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Former Naval Meteorologist and Oceanographer, Dr. David Titley, Gets Real About What To Expect From Global Warming

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Content provided by Tanya Privé - Leadership. All podcast content including episodes, graphics, and podcast descriptions are uploaded and provided directly by Tanya Privé - Leadership or their podcast platform partner. If you believe someone is using your copyrighted work without your permission, you can follow the process outlined here https://player.fm/legal.

If you are like most people and know something bad is happening with global warming but are not sure how it will impact you, and more importantly, how to help slow it down, this podcast episode is for you.

Retired Rear Admiral David Titley, and former Naval Meteorologist and Oceanographer was tasked with assessing and planning for security risks our country faced with regards to global warming. Having spent 32 years in the Navy, David remains especially concerned about sea levels rising. He expects sea levels to rise up to 6 feet by the year 2100. Then, he predicts that by the time the sea levels stabilize, we could be looking at a 30 feet increase in sea levels globally.

What does this mean for you or perhaps your offsprings? This means Orlando becomes the southernmost point of Florida. Baton Rouge is the southernmost point of Louisiana. Everybody in Harlem, New York are elated because they now have beachfront properties. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Tune in to get the full conversation and learn about:

      • Climate change
      • Global warming
      • Sea levels rising
      • Potential related security risks to come
      • Changes we can expect as a result of climate change
      • What you can do to help

Dr. David Titley’s biography:

Before retiring, David Titley was the Professor of Practice in the Department of Meteorology at the Pennsylvania State University, and founding Director of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk. The Center helps organizations and citizens prosper and succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s weather and climate environment by taking advantage of all the skill in weather and climate forecasts.

Mr. Titley served as a naval officer for 32 years and rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. Dr. Titley’s career included duties as commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command; oceanographer and navigator of the Navy; and deputy assistant chief of naval operations for information dominance. He also served as senior military assistant for the director, Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

In 2009, Dr. Titley initiated and led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. After retiring from the Navy, Dr. Titley served as the Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Operations, the chief operating officer position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dr. Titley serves on numerous advisory boards and National Academies of Science committees, including the CNA Military Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the Center for Climate and Security, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the National Academy of Science Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

Dr. Titley is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. In 2017, Dr. Titley was the recipient of the College of Earth and Mineral Science Wilson Award for excellence in service.

Connect with Dr. David Titley:

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Full Transcription:

David W. Titley: Ladies and gents, that could be child’s play compared to what we will see if we don’t get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions pretty much now.

Tanya: That’s Dr. David William Titley, former US Navy and Rear Admiral who spent ten years at sea and served his country for over 32 years. With a PhD in Meteorology and a deep expertise as the Navy’s oceanographer. David has been asked to testify before congress on numerous occasions to discuss the state of climate change. Once neutral on the subject, David is now an avid believer that climate change is real, and immediate action should be taken to address the imminent threat to our planet.

You really had an amazing career in meteorology and oceanography, and you spent 32 years in the Navy, and then did a lot of other stuff afterwards which we’ll get into, but originally, what attracted you to meteorology?

David W. Titley: That’s a really, really good question, and as best I can tell, I have been interested in weather since four or five. My parents told me that a tornado, a small tornado, but a tornado went through our backyard when I was two or three. I have no recollection of that at all, but I’m told it took the doghouse.

Tanya: Oh, my gosh.

David W. Titley: I do remember, when we moved – we moved several times when I was young. When we moved to the house where finally us three kids could each have a bedroom each, I was the oldest, so of course I got to choose first. Seems right. The reason I chose the room I did was because it had an outside thermometer. I was finishing up kindergarten at that time. I would say at least at the end of kindergarten, first grade, I knew I was interested in weather, but to this day I’m not really sure why. It’s just been one of those things in which I’ve pretty much grown up with.

Tanya: Fast forward a little bit, and you went to get your Bachelors of Science in Meteorology at Penn State, and then you joined the Navy which is a very interesting move. What led that choice?

David W. Titley: Pretty simply, I needed a way to pay for college. Penn State like a lot of land-grant institutions if you’re an out-of-state person is not – it doesn’t cost like private colleges, but it’s not cheap especially for out-of-state. My parents basically said, congratulations, you got yourself into Penn State. Now go figure out how to pay for it. They were a little nicer than that, but that’s pretty much what they said. I needed to look at a number of different ways and I found out about this program called, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, ROTC. I first applied to the Air Force and they said no. They very rightly said no because when I think back on that interview, it was probably one of the more cringe worthy things I’ve ever done. I had zero clue. I was some 16-year-old snot-nosed kid, and I had absolutely no idea how to answer questions or anything.

At least I thought about it a little bit, so when I had the interview for the Navy two weeks later, I guess I did at least marginally better, and they said yes. Really, the reason I joined the Navy, I mean, I would love to say that my great, great, great, great grandfather was John Paul Jones, but it’s just not true. I needed a way to pay for college. It seemed like a fair trade to me. I give them four years, they get me a bachelor’s degree, and we all shake hands at four years and a day, and we go our separate paths, but as you know that’s not quite what happened.

Tanya: Exactly. How did that work? You had the interview more or less when you were 16 with the Navy and they accepted you. How do you do that? Do you first go to college and then they agree to pay for it, but then you have to give four years after you graduate?

David W. Titley: Yes. You actually enroll it. It’s another commissioning source for all the military services in addition to the better-known academies like West Point and Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy. When you show up to college, you are actually enlisted in the Navy as a midshipman which is what the Navy calls their officer cadets. You are, in addition to taking all your normal classes, you take some Naval Science classes. You do labs where you learn the very basics of what it means to be in the Navy and be an officer. Every summer, they send you out basically on training cruises. By the time you get to be a senior, the same day that you graduate from college, you also are commissioned. In my case, into the United States Navy as a [00:05:33], which is the lowest ranking commissioned officer.

Tanya: Wow. The Navy has – people each have their own association of what that is and the challenges that come with that environment, but what was your experience like in the training, of joining the Navy, and then being in it for 32 years?

David W. Titley: Yeah. Probably for the training part, for ROTC, it would not surprise me if I had been voted the midshipman least likely to succeed. I can’t say I really enjoyed marching around and – this is 35, 40 years ago. There is nothing severe, but there is hazing. You’re on your back acting like a dead bug and people are yelling at you at 4:00 in the morning and stuff. I’m thinking, why am I doing this? It’s like, oh yeah, I need the money, so I’ll do this. It’s not like nobody’s getting physically harmed or anything, but anyway. You do that.

What I found was, the first time I went to sea on a naval ship and again, I was probably 17 by this point as a midshipman. I found I liked it. I was on an old frigate, and we went from San Diego, stopped at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and went out to the Philippines. It’s a 17-year-old kid, this is fun. You sail across the Pacific. I found honestly, if you pay attention, this is true in the Navy, it’s true in a lot of places, there’s no one individual step of your job that’s really that hard, but you do have to do them all. You have to do them all right each time, but I could do that. I enjoyed being at sea. I thought the mission was pretty interesting in general.

I liked working with the sailors. When you’re 17, you realize that the enlisted sailors, they’re 17, 18, 19, 20 years old, and in many ways they’re not really that different from you. Maybe they just didn’t have that opportunity to go to college for whatever reason, a lot of reasons, and they enlisted. They’re really good guys, and now guys and gals. Back then, it was only guys on the ships back in the ‘70s, but of course, that’s changed now.

Tanya: What kind of culture would you say that the Navy has?

David W. Titley: What kind of culture? I mean, it’s a military culture, right? It’s hierarchical. What does that mean? That means if your boss is interested, you’re fascinated, but it really is – I mean, not to get sloppy emotional, but there is an underlying culture of service. There is an underlying – people take their oath, the officers. We take an oath and you swear to uphold and defend the constitution, right? Not a certain political party, not a president, not a member of congress. You uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Back when I started of course – this is in the middle of the Cold War. There was, I think, a general unity in the country that we were on the side of right, if you will. Again, not to be overly simplistic. There was a sense of purpose, a sense of doing maybe somewhat larger than yourself. People work very hard and of course, what you see is – there were many professions in which people work very, very hard, but the military is one of them. It’s also not for everybody. Some people, the idea of going away from home for four, five, six, seven, eight months at a time is just – that doesn’t work for them.

Tanya: How did your wife deal with that because – or maybe you didn’t meet her at that point because you spent ten years at sea?

David W. Titley: Yeah. I wasn’t married for the first ten years.

Tanya: Ah, that helps.

David W. Titley: That’s one way to deal with it is, don’t be married, but no, my wife is very independent and she does well by herself. Part of the deal we had though was that when we were married is she would come out when it was possible, when we knew the schedules reasonably well in advance and visit me. I think my wife’s first overseas trip was to Singapore.

Tanya: Oh, wow.

David W. Titley: Her second overseas trip was to Australia. That’s not bad, right?

Tanya: No, those are big ones.

David W. Titley: There’s the old slogan, join the Navy and see the world, and you do. Now of course, what the Navy doesn’t tell you is the world is in fact 70% ocean, so you see a lot of water. You also get to see a lot of things. Back in the late ‘90s, we got to live in Japan for two years. It was just fascinating. I would argue that that was probably one of our most enjoyable tours. Probably the one in which grew professionally a tremendous amount, but also personally. Just really living in a culture in a country that is so different than ours was just fascinating.

Tanya: I have a number of Japanese friends, but just one thing that always impresses me so much is how gentle and thoughtful and just really polite they are. It’s so different. I mean, I’m in New York City and it’s a little different.

David W. Titley: Yeah, I was going to say, those are three adjectives you always think of with New York City, right?

Tanya: Yes, exactly. Having spent ten years at sea and 32 years in the Navy, what was one of the most challenging moments that you had to deal with that really stands out? Minus the cringe interview that you [00:11:57]?

David W. Titley: [00:11:58].

Tanya: That was nothing as it compares, yeah.

David W. Titley: That’s a good question. I think there were – at sea, you just get tired. You get very little sleep, and actually the Navy, in the last few years is institutionally coming to grips with that. Certainly, back when I was doing this, it was almost a badge of – pardon the term, but almost a manhood thing. It’s like, oh, you got three hours of sleep last. I got 90 minutes.

Tanya: Oh, my god.

David W. Titley: Therefore, I’m clearly a better officer than you are. It’s this weird sort of thing which all the medical guys are saying, “You know actually, this is really stupid of you guys so stop it.” It’s a job that really is 24/7 and is very irregular out. I mean, no matter how you manage your sleep cycle, there are things going on 24/7 in which you need to be able to do that. I think one of the more challenging things I had was – as I mentioned earlier before we started recording is, I tend to say yes to opportunities. As I was about six months away from finishing up my master’s degree at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, basically our boss comes down into our common study room and says, “Hey, I need somebody to go on an aircraft carrier that’s about to deploy. Anybody want to do that?” Everybody’s looking at the guy like you must be crazy, and I raised my hand.

Tanya: Wow.

David W. Titley: Sometimes it’s like, why did you do that? Then the deal was, hey, go do the deployment and then when they’re done you can come back to postgraduate school, finish up your masters, and go on from there. I said, “Sure, why not?” I show up on an aircraft carrier which has its own subculture, and always 5,000 people, 5,000 of your closest friends. These guys had all spent basically a year the previous year working – what we call working up, getting ready, doing a lot of exercises. Everybody knows what they’re doing. I show up five days before deployment having never actually served on an aircraft carrier, so the learning curve was pretty much vertical for the first few months there.

