By: Victor Anosike
Photo By: Victor Anosike
This October, the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) essentially decreed an international emergency when they stated that the Earth’s atmosphere will warm up by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040, if greenhouse emissions continue at their current rate, according to the New York Times.
The results of this development are projected to be catastrophic, resulting in water invading coastlines, worsening of food shortages, and the erosion of coral reefs. According to a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center, 51% of Americans reject the idea that humans are the cause of climate change, and yet, according to The Guardian, 97% of climate scientists acknowledge that climate change is a man-made issue.
Professor Johnny Luo is part of that 97%.
Dr. Luo is a professor of atmospheric science in the CCNY Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and CREST Institute. He is also a member of the NASA CloudSat and Cloud Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation Team (CALIPSO), as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Data Record team. An accomplished atmospheric and climate scientist, Dr. Luo runs a research lab that focuses on studying clouds and storms.
Fittingly, Dr. Luo’s time as a storm researcher has not been limited to staying indoors; On September 13, 2013, Dr. Luo led a team of NASA scientists during their mission to fly a DC-8 airliner into Hurricane Ingrid and study the mechanisms of the storm up close and in real time. As commander of the flight, Dr. Luo and his team were using the hurricane to try to understand the mechanisms behind how hurricane clouds carry pollutants from the surface to the atmosphere. For this accomplishment, Dr. Luo and his team received the NASA Group Achievement Award in 2015.
When asked to explain the main objective of his work, Dr. Luo says that “I study clouds and storms in the atmosphere, using satellite and ground based observation […] [My team] tries to understand the mechanism of how clouds and storms work, so that we can better predict them for future climate change.”
Atmospheric science is a hardcore science subject that requires advance knowledge of applied physics and math; the reality of the science behind studying the atmosphere sharply contrasts with the easygoing image weather channels often give off. One big aspect of atmospheric science is studying climate change.
“From a scientist’s perspective, you really can’t mix evidence with what you believe. You have to look at data […] we can look at observations from ground based stations. In most recent decades, we can look at observations from satellites. From these observations, there is actually indisputable evidence that the climate is changing,” he shares.
With Hurricane Michael recently hitting Florida amidst a year that has seen numerous hurricanes, research from the Earth Systems Science Laboratory – published by The Guardian -has shown that the strength and length of hurricanes have increased since the 20th Century. Dr. Luo states that the warming of the oceans from climate change is a main contributing factor to this observation.
“To [understand how hurricanes are affected by climate change] you really have to understand how hurricanes form and what factors affect hurricanes. Hurricanes form over warm ocean water; the warmth of tropical ocean is the fuel of hurricanes. Under that scenario, the warmer the ocean, the better chance you have of forming a stronger hurricane…from a general scientific understanding, we would expect that warmer climate, including warmer ocean, will be very conducive to stronger hurricanes. Don’t be surprised if we see more Hurricanes like Michael and Florence in the future.”
Regardless of the scientific evidence showing climate change as an issue, as well as the global scientific consensus that is advocating for immediate action, the American government and the American people have been reluctant to even acknowledge the existence of any sort of threat.
This may be due to the politicization of climate change as a concept. In response to the UN Climate Report, the US Environmental Protection Agency has essentially rejected the findings of the IPCC. Further, the United States, under President Trump, has backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, which aimed to prevent nations from going over the global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Likewise, even people being directly affected by hurricanes have been fierce skeptics.
In spite of Hurricane Florence destroying a substantial portion of the Carolinas this September, The Guardian reported that a portion of people in the affected area believe that the push to fight climate change is just a result of “a group of people [who] want to control and put a tax on things,” at least according to one person that was interviewed.
Others parrot the claim that “mother nature will fix itself” and that the scientific community is 50/50 on man-made climate change, even though the scientific community is at a 97% consensus on man-made climate change’s existence.
Dr. Luo believes that the everyday person’s focus on short term problems is one of the primary driving forces behind people’s opinions on this issue.
“There are uncertainties in forecasting of the future, both for atmosphere and climate […] [People] don’t look at things from a big picture perspective. If there is a blizzard and on that day you talk to someone about global warming, they will not believe you. Their minds are too tied to the cold on that blizzard day. That’s why when scientists analyze climate change questions, we don’t tie our emotions or experiences to them. We see what the long-term data tell us.”
“One of our obligations as scientists is to convey some of the simple facts in a way that people will understand […] For example, [hurricanes] are formed and fueled by warm oceans. It’s natural to follow that the warmer the ocean, the stronger the hurricane. We should explain concepts with this kind of logic, with language that people can easily digest […] Scientists need better training to really package up scientific findings in ways people can follow.”
If students are interested in venturing into the world of atmospheric and climate science for their career, Dr. Luo suggests that they learn more physics, math, and computer programming.
However, for the casual learners on campus who simply want to be more educated on the topic, there is a class called “Perspectives on Global Warming” offered by the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. The class focuses on teaching students the basic concepts behind climate change without requiring advanced mathematics or physics.
Dr. Luo advises: “I think for the students in college, whether or not they are science majors, it would help to take some sort of general course about climate and get some idea of the fundamentals about how the climate system works. That will help students in the future. When they face different views, they can make their own independent and educated assessment.”