Sunday, January 5, 2014

Global warming is local

Because the weather in Chicago today might best be described as "advanced winter crossed with snow globe" I hope you won't mind if I don't go outside to take pictures. Instead I'll use some from the archives to provide a visual approximation of what's going on.
Hudson Bay early freeze-up, 2012 = Lake Michigan today
At the corner of Kelsey and Franklin Streets, Churchill Manitoba = Lake Shore Drive, Chicago Illinois today
Ice-encased tree, Lamar Buffalo Ranch, Yellowstone 2010 = Chicago today, minus the crystal clear blue sky
My street following the Chicago "blizzaster" 2011 = my street today, except no one is outside, the street hasn't been plowed, and its still blowing and snowing heavily.
What I don't have is a proxy photo to represent today's white-out alternating with blowing horizontal snow. It's 23o Fahrenheit at the moment -- not an unreasonable temperature for early January -- in fact I would say that's a desirable temperature for the normal course of plant life, especially species that depend on prolonged cold to sprout and flower at appropriate times of the year, and that benefit from prolonged subfreezing temperatures to control insect infestation. However, with winds of 20+ miles per hour, the "real feel" against skin is much closer to 0o F. That's dangerous for humans and photographers alike. There are serious National Weather Service winter storm warnings in effect, and cancellations have already gone out from every place I'm due tomorrow including my employer (work from home) and my otherwise regular Jazzercise class (cancelled).
NASA's announcement of December 9, 2013 (just one month ago) that the coldest area on earth, in Antarctica of course, has now been documented by the Landsat 8 satellite, and wave following on wave of snow storms hitting the U.S. east coast this winter have delighted the global warming nay-sayers.  They take all of this as proof that global warming is a conspiracy of liberals and scientists (who are every bit as ignorant and misdirected as politicians in their view) intended to...well, I'm not sure what all negative motivations are attributed to proponents of the "theory" of global warming, but a predominant one is "it will be used to separate people from their coin" (quotation from a person who posts under a pseudonym on a chat page I frequent). While many are willing to admit that the earth's climate "ain't what it used to be" (in recorded history) they refuse to accept the possibility that the speed and average direction in which change is occurring are causally related to human activities. I agree that it's not only very hard to wrap one's head around apocalyptic visions (not just NIMBY attitudes, in fact, especially if they involve engulfing one's own weekend cottage at the beach), it's even more difficult to suggest that the way to preserve earth's future commodiousness for human, animal, and plant life involves significant changes in personal behavior. Who wants to give up their car? Who wants to give up hopping on a greenhouse gas-spewing jet plane to get to desirable destinations? Who wants their diet narrowed to locally produced food only? Who wants to give up eating methane-farting beef? Who above the Mason-Dixon line wants keep the thermostat at 68o F from October through April and at 78o from May through September?
My opinion is that if the scientists and policy-makers have messed anything up, it's certainly climate change public relations. The first and most damaging mistake was to  label (well documented and frightening) trends in world-climates as global warming as opposed to global climate change. Followed by the word "theory" which confirms for doubters that scientists admit global warming is unproven. And the slightest sign of disagreement among researchers (which, after all, is one of the great attributes of modern science: debate is essential and consensus on every detail is not) is taken as proof beyond a doubt that "they" don't know what they are doing. But scientists persist, enriching themselves from (supposedly) lucrative and career-boosting taxpayer-supported government grants that reward such claims.
What has not been conveyed adequately to the public is that weather, such as the unusual (but  certainly not unheard-of) phenomenon Chicago and much of the U.S. is experiencing today, is not climate.  However, many anomalies in weather, such as extreme cold with precipitation, and for that matter, extreme heat waves such as that being experienced in Australia are in fact caused by the gradual warming of the earth.
Global warming may be local, especially for those whose world is constrained by tunnel vision, but global climate change is not.

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