If you were born prior to 1970 and lived in all but a few of the most southern American states, then there is a good chance that you can remember winters that involved snow and freezing temperatures. I can remember a few times from my childhood when school was cancelled because the wind chill temperature was below zero and it was deemed too dangerous for students to walk to school or wait at their bus stop. Devastating winters were just a factor of Midwest life. Global warming is changing everything, including Christmas.
According to Climate Central (they describe themselves as an, “independent organization of scientists and journalists”, their website is: www.climatecentral.org), 2012 will be the hottest year ever recorded in the lower 48 states. That should make even the staunchest global warming denier nervous. A White Christmas is not just something your grandma enjoyed, it’s important from an agriculture perspective. Obviously, snow provides necessary moisture for the spring planting season, however, the cold is equally important. Prolonged cold keeps the insect population at manageable levels and reduces the amount of pesticides that farmers will apply to their crops in the next season. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as of December 12th, approximately 43% of the lower 48 states were in a severe drought. This drought is not expected to break anytime soon and the public can expect food prices to increase for at least the next year. More information on the severity of the current drought situation can be found at the U.S. Department of Agriculture website in the Disaster and Drought section.
Consider that in October of 2012 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a study which determined that the loss of Arctic ice created conditions that exacerbated extreme weather. Droughts are worse, floods are worse and fluctuations in temperatures whether hot or cold are all made worse as a result of the loss of Arctic ice. For anyone wishing more detailed information regarding the rate of Arctic (and Greenland) ice melting the following is a link to NOAA’s Arctic Report Card: Update for 2012. It is too early to determine if Hurricane Sandy was a result of global warming. However, it is nearly certain that global warming provided all the necessary elements to make Hurricane Sandy worse.
East Coast water temperatures were much warmer than normal during the summer of 2012. Hurricane Sandy formed in the Caribbean on October 22 and did not dissipate until October 31. Normally, the cold water temperatures off the Eastern Coast prevents hurricanes that form in late October from travelling very far into the cold Northern waters. The warm waters fueled Sandy and allowed it to continue growing until it was a thousand miles wide. It was not Sandy’s winds that caused the most damage, but rather her storm surge. As the Arctic/Greenland ice shelf continues to melt the sea levels will rise. The rising sea levels will mean that low lying areas can expect to experience more destructive storm surges in the future.
The effects of global warming will reach into the lives of every single person on the planet. As the Himalayan glaciers that feed the rivers of lower Asia melt, the rivers will dry. When the rivers are gone the people will starve. The potential devastation is overwhelming to consider. As with every disaster, the poor will suffer disproportionally. Perhaps the tipping point has been reached and nothing can be done to stop the effects of this man-made disaster. However, until it is known that nothing can be done, shouldn’t everything be attempted? There really is no longer a debate regarding global warming. No one can seriously dispute that the weather has changed. The only question that remains to be answered is: have we passed the tipping point.
The Obama Administration appears exceedingly blasé regarding global warming. The President will periodically say things regarding global warming, but he has certainly not been a leader when it comes to actually enacting meaningful policies. Wind and solar projects should be implemented with the same fierce urgency of now that this administration has approached oil drilling. At the federal level tax policy could be used to encourage more green components of new construction. At the local level building codes should be revised to require environmentally practices ranging from green roofs to solar panels. I do not have all the answers. I am not an environmental scientist. I do know that the magnitude of this problem demands leadership. That leadership should be coming from the Obama Administration.