It’s been a rough winter for public perception of climate change, with record snowfalls slamming the mid-Atlantic U.S., Europe, and central Asia. On the political front, there has been a vast hullabaloo over “Climategate,” our dear President did everything he could to sink the Copenhagen negotiations but spin it like he saved them, Congress is trying to keep the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide, and even some radicals, watching the corporate sector do what comes (un)naturally and attempt to position themselves to take advantage of climate change, have joined with the right in dismissing the whole thing as a neoliberal plot.
But nature doesn’t care what we deny, spin, or, for the most part, legislate. Nature just does what she does, influenced by our actions, but not by our words or thoughts. One of pur actions has been to dig and suck billions of tons of buried carbon out of the coal and oil deposits where it was sequestered, and burn it, releasing billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it is changing the rates at which our planet reflects or absorbs solar radiation, aka, heat. Another of our actions has been to strip the trees from vast portions of the planet’s land masses, lessening the planet’s ability to reabsorb the carbon dioxide we have turned loose. The oceans, on the other hand, have kept on absorbing carbon dioxide, which has had the effect of making them more acidic and less oxygenated, threatening to obliterate the oceanic web of life which produces most of the oxygen that makes lifeforms like us possible on this planet.
Another thing the oceans are absorbing is heat. We see this most dramatically in the Arctic, where the likely date of an ice-free summer keeps getting advanced, and in the Antarctic, where vast ice shelves that have been in place for thousands of years are breaking loose, but the ocean is also warming up around the equator of the planet, and that’s where we get back to the link between global warming and the long, cold, winter from which we are finally emerging.
The planet is in the grip of an “El Nino event.” This means that the Equatorial Pacific Ocean is much warmer than normal–in fact, its temperature is now at a near-record high level. A warmer ocean evaporates more water than a cooler one, and this increase in atmospheric moisture results in…more precipitation when the moisture, or “clouds,” as we call it, makes landfall and starts to cool. If the landmass underneath it is cool enough, the precipitation of this evaporated moisture descends in solid form and we call it “snow” or “ice.” If the landmass is warmer, then, of course, we call it “rain.”
I hope I’m not being too…umm… “elementary” for you!
And it doesn’t have to be super cold to result in snow. Here in Nashville, although the winter was cold and snowy, temperatures barely dipped into single digits Farenheit, a point conveniently ignored by global warming deniers, most of whom are old enough to remember when temperatures here in middle Tennessee routinely went below zero during the winter, sometimes for extended periods. And the Vancouver Winter Olympics were plagued by warmer than normal weather, the warmest winter in at least a hundred years, they said, but you won’t hear the deniers talking about that, either.
The essence here is that what we are in for is not some simple, linear warming trend, but rather a complex period of instability and unpredictability. Many Americans, it seems, have a low tolerance for unpredictability and complexity, coupled with a strong tendency to believe they are entitled to a high comfort level, regardless of its effect on the environment. The shortest relatively polite description of that attitude is stupid, greedy, and complacent.” Living on this planet as it changes is going to call for increased resiliency, flexibility, and intelligence. Stupidity, greed and complacency are a “three strikes, you’re out” combination….and I believe it’s Nature’s turn to bat…..