April 2013

Global Climate Change and Local Impacts

We were pleased to welcome our speaker for the March meeting, Court Strong, assistant professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, at the University of Utah.   Dr. Strong holds a PhD from the University of Virginia and he is the recipient of the James R. Holton Junior Scientist Award from the American Geophysical Union, as well as the author of many published articles. He was also a television weatherman for seven years.

Dr. Strong started his presentation with a basic overview of the science of climate change—how greenhouse gases trap energy in our climate system and particularly how humans have been increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.

He cited research by thousands of scientists contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations which assesses the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. Dr. Strong explained the data from three independent “time” series showing rises in sea level and mean global land-ocean temperature, as well as a drop in the Arctic sea ice extent. Using data such as this, the IPCC released a statement in 2007: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

From 1900 to 1990, studies have shown that warming is due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations, as other contributors such as the ozone, solar, volcanic, and sulfate have been proven to either cancel each other out in effect or to have no effect.

Interestingly, from 1900 to 2000, there has been no significant decrease in annual global land precipitation. Instead, some places are trending toward more precipitation, some places toward less, showing movement away from the equator and toward the poles.

The National Climate Assessment Development Advisory Committee has declared: “Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts.”

Dr. Strong pointed out that air temperatures are increasing over the southwestern U.S. and the fraction of precipitation falling as snow over the Wasatch Range has declined, especially in low elevations.

Future climate change depends on greenhouse gas emissions. Dr. Strong gave examples of high, moderate, and low emissions possibilities over the next 90 years (although qualifying his remarks with the statement that predicting obviously is not easy.) Climate models represent components of the climate system mathematically, allowing scientists to make predictions about their future state. Future climate change in the Intermountain region will depend on greenhouse gas emissions. If high emissions continue, the climate will dry across most of the state, with precipitation increasing over the northern part of the state and Wasatch Range. This follows the drier/wetter movement of precipitation predictions worldwide. If we can reduce emissions moderately or even more, the trends will not be so pronounced or drastic. In general, the future climate change for the Wasatch Range will be wetter and warmer, with declining snowpack.

Dr. Strong and his colleagues at the University of Utah and other universities in the Intermountain area are developing higher-resolution climate projections for Utah and the Wasatch Range. They have received large grants to study regional and local climates for some time to come.

Dr. Strong concluded his remarks with a few comments about media coverage of climate change. He noted that only 19% of TV meteorologists believe humans are driving climate change, which contrasts with 97-98% of actively publishing climate researchers. He encouraged audience members to read an article on the InsideClimate News website titled “Why Don’t TV Meteorologists Believe in Climate Change?” http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120507/television-meteorologists-climate-change-skeptics-weather-global-warming-john-coleman-james-span-joseph-daleo

He did say that the major television networks clearly acknowledge scientific consensus on climate change and noted the Weather Channel’s position statement on global warming (2007): “…strong evidence that the majority of warming over the past century is a result of human activities. This is also the conclusion drawn, nearly unanimously, by climate scientists.”

—Susan Fox

Declining Religiosity

A poll reported by the Pew Research Center on October 9, 2102 notes that the number of “nones”-those who report no religious affiliation-is on the rise in the United States. Not only are the numbers increasing, they are growing at a rapid pace. In fact in the past five years the numbers have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of survey responders. These numbers now include more that 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics which represents nearly 6% of our total population. Nearly 33 million people say they have no particular religious affiliation.

Among these unaffiliated responders, many are “spiritual” or profess a belief in God or a deep connection with nature and the earth. However, with few exceptions this demographic say they are not looking for an organized religion that would be right for them. In fact they believe that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power and too focused on rules and politics. As might be expected these trends are higher among the younger demographic and significantly less prevalent in older persons.

The study can be found at: http://www.pewforum.org/unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx

—Bob Mayhew

Local Atheist Groups Merge

We’ve talked about it on and off for years now, and I am very pleased to announce that Atheists of Utah and Salt Lake Valley Atheists will be MERGED INTO ONE GROUP!

I’ve done a lot of thinking about why we have two large atheist groups in the Salt Lake metro area. I know the history of why we have two groups, but have come to the conclusion that while the reason is important, it is no longer relevant. I discussed this issue with Rich Andrews (former President and current member of the SLVA Steering Committee) last week, and with the rest of the Atheists of Utah Board members during our meeting last night. In the end, the vote to merge the two groups was unanimous.

I think there will be more than a few tangible and immediate benefits of merging the two groups:

  1. Better brand recognition
  2. Creates a larger and more cohesive community
  3. Will possibly create more of a draw for all functions and activities
  4. Management of the groups will become easier under one umbrella
  5. Though meager, combining funds will benefit all members of the community
  6. Will provide a more “united front” as we move toward some exciting goals in the near future

This change is effective immediately. I have posted similar messages to the Atheists of Utah Facebook Group, Atheists of Utah Facebook Page, and the Salt Lake Valley Atheists Facebook Group.

Utah’s secular community exists and thrives because of the involvement of its wonderful members. I am proud to be a small part of it, and look forward to all that the future holds for us.

Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

—Dan Ellis
President, Atheists of Utah

Chapter Direction

The Board has heard concerns about the direction our Chapter is heading. Is our membership fee structure fair? It is certainly more costly than some other groups but we sponsor a Summer Barbeque and a Solstice Banquet every year. Additionally, we provide significant monetary support for SHIFT, the student freethought group at the University of Utah. We have also spent many hundreds of dollars putting on Darwin Day Celebrations for several years. We sponsored a science promoting booth at the State Fair last fall and have provided cash awards to students who submitted entries in our essay contests. We also support the Homeless Youth Resource Center and are planning a presence at during this year’s Pride Fest.

We are also working hard to try to get the attention and interest of younger people. Our relationship with SHIFT has really helped. We have also become involved with UCOR which means coordination with other local freethought organizations.

We get back very little, if any, feedback from the general membership on these programs and projects. Do you believe that you are getting your money’s worth? Are you happy with how and where we spend your dues?

Board Member Susan Fox has announced that she needs to stand down. We will miss her speaker reports and enthusiasm. We really need another person or two willing to spend some time and energy to keep HoU moving and growing. We need help with our membership outreach, speaker recruitment, and general day to day operation of the chapter. This is your chance to influence the direction and priorities of our chapter. We are talking about a minimum of two hours a month up to whatever you can afford.

If you are interested we would love to hear from you!

—Wayne Wilson

Web Site Of The Month
Inside Climate News

The scientific community is certain with near unanimity that man-made global warming is disrupting Earth’s climate and that remedies are urgently needed. But public opinion and political rhetoric do not mirror the prevailing scientific consensus. We report here on continuing climate research and the controversies which surround the empirical findings.