Climatologist Phil Mote presented 10 myths about climate change Tuesday night but ended his presentation with an 11th myth: There is no hope.
“I find several reasons for hope,” the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University told the Columbia Forum.
Mote pointed to an increase in solar panel installation, more people driving electric cars, wave energy testing off the coast of Newport, geothermal power plants and teenage activist Greta Thunberg.
“The young people getting passionate about this and pushing for change gives me great hope,” he said.
Mote’s presentation at Baked Alaska in Astoria opened the 30th season of the Columbia Forum speaker series.
He addressed some of the most common myths about climate change, including that the Northwest will see little effect from global warming.
“We’re seeing all these fires and they are clearly linked empirically to the warming climate,” Mote said. “It’s not like fires have never existed, but they are bigger.”
He said rising temperatures cause snow drought, which in the distant future will affect flow levels in the Columbia River to run counter to irrigation demands.
“Rising seas and increasing storminess are already wreaking havoc with many of the coastal areas,” Mote said.
He shared an analysis of infrastructure at risk from 4 feet of sea level rise in counties along the coast.
Clatsop County was ranked the most affected county in all categories, including the number of people affected, number of homes, number of miles of roadway and number of sewage treatment plants.
“So, even 4 feet of sea level rise or high water event can really have impacts,” Mote said.
Another myth he shared is the idea global warming is natural.
“There’s a big difference between the human influence and the natural influences and together they can explain most of what we saw in the 20th century record,” Mote said.
However, he said science shows that human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming.
And scientists are not divided over that, he said.
“The closer you are to the evidence and to the work that all of the scientific community is doing, the clearer it is that humans are responsible,” Mote said.
He also addressed the common misconception that there is time to prevent irreversible damage from climate change.
“At whatever point we stabilize CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, in other words at whatever point we’re done emitting CO2, that’s roughly where the temperature will stop,” Mote said. “There’s nothing particularly magical about 2 degrees Celsius.”
He said there’s more impact with each degree, but there is no tipping point. He said carbon dioxide emissions just need to be reduced as quickly as possible.
“There’s a huge gap from where we’re headed absent of policy and where we think we want to go in order to stabilize global climate. And this is one of the most out-in-front states in the union, California and a couple of others being ahead of us,” Mote said.
He said stabilizing carbon dioxide emissions will be a major challenge.
“My view as a scientist is I want to see emissions reduced because I understand the harm that will happen if we don’t reduce emissions. And whatever policy gets us to reduce emissions is fine with me — if it’s cap and trade, if it’s carbon tax, if it’s just executive branch regulation — at any means necessary,” he said.