Paul Gross at WDIV-TV

WDIV-TV Meteorologist Paul Gross answers questions surrounding climate change and the impact it has on Michigan communities.

What is your background or experience with climate change?

I have followed climate change closely since the early 1990s, when I interviewed my first climate scientist.  I attend one or two conferences a year such as the American Meteorological Society conference for Broadcast Meteorologists and International Weather and Climate Forum to get the latest updates directly from climate scientists themselves, and have traveled the world to meet with and interview them.  I give a lot of lectures about climate change, and I am happy to come to synagogues and give my lecture.

How would you best describe climate change to people who may not truly understand it or are skeptical to believe it?

Although some people try to make this complicated, it really is not.  There are three things that largely determine a planet’s average temperature:  the distance from its star — in our case, the sun, it’s surface albedo (color), and the composition of its atmosphere.  Neither our distance from the sun, nor our albedo has changed in the past 100 years.

However, humans have changed the composition of our planet’s atmosphere — that’s the only thing that has recently changed.  Remember that heat results from energy coming in minus energy going out.  Adding carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide to our atmosphere, which mostly come from human activity, means that less heat is escaping to space.  So, the planet warms.

Earth’s climate has warmed many times in its history, but all of those previous warmings resulted from astronomical changes — the Earth’s tilt, rotation or orbit around the sun.  None of those things have happened this time.  That’s another reason why we know that the current warming is not part of some cycle.

How is climate change impacting us in Michigan?

We are seeing an increase in extreme precipitation events, and the reason is very simple:  in a warmer world, more ocean water evaporates into the atmosphere.  That atmospheric water vapor is what storms turn into precipitation, so it’s easy to see why the big storms are dropping more rain.  But it’s not just rain.  It’s the big snowstorms, too.  People will be shocked to hear that six of Detroit’s eleven all-time snowiest winters have occurred since 1980!

Something else we’re seeing is a later first frost in the fall, and earlier last frost in the spring.  That may initially sound like good news, but if you have allergies, the longer growing season means a longer misery season for you.  We are also seeing animal migration, as well as plant changes.  For example, when I moved into my house in 1992, a bunch of Black-eyed Susans in my front yard started flowering in early August.  Now, those same flowers are blooming a solid two weeks earlier.

What are some ways we can help battle climate change?

  • Reducing the amount of emissions into the atmosphere is key.  Since most power is generated with coal, reducing the amount of electricity we use is a huge help.
  • Replacing conventional light bulbs with LED bulbs is a great start.
  • Replacing your manual thermostat to a programmable one allows you to dial up or down  automatically when you’re at work, for example, and helps your furnace run less.  I’ve had one of these programmable units at my house for many years.
  • Sealing drafts coming in windows or doors and improving your home’s insulation also helps.
  • Don’t leave chargers plugged in when you’re not charging something.  Anything plugged into the outlet that has a block on it uses power even when you aren’t charging! So, unplug that cell phone or iPad charger when not in use.
  • Reducing car emissions is a big help.  Keep your car tuned up, drive efficiently, avoid rapid acceleration, combine errands into one trip and do anything that generally improves your fuel economy. I drive a hybrid that gets 40 mph. I love it, and especially love that I’m doing my part to help.

Any other facts that our readers should know about climate change?

Understand that special interest groups and politicians have created a lot of confusion, and there have been some radical statements made by both sides.  I’ve heard left-wing groups say that we must “stop” global warming.  Well, we’re past the point of being able to stop it. Some of the changes that have already occurred are irreversible for 1,000 years or more.

The key is to slow it down so that plants, animals and humans can adapt and mitigate.  Anybody you hear advocating a position of “stopping” global warming has a radical point of view.  I once heard an environmentalist say at a conference that the world must go cold turkey and immediately eliminate carbon-based energy production and fuel.  That’s impossible.

Conversely, I’ve heard right-wing groups completely deny the science, and these are very well funded groups who are adept at spreading their gospel. Some of the misinformation I’ve seen coming out of these groups is the most factually ridiculous communication I’ve ever seen.

Back in 2001, I had the privilege of putting a letter in the Detroit time capsule that was being sealed, not to be opened until the year 2100.  I wrote about climate change, explaining the state of the science at that time and, in that letter I made the following closing statement, that I’ll have to paraphrase: “I hope that, one-hundred years from now, you aren’t asking why we didn’t do anything one-hundred years ago when we knew what was happening and had the chance to take steps to reduce the warming.”

It is a scientific fact that humans have changed the composition of our planet’s atmosphere.  And we are also changing our planet’s climate.  It’s always easiest to kick the can down the road and not worry about a problem that won’t affect us that dramatically.  But do we really want to do this to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren?

Paul Gross was born in Metro Detroit and continued to plant his roots here. He studied Meteorology at the University of Michigan and is a meteorologist for WDIV. Gross is a member of and four-time past president of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield. 

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