You’re not only trying to figure out your job, you’re trying to figure out the personnel dynamics. All the different organizational facets that you need to be part of. Yeah, that was pretty challenging and there were – sometimes you just wonder, maybe the pool here is a little bit deeper than I thought it would, but it worked out. That was certainly challenging.

Tanya: Where were you deployed?

David W. Titley: This was a deployment we did immediately before Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and that was the time in which Saddam went into Kuwait. This was at the very, very end of the Cold War, so 1990, January of 1990 we got underway. Out of California and basically spent time in both the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. It was weird because all of us of course had grown up in the Cold War professionally. Then Soviets, now Russians, and at that point they were trying to figure out who they were, were not coming out. It was almost this Kabuki ritual in which the US, either Air Force or Navy, air craft carriers, whatever get within a certain distance of [00:15:54] Soviet Union and the Soviets fly up their aircraft. We escort them. Everybody knows how the game is played.

We’re out there, and they’re not playing. It’s just weird because this is what they do. This is what we do, and we were all really trying to figure out what’s going on. Is this a ruse? Are they trying to do something else? It’s like, no, they’re really not playing here. This is really different. We were doing that, got in the Indian Ocean, and ironically, it was amazingly quiet. This was like the spring of 1990. This is just before Hussein, Saddam Hussein goes into Kuwait. We come home, and I think it was the day we get back into our home port in California near San Francisco, is when Hussein goes into Kuwait.

Our ship was scheduled to go into this big expensive maintenance period, but we were for about three weeks it was – the rumors were, no you’re not going to do that. They’re going to turn you around and send you back out to the Persian Gulf. Then 30 minutes later, there’s a different rumor, and an hour later, there’s a different rumor. Long story short, we did not go. We were not one of the ultimately six carriers that ended up on that job. The powers that be decided no, we’re going to go and do the maintenance that we’ve already put hundreds of millions of dollars of expense into. That’s what happened.

Tanya: At the peak of your career, what were your accountabilities?

David W. Titley: The peak of my career. I guess, that would probably be when I was an admiral. I had a few different jobs, but probably the one in which I had the most was I was – it’s big long words, Commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, kind of a mouthful, but basically what that meant was I was responsible and accountable for all the US Navy’s weather and ocean observation and prediction programs.

Things like keeping aircraft carriers and typhoons apart from each other, so we do not ever again have the tragedy that Admiral Halsey had in December of ’44 where in fact ran his battle group in World War II right through a typhoon and sunk three ships, killed over 700 sailors, damaged and destroyed hundreds of aircraft. If somebody did that nowadays it would be a tremendous number of people being fired, but we were fighting World War II at the time and everybody loved Admiral Halsey and Nimitz basically grabbed him and said, don’t do that again, but he didn’t get fired.

Tanya: Wow.

David W. Titley: That’s an obvious one. There’s a less obvious part of the weather and ocean prediction job, and that is not only to keep ships and submarines and aircrafts safe which is a hugely important mission, but also how can you best exploit present and future weather conditions so that you can do your job better than a potential adversary. How can you use weather and ocean to let’s say hide or disguise your forces? How can you position your forces so they can take advantage of let’s say a weather hole or a weather window or something like that? All of those sorts of things I was responsible for. When I moved up to the Pentagon is when I became oceanographer and navigator of the Navy and that is – it’s an easier title to say, sounds cool. It’s more of a budget like you’re working the future budget. You’re working policies. You’re working international relations, but it’s not so much the operational job that I had that I just described. It was during that job as oceanographer and navigator at the Navy that they – head of the Navy, a gentleman we called the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, asked me to take a hard look at what was going on up in the Arctic with the ice melting out, and figuring out does the Navy need to pay attention to this.

Tanya: Yes. That’s actually a really good segue. It’s been publicized that you actually began as a climate change skeptic and as you started to really evaluate and examine the evidence, you changed your mind. I know that everybody knows what climate change is or knows the word, but I just want to – in a very simple way, what is climate change?

David W. Titley: Two words there, right, so climate and change. Really, what is climate? Climate is really just the average of some component of the weather that could be temperature, high temperatures, low temperatures. It could be amount of rainfall. It could be number of hurricanes, number of tornados. It could be some component of weather averaged over some period of time and space. We could talk about what’s the climate of the United States. We could talk about what is the climate of New York City. What is the average temperatures in July between 1950 and 2000 in New York City? What are the extremes? That would be climate.

Climate change is when those averages start to move. When we talk about climate change now, most people are implying man-made or a fancy word as anthropogenic, but basically man-made climate change or human caused climate change. That’s a shorthand for not only are those averages changing, but they are changing more than we would expect to see with small natural variations. For this purpose, the natural variations are basically plus or minus 1 degree Fahrenheit averaged over time. That accounts for El Niños and La Niñas and very small variations in the sun, plus or minus maybe a degree Fahrenheit.

We’ve already seen in the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century, we’re now up to about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit change, and we’re not seeing just an oscillation or an up and down, but we’re seeing a very, very pronounced uptrend. That’s a long, long explanation, but climate is just averages of weather over some period of space or time, and climate change as it’s usually used means that the climate is changing and it’s changing not due to natural variations. It’s changing because of human activities, and that’s what’s happening.

Tanya: Thank you for explaining that. That was really good. Now what evidence did you take a look at that tipped your thinking into believing that climate change is real and it’s a threat?

David W. Titley: Actually, that’s a great question. There’s a lot of stuff in there. Not to be pedantic, but when I do my talks, I go through a lot of the evidence. Then I ask my audience, “Okay, who believes in climate change?” I got this cheesy graphic of some evangelistic guy whipping up the crowd. He was like, no, who believes in climate change? 90% of the people or whatever raise their hand, and I say, “I don’t. I don’t believe in climate change.” People look at me like, is this is a bait-and-switch or what? I don’t believe in climate change because it’s not a belief system. Science is not a belief system. I’m convinced by the evidence.

That there’s overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing, but I tell people that beliefs are things you might do on a Friday evening or a Saturday evening or a Sunday morning. Perhaps at a house of worship or some other place. Those are beliefs. We all have a lot of beliefs, but I would argue that science is fact. Not based on belief, it’s based on evidence. That may sound a bit naughty, but I do get – all the time people are asking me, do I believe in climate change? It’s like, no. It’s not a religion. In fact, I think there are some people who would like us to not do anything on this who try quite hard to paint this as a religion. You see that in the discourse.

I would also say that I was probably more of a climate agnostic than a skeptic. One, my job was really day-to-day weather. It was not looking at climate change. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. During the ‘80s and ‘90s certainly there were indications that climate was changing, but there were also, I would say, we were still well within that 1 degree Fahrenheit, and you could make the argument that perhaps we were still seeing variations of natural forcings at that point. The other part that frankly really bothered me was that whenever somebody talked about climate change, it was always, always, always gloom and doom, right? This is bad. That is bad. Everything is bad. Let me get out my hair shirt and whip myself and have all this kind of stuff. It’s like, oh my god. I was like, how much depressing talk can I take in one day, so I ignored it.

Actually, I have to think about why was it all bad because you would say, well, if this is change, no it’s not too unreasonable to say, well, it’s change. Okay, so maybe there will be some bad things, but there will also be some positive things. It’s change, right? It’s not good or evil. It’s just change. What I realized maybe ten years ago was it’s probably much more heavily weighted to the not good side. Call it a threat, call it a challenge or risk, pick your term because we have – humanity has implicitly built human civilization on climate stability. We’ve had actually amazing climate stability in the last 8,000 to 10,000 years since we came out of last Ice Age. We’ve had really very – actually, relatively unusual climate stability.

We’ve gone from basically being hunter-gatherers to of course the dawn of agriculture which led to – I mean, everybody knows the story, right? Villages to towns to cities, and the next thing you know we’re all carrying around iPhones in our pocket, and oh, by the way, we have, what, nearly 8 billion, 8 plus billion, about 8 billion people give or take on the planet right now. We can’t go back to being hunter-gatherers and just roaming the planet as conditions change anymore. We can’t do that. Now when we have kicked ourselves out of that climate stability, now how do we deal with it. How do we deal with it in our food security, in our water security? How do we deal with migration when there are now places that might have been marginal for people to live that now are much, much tougher to live? How do we have appropriate safety nets to help people do all of that, and when we don’t put those in, usually the dirty, ugly end of human civilization ends up becoming a national security issue, and the military is then asked to go and do something.

I apologize for the length of that, but it’s really – there is a reason why when you read many of the headlines that there aren’t – there’s not a lot of good news. Climate is changing, yee-haw. It’s like Maine is going to have an extra month of vacation period. There will probably be some places up north that do see let’s say extended growing seasons, but they’re probably going to have different crops. As I’ve mentioned before we started recording, I’m actually on a five-month trip of the country and right now we’re up in Michigan on the – we’re still on the Lower Peninsula, but we’re on the northern part. For miles and miles here, you see apple orchards and blueberries and cherries. People think, well geez, it’s Northern Michigan, isn’t it really cold in the winter, and yeah, it is. It’s really cold here, and wouldn’t they want it to be warmer longer.

It’s like, well, maybe they would but they probably then would not be able to grow the crops that they’re so well known for. Even in places in which you think, oh geez, it’s going to warm up and they’ll like it, it’s going to be very different for them. This is the part of change, and when I give my talk, I talk about climate in three words. People and water and change, and I tell people that of those three words the one that really worries me the most is the change part because how are we going to manage this and how are we going to manage this globally with some degree of equity and justice and doing this in a world of 8 billion people. That is to me one of the huge challenges of the 21st century.

Tanya: If you had to summarize the major changes that you are expecting to happen, what would that be?

David W. Titley: As I mentioned, I talk about these changes or climate in three words, and why three words because I’m a simple sailor, and I can only do things in threes. I can’t really digest all 2,000 pages of an IPCC report and stuff like that, but I can remember threes. When I talk about water and I think water is arguably a linchpin of so many of the climate issues. I talk about water as being it’s either too much or too little. Now it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Salty where it used to be fresh. It’s wet where it used to be dry. It’s liquid where it used to be solid. Even the very chemistry of the oceans themselves are changing as the oceans take up almost half, about 40% or so of the excess carbon dioxide emissions.

Maybe we can live without internet, at least for a little while, but it’s really hard for people to live without water. That water is changing, it’s changing its distribution. It doesn’t mean we run out, but the distribution is changing, and we’ve seen. We’ve seen these devastating floods. I call them rain bomb sometimes [00:32:13] locally. We’ve seen on bigger scales, Mississippi flooded, the most it’s been arguably since at least 1993. Some would argue even back to the 1920s. Sea level rise, I was just reading that Miami right now is flooding pretty much every day in these so-called king tides. They call it nuisance flooding and there’s sunny day flooding, and they blame it on the moon. I was like, well actually, the reason you’re now flooding and you didn’t used to 10, 20 years ago is not the moon. The moon hasn’t changed, but fact is, is we’ve melted a whole bunch of ice that was on the land.

Many of the climate implications go back to water. Wild fires, why are we seeing more wild fires? We’re heating things up, but when you heat up plants, what do they do? They dry up, so we’re taking the water out of the system. We’re heating it up and we are then just setting the stage for these catastrophic wild fires that we’ve seen now in the last several years particularly out west.

Tanya: Yes, and what is predictable to happen if nothing changes? If we continue as is?

