Lexington Minuteman

February 15, 2007

Climate Change and Lexington

The last four decades have provided ample evidence that the Earth’s climate is changing at an unusual rate. This has drawn the attention of scientists from around the world from a wide range of disciplines who are trying to understand how the physical, chemical and biological aspects affecting climate are linked. Lexington will have an opportunity on March 3 (7:30 pm, Cary Memorial Hall, 1625 Massachusetts Avenue) to hear from one of the leading participants in these studies when James McCarthy, Ph.D. and Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University will be speaking on the subject of “Arctic Climate Change: Why it Should Concern Us” at the invitation of the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition.

Over the last several million years, climate fluctuations were driven by basic properties of the Earth - Sun orbital geometry, and over shorter periods, by lags in the response of atmospheric and ocean circulation, solar variability, volcanic activity and by the functioning of the biosphere. Changes in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases resulting from human activities now have the potential to swamp these natural changes.

Certain recent climate trends are difficult to ignore. The 1980s and then the 1990s were the warmest decades in the last century. Greenhouse gases are now at higher concentration in the atmosphere than at any time in the last million or more years. This enhanced "insulation" in the lower atmosphere will continue to warm the surface of Earth, evaporate more water, and energize the atmosphere. And what about changes in the Arctic with widespread melting of permafrost and Arctic Ocean sea ice (40 % has been lost in the last forty years)? Should we be concerned? How much difference will this make in Earth's climate, and how much of this change might we be prepared to live with? 

Inertia in both the Earth's climate system and human socioeconomic systems preclude an immediate cessation to this warming in any plausible future. Hence, climate is likely to continue to change from the total effect of these influences, both natural and human induced for the next several generations, resulting in some positive and some negative effects for different human and natural systems. However, the rate of future climate change can be minimized, and doing so will reduce harm to the most vulnerable individuals and communities.

Whether we are discussing past, present or future climate regimes, many unknowns remain relating to the intricacies of interactions within the climate system, However, the greatest uncertainty as to how climate will behave in the future depends on how humans will behave. How many of us will there be? What will be our standard of living in the developed and in the developing world? And, very importantly, how fossil fuel intensive will these development activities be?

These topics and what this may mean for life as we know it in Lexington will be the subject of Dr. McCarthy’s talk on March 3. McCarthy received his undergraduate degree in biology from Gonzaga University and his Ph.D. from Scripps Institute of Oceanography. In addition to his academic duties at Harvard, McCarthy has served and continues to serve on many national and international planning committees, advisory panels, and commissions relating to oceanography, polar science, and the study of climate and global change. He also served as co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group II, which had responsibilities for assessing impacts of and vulnerabilities to global climate change for the Third IPCC Assessment (2001). He was also one of the lead authors on the recently completed Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.

So don’t miss this opportunity to learn about the science behind today’s headlines regarding climate change from a leading member of the scientific community who is engaged in ongoing research on this topic. Dr. McCarthy’s lecture will take place at 7:30 pm, March 3, in Cary Memorial Hall which is located at 1625 Massachusetts Avenue between town hall and the police station. Admission is free.

Lexington High School Solar Challenge Update: With over a month to go, the Challenge is nearing its initial goal of 150 contributors. In response to this outpouring of support, Mass Energy has confirmed that if Lexington can double its initial target of 150 participants to 300 by March 31, a second 2kW solar panel will be given to the town. Minimum donations of either $5 a month for one year or a minimum one time $100 donation qualify. Visit www.lexgwac.org and click on Lexington High Solar Challenge to donate on-line or call Mass Energy directly at 617-524-3950.

Brought to you by Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition. Check our website www.lexgwac.org for upcoming talks and our film series. For a brochure on The Lexington Challenge and our handy 20 Easy Steps to Take guide, email info @lexgwac.org