White Christmas, weather anomalies, and General chaos

One of the issues in the green community is how to impress the people who doubt the reality of climate change: that is the “well, the other day it was colder in southern Florida than northern Maine” type of person.

Countries covering one fifth of the planet’s land saw record high heat. Drought altered the world’s food trade. Floodwaters inundated parts of the U.S. and Asia with frequency that defied statistical expectations. Thousand year flood events are happening every few years. It’s exactly those changes in extremes where we notice the climate change. Droughts and floods and heat waves that are outside the bounds of what we’d normally expect. The global warming component is rearing its head in that way.

Increased precipitation events, whether rain or snow, are just what computer models of climate change predict. This is because they are a symptom of warmer sea temperatures off the coast that are providing extra moisture to produce that huge amount of snow. It’s not a sign that global warming is not here, quite contrary in fact. That extra moisture and warm temperatures kept feeding severe storms in the U.S. Nor’easters soaked New England in late March; a deluge hit coastal North Carolina in October; record rains fell in Oklahoma City in June; and, in May, disaster struck Tennessee.

In 2010, the record heat concentrated in mid-Atlantic region, so not only did they have “snowmageddon” (The monster storms dumped record piles of snow on the mid-Atlantic, including Washington D.C.), but they had their hottest summer on record in the DC area.

Through October, more than 41 hundred record highs were reported around the U.S. About 15 hundred record lows were posted in the same time, a high-to-low ratio of about two point five to one. But the U.S. heat wave paled compared to what much of the rest of the world endured this summer. Moscow had never before hit 100 degrees. This summer, it hit that mark 5 times in ten days. Eighteen countries set records for high temperatures. The warm temperatures covered a record amount of the earth’s surface. Never before has 20 percent of the earth’s surface experienced all-time record highs in one year. In Pakistan they hit 128 and a half degrees Fahrenheit, which is the hottest ever recorded in Asia. And, Southeast Asia hit its highest with Burma over 116 degrees this summer.

See http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2010november/

On a more personal front, the UK is having snow storms which has tied up air travel in the UK since late November. While I like the concept of a White Christmas, the reality is much more of a concern. Icy roads affect much of the UK. There was an extreme weather warning today for Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders, with some 15 to 20cm (6-8in) of snow expected between 1100 and 1800 GMT. Up to 10cm (4in) are expected in other snow-affected areas, with up to 20cm on high ground. Temperatures struggled to get above -5C (23F) overnight. The BBC said there were lows of -19C (-2F) in parts of Worcestershire and Shropshire. The temperatures are likely to stay below freezing throughout the day.

Airports are knocked out all through the country. Edinburgh airport was closed until 1430 GMT and then opened for departures only on Sunday. Rail and road travel is suffering from the weather. The more personal side of this is that we sent a package out to the US on the 23rd of November and it got “lost” in the system until it appeared on the 17th. Ultimately, it was delivered on the 17th, but usually it only takes a week for small parcels to make their way between the US and UK.

But this is just a small indicator of larger economic issues related to climate change. Unusual weather causes significant negative economic impacts: Many work weeks were cut short, businesses were closed, and deliveries. Airlines had to cancel flights and then struggle to get back to normal–as was the case with other forms of transport. Emergency crews worked overtime to restore downed power lines and trees, as well as other weather-related accidents. Cleanup efforts also are quite costly to those areas with historically little expectations of heavy snowfall.

So, people can make idiotic and ignorant comments on the topic of climate change, but the ultimate upshot is that it is indeed happening. Unfortunately, people are no longer as in touch with nature to be aware of the change. Another problem is that it will take a drastic change in lifestyle for some people to reverse years of neglect toward this issue. The, there is a part of me that believes in the Gaia Theory, which holds that Earth’s physical and biological processes are inextricably bound to form a self-regulating system so as always to be as favourable as possible for contemporary life.

Is this weird weather a warning of more drastic weather as the planet seeks to keep its stasis? The planet’s homeostasis is now being disrupted by our brief binge of fossil fuel consumption, which has released a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Indeed, we have already pushed the planet over the brink, and that we will soon see remarkably rapid rises in temperature, well beyond those envisioned in most of the computer models now in use. Because the earth is already struggling to keep itself cool, our extra increment of heat is particularly dangerous, and we will soon see the confluence of several phenomena: the death of ocean algae in ever-warmer ocean waters, reducing the rate at which these small plants can remove carbon from the atmosphere; the death of tropical forests as a result of higher temperatures and the higher rates of evaporation they cause; sharp changes in the earth’s “albedo,” or reflectivity, as white ice that reflects sunlight back out into space is replaced with the absorptive blue of seawater or the dark green of high-latitude boreal forests; and the release of large amounts of methane, itself a greenhouse gas, held in ice crystals in the frozen north or beneath the sea. Some or all of these processes will be enough to tip the earth into a catastrophically hotter state, perhaps eight degrees centigrade warmer in temperate regions like ours, over the course of a very few decades, and that heat will in turn make life as we know it nearly impossible in many places.

Will the Earth make it so obvious that climate change is a reality that no one but the most foolish can ignore?

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