Here we are in hurricane season on the U.S. East Coast. Issac is done with New Orleans and it appears the city survived, though not without injury.
Some weather forecasters have said we are likely to have fewer, but more powerful, hurricanes this year.
Out West, the ground seemed to be burning. Rivers and oceans are warming, droughts are not limited to the American West, snow in some places is falling heavier than in a long time, and there’s a rumor real estate moguls are gearing up for a boom in Arctic beach frontage. (OK, I’m starting that rumor. Still…)
In “The Day After Tomorrow,” a 2004 movie starring Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal and Emmy Rossum, we were entertained by the destruction not only of New York City but the Eastern Seaboard from Washington D.C northward (Florida, apparently, was not subjected to the climatic destruction). The same global warming that had melted the ice caps and flooded New York City with a sea level to wash a cargo shop into downtown Manhattan had buried a shopping mall farther south under several hundred feet of ice.
In geologic terms, the movie may have been close to correct. A century really isn’t long in the life of a 4.5-billion-year-old planet. Ask a teenager how long 14 years is, and brace for the reply: “All my life!”
And therein lies much of the problem. Most humans do not spend even a century on this whirling glob, never mind long enough to say, “See, I told you so” when scientists find out how much humans are contributing to the planetary climate. It’s easy to ignore it, or believe those who say it’s not happening while we sit in front of the air conditioner and hope the nuclear power plant down the road is cool enough to remain online.
A new book may help clear up some of the confusion. “Global Weirdness,” written and fact-checked by the non-partisan scientific group Climate Central, records in 60 chapters, many only two or three pages long, what we know about changes in our home planet’s climate in the past 100-plus years, and what can be expected in the next.
Here’s a sampling:
- On average, the oceans are about eight inches higher than they were in 1900, and the temperature is about 1.3F hotter,
- the planet’s temperature rose about twice as fast over the most recent 50 years than it did over the previous 50 years, and
- burning fossil fuels have made the worlds oceans about 30 percent more acidic then they were before a Scotsman named James Watt made the steam engine a reliable, fossil fuel dependent, tool in 1755, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution.
The 214-page book is full of such facts, carefully checked and double checked, written in narrative that is interesting, sometimes quippingly humorous, and always easy to understand. It is presented in four sections: What the Science Says, What’s Actually Happening, What’s Likely to Happen in the Future, and Can We Avoid the Risks of Climate Change?
The authors do not say all climate change is a result of human activity – on the other hand, it’s difficult to ignore points such as a growing season in the United States being two weeks longer now than in 1900, or that since the 1980s there have been many more record high temperatures recorded than record lows.
As some naysayers have proposed, there have been climate swings in the past, but none as rapid as the swing now underway. But “rapid” is a relative term. As the authors of “Global Weirdness” noted, a string of record hot days in New York City do not prove the climate is warming.
“But if New York keeps getting more record-high temperatures decade after decade and fewer record-low temperatures, that’s a hint that the climate might really be changing,” they wrote.
The authors go farther than a litany of facts; they explain causes, effects and implications in easy to understand language, and offer some suggestions for what we can – and cannot – do to avoid the catastrophic predictions looming over the geologic horizon. And rather than run around in a full bore linear panic (that may come later), they present previous temperature swings and explain which can be pinned on Mother Nature and which on human intervention.
“Global Weirdness” is published by Pantheon and is available from your favorite book seller.
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