Dr. Jack Fellows is the Director of the Climate Change Science Institute of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. CCSI is an inter-disciplinary research organization created in 2009 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to advance climate change science research. Dr. Fellows made the following remarks at Climate Knoxville on the Square.
It’s my honor to be here today representing ORNL and the Climate Change Science Institute I run at Oak Ridge.
I just moved to TN in October, and I’m really enjoying this beautiful state and its incredibly friendly people. I even know how to sing a bit of “Rocky Top” and that GBO really means “go big orange”.
I’d like to talk about: (1) science of climate change, (2) what these changes mean for eastern Tennessee, and (3) the importance of the kind of policies we are discussing today.
But first, I want to thank the Climate Knoxville partners for raising awareness about climate change and CO2 emissions through events like today’s.
And, to recognize Mayor Rogero’s leadership on the President’s Climate Preparedness Task Force. This Task Force is bringing together leaders from across the country to address many of the issues we’re discussing today.
Every five years or so, thousands of climate scientists gather to examine the science and impacts of climate change. Internationally through the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change and here in the U.S. via the National Climate Assessment.
Oak Ridge scientists have played key roles in these studies and recent reports conclude:
- CO2 and other greenhouse gases trap heat…and that is good or the planet would be too cold for life.
- Unfortunately, CO2 is building up in the atmosphere faster than nature can remove it and can stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. SO, what we put in the atmosphere today will cause warming for many generations to come!
- To date, our CO2 emissions have resulted in a warming of ~1.5 F since the late 1800s.
- All key indicators are consistent with that warming, like glaciers melting, dying ocean corals, plant and animal migration, ocean and atmosphere warming, and sea level rise.
- These changes can’t be explained by just natural causes. In fact, human activities are the primary source of the changes over the past 100 years and at rate 10X faster than the past 500,000 years.
As a planet, we are dumping ~36 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, and this has been increasing by about 1 billion tons per year.
Over the next decade, we’ll reach 44 billion tons per year which will result in a world that is 3-5 F degrees warmer than today. Since CO2 rate is increasing, it is likely the warming will be double that, or 6-9 F.
What does this mean for Knoxville and Eastern Tennessee?
- Increased summer temps and heat waves (+45 days above 95F)
- Greater rainfall variance, including more extreme events like seasonal droughts, hail, flooding, and tornadoes.
- Impact on tourism-related assets like forests and fishing, and impacts on roads, energy, and water infrastructure;
- For those that love Hilton Head: sea level will likely rise 1-4 feet
- Up to 80 fewer nights below 32 F, but could lead to more problem pests surviving over the winter.
- This may become a destination for those migrating from places more impacted by climate change.
- We could be a leader in “green” business technologies and practices.
So hotter and more frequent extreme storms….many of you may feel like you are already seeing these patterns.
So, it is important to explore ways to reduce CO2 emissions. The Smarter Cities Weatherization Challenge will reduce emissions and lead to lower energy bills for many citizens.
Stabilizing emissions is also important, and doable if other big countries like China and India also adopt similar goals. So efforts like the EPA Clean Power Plan are moving in the right direction and could be an important leadership position for the US in global climate negotiations.
ORNL takes reducing CO2 emissions very seriously, including:
- A broad range of research in energy efficiency, alternative fuel, and the climate research and modeling my Institute does.
- The Lab also has a robust energy conservation program, including cool roofs, solar arrays for power, electric vehicles and bicycles, and all new buildings are energy efficient LEEDS certified (16 with 5Gold and 2Silver).
- And, it has cut its energy use by ~24% since last year, while also having one of fastest and “greenest” supercomputers in world.
In closing, we are not powerless on the climate change issue. Each one of us can make a difference by learning how to lower our GHG emissions, and things like the Smarter Cities initiative will provide that kind of education and leadership.
It has been an honor to be part of this important event, and again I’d like to thank Climate Knoxville.