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The first six months of 2010 have been the warmest on record. January through June, sea temperatures and land temperatures around the world have been higher than ever. In fact, June 2010 is the warmest June in recorded history. Nevertheless, climate change deniers will point to record snowfalls this winter and say “What global warming?
The problem is with the the term global warming. It’s misleading. The problem isn’t global warming – it’s global climate change. What’s the difference? A whole lot.
The folks who coined the term “global warming: did themselves – and science – no favors. Because while technically accurate, the phrase paints the wrong picture. People hear that phrase, and they think it means that the globe is constantly hot, that winters will be shorter, less snowfall, less rain. But the warming is only half the picture. To understand the real importance of the globe warming up, you have to understand what it does to the world as a whole, even in the colder seasons.
One of the first effects of a warmer average temperature is a melting of polar icecaps. Yes, polar icecaps melt every year. That;s part of the ebb and flow. But as fall and winter roll around, sea ice forms, and the glaciers build back up. This pattern has been going on for millenia, renewing the glaciers every year.
The problem is that in recent years, glaciers and sea ice recede but do not return to their former levels in the fall. That’s a lot of new, fresh water entering the oceans. And that water gets spread around. The sea ice is already in the ocean, so thir melting is not an issue. But the sea ice protects the glaciers, and keeps them from melting more quickly. Less sea ice means more glacial melt. More glacial melt means more water in the ocean.
Now, the usual conclusion here is that it will raise sea levels in some catastrophic level. That’s likely not the case, at least as first. To be sure, sea levels rising start to affect many areas, such as the Gulf Coast region of the US. It doesn’t take a big rise to start having an effect on coastal cities. In fact, the just a few inches causes greater coastal erosion and a higher danger of flooding.
But the real effect of this additional water comes in adding humidity to the atmosphere. Moisture in the atmosphere is one of the catalysts for storms, particularly tropical storms. T now, add the fuel of higher surface temperatures and you get more storms, more power in those areas prone to tropical storms. In fact, you’ll get more powerful storms everywhere.
This includes winter storms. As tropical storms become more powerful, so will winter storms. Snowfall amounts will be greater, storms will be more fierce. And this is one of the great dangers of climate change. Weather patterns will intensify. If the winter storm would have been great, it will be greater. If a region would have been hot, it will be hotter. Global climate change creates more extreme weather. Over time, the highs will be higher, and low temperatures will also rise. With less cooling overnight, temperatures rebound higher the next day.
Drought-prone areas will be hit harder as temperature rise to new levels. Meanwhile, areas prone to flooding will see even more as supercharged storms dump higher levels of precipitation. Heat waves will be longer and hotter. The pattern that we have known as our climate for hundreds of years is changing, and not for the better.
Of course, the climate change deniers will ignore the evidence. They hang their hat on the “global warming” phrase whenever there’s a record snowfall or anomalous cool weather when it should be warm. What they don’t realize is those anomalies and those stronger winters are actually right in line with climate change. Sure, sounds funny to say “global warmiing” with record snowfalls. But that record snowfall was driven by something else. If you put more moisture into the atmosphere, such as evaporation from melting glaciers, that moisture is going to be present when storms form. If those storms form in the winter, that will come as snow.
So, let’s say you’re on the fence about it. You’re not sure. What do you do?
It’s actually quite simple. Act like it is true.
If we follow the deniers and take no action, or as some like to do, purposely take the opposite action, like those that burn trash and turn on every light on Earth Day, the best possible outcome is no better than where we are today. We will continue to use non-renewable fuels, continue our dependence on foreign sources of oil, continue to deplete resources. And that’s if climate change science is wrong. If it’s right, the path is nothing short of catastrophic.
But what if we simply assume the science is right? What if we act like it is fact? What’s the downside? Sure, we might have to learn to better at conserving. But we’d also become less dependent on foreign sources of oil. We could generate jobs by creating new energy technology and new markets. We could become the world leader in efficient, Earth-friendly energy. The downside here is change, not destroying the planet we live on.
So how do we fix this? How do we stop climate change and start minimizing our impact? The answer is to appeal to greed.
Look , there’s no way you get an oil company to put themselves out of business. Never happen. And frankly, if I was a stockholder in that company, I’d be pulling my money out if it looked like they were. No, the greed to be worked on is that of the new entrepreneur, the giy with ideas. We need to find ways to make it profitable – very profitable – to produce alternatives. Whether that’s through grants, prizes, incubator programs – we need to find ways for them to easily produce new technologies, and to profit from them.
I’d like to think folks would invent breakthrough technologies just for the benefit of society. I;d like to. But it’s a pipe dream. Nowadays, new technologies are tied to making more money. I don’t begrudge this. In fact, I think they should make money f they can bring us something that improves conditions for all of us. My fear, however, is that money-making part of the endeavor will overtake the search for a beneficial technology. Patents will be held back, and the technology will seep out slowly. In some cases, this will result in a lack of adoption, and the technology will die due to lack of interest.
But if we can support these new technologies, there is the potential for a breakthrough – or series of breakthroughs – that will change the path we’re on. And we need to change that path.
We need to give global climate change the attention it requires. Even if you don’t believe in it, or just aren’t sure, what’s the downside? How does it hurt to combat it? Why can’t we demand vehicles that are more efficient, yet just as powerful? Why can’t we demand a different, less expensive, alternative form of fuel? Why can’t we insist that recycling be a habit, not an afterthought?
There are myriad ways of effecting the change in your own life. And if you don’t believe in doing it for the environment – do it for your wallet. Most conservation ideas actually save you money, either directly or indirectly. A more fuel efficient car saves you every time you go to the pump. Enough of those come into use, and gas prices will go down along with demand. Returning those recyclables can actually bring you back a few bucks. Those bottles that require a deposit – one that is rightly yours if your return the bottle.
Shorter showers mean less water wasted, a smaller water bill, and a reduction in gas and/or electric usage to heat the water. Again, more money left in your pocket. The list goes on and on. The ways you can conserve, reuse, or reduce your consumption are so varied and include so many easy options that there is no reason that everyone can’t find at least one or two ways to do their part.
Again, what’s the downside here? That you had to find a bin for your recyclables? Maybe an extra 100 yards to the recycling center in the grocery store parking lot? In the end, minimal effort on your part – on everyone’s part – can make huge differences in our consumption. And in the overall picture of climate change.
The key is that we start. Start small, but start. Everyone has some little thing they can do to make a difference. That little bit may not seem like much, but the aggregate difference that all of us make is enormous. It’s important to the environment. It’s important to national security, it;s important to our wallets. Pick a reason – there are plenty. But get started. We’ve already made huge changes to the global climate picture. Many can be reversed, but only if we act.
Like I said before, if we act, and the climate change concept is wrong – there’s really no harm. But if we don’t act, and the climate change science is right, we are bringing the consequences down on ourselves and our children.