David W. Titley: Yeah. If we continue as is, and this has been in the news a lot here in what, the summer of 2019, a lot of pushback, if you will from the current administration, but I think the National Climate Assessment recent reports here for the last year or so really pretty well captured this. There is a scenario that scientists use. We call it either business as usual or it’s got a really technical name. It’s RCP8.5 which [00:34:02] – I’m going to mess up what the C is now – path. I’m sure you’ll get comments on what the C is. I can’t remember. Basically, how much forcing? How much extra heating or forcing we have? There is a scenario which basically if we keep burning fossil fuels more or less at the rate we have, this is where we’re going, and we’re going to a world in which we will be 3 to 4 degrees Celsius. What is that in terms people understand?

Tanya: I understand Celsius, but yeah.

David W. Titley: 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average, and people will say, well, you know, it was 75 today, so if it’s 84 tomorrow, why is that a big deal? One, when you warm the planet that much, that’s almost as much warming as we saw between the depth of the Ice Age and our 20th century climate. The depth of the Ice Age, we had glaciers almost coming way down the Hudson River Valley, right? You wouldn’t be going to the Catskills for your summer vacation in New York City anymore. That’s for sure. Not unless you wanted to go climb kilometers high ice faces up in Peekskill or something like that.

That’s a massive, massive amount of heat to add. Basically, that type of heat, if we do business as usual for the rest of the century, will all but guarantee not 5 inches, not even 5 feet of sea level rise. It starts to guarantee order 30, 3-0 feet sea level rise, when we would eventually stabilize. If anything, I’m probably being conservative there. 30 feet of sea level rise, just so that your listeners understand, that means that Orlando becomes the Southernmost Point of Florida. Baton Rouge is the Southernmost Point of Louisiana. Everybody in Harlem is probably pretty happy because they now have the waterfront property, and they’re laughing at Lower Manhattan because they’re all underwater. I don’t know if – New York City has arguably some of the most valuable real estate in the world, but are we going to build a levee system or a wall big enough to keep 30 feet of sea level out? That would be quite a function.

From a security perspective, Norfolk, Virginia and what they call down there, the Tidewater area is arguably the largest naval base, but it’s not only Navy, the Air Force has a huge base, Langley Air Force Base down there. The Army and the Coast Guard have important facilities as well. All of that goes. I mean, right now the Navy is talking about, well geez, maybe I need to raise the piers at my base by a foot or something like that. I want to say, dudes, this is not going to be your problem, raising the piers by a foot because there is no Norfolk. There is no Virginia Beach. There is no Chesapeake. There is no Portsmouth. It’s gone. You got to go back up to Yorktown, Virginia to find the coast line with 30 foot of sea level.

That’s just the US. Arguably, you recreate the inland sea in the Central Valley in California. We haven’t even talked about Asia and Shanghai and Manila and Singapore and Tokyo and Yokohama, and [00:37:48]. That becomes with business as usual. I think the last time I looked, that’s about half a billion, with a B, people live where – within 30 feet, let’s say elevation 30 feet where it would be potentially flooded. That’s half a billion people that probably need to move. Not to mention every major city, and you need to do this all more or less at the same time. People say, well, we can do that and I said, well, maybe we can, but let’s also remember that in the Syrian migration, that was roughly 1 million people. That’s what, two-tenths of 1% of what I’m talking about, 1 million people. Those 1 million people moving to Europe in a relatively chaotic fashion, I would argue shook the European Union to its core. That was just 1 million, not 500 million.

It doesn’t mean that it’s a catastrophe, but it does I think mean as someone who’s kind of have to manage risks for many, many decades, this is a huge risk. You would like to say, what’s the best way to manage risk is like buy it down beforehand. Like for the pilots, for naval aviators, or anybody else, it’s like, I don’t want you doing that heroic pilot stuff. I want you to be smart so that you never put that aircraft in a position where you have to do all that heroic pilot stuff. That’s really what we should be doing. It’s like, let’s not say, hey, let’s see what happens when we move half a billion people more or less at the same time. Let’s buy down that risk so that we’re not trying to move Singapore and London and Amsterdam and New York City and San Francisco and Tokyo all at the same time because I’m not sure how that’s going to work out.

Tanya: Many things to think about here, but you said it would all happen at the same time within this century.

David W. Titley: Let me clarify that. When the seas come up, it is going to take probably centuries for them so stabilize. This is really one of the big unknowns in the science is exactly how fast do the ice sheets respond to this warming. I very recently retired from Penn State, but I’m still affiliated with there and I’m very pleased and proud to say that some of my colleagues in the College of Earth and Mineral Science, they’re really on the forefront. People like Richard Alley and some of his colleagues are really at the forefront of trying to better understand how fast these ice sheets would come in to balance with the new heat. There is just all kinds of science which I won’t bore people with but there is a lot of unknowns there.

Tanya: When you say come into balance, do you mean like finish melting and sort of incorporate in the rest of the water?

David W. Titley: Exactly. I mean, let me just do this in a very simple way. You take an ice cube out of your freezer and you put it into you into a glass of room-temperature water, and let’s say that water is 70 degrees. It doesn’t melt instantly, right? It takes some time to melt there. Even as we add this heat not only to the atmosphere but to the ocean and the ocean is actually taking up about 90, 9-0% of the excess heat. It takes a lot. Then to make it even more complicated, we’re trying to figure out, do these ice sheets just simply slide off the land? Do they get hung up? Do they collapse? Like God has this massive hammer and it’s like you’re hammering on the ice sheets and you just fracture them, and then, much, much more ice comes into the ocean much more quickly than if it is just melting, melting off.

All of these things are really at the cutting edge of science here to understand exactly how this is going to go. Let’s just say, just for a thought experiment that for whatever reason, we as humans don’t really do much to minimize our greenhouse gases for the rest of this century. We do find by the year 2100 that we’re 3 to 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. I’d say 5 to 7 degrees in Fahrenheit terms. At that point, my guess if somebody put a gun to my head and said how long is it going to take to stabilize, I’d say it’s about 100 years. Within 100 years, you could see the ice sheets coming – or the sea level rise coming up by tens of feet. No, I don’t want to leave your listeners with the impression that by the year 2100 we’re going to have 30 feet of sea level rise. We are not. We may have 3, 4, 5 even 6 which that’s a lot. If you’re in Miami, that’s a big deal.

Tanya: That’s Miami.

David W. Titley: If you’re in Norfolk, that’s a big, big deal, but what I’m concerned is, ladies and gents that could be child’s play compared to what we will see if we don’t get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions pretty much now.

Tanya: Now that you’ve retired from the Navy and Penn State, I recently read a document or news that the Navy quietly shut down their Climate Change Task Force and it is debatable when that actually happened, but sometime in 2019.

David W. Titley: It was kind of like the Baltimore Colts moving out of Baltimore. I think they did it in the snowstorm in the middle of the night.

Tanya: Yeah, exactly. Given what you’ve stated as the almost certain future, if nothing changes, and with this administration that is literally unraveling and shutting down important initiatives like the Paris support or the Climate Change Task Force in the Navy, first of all, first of all, what happened with the Navy? Do you have any idea why they would do that?

David W. Titley: I could only speculate. I can tell you that nobody in the Navy told me. I found out about this third or fourth hand, and then had my spies and moles dig around and find out that yes, they in fact did shut this down. From a bureaucratic perspective, task forces in fact should not last forever. I think the Navy, when reporter asked them said, well, we’ve incorporated all of this into the mainstream so we don’t need a task force. If they had incorporated all of this into the mainstream, I would absolutely agree with that. A task force really should live for a finite period of time. On the process side, on the mechanics side, I don’t – it’s not a here nor there to me that they shut down the task force. It was not meant to live forever.

What I’m much more concerned about is, from what I see, very frankly I don’t think the Navy is thinking about these long-term threats, not very seriously. I think there is a chill in the executive branch, no pun intended. That thoughts about man-made – the implications or impacts or let alone what to do about man-made climate change are neither encouraged or desired. Those who think about this put their careers at risk. We just saw the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats forced out of his job earlier – I think it was within the last few weeks. Mr. Coats, I think probably got on the wrong side of the president on several issues, but one of the issues he was I think forthright about and really what DNI Coats was reflecting was simply the judgment of his senior career intelligence analyst, is climate change is in fact a threat to national security.

Any of your listeners can Google, it’s called worldwide threats to intelligence. You can Google that, either 2018 or 2019, it is a unclassified document. You don’t need The New York Times to have it leaked to you or anything like that. It’s short and it is signed by Dan Coats himself. There is in each one of those, about a full page of a 20-page document devoted to the impacts of climate change. This is what our career intelligence are – most senior career intelligence analysts have come up with. This isn’t like, well, Titley, he’s a retired weather guy. He probably just likes this stuff or something like that. These are people who are paid by our country to assess future risks and warn our policymakers.

We see this but we see, as you’ve mentioned, that really much of the administration, it’s almost like they’ve gone into shell shock or they’ve dug into their fox hole and they’ve put their hand over their head. They’re hoping the artillery barrage from the White House stops at some point. I think many senior leaders in many organizations or parts of our government including, I would argue, the US Navy, has decided this is a fight they don’t’ want right now. We could argue whether that is a courageous stand or we could argue whether that is, well, you’re worried about your career more than important things or you’re just trying to save yourself for bigger fights. Reasonable people can debate which side it is. Is this the issue you take to the hill and you die on that hill on this issue. Maybe it is for some. Others are going to say, I’m going to die on another issue, but not this one.

Yeah, it’s pretty much I think undeniable that this administration has put a huge, huge chill on any discussion of man-made climate change let alone what to do. I will say that ironically, the congress even though the senate is still controlled by Republicans and even the previous congress, where both chambers were controlled by the Republicans is actually quietly doing more. If you look in the last few, what we call National Defense Authorization Act, fancy word for the Defense Bill, we are seeing more and more amendments being passed by both parties that basically direct the Department of Defense to increasingly get ready for a change in climate.

Just this morning I was reading that our National Highway Bill has a number of provisions in it that will direct various – both federal and state agencies to both use money to prepare for future climate change and also to take future climate change into account when building out our transportation system. It’s almost a mirror-image of what we saw in the second Obama administration where you had the administration led by the president talking very high profile frequently and actively about this. The congress was like, no how, no way, I’m not doing anything. Those roles have flipped. Of course, the president is very well-known for this position on this issue, but less so I think the change in the congress.

I think you’re seeing – of course, the Democrats are talking a lot about it, but you are seeing more and more Republicans I think are coming to the conclusion that straight out climate denial is really – one, it makes people look silly, and I don’t know if they care about that or not, but it’s no longer a winning political issue in more and more districts. We’re seeing changes here and I guess if I want to leave somebody with a hopeful note it’s that, if I could pick only one branch of government to be on my side, I would pick the congress.

Tanya: Right now.

David W. Titley: Congress has a [00:51:08] and they make the laws. Administrations come and go, and so, are we doing enough? No. Are we doing it fast enough? No, but the fact that we’ve seen this change in the congress, I would argue over the last two to three years to me is it’s like seeing that very first [00:51:28] after a long, hard winter. It gives me signs of hope.

Tanya: You would know this because you’ve been invited to testify many, many times in front of congress. What were you asked to testify about and what do you think the reception of that was?

David W. Titley: I’ve actually, in this session of congress, I’ve testified three times. Twice before the house before the – both the Armed Services Committee and their Budget Committee, and also before the senate. There was a special hearing by the Homeland Security Committee, that I was asked to testify at. If anybody really wants to find it, you can Google my name and congressional testimony, and all of that is in the public record. I was told by some of the staffers on the budget committee that my remarks were actually very well received. That plus $2 buys you a small cup of coffee at Starbucks or at least it used to. We’ll see what that means. I did talk about the need for almost an Apollo scale program to rapidly get ourselves on to non-carbon-based energy, and I use those words carefully because I think nuclear probably does have a role in this.

