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Tom Dietz

Tom Dietz studies science of climate change for Congress (part one)


Tom Dietz talks with Kirk Heinze on WJR

Written by Erica Shekell

In 2008, Congress asked Tom Dietz and his colleagues to study climate change and submit a report. Over two years later, the report has been released.

The bottom line of the report: The planet is warming, and the warming is mostly caused by human activity.

Such assertions are often met with criticism,but Vice Chair Dietz and the rest of the Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change at the National Research Council have a 400-page report based on 1,100 studies on the science of climate change to back it up.

Many of the studies they looked at have been produced in the last five years. But Dietz, a Michigan State University sociology professor, says that many people don’t realize climate change isn’t a new scientific issue, and that interest in it goes back at least 150 years.

“The first measurement of the heat-absorbing capacity – of what we now call greenhouse gases – was made in 1859,” says Dietz. “The first calculation that said, ‘Gee, given the amount of fossil fuels we’re burning, and the carbon dioxide that we’re releasing into the atmosphere, we might change the climate, here’s sort of the numbers and it looks plausible’ – that was published in 1896 I believe.”

Critics of the global warming theory often say that the planet could just be warming as part of a natural cycle, and that the human contribution to it is minute. But:

“We’ve measured the natural cycles,” says Dietz. “We haven’t ignored the natural cycle. We’ve actually gone out and tried to figure out what part of this is the natural cycle, and it amounts to about 10 percent.”

Dietz says that the panel didn’t simply accept or reject alternative hypotheses to come to their conclusion, but instead parsed the different factors down to calculate how much each was contributing to climate change.

“When we say this is largely caused by human activity … it’s based on a very substantial body of research with multiple lines of evidence leading us to those conclusions,” he says.

Click on the arrow above to hear part one of Dietz’ June 11 Greening of the Great Lakes conversation with Kirk HeinzeGreening of the Great Lakes airs Friday evenings at 7 on News/Talk 760 WJR.

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