David Phillips


Special Series: Twelve Canadians

You Do Need a Weatherman

By David Kattenburg

As everyone knows, Arctic ice cover is slowly melting. As it does so, Earth’s northern pole is turning from white to dark and the planet is absorbing even more solar energy, putting the pedal to the metal in what may be turning into a vicious global warming cycle.


It’s a positive feedback of ominous proportions, a trio of researchers report in the March 3 edition of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The idea that self-amplifying “positive feedback” loops might accelerate global warming was hypothesized fifty year ago, but never directly verified. Between 1979 and 2011, the authors of the PNAS study write, Earth’s natural reflectivity — its “albedo” or reflection coefficient (a dimensionless term; 0 for black, that reflects nothing; 1 for white, that reflects everything)– dropped from 0.52 to 0.48, resulting in the absorption of an extra 6.5 Watts/m2 of radiant energy that will certainly distribute themselves around the globe.

This “radiative forcing”, or increase in heat absorption corresponding to the Arctic’s reduced albedo, is a quarter of the forcing value linked to increased carbon dioxide emissions over the same period, the authors note. The positive feedback is “considerably larger” than what models and indirect estimates had predicted, they add.

With this and other potentially worrisome weather issues in mind (e.g. that polar vortex), I sought out the thoughts of a gentleman named David Phillips. In the age of apparently accelerating global warming, no one has his finger on Earth’s weather pulse more squarely and firmly than Phillips, Canada’s chief climatologist and an eminent Canadian.

Anyone who regularly listens to the radio here in Canada is likely to have heard Dave Phillips on various occasions. He’s “Canada’s Weatherman” (although Environment Canada is quick to point out that Phillips is their chief “climatologist”).

One thing’s for sure: David Phillips is Canada’s leading public commentator on that subject of all-consuming interest for Canadians — the weather. In this land of withering heat, bitter cold, endless snow, and buckets of rain, no one tells it like it is better than David Phillips. For over four decades, Phillips has delivered informed insights with verve and panache. Listen to him here.

Twelve Canadians is a multimedia series about women and men who’ve been devoting their lives to social, economic or environmental justice, and to the healthy development of Canadian communities and the world. Each episode examines a specific issue or situation, through the voices of people who’ve been active in that area. Lots more than just twelve. Thanks to the Social Justice Fund of the Canadian Autoworkers Union for their generous support. Thanks as well to CKUW, University of Winnipeg Radio, and CFUV, at the University of Victoria.

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