January 8, 2010

Global Warming: Manmade or Natural Cycle?

Or a little bit of both?

I write this during a brutally chilly January along the East Coast. Most North Americans experienced below-average temperatures in 2009, according to the U.N. So how can people still believe in global warming? Are the skeptics right after all?  Is Oklahoma's Senator James M. Inhofe justified in calling global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people"? Perhaps “global weirding,” a term by Hunter Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, is a fitting one.

The biggest concept to get your brain around in this ongoing debate is that climate is NOT the same as weather. Climate is a measure of decades and centuries, not months or years. Climatologists look at long term trends and patterns. The weatherman looks at the next few days. So "climate change" is really a more accurate term than "global warming." It's not merely an attempt to play spin doctor.

The weatherman is warning us nightly of this January cold spell lasting for another week or two. We proudly think of America first, but we're only a small percentage of the world's land masses. We rejoiced that the hurricane season was so mild. In any given month, however, are the number of record highs outpacing the number of record lows?

Back in December 2009, the World Meteorological Organization released data showing that the last decade is the hottest ever recorded, and 2009 was among the 10 hottest years ever recorded--especially in Southern Asia and Central Africa. China experienced its third-warmest year since 1951. Many sweltered during the heat waves in the U.K., Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. 150 died in India during one major heat wave. Australians suffered through three heat waves during what is likely to be the third-warmest year ever recorded there. But we Americans are somewhat parochial in our observations. Perhaps the Weather Channel needs to share more global weather trends and climate patterns.

Averaging the temps over both land and sea, the WMO says that 2009 will rank as the fifth-warmest year recorded since 1850. It's also among the hottest years in the last few thousand years, if you compare ice cores, tree rings, and layers of sediment. That is definitely above my pay grade.

Then there are droughts We Virginians saw googads (my technical term) of rain during the last few months, so can't we imagine droughts elsewhere? China suffered its worst drought in five decades in 2009. Australia, East African nations, and parts of Argentina are dealing with persistent droughts. California saw some relief recently from one of their worst droughts. Last January, I drove along the Russian River to its end at the Pacific Ocean. I did not expect this river to end in a dead end pond of sorts a few hundred yards from the Pacific.

Water, water, everywhere was the lament in many places around the globe as they experienced deluges of rain. Turkey experienced more rainfall in 2009 than it had in 80 years. Southeastern Spain had nearly a foot of rainfall over two days, where it usually only rains 18 inches each year. The U.S. had its wettest October in 115 years. Tidewater Virginia received more than a foot of rain during a November 2009 nor'easter that was the remains of Hurricane Ida.

What about that Arctic sea ice? February is the height of the annual freeze. Currently, warmer-than-usual temperatures in the Arctic have sea ice trending along the same line as the record-breaking melt of the 2007 season. As sea ice melts, the darker water that is exposed absorbs more of the sun's energy, which leads to warmer waters and more melting ice.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Sleuth out the facts on climate change if you doubt anything I've posted. It isn't easy. You'll find lies and distortions from both side of the climate change aisle.

See what FactCheck.org has to say about those hacked emails referred to by some as Climategate.

Visit The DeSmogBlog Project  that has billed itself as "the world’s number one source for accurate, fact based information regarding Global Warming misinformation campaigns" since 2006.

Check out the the largest US business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce site. They wanted to put the science of global warming and the EPA on trial. The Chamber has since lost Apple, 3 utilities (California's PG&E, New Mexico's PNM, and the largest electric utility in the U.S., Exelon) and Nike.