Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

August 3, 2008
Kelly Redmond - Go-to Climate Change Scientist

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt
- Mark Twain

A journalistic endeavor like this is sure to rile critics who say that climate change is just another natural cycle in the long history of the Earth.

And that reaction is itself perfectly natural, said Kelly Redmond, deputy director of the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno. After all, weather in the Sierra Nevada is always changing - often wildly so - making subtle patterns that roll out over time difficult to detect.

"Human beings are built to notice variation," said Redmond.

"When stuff happens chronically, we get used to it so quickly we hardly notice. Most people won't tell you: 'You know, it's about six-tenths of a degree warmer than when I was a kid.' "

Redmond has walked that road himself. Once, he was a global warming skeptic, too.

But today, he wears a new hat: He is the go-to guy for data about climate change in the Sierra Nevada.

          What changed him, Redmond said, was a mountain of evidence that has piled up in recent years, much of it published in scientific journals. Some of the most telling data, though, is buried in a blizzard of data on his center's web page - a century of weather readings showing that temperatures are rising across the Sierra Nevada, especially the colder temperatures so critical to the region's snowpack.

           Like Al Gore, Redmond packs a climate change slideshow with him to conference after conference. But unlike Gore, he is not preachy; he doesn't speak in polished sound bites. He is the opposite of flashy. If you want global warming drama, Redmond is not your man. But if you are interested in the slow creep of change over time, he can serve it up.

          But that is just the sort of thing many people overlook, tune out or reject. "If it isn't dramatic, we have a tendency to say it isn't important," Redmond told me. And to drive his point home, he recalled something he once heard from another researcher: "Subtle does not mean unimportant." To see one of Kelly's slideshows, click on this link:





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About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at

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