We definitely need to bring down and significantly bring down the cost of storage. We probably need better transmission. We do okay on generation with wind and solar, but they’re not a panacea, and we need to – but we don’t have time to wait for the perfect solution. There was an admiral, Admiral Gorshkov who rant the Soviet Navy for many, many years, and in fact, he was head of the Soviet Navy when I got commission. One of his sayings, it’s probably not unique to him, but it’s attributed is, better is the enemy of good enough. We need to realize that at this point in time, good enough is probably where we need to be aiming for to decarbonize. Understanding that most energy systems, when you build them, they have a 20 to 40, maybe 50-year life cycle.

Yes, you’re locking yourself in for decades, but you’re not locking yourself in for centuries. Simultaneous to doing things, I would also have a much, much more robust R&D program to really figure out how to we provide adequate non-carbon-based power not only for the US, not only for the western world, but for all the world’s people. I mean, you could set a audacious goal of how does every single human being on the planet let’s say have Western European capacity of electricity. Every single person, every person in India, every person in Africa, every person in Asia. Not just the US and Canada and Japan and Australia. How do we do that, and how do we do that let’s say within 20 or 30 or 40 years? Can we do that? Maybe it’s 50 years, but we set those big goals, and we figure out how to do this. The Apollo program was what, roughly $150 billion in today’s money. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, especially when you look at the damages that we have already seen from extreme weather just in 2018. I think we saw nearly $300 billion of damages both insured and uninsured.

Tanya: You have a personal experience of weather damage. You lost your home.

David W. Titley: Yeah. I tell people if you ever want to know what a 10-meter storm surge does coming up your street, I got some pictures of that. Back when I was a one-star admiral, we were living in Mississippi. Actually, I bought the house since Mississippi is our headquarters for the Navy’s weather and ocean operations. I was first assigned to Mississippi down in the middle of 1990s. We bought a house and it was about two houses off the Gulf of Mexico. When I bought it, I figured I was going to sell it really quickly and then of course somebody wants to rent it and their successors want to rent it. Then we’re coming back down. I’m violating my own risk management rules here as I’ve now owned this half a block longer than I thought I would.

Sure enough, along comes Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, and it makes landfall just to the west of our house. The worst of the storm is always on that, what we call the dirty side of the eastern side of the storm. Yeah, it pushed about a 30-foot wall of water up. When we say we lost our house, we actually quite literally lost our house. I hate using the term literally and awesome and epic because those seem to be the words [00:56:40], but in this case, we actually lost our house to the point where we never did find it. 13 years later, we don’t know where it went. It either went up into the railway tracks with just millions of tons of debris, or more likely, I think it got sucked out into the Gulf of Mexico, but all we found was the front door and that was about it. We didn’t have any clean up. That was good. Yeah, there was very little to clean up.

I also tell people that – I don’t tell people this out of sympathy and in many ways that I really don’t have time to go through, we were – my wife and I were actually arguably the luckiest couple in Mississippi on the coast. We did not have our personal effects in that house at that particular time for a variety of reasons. We did have insurance. This isn’t a story of woe is me, but it is a traumatic event to lose your house like that. More importantly, think of all the people who don’t have a safety net especially when you get beyond the US where insurance is nowhere near as widespread. They have nothing. If you have a whole bunch of desperate people who have nothing, in addition to being a tremendous moral and I would argue human justice issue, that can become a security issue too because they have nothing, and they have nothing to lose. How do we manage that?

Tanya: Yeah. No, absolutely. What would you recommend for people? What can I do for example or the people out there listening? What can they do to contribute or help make a difference in climate change?

David W. Titley: I get asked this all the time, and I think it’s an obvious question, and it’s a very important question. The way I answer it is, I have a picture of a llama in my public talks, although somebody came up to me afterwards and said, “It’s not a llama, it’s an alpaca.” It’s like, “I’m sorry. The internet told me it was a llama, so [00:58:54] llama.” The way I spell llama is L-L-M-A, and the first L is learn. It’s just learn the basics of climate science. There is an association called the American Association for Advancement for Science of AAAS, triple A, S. They published I think a wonderful, very short climate document called, What We Know. If anybody of any of your listeners type triple A, S, what we know into Google, it’s the first thing that comes up. It’s tremendously accessible.

I would argue any single one of your listeners would easily be able to read it. I don’t care what degree they have or they don’t have. You don’t need a degree of anything to understand this. It gives you the basics. As a citizen, that’s all you need. We’re not trying to make you into Michael Mann or Richard Alley or anybody like that. Just know the basics. Now if you have – if there are any science geeks who are listening to this podcast, and you want to know more, go to the National Academy of Science and there is a publication called Climate Change: Evidence and Causes, National Academy of Science. Again, Google that, it comes right up. Now you’re going to know more than about 98%, 99% of Americans. If you have maybe a college degree or even you just like science in high school, I think you can get through that pretty easily. That’s my first L.

My second L is local action. Do what you can within your means, and that’s going to be very different for different people. We have different lives. We have different jobs. If you’re a farmer or if you’re a contractor, you probably need a diesel truck, right? We’re not saying live in a cave in a hair shirt and turn off the power. We’re saying do what you can. I’ll give an example. About six year ago, my wife and I moved up to State College where Penn State is, and for our budget, we had a choice. We could either buy an older house that was very close to my office, and I could walk there. We could maybe save a little bit of money, and then put it into upgrading windows and insulation and things like that, or we could buy a newer, bigger house maybe five, six, seven, eight miles away and drive to work. We chose the former, and we liked the neighborhood. We like the fact that we could walk to campus and do evening things and stuff like that, but it was also frankly a lower carbon footprint. I don’t think it was a sacrifice. I think it was simply a choice.

We all have choices, big and small in our lives, and I would ask that people just think about carbon footprint as one of the considerations. This isn’t a guilt trip. I’m not trying to shame people or anything like that or harangue people. I hate it when the environmentalist harangue people. It’s a choice. Local action, learn local action. M is monitor. For my science friends, something that’s really, really important is continuous collection of data because once an event has passed, you can never go back and measure what used to happen. It’s very, very hard. Much better to measure in real time, but for my non-science friends, I say monitor can be monitor what your local leaders and politicians do. Not just what they say but what they do.

That then turns into the A, and my A is advocacy. I think this is may be the most important one. What I recommend is whenever you have a chance to talk to an elected leader or could be even a business leader, but somebody who will listen to you. You can very politely say, ma’am or sir, what are you doing to stabilize the climate? It’s an open-ended question, like dating 101. Don’t ask yes or no questions. You might get an okay answer. You might not, but at least you shouldn’t get a yes or no with that question. It registers into that politician’s brain that you as a voter, as a constituent, you could have asked about anything, but you asked about climate.

There’s this stereotype of politicians, they don’t listen. They’re this, they’re that. The vast majority of politicians I’ve worked with, they’re pretty smart people. They may or may not know a ton about science or about some types of technology, but they know a lot about people, and they know a lot about their district. I remind myself, every time you go talk to a politician, they got elected for a reason. They’re there for a reason, and they’re probably pretty cognizant about their voters, and they want to stay in touch. When their voters decide that climate is an issue, the congress will decide that too, and we’re already seeing that. I look at gay rights as it’s an imperfect analogy, but look at the change in our country, right? 10 years ago, 11 years ago, I mean, President Obama was frankly against gay marriage. Why, because that’s where back in 2008, that’s where the country was. The country changed and you watched the politicians of both parties not walking but running, running to catch up with their constituents.

Nowadays, by and large, it’s pretty much a normalized issue and you’re really pretty far out of the mainstream if you don’t understand why supporting gay rights is a basic human right, right? How do we get there with climate? We get there when you and me and everybody listening to this podcast, and really 60%, 70% of Americans say, hey, I want a stable climate. I want the climate that I grew up in. That I want my kids and grandkids to grow up in. I don’t want to think about moving every major American coastal city. I don’t want to think about what that life that we’ve never seen in human civilization is like. I expect climate stability. If that is made known to the congress, and people actually vote that way, I think you will see the congress change very, very rapidly. What can we do? We can make our concerns known because if we don’t then nothing is going to change.

Tanya: Yeah. No, absolutely. I think that there’s a lot more awareness that were really developing especially – I’m cautious about educating myself, educating my children. Leading efforts in schools about not using so much plastic and all these little micro efforts eventually. Of course, doing what you’re suggesting advocacy and learn about the issue and local action and really monitor the issue. It’s critical. David, this has been really eye-opening, and I know that there’s – actually, you have so much interesting past experiences. You also led Penn State Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk which in two minutes, what did you do because I don’t want to just not include that.

David W. Titley: Sure, I know we’re going long here. I realize that, yes.

Tanya: Yeah. No, but that’s great. Yeah, what did you do? What was the purpose of that initiative and what was accomplished?

David W. Titley: At the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, really what I was trying to do is, is in a very simple way, how could we better use tools that we already had or at least data that we already had and maybe turn it into tools that would help people make better decisions, on both weather and climate risk? As an example, I had a graduate student working for me, and we develop basically a storm surge index that’s very much like the well-known hurricane index that’s called the Saffir-Simpson index. People talk about, oh, it’s a category 2 or a category 3 or a category 4. We wanted to develop an index that was let’s say a little bit more like earthquakes in Richter scale. I could go to my mom and say, hey mom, there was a 7.3 earthquake in California last night, let’s say. She would know that’s bad. Now she didn’t really know much about P waves or S waves or the details of the geophysics, but she understood that.

We basically came up with almost a Richter-like scale of storm surge. Then that is published and it’s out in the peer-reviewed literature and things like that. I had some other projects in which we looked at, could we come up with a, what I call a Seems Like Index. I think most people are familiar with, in weather, we have a Feels Like Index. If it’s really hot and humid, maybe the thermometer says it’s 95, but it feels like it’s 105, right? My Seems Like Index is, let’s say when it’s 70 degrees in Pennsylvania in February, it seems like it’s the first of May, the 15th of May, whatever. Almost like we do feels like, could we say well, it seems like it’s two weeks – the warming is two weeks ahead or maybe it’s a week behind what we would expect. You could actually then also look at those data and aggregate them and you say, for the last decade, spring has been coming a week ahead of time from what it used to be or fall is being delayed by two weeks. We worked on a Seems Like Index.

I’ve actually worked for a major Fortune 100 company. Could we predict pollen? Could we predict allergies? Not just looking at sales of over-the-counter drugs in pharmacies, to figure out how bad people’s allergies are, but could we actually put a generation of pollen and then blow it around in the computer models and have it rain out and it falls to the ground at night and get stirred up in the day with the winds. That was pretty interesting as well. Those are just some examples, but really the overarching theme was, what could we do using today’s existing technologies to help people better understand both weather and climate risks.

Tanya: I mean, just even the examples of allergies or other risks like rising sea levels, when you think about climate change, you think it’s something – or many people might think that it’s something that’s not directly impacting them, but wrong actually. There’s a lot of things that are directly impacting them and something that we have to take action on immediately. All of us individually and collectively. David, thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your lifetime of knowledge and experience with us. Also, thank you for speaking in front of congress and being a real advocate for us to take action on stabilizing the climate. It means a lot to me and I’m so grateful that you’re doing that work also for my daughters and for everybody on the planet.

