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Local Author On Federal Climate Change Report Cites Urgency In Emissions Reductions

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
Steam rises from the Georgia-Pacific Corp. paper mill next to the Columbia River in Camas, Wash., in this May 12, 2005 file photo. Climate change in Washington state has the potential to affect both industry and the environment in the future.

The federal government’s latest special report on climate change directly contradicts the Trump administration’s policies. Hundreds of pages long, the report outlines the latest science and states that humans are the main cause of planetary warming.

One of the report’s 51 co-authors is Sarah Doherty, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington. She says even she was surprised by some of its content. 

Doherty is a senior research scientist at the UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. She helped write chapter two of the massive report, which covers the fundamental physics of climate change processes. She says she learned a lot.

“You know as research scientists you often are focusing on a very specific part of the problem. And it’s when you write a report like this that you get to step back and look at the whole picture,” Doherty said.

She says what surprised her most was the latest on how warming is expected to accelerate because of reinforcing feedback loops in the changing environment.

For example, as permafrost melts, methane will be released, speeding up the warming even more. That speed means meeting terms of the Paris agreement will require big changes, sooner than even Doherty knew.  

“We’ve really only got a couple decades left of cruising along before we would have to stop emitting CO2 altogether, in order to stay within 2 degrees celsius.”  

That’s the limit on warming above pre-industrial levels that parties at the climate talks in Bonn this week have agreed to work toward, including Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Doherty says she hopes the report is helping shape policy there.

Inslee is co-chair of the U.S. Climate Alliance, in which 15 governors have pledged to meet the terms of the Paris accord, through local action.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to