Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Global Climate Whiplash

Scientific American/Graphic by XNR Productions/Photo courtesy of Wing-Chi Poon on WikimediaCommons

Forget about “global warming”—the better name for what’s happening these days is “weather whiplash.” That’s the term meteorologists are using to describe the deep freeze that hit the lower 48 states last night on a cyclone that whipped out of the North Pole.

Weather extremes in the US in just the past six weeks have whipsawed from record highs to record lows, New Jersey’s state climatologist, David A. Robinson, told The New York Times. “The fact is it’s happened,” he said, “and we don’t know why.”

When the experts can’t say why what’s happening, I start worrying. From what I’ve gathered being in—and frequently cursing—the weather for 70 years, reporting on the weather for newspapers for nearly 30 years, and listening to and reading what various weather researchers have to say, I’d say we’re in trouble.

“Global warming is sometimes thought of more as 'global weirding,' with all manner of complex disruptions occurring over time,” Time Magazine environmental reporter Bryan Walsh wrote in a blog post yesterday, entitled “Climate Change Might Just Be Driving the Historic Cold Snap.” In his estimate, “This week’s events show that climate change is almost certainly screwing with weather patterns [in] ways that go beyond mere increases in temperature…”

If you think he’s got it wrong, consider this: “In 1988…Americans experienced unusual drought, searing heat, floods, and hurricanes—the precise events scientists predicted would occur with increasing frequency and severity as the levels of greenhouse gases rise,” noted the 2010 edition of a college textbook, Natural Resource Conservation. Frankly, I can’t even recall the weather way back then, a quarter-century ago, given the far more extreme weather events in more recent years. 

So I’m looking to some other experts—savvy practitioners of civic action.

“Today, in the absence of governmental leadership and with time for effective action on climate running out, collective action by religious and spiritual leaders and people of our many diverse faiths is badly needed,” assert the organizers of the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, which is sponsoring a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-inspired march on Washington on January 15, King’s birthday.

“We must move away from an economy fueled by coal, oil and gas that is destroying our ecosystem and impoverishing millions, and into an Earth-friendly economy in which we thoughtfully reduce our consumption, share our resources for the healing of those who are most in danger, and help all Humanity turn toward clean, renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and geothermal,” says the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate group. Endorsers include Church World Service, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Jewish Climate Change Campaign, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Methodist Federation for Social Justice and dozens of religious leaders across the nation.

This call for action was preceded by a letter to Congress in July signed by more than 200 religious-oriented scientists, that said in part:  “As evangelical scientists and academics, we understand climate change is real and action is urgently needed. All of God's Creation -- humans and our environment -- is groaning under the weight of our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels, bringing on a warming planet, melting ice, and rising seas. ... Our changing climate threatens the health, security, and well-being of millions of people who are made in God's image. The threat to future generations and global prosperity means we can no longer afford complacency and endless debate.”

Beyond the current cold snap, 2014 already seems to be shaping up to be a very hot year for civic action on climate change issues.   

“When governments fail to do what is possible to protect the very livability of a territory, its ability to produce food and provide shelter, climate change becomes a human rights issue as well,” Mairead Maguire, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her peacemaking organizing work in Northern Ireland, said in a statement endorsing the Great March for Climate Action. The march is planned to step off in Los Angeles on March 1, headed across the country to Washington, DC, with rallies along the way to urge Americans to press President Obama and Congress to save America’s temperate climate and other nations around the world from deadly environmental disasters.

 “As the people of the Philippines dig out and bury their dead from yet another catastrophic storm event, we have to do something big and we have to do it now,” said another march endorser, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz.

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