David W. Titley: Thanks so much, Tanya for having me on your podcast.

Tanya: Thank you so much.

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If you are like most people and know something bad is happening with global warming but are not sure how it will impact you, and more importantly, how to help slow it down, this podcast episode is for you.

Retired Rear Admiral David Titley, and former Naval Meteorologist and Oceanographer was tasked with assessing and planning for security risks our country faced with regards to global warming. Having spent 32 years in the Navy, David remains especially concerned about sea levels rising. He expects sea levels to rise up to 6 feet by the year 2100. Then, he predicts that by the time the sea levels stabilize, we could be looking at a 30 feet increase in sea levels globally.

What does this mean for you or perhaps your offsprings? This means Orlando becomes the southernmost point of Florida. Baton Rouge is the southernmost point of Louisiana. Everybody in Harlem, New York are elated because they now have beachfront properties. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Tune in to get the full conversation and learn about:

      • Climate change
      • Global warming
      • Sea levels rising
      • Potential related security risks to come
      • Changes we can expect as a result of climate change
      • What you can do to help

Dr. David Titley’s biography:

Before retiring, David Titley was the Professor of Practice in the Department of Meteorology at the Pennsylvania State University, and founding Director of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk. The Center helps organizations and citizens prosper and succeed in today’s and tomorrow’s weather and climate environment by taking advantage of all the skill in weather and climate forecasts.

Mr. Titley served as a naval officer for 32 years and rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. Dr. Titley’s career included duties as commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command; oceanographer and navigator of the Navy; and deputy assistant chief of naval operations for information dominance. He also served as senior military assistant for the director, Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

In 2009, Dr. Titley initiated and led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change. After retiring from the Navy, Dr. Titley served as the Deputy Undersecretary of Commerce for Operations, the chief operating officer position at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dr. Titley serves on numerous advisory boards and National Academies of Science committees, including the CNA Military Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the Center for Climate and Security, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the National Academy of Science Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

Dr. Titley is a fellow of the American Meteorological Society. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. In 2017, Dr. Titley was the recipient of the College of Earth and Mineral Science Wilson Award for excellence in service.

Connect with Dr. David Titley:

* * *

Full Transcription:

David W. Titley: Ladies and gents, that could be child’s play compared to what we will see if we don’t get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions pretty much now.

Tanya: That’s Dr. David William Titley, former US Navy and Rear Admiral who spent ten years at sea and served his country for over 32 years. With a PhD in Meteorology and a deep expertise as the Navy’s oceanographer. David has been asked to testify before congress on numerous occasions to discuss the state of climate change. Once neutral on the subject, David is now an avid believer that climate change is real, and immediate action should be taken to address the imminent threat to our planet.

You really had an amazing career in meteorology and oceanography, and you spent 32 years in the Navy, and then did a lot of other stuff afterwards which we’ll get into, but originally, what attracted you to meteorology?

David W. Titley: That’s a really, really good question, and as best I can tell, I have been interested in weather since four or five. My parents told me that a tornado, a small tornado, but a tornado went through our backyard when I was two or three. I have no recollection of that at all, but I’m told it took the doghouse.

Tanya: Oh, my gosh.

David W. Titley: I do remember, when we moved – we moved several times when I was young. When we moved to the house where finally us three kids could each have a bedroom each, I was the oldest, so of course I got to choose first. Seems right. The reason I chose the room I did was because it had an outside thermometer. I was finishing up kindergarten at that time. I would say at least at the end of kindergarten, first grade, I knew I was interested in weather, but to this day I’m not really sure why. It’s just been one of those things in which I’ve pretty much grown up with.

Tanya: Fast forward a little bit, and you went to get your Bachelors of Science in Meteorology at Penn State, and then you joined the Navy which is a very interesting move. What led that choice?

David W. Titley: Pretty simply, I needed a way to pay for college. Penn State like a lot of land-grant institutions if you’re an out-of-state person is not – it doesn’t cost like private colleges, but it’s not cheap especially for out-of-state. My parents basically said, congratulations, you got yourself into Penn State. Now go figure out how to pay for it. They were a little nicer than that, but that’s pretty much what they said. I needed to look at a number of different ways and I found out about this program called, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, ROTC. I first applied to the Air Force and they said no. They very rightly said no because when I think back on that interview, it was probably one of the more cringe worthy things I’ve ever done. I had zero clue. I was some 16-year-old snot-nosed kid, and I had absolutely no idea how to answer questions or anything.

At least I thought about it a little bit, so when I had the interview for the Navy two weeks later, I guess I did at least marginally better, and they said yes. Really, the reason I joined the Navy, I mean, I would love to say that my great, great, great, great grandfather was John Paul Jones, but it’s just not true. I needed a way to pay for college. It seemed like a fair trade to me. I give them four years, they get me a bachelor’s degree, and we all shake hands at four years and a day, and we go our separate paths, but as you know that’s not quite what happened.

Tanya: Exactly. How did that work? You had the interview more or less when you were 16 with the Navy and they accepted you. How do you do that? Do you first go to college and then they agree to pay for it, but then you have to give four years after you graduate?

David W. Titley: Yes. You actually enroll it. It’s another commissioning source for all the military services in addition to the better-known academies like West Point and Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy. When you show up to college, you are actually enlisted in the Navy as a midshipman which is what the Navy calls their officer cadets. You are, in addition to taking all your normal classes, you take some Naval Science classes. You do labs where you learn the very basics of what it means to be in the Navy and be an officer. Every summer, they send you out basically on training cruises. By the time you get to be a senior, the same day that you graduate from college, you also are commissioned. In my case, into the United States Navy as a [00:05:33], which is the lowest ranking commissioned officer.

Tanya: Wow. The Navy has – people each have their own association of what that is and the challenges that come with that environment, but what was your experience like in the training, of joining the Navy, and then being in it for 32 years?

David W. Titley: Yeah. Probably for the training part, for ROTC, it would not surprise me if I had been voted the midshipman least likely to succeed. I can’t say I really enjoyed marching around and – this is 35, 40 years ago. There is nothing severe, but there is hazing. You’re on your back acting like a dead bug and people are yelling at you at 4:00 in the morning and stuff. I’m thinking, why am I doing this? It’s like, oh yeah, I need the money, so I’ll do this. It’s not like nobody’s getting physically harmed or anything, but anyway. You do that.

What I found was, the first time I went to sea on a naval ship and again, I was probably 17 by this point as a midshipman. I found I liked it. I was on an old frigate, and we went from San Diego, stopped at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and went out to the Philippines. It’s a 17-year-old kid, this is fun. You sail across the Pacific. I found honestly, if you pay attention, this is true in the Navy, it’s true in a lot of places, there’s no one individual step of your job that’s really that hard, but you do have to do them all. You have to do them all right each time, but I could do that. I enjoyed being at sea. I thought the mission was pretty interesting in general.

I liked working with the sailors. When you’re 17, you realize that the enlisted sailors, they’re 17, 18, 19, 20 years old, and in many ways they’re not really that different from you. Maybe they just didn’t have that opportunity to go to college for whatever reason, a lot of reasons, and they enlisted. They’re really good guys, and now guys and gals. Back then, it was only guys on the ships back in the ‘70s, but of course, that’s changed now.

Tanya: What kind of culture would you say that the Navy has?

David W. Titley: What kind of culture? I mean, it’s a military culture, right? It’s hierarchical. What does that mean? That means if your boss is interested, you’re fascinated, but it really is – I mean, not to get sloppy emotional, but there is an underlying culture of service. There is an underlying – people take their oath, the officers. We take an oath and you swear to uphold and defend the constitution, right? Not a certain political party, not a president, not a member of congress. You uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Back when I started of course – this is in the middle of the Cold War. There was, I think, a general unity in the country that we were on the side of right, if you will. Again, not to be overly simplistic. There was a sense of purpose, a sense of doing maybe somewhat larger than yourself. People work very hard and of course, what you see is – there were many professions in which people work very, very hard, but the military is one of them. It’s also not for everybody. Some people, the idea of going away from home for four, five, six, seven, eight months at a time is just – that doesn’t work for them.

Tanya: How did your wife deal with that because – or maybe you didn’t meet her at that point because you spent ten years at sea?

David W. Titley: Yeah. I wasn’t married for the first ten years.

Tanya: Ah, that helps.

David W. Titley: That’s one way to deal with it is, don’t be married, but no, my wife is very independent and she does well by herself. Part of the deal we had though was that when we were married is she would come out when it was possible, when we knew the schedules reasonably well in advance and visit me. I think my wife’s first overseas trip was to Singapore.

Tanya: Oh, wow.

David W. Titley: Her second overseas trip was to Australia. That’s not bad, right?

Tanya: No, those are big ones.

David W. Titley: There’s the old slogan, join the Navy and see the world, and you do. Now of course, what the Navy doesn’t tell you is the world is in fact 70% ocean, so you see a lot of water. You also get to see a lot of things. Back in the late ‘90s, we got to live in Japan for two years. It was just fascinating. I would argue that that was probably one of our most enjoyable tours. Probably the one in which grew professionally a tremendous amount, but also personally. Just really living in a culture in a country that is so different than ours was just fascinating.

Tanya: I have a number of Japanese friends, but just one thing that always impresses me so much is how gentle and thoughtful and just really polite they are. It’s so different. I mean, I’m in New York City and it’s a little different.

David W. Titley: Yeah, I was going to say, those are three adjectives you always think of with New York City, right?

Tanya: Yes, exactly. Having spent ten years at sea and 32 years in the Navy, what was one of the most challenging moments that you had to deal with that really stands out? Minus the cringe interview that you [00:11:57]?

David W. Titley: [00:11:58].

Tanya: That was nothing as it compares, yeah.

David W. Titley: That’s a good question. I think there were – at sea, you just get tired. You get very little sleep, and actually the Navy, in the last few years is institutionally coming to grips with that. Certainly, back when I was doing this, it was almost a badge of – pardon the term, but almost a manhood thing. It’s like, oh, you got three hours of sleep last. I got 90 minutes.

Tanya: Oh, my god.

David W. Titley: Therefore, I’m clearly a better officer than you are. It’s this weird sort of thing which all the medical guys are saying, “You know actually, this is really stupid of you guys so stop it.” It’s a job that really is 24/7 and is very irregular out. I mean, no matter how you manage your sleep cycle, there are things going on 24/7 in which you need to be able to do that. I think one of the more challenging things I had was – as I mentioned earlier before we started recording is, I tend to say yes to opportunities. As I was about six months away from finishing up my master’s degree at the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, basically our boss comes down into our common study room and says, “Hey, I need somebody to go on an aircraft carrier that’s about to deploy. Anybody want to do that?” Everybody’s looking at the guy like you must be crazy, and I raised my hand.

Tanya: Wow.

David W. Titley: Sometimes it’s like, why did you do that? Then the deal was, hey, go do the deployment and then when they’re done you can come back to postgraduate school, finish up your masters, and go on from there. I said, “Sure, why not?” I show up on an aircraft carrier which has its own subculture, and always 5,000 people, 5,000 of your closest friends. These guys had all spent basically a year the previous year working – what we call working up, getting ready, doing a lot of exercises. Everybody knows what they’re doing. I show up five days before deployment having never actually served on an aircraft carrier, so the learning curve was pretty much vertical for the first few months there.

You’re not only trying to figure out your job, you’re trying to figure out the personnel dynamics. All the different organizational facets that you need to be part of. Yeah, that was pretty challenging and there were – sometimes you just wonder, maybe the pool here is a little bit deeper than I thought it would, but it worked out. That was certainly challenging.

