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The climate change juggernaut

The climate change juggernaut

I am writing this as I finish my time in Atlanta, Georgia, the host city of this year's American Meteorological Society (AMS) annual meeting.

I have attended several of these meetings over the years, and noticed a few things that were markedly different about the 2010 version.

The number-one difference: Climate change has become an industry of its own. In the world of meteorology, it's big. Huge.

How huge? Take a look at this picture of the meeting I walked into on Monday afternoon:

Standing room only, folks. No empty seats (although, thankfully, I found one open seat behind the projector -- I didn't want to stand for 90 minutes straight!).  And I got there five minutes early.

I walked by dozens of meeting rooms this week. Maybe one or two of them was 50 percent full. The exception: Any meeting room discussing the aspects nad impacts of climate change (or Anthropogenic Global Warming).

Why? Two answers to that. The first is obvious: It's a hot topic (no pun intended). Where's there's interest, there are people.

The other reason: Money. Climate change has become big business. Viewing this as a journalist (and putting my personal beliefs aside as all journalists should), it is becoming clear to me that the desire to prevent climate change -- The "Green" Movement -- may in fact be the biggest economic engine of the early 21st century. That fact is not lost on those who were in Atlanta this week.

Example #1: The first conversation I heard when I registered on-site was among three businessmen who were selling "green products." They were laughing because they hoped to get a dozen or so leads all week. They had nearly 50 in the first half-day.

Example #2: A good friend of mine who spent the past 10+ years working for various weather computer graphics companies told me this week that he now spends much of his time creating micro-forecasts for locations around the country that have potential to become wind farms.

Example #3: A young man who works at the gym I attend has switched his major at UW to meteorology. His reasoning: He actually wants a job when he graduates... and has been told that working in a green industry as a meteorologist is a good path to get -- and stay -- employed.

In speaking with many of our viewers, and in answering questions from school kids and their parents and teachers, there is still much public debate going on as to how much of an influence humans are having on the warming of our planet. I can say with full certainty that there is no such debate in the AMS community. Here's how the presenters this week put it:

 - Climate change is man-made
 - Climate change is already under way
 - Climate change will get worse if CO2 emissions continue

What does this mean for Western Washington? The speakers this week touched upon many ways our lives may be impacted. If the planet continues to warm, computer models show our summer-time precipitation would decrease by as much as 40 percent.

Forest productivity would decrease, cold-water fish (like salmon) would be under greater stress, snowpack would be smaller, and heat waves would be more frequent and severe.

It wasn't all agreement. At the end of each speaker's presentation, there was a little time for questions... and some folks did stand up and question the data used (reference to "ClimateGate") and the integrity of computer models looking out 90 years in the future.

As has been the case for years, I'm shocked at how ill-prepared the presenters are at responding to opposing views. One speaker used the word "insulting" that anybody would even bring up ClimateGate, and another responded, "I have no idea," when asked how scientists can regain credibility after the recent loss of raw climate data in Britain.

You can feel the inertia here: Scientists are full-steam ahead getting more research grants and delving deeper into what a changing climate will specifically mean.

Students are full-steam ahead in riding the "green wave" of new jobs in a fast-growing industry. And businesses -- the real reason why green has gone mainstream -- now see that there's a lot of green (money) to be made by going green (environmentally friendly).

So whether you personally believe in man-made global warming or not, this week's conference has reminded me that the industry of climate change is here. It's growing, and it's not going away anytime soon.