate can mean to us. It’s virtually certain that human activities are responsible for the changes in climate that we’ve been seeing over the past 50 years.”  Professor Wuebbles is part of a United Nations organized community that brings together the world’s greatest science minds.  830 authors volunteer their time and expertise to increase our understanding of what’s going on with earth’s climate system. “So it’s really a look at the science by the scientists to assess what is it we know? What has changed in our knowledge? And to make recommendations then to governments to say is this important enough you should be worrying about it?”

Tom Skilling on Climate ChangeWuebbles tells WGN that the IPCC report will state that warming temperatures are creating a really different climate on our planet.  The melting of ice near the poles could raise sea levels by one to four feet by  the end of the century, swamping coastal cities like Miami and New York.  The report also links climate change to more extreme weather events.   “So if we say it’s virtually certain, that means it’s 99-100% likelihood that this observation is real.   Because the media often wants to treat this as a contentious issue, they want to show both sides, they actually get the impression there are two sides.  And in fact the reality is, there really isn’t another side to this.”

Their confidence grows with each improvement in supercomputers.  This brand new, National Petascale computing facility is located on campus at the University of Illinois. “Just listen to that roar,” says Tom.  “These are supercomputers at the University of Illinois crunching numbers.  The climate is a complex system.  So’s our atmosphere. And it takes a lot of computing power to forecast and visualize it.” Trish Barker from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications explains just how big this computer really is.  “The Blue Waters supercomputer is one of the biggest supercomputers anywhere in the world.  It’s the biggest at a University campus anywhere in the world.  And it can do quadrillions of calculations every second.  If you wanted to do a quadrillion calculations you would need millions of years with a calculator.”  Professor Donna Cox is the director of the visualization team at NCSA.   “The numbers though become more real to people when they can see them thru the visualization process.”  Cox and her team at U of I have been working with Don Wuebbles and other scientists to transform complex mathematical computations into stunning, simulated video displays. “We have many many testimonials from scientists that once they’ve seen their data visualized, moving, evolving that they have made new discoveries.” For instance, tornado researchers couldn’t see double funnels in their data, until it was visualized.  This partnership of art and science is a powerful tool to actually show people the warming of the atmosphere both now and in the future.  And Wuebbles says, also what is possible if we become better stewards of the environment.    “How can we take our understanding of the complex science of what’s going on in the climate system and translate it into something that the public can readily understand and say wow, this tells me why this is so important.”    Great computer power also allows scientists to get down to much better resolutions on smaller scales, like predicting regional climates.   “Illinois may be becoming more like eastern Texas, more like the Dallas area for example, where most of the summer is above 90 degrees and you have a month of 100 degree days.  Well, that’s not Illinois as we know it.” That scenario is for the end of the century and assumes continued heavy use of fossil fuels. Wuebbles says here in the Midwest, we have a greater likelihood of extreme precipitation events, followed by mini-droughts. That could have huge implications for Illinois agriculture.  “Climate change is happening,” says Cox.  “And we have to communicate that. There’s no hidden agenda here. ”Wuebbels says,  “Climate change clearly is a world problem.  It isn’t just a US problem by any means.    It’s not that we’re gonna totally prevent future climate change. But we can keep it to the level where we’ll have much less effect than if we follow the pathway we’re on now.”

Look at what happened with aerosols and the ozone layer.  Wuebbles was among the scientists in the 80’s who determined that our use of certain chemicals was depleting the ozone layer which protects us from the sun’s harmful rays.  The nations of the world united and have turned that around. And it’s not just the IPCC making these climate change claims.  The World Meteorological Organization, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration are on board as well.  You can read much more about this topic by clicking these links.

Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalist Steve Scheuer contributed to this report

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

World Meteorological Organization

NOAA- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NCSA National Center for Supercomputing Applications

NCSA Visualization Lab

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  • Frank Williams

    Tom: I have watched you since you started on TV and considered you an intelligent person. however, when you start peddling the global warming propaganda, I have lost all respect for you.

  • Citizen 99

    Wonderful report on climate change with Don Wuebbles. The supercomputer segments were particularly impressive. Don't let the politically motivated bullies and trolls get to you. This is a critically important issue, and the respect you've earned over the years makes it all that much more powerful.

