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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

A Philosopher And An Atmospheric Scientist Walk Into A Bar

Seattle sunrise.
Flickr Photo/Michael B. (CC BY NC ND)
Seattle sunrise.

It’s fair to say that dire warnings about climate change have become the new normal. Consider these recent headlines from NASA’s Climate Change Blog: "Turkish Glaciers Shrink By Half," "A Third Of Big Groundwater Basins In Distress," "It's The Final Act For Larsen B Ice Shelf," and "Longer Melt Season A Game Changer For Arctic Mammals."

So we shouldn’t expect a great punch line when our bar scenario takes place, as it did recently at Columbia City’s Royal Room. 

The philosopher was professor Lauren Hartzell Nichols. She teaches environmental ethics and lectures in the philosophy department at the University of Washington.

The scientist was atmospheric sciences professor Thomas Ackerman. He directs UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean.

Humanities Washington brought them together for  one of their Think & Drink events to ponder the big picture reality of climate change and whether or not technology can help prevent climate disaster.

[asset-images[{"caption": "A slide from a talk given at Humanities Washington displays different techniques for combating climate change.", "fid": "118986", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201507/climateslide.png", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of IPCC/Royal Society"}]]Here in Washington state, scientists project that average annual temperatures will rise almost 2 degrees by the 2020s and almost 3 degrees by the 2040s, compared to averages from the 1970s through the 90s. They predict the temperature rise will be accompanied by extreme weather conditions, reduced snowpack and rising sea levels.

Temperature increases would result in more rain than snow, contributing to the trend of sea level rise. That would cause increased flooding. Low-lying agricultural areas such as Willapa Bay and Skagit River Delta would be affected first. On the coast, bigger storms and higher precipitation would also lead to flooding. Most climate change models forecast a global sea-level rise of over a foot and a half by 2100.

Other predicted impacts include drought and wildfire, soil erosion and landslides, seawater infiltration of wells, a decline in water supplies, more pests in forests and crops, salmon and wetlands declines and adverse health effects from increased pollution.

Governor Jay Inslee’s carbon reduction proposal, the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act, hasn’t made it out of committee. The cap-and-trade style program would set a cap on carbon emissions and require the state’s biggest emitters to buy pollution permits.

A consortium of New England States enacted a similar program in 2005, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The program has helped reduce emissions from power plants by half and raised over a billion dollars for participating states.

Environmental groups in Washington are poised to introduce a ballot initiative on carbon reduction in 2016 if state lawmakers don’t act.

Professors Nichols and Ackerman spoke at The Royal Room on June 30. Humanities Washington’s Zaki  Barak Hamid served as moderator.  Thanks to Kevin Mitchem for our recording. 

Photo credit: "Space Needle," by Michael B. on Flickr (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Year started with KUOW: 2006