Tanya: Where were you deployed?

David W. Titley: This was a deployment we did immediately before Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and that was the time in which Saddam went into Kuwait. This was at the very, very end of the Cold War, so 1990, January of 1990 we got underway. Out of California and basically spent time in both the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. It was weird because all of us of course had grown up in the Cold War professionally. Then Soviets, now Russians, and at that point they were trying to figure out who they were, were not coming out. It was almost this Kabuki ritual in which the US, either Air Force or Navy, air craft carriers, whatever get within a certain distance of [00:15:54] Soviet Union and the Soviets fly up their aircraft. We escort them. Everybody knows how the game is played.

We’re out there, and they’re not playing. It’s just weird because this is what they do. This is what we do, and we were all really trying to figure out what’s going on. Is this a ruse? Are they trying to do something else? It’s like, no, they’re really not playing here. This is really different. We were doing that, got in the Indian Ocean, and ironically, it was amazingly quiet. This was like the spring of 1990. This is just before Hussein, Saddam Hussein goes into Kuwait. We come home, and I think it was the day we get back into our home port in California near San Francisco, is when Hussein goes into Kuwait.

Our ship was scheduled to go into this big expensive maintenance period, but we were for about three weeks it was – the rumors were, no you’re not going to do that. They’re going to turn you around and send you back out to the Persian Gulf. Then 30 minutes later, there’s a different rumor, and an hour later, there’s a different rumor. Long story short, we did not go. We were not one of the ultimately six carriers that ended up on that job. The powers that be decided no, we’re going to go and do the maintenance that we’ve already put hundreds of millions of dollars of expense into. That’s what happened.

Tanya: At the peak of your career, what were your accountabilities?

David W. Titley: The peak of my career. I guess, that would probably be when I was an admiral. I had a few different jobs, but probably the one in which I had the most was I was – it’s big long words, Commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, kind of a mouthful, but basically what that meant was I was responsible and accountable for all the US Navy’s weather and ocean observation and prediction programs.

Things like keeping aircraft carriers and typhoons apart from each other, so we do not ever again have the tragedy that Admiral Halsey had in December of ’44 where in fact ran his battle group in World War II right through a typhoon and sunk three ships, killed over 700 sailors, damaged and destroyed hundreds of aircraft. If somebody did that nowadays it would be a tremendous number of people being fired, but we were fighting World War II at the time and everybody loved Admiral Halsey and Nimitz basically grabbed him and said, don’t do that again, but he didn’t get fired.

Tanya: Wow.

David W. Titley: That’s an obvious one. There’s a less obvious part of the weather and ocean prediction job, and that is not only to keep ships and submarines and aircrafts safe which is a hugely important mission, but also how can you best exploit present and future weather conditions so that you can do your job better than a potential adversary. How can you use weather and ocean to let’s say hide or disguise your forces? How can you position your forces so they can take advantage of let’s say a weather hole or a weather window or something like that? All of those sorts of things I was responsible for. When I moved up to the Pentagon is when I became oceanographer and navigator of the Navy and that is – it’s an easier title to say, sounds cool. It’s more of a budget like you’re working the future budget. You’re working policies. You’re working international relations, but it’s not so much the operational job that I had that I just described. It was during that job as oceanographer and navigator at the Navy that they – head of the Navy, a gentleman we called the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, asked me to take a hard look at what was going on up in the Arctic with the ice melting out, and figuring out does the Navy need to pay attention to this.

Tanya: Yes. That’s actually a really good segue. It’s been publicized that you actually began as a climate change skeptic and as you started to really evaluate and examine the evidence, you changed your mind. I know that everybody knows what climate change is or knows the word, but I just want to – in a very simple way, what is climate change?

David W. Titley: Two words there, right, so climate and change. Really, what is climate? Climate is really just the average of some component of the weather that could be temperature, high temperatures, low temperatures. It could be amount of rainfall. It could be number of hurricanes, number of tornados. It could be some component of weather averaged over some period of time and space. We could talk about what’s the climate of the United States. We could talk about what is the climate of New York City. What is the average temperatures in July between 1950 and 2000 in New York City? What are the extremes? That would be climate.

Climate change is when those averages start to move. When we talk about climate change now, most people are implying man-made or a fancy word as anthropogenic, but basically man-made climate change or human caused climate change. That’s a shorthand for not only are those averages changing, but they are changing more than we would expect to see with small natural variations. For this purpose, the natural variations are basically plus or minus 1 degree Fahrenheit averaged over time. That accounts for El Niños and La Niñas and very small variations in the sun, plus or minus maybe a degree Fahrenheit.

We’ve already seen in the 20th century and the first part of the 21st century, we’re now up to about 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit change, and we’re not seeing just an oscillation or an up and down, but we’re seeing a very, very pronounced uptrend. That’s a long, long explanation, but climate is just averages of weather over some period of space or time, and climate change as it’s usually used means that the climate is changing and it’s changing not due to natural variations. It’s changing because of human activities, and that’s what’s happening.

Tanya: Thank you for explaining that. That was really good. Now what evidence did you take a look at that tipped your thinking into believing that climate change is real and it’s a threat?

David W. Titley: Actually, that’s a great question. There’s a lot of stuff in there. Not to be pedantic, but when I do my talks, I go through a lot of the evidence. Then I ask my audience, “Okay, who believes in climate change?” I got this cheesy graphic of some evangelistic guy whipping up the crowd. He was like, no, who believes in climate change? 90% of the people or whatever raise their hand, and I say, “I don’t. I don’t believe in climate change.” People look at me like, is this is a bait-and-switch or what? I don’t believe in climate change because it’s not a belief system. Science is not a belief system. I’m convinced by the evidence.

That there’s overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing, but I tell people that beliefs are things you might do on a Friday evening or a Saturday evening or a Sunday morning. Perhaps at a house of worship or some other place. Those are beliefs. We all have a lot of beliefs, but I would argue that science is fact. Not based on belief, it’s based on evidence. That may sound a bit naughty, but I do get – all the time people are asking me, do I believe in climate change? It’s like, no. It’s not a religion. In fact, I think there are some people who would like us to not do anything on this who try quite hard to paint this as a religion. You see that in the discourse.

I would also say that I was probably more of a climate agnostic than a skeptic. One, my job was really day-to-day weather. It was not looking at climate change. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. During the ‘80s and ‘90s certainly there were indications that climate was changing, but there were also, I would say, we were still well within that 1 degree Fahrenheit, and you could make the argument that perhaps we were still seeing variations of natural forcings at that point. The other part that frankly really bothered me was that whenever somebody talked about climate change, it was always, always, always gloom and doom, right? This is bad. That is bad. Everything is bad. Let me get out my hair shirt and whip myself and have all this kind of stuff. It’s like, oh my god. I was like, how much depressing talk can I take in one day, so I ignored it.

Actually, I have to think about why was it all bad because you would say, well, if this is change, no it’s not too unreasonable to say, well, it’s change. Okay, so maybe there will be some bad things, but there will also be some positive things. It’s change, right? It’s not good or evil. It’s just change. What I realized maybe ten years ago was it’s probably much more heavily weighted to the not good side. Call it a threat, call it a challenge or risk, pick your term because we have – humanity has implicitly built human civilization on climate stability. We’ve had actually amazing climate stability in the last 8,000 to 10,000 years since we came out of last Ice Age. We’ve had really very – actually, relatively unusual climate stability.

We’ve gone from basically being hunter-gatherers to of course the dawn of agriculture which led to – I mean, everybody knows the story, right? Villages to towns to cities, and the next thing you know we’re all carrying around iPhones in our pocket, and oh, by the way, we have, what, nearly 8 billion, 8 plus billion, about 8 billion people give or take on the planet right now. We can’t go back to being hunter-gatherers and just roaming the planet as conditions change anymore. We can’t do that. Now when we have kicked ourselves out of that climate stability, now how do we deal with it. How do we deal with it in our food security, in our water security? How do we deal with migration when there are now places that might have been marginal for people to live that now are much, much tougher to live? How do we have appropriate safety nets to help people do all of that, and when we don’t put those in, usually the dirty, ugly end of human civilization ends up becoming a national security issue, and the military is then asked to go and do something.

I apologize for the length of that, but it’s really – there is a reason why when you read many of the headlines that there aren’t – there’s not a lot of good news. Climate is changing, yee-haw. It’s like Maine is going to have an extra month of vacation period. There will probably be some places up north that do see let’s say extended growing seasons, but they’re probably going to have different crops. As I’ve mentioned before we started recording, I’m actually on a five-month trip of the country and right now we’re up in Michigan on the – we’re still on the Lower Peninsula, but we’re on the northern part. For miles and miles here, you see apple orchards and blueberries and cherries. People think, well geez, it’s Northern Michigan, isn’t it really cold in the winter, and yeah, it is. It’s really cold here, and wouldn’t they want it to be warmer longer.

It’s like, well, maybe they would but they probably then would not be able to grow the crops that they’re so well known for. Even in places in which you think, oh geez, it’s going to warm up and they’ll like it, it’s going to be very different for them. This is the part of change, and when I give my talk, I talk about climate in three words. People and water and change, and I tell people that of those three words the one that really worries me the most is the change part because how are we going to manage this and how are we going to manage this globally with some degree of equity and justice and doing this in a world of 8 billion people. That is to me one of the huge challenges of the 21st century.

Tanya: If you had to summarize the major changes that you are expecting to happen, what would that be?

David W. Titley: As I mentioned, I talk about these changes or climate in three words, and why three words because I’m a simple sailor, and I can only do things in threes. I can’t really digest all 2,000 pages of an IPCC report and stuff like that, but I can remember threes. When I talk about water and I think water is arguably a linchpin of so many of the climate issues. I talk about water as being it’s either too much or too little. Now it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Salty where it used to be fresh. It’s wet where it used to be dry. It’s liquid where it used to be solid. Even the very chemistry of the oceans themselves are changing as the oceans take up almost half, about 40% or so of the excess carbon dioxide emissions.

Maybe we can live without internet, at least for a little while, but it’s really hard for people to live without water. That water is changing, it’s changing its distribution. It doesn’t mean we run out, but the distribution is changing, and we’ve seen. We’ve seen these devastating floods. I call them rain bomb sometimes [00:32:13] locally. We’ve seen on bigger scales, Mississippi flooded, the most it’s been arguably since at least 1993. Some would argue even back to the 1920s. Sea level rise, I was just reading that Miami right now is flooding pretty much every day in these so-called king tides. They call it nuisance flooding and there’s sunny day flooding, and they blame it on the moon. I was like, well actually, the reason you’re now flooding and you didn’t used to 10, 20 years ago is not the moon. The moon hasn’t changed, but fact is, is we’ve melted a whole bunch of ice that was on the land.

Many of the climate implications go back to water. Wild fires, why are we seeing more wild fires? We’re heating things up, but when you heat up plants, what do they do? They dry up, so we’re taking the water out of the system. We’re heating it up and we are then just setting the stage for these catastrophic wild fires that we’ve seen now in the last several years particularly out west.

Tanya: Yes, and what is predictable to happen if nothing changes? If we continue as is?