    • George

      If there is politically motivated bullies it is the climate alarmists. The sky is not falling, you need new glasses! We need more math, engineering, science in the classrooms. too much politics into every thing. When climate alarmists stop depending on government money (NOAA, NASA,College and UN money, then I'll review information.
      Poor Tom. He just got a new contract and a big raise, so keep in good with your buddies at Fermi who rely on government money to keep there jobs. How much do you make to run your seminars at Fermi? .

      • George

        Mike, late reply but the trend started after the last ice age when there was little CO2 around. THE TEMPERATURES DO NOT FOLLOW THE COMPUTER PROGRAM , so why would a faster computer give us a different answer. GIGO garbage in garbage out. IF you enter some numbers into a calculator, the answer will follow the way that you entered the numbers, not give you the right answer no matter what. Please people, look behind the curtain.

  • thelogicalpositivist

    "There really isn't another side to this" is a lie. They don't even want skeptical scientists acknowledged, let alone listened to. When did "scientists" become bullies? Incredible.

    • Citizen 99

      97 percent of climate scientists acknowledge the connection between greenhouse gases and global warming. Of the 3 percent that don't, 2 percent don't express an opinion. That leaves 1 percent, none of whom have published any peer-reviewed papers that have stood up to scrutiny. There is a handful of ideologically motivated full-time denialists with scientific credentials, all of whom are on the payroll of so-called "think tanks" funded by wealthy extremists. Same people who worked for years to confuse the public about the health dangers of smoking. They lost that battle, and they will lose this one too. Truth is truth.

      • thelogicalpositivist

        "Truth is the truth."

        Oh, thanks. I thought the truth was a Gila monster. I'll just ignore the break in warming that's lasted for the past 15 years or the fact that the Antarctic is larger now than in the past 35 years.

      • George

        You must have pulled that number out of thin air. NIPCC ;ists at least 35,000 scientists who say AGW is wrong. Please citizen 99 educate yourself. check NIPCC and for some intelligent discussions not bombast and hysteria because we have'nt seen temperatures rise in 16 years!!!

  • Claudia

    Thanks for this intelligent, informed review of what the science really says. The "skeptical scientists" are the very same people that said smoking doesn't cause cancer: they are in the pay of the oil and coal corporations. They are the bullies, not the scientists who are warning us that we must act now to save our lives.

  • Sylvia

    Tom, thank you very much for this great story. It is so important for people to know and understand science findings about climate change. I agree with Citizen 99 – why would even the most cynical person believe that 97 per cent of climate scientists and institutions who have led the most cutting edge scientific advancements like NASA and NOAA are somehow "plotting" to tell a untruth story (together with the best prepared scientists around the world). People who deny climate change are not interested in the truth, they don't want to help the public understand what's really happening here. They just sit back and say "no" to everything that science states about climate change. It is so painfully obvious that most of them don't really care about the public interest. And why would you acknowledge "skeptical" scientists findings if they are not peered reviewed and they go against overwhelming scientific consensus? In science you can't claim a "right" to have your findings given credit -you need to earn that credit, you need to have a solid case that passes you peers scrutiny. Skeptical scientists just haven't been able to do that!

  • Jeff

    Your climate change report from last night was spot-on and informative. Please continue to make this a part of your weather report. It is so important that the general public is informed on this critical issue. Who better than an established weatherperson to do so? Looking forward to the next one. Thanks again!

  • George

    Temperature doesn't increase for 16 years in spite of computer prediction. IPCC politician insists that 50/100 years from now we will all be dead . REALLY!! Can you come up with something in a year or 2. What about the increase in sea levels NOW?, what about the increase in temperature NOW? The Himalays will melt ?? OOPS, never mind – Emily Latella. What about anything NOW???? What happened to all the Hurricanes this year/ pushed off for 20 years??? Come on – there cokes a time when you have to say "I'm mad as hell and I'm not taking it anymore". Wake up people!!

  • Mark M

    Great work Tom. For those that doubt the validity of Tom's reporting consider the fact this view is shared by major insurance companies, the Defense Department, EPA, NASA, US National Academy of Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, American Meteorological Society, and I suspect the science department of every major university in the United States. No tricks, no conspirancies just a lot of really smart scientists all coming to the same conclusion as Dr. Wuebbles

  • RegularGuy55

    Two years after this story was published, Skilling is even more of a zealot. He deletes any comments that dispute the theory of man-made global warming. He tells people up front that no debate, no discussion and most of all no dissension, will be allowed in his blog. Any smidgeon of objectivity Tom Skilling might have had is gone.

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