In case you haven’t noticed, the weather has been–shall we say–unusual.
The average high temperature for International Falls, MN in January is 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Last Wednesday it was -36.4 with a windchill of -58.
This week, temperatures are predicted to spike 80 degrees.
“In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]? Please come back fast, we need you!”
What the hell is going on with global “waming?”
What the president doesn’t care to know (despite having access to every top climate scientist in the world) is that all these dangerous meteorological aberrations are because of global warming, aka climate change.
That’s why places where it’s hot are hotter than normal; places where it’s cold are even colder, in some places, than at any other time in recorded history.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2018 was the fourth warmest year for the planet.
This doesn’t mean, despite what our president says, everywhere is going to be stifling hot all the time.
According to a study released in Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, the shifting jet stream is responsible for dramatic temperature swings, causing glaciers in western North America to melt four times faster than in the last decade, creating what we now know as a “polar vortex“–a term familiar today but virtually unknown to most only a few years ago.
The polar vortex is a frigid air mass concentrated in the Arctic that traps cold air.
The past few years it has been creeping southward as the jet stream weakens.
According to the National Weather Service:
“It ALWAYS exists near the poles.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains:
“The polar vortex suddenly weakened [in 2014], and a huge high-pressure system formed over Greenland. The high-pressure system blocked the escape of all that cold air in the jet stream, and allowed part of the polar vortex to break off and move southward.”
Despite the frigid temperatures, winters are actually getting warmer.
By 2050, cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore could lose a month or more of days with temperatures below freezing.
Southern states, like Georgia, the Carolinas, and Tennessee, could see their average winter lows increase above 32°.
Australians right now are suffering through 120-degree days and 96.6-degree nights.
It’s so hot there, bats are literally falling from trees.
The report, State of the Climate in 2017, released last summer, states carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere climbed to the highest levels “in the modern atmospheric measurement record and in ice core records dating back as far as 800,000 years.”
According to a US National Climate Assessment released in November, “impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country,” and “climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic wellbeing are rising.”
The second volume of the congressionally mandated quadrennial report goes on to state:
“Climate change is loading the dice against us, it’s going to affect our water, food and ecosystems. This report is important because it shows it’s already happening where we live, not on far-off islands or at the poles.”
For example, fisheries, tourism, human health, and public safety are being “transformed, degraded or lost due in part to climate change impacts, particularly sea level rise and higher numbers of extreme weather events.”
Economically, costs could climb into the billions annually.
According to CNN:
“The Southeast alone will probably lose over a half a billion labor hours by 2100 due to extreme heat…Farmers will face extremely tough times. The quality and quantity of their crops will decline across the country due to higher temperatures, drought and flooding. In parts of the Midwest, farms will be able to produce less than 75% of the corn they produce today, and the southern part of the region could lose more than 25% of its soybean yield…Heat stress could cause average dairy production to fall between 0.60% and 1.35% over the next 12 years–having already cost the industry $1.2 billion from heat stress in 2010.”
In all but three years from 2000 to 2016, wildfires have devoured at least 3.7 million acres. More than 100 million people live in locales experiencing poor air quality, and groundwater supplies have rapidly decreased since 2001.
If we fail to enact the immediate, radical action necessary to prevent the atmosphere from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius–-2.7 degrees Fahrenheit-–over pre-industrial levels, further effects are, according to Michael Oppenheimer, climate scientist at Princeton University, “indescribable.”
“It would turn the world upside down in terms of its climate. There would be nothing like it in the history of civilization.”
We’re looking at acidic oceans dissolving coral reefs, cities like Manhattan and Miami inundated, extreme and persistent heat waves, food shortages, threats to governments’ stability, more frequent and larger wildfires, growing risks to property and life, mounting air pollution levels, increases in diseases, hunger, and mass migrations.
In terms of health:
“The Midwest alone, which is predicted to have the largest increase in extreme temperature, will see an additional 2,000 premature deaths per year by 2090.”
Even a half-degree increase puts us on track to experience more hurricanes, coastline inundation, floods, wildfires, drought, food shortages, mass human and animal migrations, and ecocide.
According to Michael Mann, esteemed Pennsylvania State University professor and director of the Earth Science Systems Science Center, the IPCC’s assessment is actually conservative, underestimating the amount of warming that has already occurred.
We actually have less carbon left to burn if we wish to avoid the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold the IPCC report cites.
Dr. Mann stated:
“If you look, for example, at the Northern Hemisphere, which is where most of us live, and you ask the question when do we cross the 2 degree warming- 2 degree Celsius warming- threshold for the Northern Hemisphere if we continue with business as usual burning of fossil fuels? I showed in an article several years ago in Scientific American we crossed that threshold before 2040, in the late 2030s. So we are on the way, on our way to blowing past the 1.5 degree Celsius mark and crossing the 2 degrees Celsius threshold in a matter of, you know, depending on how you define it, it really doesn’t matter. Is it two decades, is it three decades, it hardly matters. In order to avoid crossing those thresholds we need to bring our emissions down dramatically. Arguably more dramatically than implied in this latest IPCC report.”
We have already passed too many tipping points to avoid some of the climate’s most devastating effects. Many scientists theorize the world has begun a sixth mass extinction.
We are going to just have to deal with what we have wrought and aggressively institute federal policies to mitigate further damage.
The question is, are we?
According to Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and co-author of the IPCC report, “It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that.”
Not with this administration.
Michael Mann wrote in October 2016 that Donald Trump was “a threat to the planet.”
“Trump got the Koch Bros what they wanted, another half-decade or so of their business model, even at the expense of breaking the planet.”
We aren’t through yet.
We need to support aggressive climate-change policy, like the “Green New Deal” Democrats are touting as part of their agenda to help right our current trajectory.
We need to take the fossil fuel industry head-on.
As long as there is a profit motive, there will never be sufficient action to curb carbon emissions.
It only means the future of our planet, our children, grandchildren, and beyond.
Once it’s over, it’s over.
Image credit: Pixabay