Amidst the shivering in Washington, the case for global warming
OK, it’s cold in Washington. It’s really cold. And snowy. And blizzardy. It’s hard to recall that long-ago moment — what was it, six days ago? — when you could go for a walk without cross-country skis and a flask of brandy. But just because it’s winter doesn’t mean global warming is a myth.
But the storms gave conservatives fresh fodder for mocking former Vice President Al Gore and his efforts on global climate change. Senator Jim DeMint tweeted “It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle’,” Politico reported.
For decades, scientists have struggled to explain the difference between weather, which changes in the short term, and climate, which changes over the long term. There’s a good explanation at the new government Climate Service Web site called “Short term cooling on a warming planet.” The new site went up this week, between blizzards, and is supposed to guide consumers and businesses so they can adapt to climate change. The Climate Service itself is expected to be up and running by the start of the next U.S. fiscal year that begins on October 1.
The last decade was the warmest on record, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United Kingdom’s Met Office and the World Meteorological Organization. “The bottom line is that current temperatures are way above the long-term average,” NOAA’s David Easterling says.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is certainly not backing away from its 2007 report that global warming is occurring and human activity is causing it. But climate change skeptics have focused on what they see as problems with how some of the data that led to this conclusion were collected and reported. To most scientists, though, this is all beside the point.
One sign that the planet is getting warmer is what’s happening in the Arctic Sea. It’s not as icy as it used to be at this time of year, and that means there won’t be much thick, hardy sea ice at the beginning of the spring melt season — which in turn means there will be more open water exposed. Dark-colored water absorbs the sun’s rays, just as light-colored sea ice reflects them, so it’s likely to get even warmer up there. That’s important because the Arctic is one of the world’s biggest weather-makers.
But that still doesn’t explain the unusual weather patterns — putting it politely — that have hammered the U.S. East Coast this winter. However, part of the overall long-term forecast for a warmer world is for more severe weather events, and the current storms could qualify. So could the notable lack of snow at some venues of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Oddball weather can be a sign of climate change.
That’s why they call it climate change — civilizations are used to climate being the same as it has been for millennia, and scientists believe that’s going to change on a relatively rapid timescale. Not everybody likes the term “climate change.” So how about “global weirding“?
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REUTERS/Jason Reed (U.S. Capitol as snow falls on Washington, January 30, 2010)
REUTERS/Andy Clark (A truck carrying snow to the Olympic snowboarding and freestyle venue in West Vancouver, British Columbia February 3, 2010.)