David W. Titley: Yeah. If we continue as is, and this has been in the news a lot here in what, the summer of 2019, a lot of pushback, if you will from the current administration, but I think the National Climate Assessment recent reports here for the last year or so really pretty well captured this. There is a scenario that scientists use. We call it either business as usual or it’s got a really technical name. It’s RCP8.5 which [00:34:02] – I’m going to mess up what the C is now – path. I’m sure you’ll get comments on what the C is. I can’t remember. Basically, how much forcing? How much extra heating or forcing we have? There is a scenario which basically if we keep burning fossil fuels more or less at the rate we have, this is where we’re going, and we’re going to a world in which we will be 3 to 4 degrees Celsius. What is that in terms people understand?

Tanya: I understand Celsius, but yeah.

David W. Titley: 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average, and people will say, well, you know, it was 75 today, so if it’s 84 tomorrow, why is that a big deal? One, when you warm the planet that much, that’s almost as much warming as we saw between the depth of the Ice Age and our 20th century climate. The depth of the Ice Age, we had glaciers almost coming way down the Hudson River Valley, right? You wouldn’t be going to the Catskills for your summer vacation in New York City anymore. That’s for sure. Not unless you wanted to go climb kilometers high ice faces up in Peekskill or something like that.

That’s a massive, massive amount of heat to add. Basically, that type of heat, if we do business as usual for the rest of the century, will all but guarantee not 5 inches, not even 5 feet of sea level rise. It starts to guarantee order 30, 3-0 feet sea level rise, when we would eventually stabilize. If anything, I’m probably being conservative there. 30 feet of sea level rise, just so that your listeners understand, that means that Orlando becomes the Southernmost Point of Florida. Baton Rouge is the Southernmost Point of Louisiana. Everybody in Harlem is probably pretty happy because they now have the waterfront property, and they’re laughing at Lower Manhattan because they’re all underwater. I don’t know if – New York City has arguably some of the most valuable real estate in the world, but are we going to build a levee system or a wall big enough to keep 30 feet of sea level out? That would be quite a function.

From a security perspective, Norfolk, Virginia and what they call down there, the Tidewater area is arguably the largest naval base, but it’s not only Navy, the Air Force has a huge base, Langley Air Force Base down there. The Army and the Coast Guard have important facilities as well. All of that goes. I mean, right now the Navy is talking about, well geez, maybe I need to raise the piers at my base by a foot or something like that. I want to say, dudes, this is not going to be your problem, raising the piers by a foot because there is no Norfolk. There is no Virginia Beach. There is no Chesapeake. There is no Portsmouth. It’s gone. You got to go back up to Yorktown, Virginia to find the coast line with 30 foot of sea level.

That’s just the US. Arguably, you recreate the inland sea in the Central Valley in California. We haven’t even talked about Asia and Shanghai and Manila and Singapore and Tokyo and Yokohama, and [00:37:48]. That becomes with business as usual. I think the last time I looked, that’s about half a billion, with a B, people live where – within 30 feet, let’s say elevation 30 feet where it would be potentially flooded. That’s half a billion people that probably need to move. Not to mention every major city, and you need to do this all more or less at the same time. People say, well, we can do that and I said, well, maybe we can, but let’s also remember that in the Syrian migration, that was roughly 1 million people. That’s what, two-tenths of 1% of what I’m talking about, 1 million people. Those 1 million people moving to Europe in a relatively chaotic fashion, I would argue shook the European Union to its core. That was just 1 million, not 500 million.

It doesn’t mean that it’s a catastrophe, but it does I think mean as someone who’s kind of have to manage risks for many, many decades, this is a huge risk. You would like to say, what’s the best way to manage risk is like buy it down beforehand. Like for the pilots, for naval aviators, or anybody else, it’s like, I don’t want you doing that heroic pilot stuff. I want you to be smart so that you never put that aircraft in a position where you have to do all that heroic pilot stuff. That’s really what we should be doing. It’s like, let’s not say, hey, let’s see what happens when we move half a billion people more or less at the same time. Let’s buy down that risk so that we’re not trying to move Singapore and London and Amsterdam and New York City and San Francisco and Tokyo all at the same time because I’m not sure how that’s going to work out.

Tanya: Many things to think about here, but you said it would all happen at the same time within this century.

David W. Titley: Let me clarify that. When the seas come up, it is going to take probably centuries for them so stabilize. This is really one of the big unknowns in the science is exactly how fast do the ice sheets respond to this warming. I very recently retired from Penn State, but I’m still affiliated with there and I’m very pleased and proud to say that some of my colleagues in the College of Earth and Mineral Science, they’re really on the forefront. People like Richard Alley and some of his colleagues are really at the forefront of trying to better understand how fast these ice sheets would come in to balance with the new heat. There is just all kinds of science which I won’t bore people with but there is a lot of unknowns there.

Tanya: When you say come into balance, do you mean like finish melting and sort of incorporate in the rest of the water?

David W. Titley: Exactly. I mean, let me just do this in a very simple way. You take an ice cube out of your freezer and you put it into you into a glass of room-temperature water, and let’s say that water is 70 degrees. It doesn’t melt instantly, right? It takes some time to melt there. Even as we add this heat not only to the atmosphere but to the ocean and the ocean is actually taking up about 90, 9-0% of the excess heat. It takes a lot. Then to make it even more complicated, we’re trying to figure out, do these ice sheets just simply slide off the land? Do they get hung up? Do they collapse? Like God has this massive hammer and it’s like you’re hammering on the ice sheets and you just fracture them, and then, much, much more ice comes into the ocean much more quickly than if it is just melting, melting off.

All of these things are really at the cutting edge of science here to understand exactly how this is going to go. Let’s just say, just for a thought experiment that for whatever reason, we as humans don’t really do much to minimize our greenhouse gases for the rest of this century. We do find by the year 2100 that we’re 3 to 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. I’d say 5 to 7 degrees in Fahrenheit terms. At that point, my guess if somebody put a gun to my head and said how long is it going to take to stabilize, I’d say it’s about 100 years. Within 100 years, you could see the ice sheets coming – or the sea level rise coming up by tens of feet. No, I don’t want to leave your listeners with the impression that by the year 2100 we’re going to have 30 feet of sea level rise. We are not. We may have 3, 4, 5 even 6 which that’s a lot. If you’re in Miami, that’s a big deal.

Tanya: That’s Miami.

David W. Titley: If you’re in Norfolk, that’s a big, big deal, but what I’m concerned is, ladies and gents that could be child’s play compared to what we will see if we don’t get a handle on greenhouse gas emissions pretty much now.

Tanya: Now that you’ve retired from the Navy and Penn State, I recently read a document or news that the Navy quietly shut down their Climate Change Task Force and it is debatable when that actually happened, but sometime in 2019.

David W. Titley: It was kind of like the Baltimore Colts moving out of Baltimore. I think they did it in the snowstorm in the middle of the night.

Tanya: Yeah, exactly. Given what you’ve stated as the almost certain future, if nothing changes, and with this administration that is literally unraveling and shutting down important initiatives like the Paris support or the Climate Change Task Force in the Navy, first of all, first of all, what happened with the Navy? Do you have any idea why they would do that?

David W. Titley: I could only speculate. I can tell you that nobody in the Navy told me. I found out about this third or fourth hand, and then had my spies and moles dig around and find out that yes, they in fact did shut this down. From a bureaucratic perspective, task forces in fact should not last forever. I think the Navy, when reporter asked them said, well, we’ve incorporated all of this into the mainstream so we don’t need a task force. If they had incorporated all of this into the mainstream, I would absolutely agree with that. A task force really should live for a finite period of time. On the process side, on the mechanics side, I don’t – it’s not a here nor there to me that they shut down the task force. It was not meant to live forever.

What I’m much more concerned about is, from what I see, very frankly I don’t think the Navy is thinking about these long-term threats, not very seriously. I think there is a chill in the executive branch, no pun intended. That thoughts about man-made – the implications or impacts or let alone what to do about man-made climate change are neither encouraged or desired. Those who think about this put their careers at risk. We just saw the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats forced out of his job earlier – I think it was within the last few weeks. Mr. Coats, I think probably got on the wrong side of the president on several issues, but one of the issues he was I think forthright about and really what DNI Coats was reflecting was simply the judgment of his senior career intelligence analyst, is climate change is in fact a threat to national security.

Any of your listeners can Google, it’s called worldwide threats to intelligence. You can Google that, either 2018 or 2019, it is a unclassified document. You don’t need The New York Times to have it leaked to you or anything like that. It’s short and it is signed by Dan Coats himself. There is in each one of those, about a full page of a 20-page document devoted to the impacts of climate change. This is what our career intelligence are – most senior career intelligence analysts have come up with. This isn’t like, well, Titley, he’s a retired weather guy. He probably just likes this stuff or something like that. These are people who are paid by our country to assess future risks and warn our policymakers.

We see this but we see, as you’ve mentioned, that really much of the administration, it’s almost like they’ve gone into shell shock or they’ve dug into their fox hole and they’ve put their hand over their head. They’re hoping the artillery barrage from the White House stops at some point. I think many senior leaders in many organizations or parts of our government including, I would argue, the US Navy, has decided this is a fight they don’t’ want right now. We could argue whether that is a courageous stand or we could argue whether that is, well, you’re worried about your career more than important things or you’re just trying to save yourself for bigger fights. Reasonable people can debate which side it is. Is this the issue you take to the hill and you die on that hill on this issue. Maybe it is for some. Others are going to say, I’m going to die on another issue, but not this one.

Yeah, it’s pretty much I think undeniable that this administration has put a huge, huge chill on any discussion of man-made climate change let alone what to do. I will say that ironically, the congress even though the senate is still controlled by Republicans and even the previous congress, where both chambers were controlled by the Republicans is actually quietly doing more. If you look in the last few, what we call National Defense Authorization Act, fancy word for the Defense Bill, we are seeing more and more amendments being passed by both parties that basically direct the Department of Defense to increasingly get ready for a change in climate.

Just this morning I was reading that our National Highway Bill has a number of provisions in it that will direct various – both federal and state agencies to both use money to prepare for future climate change and also to take future climate change into account when building out our transportation system. It’s almost a mirror-image of what we saw in the second Obama administration where you had the administration led by the president talking very high profile frequently and actively about this. The congress was like, no how, no way, I’m not doing anything. Those roles have flipped. Of course, the president is very well-known for this position on this issue, but less so I think the change in the congress.

I think you’re seeing – of course, the Democrats are talking a lot about it, but you are seeing more and more Republicans I think are coming to the conclusion that straight out climate denial is really – one, it makes people look silly, and I don’t know if they care about that or not, but it’s no longer a winning political issue in more and more districts. We’re seeing changes here and I guess if I want to leave somebody with a hopeful note it’s that, if I could pick only one branch of government to be on my side, I would pick the congress.

Tanya: Right now.

David W. Titley: Congress has a [00:51:08] and they make the laws. Administrations come and go, and so, are we doing enough? No. Are we doing it fast enough? No, but the fact that we’ve seen this change in the congress, I would argue over the last two to three years to me is it’s like seeing that very first [00:51:28] after a long, hard winter. It gives me signs of hope.

Tanya: You would know this because you’ve been invited to testify many, many times in front of congress. What were you asked to testify about and what do you think the reception of that was?

David W. Titley: I’ve actually, in this session of congress, I’ve testified three times. Twice before the house before the – both the Armed Services Committee and their Budget Committee, and also before the senate. There was a special hearing by the Homeland Security Committee, that I was asked to testify at. If anybody really wants to find it, you can Google my name and congressional testimony, and all of that is in the public record. I was told by some of the staffers on the budget committee that my remarks were actually very well received. That plus $2 buys you a small cup of coffee at Starbucks or at least it used to. We’ll see what that means. I did talk about the need for almost an Apollo scale program to rapidly get ourselves on to non-carbon-based energy, and I use those words carefully because I think nuclear probably does have a role in this.

