Alabama climatologist responds to U.S. government report on climate change

By: Dr. John Christy
By: Dr. John Christy

On Tuesday, June 16, the U.S. Global Change Research Program issued a report on aspects of climate change and predictions for the future for the U.S. as a whole and by regions.

To those without an understanding of Alabama’s climate history, the report leaves the impression that we in the Southeast are seeing unprecedented climate events caused by our greenhouse gas emissions.

As Alabama’s state climatologist, and as a scientist who builds and publishes climate data records from scratch for Alabama and the globe, I want to provide information which places our current climate in the context of the past.

This is possible because many Alabama citizens actually began recording weather information in a systematic way as far back as the mid-1800s. These data are key to knowing the long-term picture of our climate.

One fundamental problem with the report concerning our region is its consistent use of the time period beginning around 1970 to imply that any climate changes since 1970 are a result of human influences.

Six times in the text (and in two figures) of the six-page summary of the SE U.S. we see references to “… since 1970” or similar starting points.

Why would the authors concentrate on such a short time period for their study?

Reliable temperature and rainfall data for the U.S. goes back to the 1800s. Why start around 1970? As it turns out, there isn’t much of a story to tell when one sees the long-term picture.

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