Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cold Enough for You?

It's damned cold in a lot of places.  Most of the USA.  Much of Europe.

This of course generates a gush of hot air from places like Fox Fiction, whose prattlers love to show pictures of frozen snowplows outside of Fargo while rolling their eyes and chortling, "Where's the global warming?  Ha ha ha."

Maybe they're just performing.  But if they're serious, they are demonstrating profound ignorance, utterly failing to understand the distinction between "climate" and "weather."

That iced-in snowplow in Fargo and those mountains of snow in Buffalo are produced by "weather."  This particular winter chill is caused by Arctic oscillation, in which opposing atmospheric pressure patterns at the top of the planet occasionally shift back and forth, affecting weather across most of the Northern Hemisphere.  This year's high pressure pattern is more pronounced than any since 1950.  It deflects the cold air of the jet stream farther south than usual.

Arctic oscillation has nothing to do with global warming; it affects weather, not climate. One of the prattlers, I'm told, pontificated about the "coldest year in history."  In fact, last calendar year was the fifth-warmest on record since 1850.  Even the first two weeks of January haven't been anything special historically, despite that record low of 28 one recent day in Melbourne, FL. In 1899 a great blizzard that swept down from the northeast forced temperatures below zero in parts of Florida.

The present cold spell isn't even global.  The North Pole, for example, is having a relatively balmy winter.  And in fact, many climate scientists are still predicting that 2010 could end up being the hottest year on record. 

Climate change deniers point to the relatively moderate global temperatures since the record year of 1998, pooh-pooh the idea of global warming, and even insist that we're actually in a period of "global cooling."  When people with the bully pulpits of television or other mass media propagate such misinformation, they're doing a great disservice to our planet and its inhabitants.  The political result is that we get far less from events like the recent climate summit in Copenhagen than we need to solve the problems of a warming earth.

Chief among these problems is carbon dioxide, mainly from tailpipes and smokestacks.  A great deal of CO2 goes into the atmosphere but some is absorbed into the ocean.  A 64-foot yacht called Ocean Watch is circling the globe with a passel of scientists aboard, sampling the waters as they go.  They're finding rising levels of acidification, especially in places like the Gulf of Alaska.  The acid levels are a threat to many forms of ocean life, some of which already show signs of serious decline.

Ornithologists in Israel have documented a dramatic effect on  bird behavior which they attribute to climate change.  Breeding of many species is getting later and later in the year in Europe and North America.  An opposite effect has been detected in Antarctic sea birds. As global warming continues, ornithologists say there will be some "winners" and some "losers" but over all, for every species that benefits, three others will suffer.  Among the species found to be especially at risk are insectivorous birds whose diet of insect pests protects crops and human health.

The terrifying aspect of what's happening today goes beyond a changing atmosphere whose rising CO2 levels are already altering the planetary climate.  That is just part of broader set of human-caused factors that imperil the entire biosphere -- the thin layer where life exists on our otherwise lifeless planet.  Cumulative ecosystem destruction threatens our water supply, our forests, oceans, farmland and soils.  Some scientists believe the collapse of the biosphere is inevitable.

But most scientists still believe actions can be taken now to mitigate ecological collapse, then renew the damaged Earth through ecosystem repair.  It would be a long, complex, costly process requiring all of mankind to change the way we live.

It isn't made any easier by loudmouthed oafs who televise pictures of a blizzard and then sneer at climate change science.

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