By Christopher Nyerges

JPL employee Robert Haw has given many lectures about global warming, usually a nearly two-hour no-nonsense presentation where hard data was presented.

His audiences have included Eaton Canyon Nature Center and other venues before the COVID shutdowns. It’s been online since March 2020.

Haw became more acutely interested in the subject in 1988, when NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen testified before Congress that the data shows that the Earth is warming.

Skeptical at first, Haw continued to research the subject. After the release of Al Gore’s documentary, “Inconvenient Truth,” the former vice president started the Climate Reality Project, for which guests would be trained in his slideshow.

Haw took this training and has since developed his own PowerPoint to present the salient facts of global warming, sometimes referred to as climate change.

And unlike Gore — whose message is equally infused with the cult and attraction of his personality — Haw works to let the facts speak for themselves.

Haw begins with data from the SMAP (Soil Moisture Active/Passive satellite), which circles the Earth 14 times a day measuring soil moisture. This data shows the actual dryness or wetness of soils. The SMAP data shows a clear drying trend, as does other satellite data, especially of agricultural areas.

Haw is a focused man, working to demonstrate the authenticity of each point before he continues. He said there are 7 billion people on Earth and everyone’s livelihood depends on a stable climate. Everyone is burning fossil fuels, directly or indirectly, which causes pollution, he stated.

This, among other things, releases carbon dioxide into the environment. Carbon dioxide in the environment has been measured according to a standard established by Caltech’s Dr. Charles Keeling, who set up an observatory in Hawaii in the 1950s to measure the CO2 count. Today, there are hundreds of CO2 measurement stations around the world, following Keeling’s techniques.

Carbon dioxide levels in 1960 were 315 parts per million; by 2016, they were 410 ppm. What does this mean? More CO2 means more heat, and more heat means, among other things, melting of snow. Scientists use a variety of data to calculate “average world temperature,” which was 54 degrees Fahrenheit in the early 1900s. Today, the average global air temperature is 56.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

This heat “goes” somewhere, according to Haw, with real consequences. The increase in the atmosphere’s temperature represents only 2% of all the extra heat being absorbed on Earth. The bulk (94.3%) of the increased world heat from CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, which results in slightly higher ocean temperatures. The remainder (to get to 100%) is being absorbed by the land and melting ice.

When ice melts in the Arctic, swamps melt as well, releasing methane gas, a greenhouse gas. Haw said methane has 86 times the warming potential of CO2. In other words, ice melt could increase more rapidly as the process of releasing methane proceeds.

To demonstrate his point, Haw shared data on recent high-temperature records. He said heat, and heat-related illnesses and diseases, are now the leading cause of death in the United States.

As a result of rising temperatures, glacier ice melts at the poles, and this raises sea levels. The main sources of new water contributing to rising sea levels comes from Greenland and Antarctica.

This is measured by several methods, including satellite and on-the-ground observations. The perimeter of the ice is measured, as is the thickness. Today, ice thickness in the Arctic is about 1/3 of the thickness of the early 1900s.

Currently, the sea level rises about 4 millimeters a year due to ice melt. If the pattern continues, the sea level rise could potentially create millions of refugees in the next 30 to 40 years.

Haw pauses to address the concerns of those who are called the “climate change deniers.” One of the points brought up by such “deniers” is that the Earth normally cycles through these changes through thousands of years, into ice ages, and back out again, with the cycle repeating with no apparent assistance from mankind. 

This cycle is known as the Milankovitch Cycle. The long periods — which cause Ice Ages — are explained by the tilt of the Earth in relation to the sun (the 23 1/2-degree tilt which causes our weather), and the 26,000 cycle known as the precession, as the Earth moves around the sun. As these two cycles coincide, cycle of an Ice Age to its melting, occurs naturally.

The big difference, Haw emphasized, is that the Milankovitch Cycle occurs over tens of thousands of years to bring about its changes. By contrast, the warming effects of our use of fossil fuels has sped up this process so that we’ve seen thousands of years of climate change in the last 50 years.

“Global warming deniers” also point to periods of heavy rain, such as California experienced from December 2018 to February 2019, and elsewhere. However, as a result of more CO2 in the atmosphere, a warmer atmosphere holds more water. Thus, the world’s hydrological cycle is affected by an increase of 4% to 5% humidity from about 40 years ago. The result is more rain when there are storms.

Haw’s “Some Like it Hot” PowerPoint also details the U.S. cities where flooding now routinely occurs during storms and high tides, including places like Miami, La Jolla Shores and Norfolk, Virginia.

Haw refutes each of the points of “global warming deniers,” one by one with facts, and asserts that global warming is very real, that it’s urgent, and that humans are the cause.

Solutions

Haw spends a considerable amount of time in his presentation detailing the short-term and long-term actions that would help to avert the radical consequences to our western way of life.

“If we want to survive, we need to change,” Haw said. “The change can be voluntary, or it can be mandatory.” 

Haw detailed politicians’ solutions, such as “cap and trade,” regulations and raising the cost of fossil fuels.

“The real problem is that we all have too much stuff and we continually want more,” Haw said. “All that stuff takes energy to make.” 

Though he feels it’s a good short-term solution to switch to electric vehicles, he feels we need to learn how to power down and just use less energy.

Haw said he has about 1/20th of his household’s carbon footprint that he had 10 years ago. He does this by driving an electric car and riding a bike. For a water heater, he uses a heat pump water heater, which costs more initially, but less in the long run.

He advocates reducing all natural gas use, and replacing gas furnaces with heat pump heaters.

There’s nothing wrong with putting solar panels on your roof, he said. More importantly, he said, learn to live with less, and have fewer vehicles overall. Haw puts his belief into action. 

“We need to simplify,” he emphasized. “It’s about using less energy and having less stuff.

“Don’t we have a moral duty to future generations to preserve a world worth living in? Think Golden Rule. Each of us gets to choose what to buy, and what to eat and we get the consequences that accompany those decisions.”


Robert Haw can be reached at roberthaw2008@gmail.com.