Global Warming Effects Mount Offensive
Nemo is not just a fictional character invented by French science fiction author Jules Verne:
2012 was a record-topping year in the United States in at least three alarming ways: (1) the hottest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Climate Data Center (NCDC). The previous record set in 1998 was surpassed by a full 1.0°F. (2) There were no less than 11 extreme weather events, including super storm Sandy, that each caused more than $1 billion of damages, and (3) record-breaking wildfire activity. From Katrina to Irene to Sandy, storms are bigger, badder, and more common than they were just 10 years ago, strongly reinforcing the suggestion the realities of global warming effects that are here to stay.
One significant indicator in the sea of evidence of global warming climate change manifested in Australia, where a heatwave so intense and unprecedented required two new colors be added to weather forecasting maps. In Britain, evidence of surprising climate change was seen when a prediction by that country’s Environment Agency for long-term drought conditions was quickly followed by the wettest late spring, the wettest summer, the wettest autumn and the wettest Christmas that country has have ever known; eight months of near-continuous rain and floods amounting to England’s wettest year since records began.
Events such as these are troubling in more than one way. First, record-breaking temperatures and the rising frequency of extreme weather events illustrate that climate change signs of global warming are happening. Further, these events represent trends that are expected to worsen over time unless serious action is taken to reduce carbon pollution and the release of other greenhouse gases.
Lets examine some of these statistics in greater detail to get a clearer picture of their significance vis-a-vis “is global warming real”. In terms of temperature records: (1) 356 all-time highs have been tied or broken , (2) there were 5 daily record highs for every daily record low – the largest ratio of this kind since record-keeping began in 1895, (3) in the U.S., a 3.3°F higher average temperature occurred than the 20th Century average, (4) a 3.6°F above average temperature was recorded for the month of July 2012, the hottest month ever recorded in the contiguous United States, and (5) no less than 19 states experiencing a record warm year.
In terms of impact of these temperature events: (1) over 99 million people experienced 10 or more days of heat that exceeded 100°F – more than one-third of America’s total population, (2) more than 65% of continental United States experienced drought during September, (3) there were 11 disasters in 2012 that caused more than $1 billion of losses each, (4) 8.5 million homes lost power during Hurricane Sandy, (5) 300,000 acres burned during the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history, (6) 350 homes were destroyed by Colorado’s Waldo Canyon wildfire, the state’s most destructive wildfire in history, and (6) there were no less than 19 named storms and hurricanes in 2012 – an above-average amount of tropical cyclone activity
Data such as these leave little doubt that global warming problems are on the up-swing, both in the United States and world wide. In 2012, the world experienced 333 consecutive months of global temperatures above the 20th-century average. Further, over the past 20 years, global sea levels have risen 60% faster than previously projected. And this past year, Arctic sea ice reached record lows, while the Greenland ice sheet experienced its largest extent of ice melt in satellite-recorded history since 1979. The most reasonable way to interpret these data is through the view of a long timescale, and on that basis it is clear that every decade since the 1960s has been warmer than the previous one, and that average temperatures have increased markedly over the past century.
It would be wrong to attribute firmly Australia’s heatwave or America’s unprecedented year totally to man-made climate change. Weather’s natural variability has shown us that extremes due to naturally-caused global warming have occurred – and records set – throughout history. Again, the only honest thing to do is to look at long-term trends. It’s also true that over the past 15 years or so, the rate of warming has slowed down. No one knows why. It may be natural variation; there have been other periods – 1973-1980 and 1988-1995 – where global warming seems to have stalled, only for temperatures to resume their rise. Or it may be caused by the cooling effect of massive air pollution in China; but that would disappear once it is cleaned up. It might also be that natural causes of global warming may be about to go into retreat, but there is no plausible scientific reason why that should be so, and no evidence for it.
But generally, the data on climate variation and recent weather events suggest that something is indeed afoot. Days above 37.8C are now five times more common than between 1911 and 1930 and extremely hot summers are 10 times more widespread globally than between 1951 and 1980. The connection between long-term warming and climate change is well-established. And there’s increasing evidence linking individual events like heat waves and extreme weather occurrences to global warming. Climate change is linked to changes in extreme weather and climate events like heat waves and heavy precipitation, and extreme summer heat waves are much more likely to occur today than 20 years ago due to human-induced climate change.
Now is the time to understand what causes global warming, and begin significantly reducing carbon pollution. Until global emissions levels decline significantly, the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases will continue to rise. And unless atmospheric concentrations return to a sustainable level, communities, businesses, and the environment will be faced with managing the unmanageable.
President Obama recognizes this priority, and with the beginning of his second term the United States has an opportunity to take a leadership role in this area. His administration has made some progress in articulating global warming solutions through curbing greenhouse gas emissions, most notably with new vehicle emissions standards and proposed regulations for new power plants. But more has to be done in meeting a commitment to reducing overall emissions (the federal goal is 17% by 2020, with much greater reductions in the decades ahead). The time for action is now. Without serious progress, we’re poised to continue breaking records we shouldn’t be breaking – and experiencing the disastrous impacts that go with them.