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Climate expert Cliff Mass finds ‘technical flaws’ in ‘unreasonable’ heat study

(MyNorthwest file)

University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences Professor and climate blogger Cliff Mass isn’t buying a recent study that projected heat levels rising in Seattle in the next century — enough to kill 725 people per major heat event.

“There were just so many flaws with this whole study,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson.

In an interview with Dori on Monday, one of the study’s authors, UW Global Health Professor Kristie Ebi, stated that the study put Seattle as it currently is 100 years in the future, with the only changing variables being the date and temperatures. Other variables, such as the population and age of residents, remained exactly as they are today, meaning that the ways in which people could adapt to higher temperatures were not considered.

“It assumed that people would never buy air conditioners or anything else when things heated up, and extrapolated the statistics in a way that I thought was very, very unreasonable,” said Mass, who wrote a blog piece on his critiques of the study. “They didn’t consider that cold waves kill people just as much as heat waves … there were just so many technical flaws.”

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The study had Seattle’s mean temperatures getting as high as 97 degrees Fahrenheit. While the idea of the globe heating up in the next 100 years is “not made-up,” Mass said that the scientists behind the study were “using inappropriate models.”

He explained that the climate model used did not take into account significant geographic details, such as the cooling effect of the Puget Sound or the ways in which the Cascade Mountains protect Washington from extreme heat.

“We’re never going to be 114 [degrees Fahrenheit], and one of the reasons we’ll never be 114 is that we have this cold water next to us, which their model didn’t really have,” he said. “Also, a more detailed climate model would have the terrain … They didn’t have the details that really would make all the difference.”

He pointed out that according to the study’s projections, Seattle will be hotter than Los Angeles in a century.

“I thought they were making very unreasonable assumptions,” he said.

While Mass finds this particular study ridiculous, he firmly believes that the climate is changing and that fossil fuel emissions play a serious role.

“The best science indicates that if we keep on putting more CO2 into the atmosphere, the planet is going to warm significantly,” he said.

However, “these kind of studies that exaggerate the effects of warming, they don’t do anybody any good — it’s just like crying wolf.” He added that they undermine those who are trying to learn and spread the facts about climate change.

We all need to make changes in our lives, Mass said. He suggested giving up one airplane trip a year. Still, he said, it’s unreasonable to completely give up using fossil fuels at this point in time.

“We have to find a way to get other energy sources, we will do that,” he said. “But we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; we need energy to live the way we want to live.”

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