We definitely need to bring down and significantly bring down the cost of storage. We probably need better transmission. We do okay on generation with wind and solar, but they’re not a panacea, and we need to – but we don’t have time to wait for the perfect solution. There was an admiral, Admiral Gorshkov who rant the Soviet Navy for many, many years, and in fact, he was head of the Soviet Navy when I got commission. One of his sayings, it’s probably not unique to him, but it’s attributed is, better is the enemy of good enough. We need to realize that at this point in time, good enough is probably where we need to be aiming for to decarbonize. Understanding that most energy systems, when you build them, they have a 20 to 40, maybe 50-year life cycle.

Yes, you’re locking yourself in for decades, but you’re not locking yourself in for centuries. Simultaneous to doing things, I would also have a much, much more robust R&D program to really figure out how to we provide adequate non-carbon-based power not only for the US, not only for the western world, but for all the world’s people. I mean, you could set a audacious goal of how does every single human being on the planet let’s say have Western European capacity of electricity. Every single person, every person in India, every person in Africa, every person in Asia. Not just the US and Canada and Japan and Australia. How do we do that, and how do we do that let’s say within 20 or 30 or 40 years? Can we do that? Maybe it’s 50 years, but we set those big goals, and we figure out how to do this. The Apollo program was what, roughly $150 billion in today’s money. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, especially when you look at the damages that we have already seen from extreme weather just in 2018. I think we saw nearly $300 billion of damages both insured and uninsured.

Tanya: You have a personal experience of weather damage. You lost your home.

David W. Titley: Yeah. I tell people if you ever want to know what a 10-meter storm surge does coming up your street, I got some pictures of that. Back when I was a one-star admiral, we were living in Mississippi. Actually, I bought the house since Mississippi is our headquarters for the Navy’s weather and ocean operations. I was first assigned to Mississippi down in the middle of 1990s. We bought a house and it was about two houses off the Gulf of Mexico. When I bought it, I figured I was going to sell it really quickly and then of course somebody wants to rent it and their successors want to rent it. Then we’re coming back down. I’m violating my own risk management rules here as I’ve now owned this half a block longer than I thought I would.

Sure enough, along comes Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, and it makes landfall just to the west of our house. The worst of the storm is always on that, what we call the dirty side of the eastern side of the storm. Yeah, it pushed about a 30-foot wall of water up. When we say we lost our house, we actually quite literally lost our house. I hate using the term literally and awesome and epic because those seem to be the words [00:56:40], but in this case, we actually lost our house to the point where we never did find it. 13 years later, we don’t know where it went. It either went up into the railway tracks with just millions of tons of debris, or more likely, I think it got sucked out into the Gulf of Mexico, but all we found was the front door and that was about it. We didn’t have any clean up. That was good. Yeah, there was very little to clean up.

I also tell people that – I don’t tell people this out of sympathy and in many ways that I really don’t have time to go through, we were – my wife and I were actually arguably the luckiest couple in Mississippi on the coast. We did not have our personal effects in that house at that particular time for a variety of reasons. We did have insurance. This isn’t a story of woe is me, but it is a traumatic event to lose your house like that. More importantly, think of all the people who don’t have a safety net especially when you get beyond the US where insurance is nowhere near as widespread. They have nothing. If you have a whole bunch of desperate people who have nothing, in addition to being a tremendous moral and I would argue human justice issue, that can become a security issue too because they have nothing, and they have nothing to lose. How do we manage that?

Tanya: Yeah. No, absolutely. What would you recommend for people? What can I do for example or the people out there listening? What can they do to contribute or help make a difference in climate change?

David W. Titley: I get asked this all the time, and I think it’s an obvious question, and it’s a very important question. The way I answer it is, I have a picture of a llama in my public talks, although somebody came up to me afterwards and said, “It’s not a llama, it’s an alpaca.” It’s like, “I’m sorry. The internet told me it was a llama, so [00:58:54] llama.” The way I spell llama is L-L-M-A, and the first L is learn. It’s just learn the basics of climate science. There is an association called the American Association for Advancement for Science of AAAS, triple A, S. They published I think a wonderful, very short climate document called, What We Know. If anybody of any of your listeners type triple A, S, what we know into Google, it’s the first thing that comes up. It’s tremendously accessible.

I would argue any single one of your listeners would easily be able to read it. I don’t care what degree they have or they don’t have. You don’t need a degree of anything to understand this. It gives you the basics. As a citizen, that’s all you need. We’re not trying to make you into Michael Mann or Richard Alley or anybody like that. Just know the basics. Now if you have – if there are any science geeks who are listening to this podcast, and you want to know more, go to the National Academy of Science and there is a publication called Climate Change: Evidence and Causes, National Academy of Science. Again, Google that, it comes right up. Now you’re going to know more than about 98%, 99% of Americans. If you have maybe a college degree or even you just like science in high school, I think you can get through that pretty easily. That’s my first L.

My second L is local action. Do what you can within your means, and that’s going to be very different for different people. We have different lives. We have different jobs. If you’re a farmer or if you’re a contractor, you probably need a diesel truck, right? We’re not saying live in a cave in a hair shirt and turn off the power. We’re saying do what you can. I’ll give an example. About six year ago, my wife and I moved up to State College where Penn State is, and for our budget, we had a choice. We could either buy an older house that was very close to my office, and I could walk there. We could maybe save a little bit of money, and then put it into upgrading windows and insulation and things like that, or we could buy a newer, bigger house maybe five, six, seven, eight miles away and drive to work. We chose the former, and we liked the neighborhood. We like the fact that we could walk to campus and do evening things and stuff like that, but it was also frankly a lower carbon footprint. I don’t think it was a sacrifice. I think it was simply a choice.

We all have choices, big and small in our lives, and I would ask that people just think about carbon footprint as one of the considerations. This isn’t a guilt trip. I’m not trying to shame people or anything like that or harangue people. I hate it when the environmentalist harangue people. It’s a choice. Local action, learn local action. M is monitor. For my science friends, something that’s really, really important is continuous collection of data because once an event has passed, you can never go back and measure what used to happen. It’s very, very hard. Much better to measure in real time, but for my non-science friends, I say monitor can be monitor what your local leaders and politicians do. Not just what they say but what they do.

That then turns into the A, and my A is advocacy. I think this is may be the most important one. What I recommend is whenever you have a chance to talk to an elected leader or could be even a business leader, but somebody who will listen to you. You can very politely say, ma’am or sir, what are you doing to stabilize the climate? It’s an open-ended question, like dating 101. Don’t ask yes or no questions. You might get an okay answer. You might not, but at least you shouldn’t get a yes or no with that question. It registers into that politician’s brain that you as a voter, as a constituent, you could have asked about anything, but you asked about climate.

There’s this stereotype of politicians, they don’t listen. They’re this, they’re that. The vast majority of politicians I’ve worked with, they’re pretty smart people. They may or may not know a ton about science or about some types of technology, but they know a lot about people, and they know a lot about their district. I remind myself, every time you go talk to a politician, they got elected for a reason. They’re there for a reason, and they’re probably pretty cognizant about their voters, and they want to stay in touch. When their voters decide that climate is an issue, the congress will decide that too, and we’re already seeing that. I look at gay rights as it’s an imperfect analogy, but look at the change in our country, right? 10 years ago, 11 years ago, I mean, President Obama was frankly against gay marriage. Why, because that’s where back in 2008, that’s where the country was. The country changed and you watched the politicians of both parties not walking but running, running to catch up with their constituents.

Nowadays, by and large, it’s pretty much a normalized issue and you’re really pretty far out of the mainstream if you don’t understand why supporting gay rights is a basic human right, right? How do we get there with climate? We get there when you and me and everybody listening to this podcast, and really 60%, 70% of Americans say, hey, I want a stable climate. I want the climate that I grew up in. That I want my kids and grandkids to grow up in. I don’t want to think about moving every major American coastal city. I don’t want to think about what that life that we’ve never seen in human civilization is like. I expect climate stability. If that is made known to the congress, and people actually vote that way, I think you will see the congress change very, very rapidly. What can we do? We can make our concerns known because if we don’t then nothing is going to change.

Tanya: Yeah. No, absolutely. I think that there’s a lot more awareness that were really developing especially – I’m cautious about educating myself, educating my children. Leading efforts in schools about not using so much plastic and all these little micro efforts eventually. Of course, doing what you’re suggesting advocacy and learn about the issue and local action and really monitor the issue. It’s critical. David, this has been really eye-opening, and I know that there’s – actually, you have so much interesting past experiences. You also led Penn State Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk which in two minutes, what did you do because I don’t want to just not include that.

David W. Titley: Sure, I know we’re going long here. I realize that, yes.

Tanya: Yeah. No, but that’s great. Yeah, what did you do? What was the purpose of that initiative and what was accomplished?

David W. Titley: At the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, really what I was trying to do is, is in a very simple way, how could we better use tools that we already had or at least data that we already had and maybe turn it into tools that would help people make better decisions, on both weather and climate risk? As an example, I had a graduate student working for me, and we develop basically a storm surge index that’s very much like the well-known hurricane index that’s called the Saffir-Simpson index. People talk about, oh, it’s a category 2 or a category 3 or a category 4. We wanted to develop an index that was let’s say a little bit more like earthquakes in Richter scale. I could go to my mom and say, hey mom, there was a 7.3 earthquake in California last night, let’s say. She would know that’s bad. Now she didn’t really know much about P waves or S waves or the details of the geophysics, but she understood that.

We basically came up with almost a Richter-like scale of storm surge. Then that is published and it’s out in the peer-reviewed literature and things like that. I had some other projects in which we looked at, could we come up with a, what I call a Seems Like Index. I think most people are familiar with, in weather, we have a Feels Like Index. If it’s really hot and humid, maybe the thermometer says it’s 95, but it feels like it’s 105, right? My Seems Like Index is, let’s say when it’s 70 degrees in Pennsylvania in February, it seems like it’s the first of May, the 15th of May, whatever. Almost like we do feels like, could we say well, it seems like it’s two weeks – the warming is two weeks ahead or maybe it’s a week behind what we would expect. You could actually then also look at those data and aggregate them and you say, for the last decade, spring has been coming a week ahead of time from what it used to be or fall is being delayed by two weeks. We worked on a Seems Like Index.

I’ve actually worked for a major Fortune 100 company. Could we predict pollen? Could we predict allergies? Not just looking at sales of over-the-counter drugs in pharmacies, to figure out how bad people’s allergies are, but could we actually put a generation of pollen and then blow it around in the computer models and have it rain out and it falls to the ground at night and get stirred up in the day with the winds. That was pretty interesting as well. Those are just some examples, but really the overarching theme was, what could we do using today’s existing technologies to help people better understand both weather and climate risks.

Tanya: I mean, just even the examples of allergies or other risks like rising sea levels, when you think about climate change, you think it’s something – or many people might think that it’s something that’s not directly impacting them, but wrong actually. There’s a lot of things that are directly impacting them and something that we have to take action on immediately. All of us individually and collectively. David, thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your lifetime of knowledge and experience with us. Also, thank you for speaking in front of congress and being a real advocate for us to take action on stabilizing the climate. It means a lot to me and I’m so grateful that you’re doing that work also for my daughters and for everybody on the planet.

David W. Titley: Thanks so much, Tanya for having me on your podcast.

Tanya: Thank you so much.

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