Saturday, December 24, 2011

Brown Christmas in Rochester, NY 2011 - a harbinger of Climate Change?


These unusually warm days before Christmas 2011 are but few of a thousand predictions of extreme weather that will come with Climate Change. Though, it is incorrect and very unfashionable to say that these particular rainy and warm days during this December 2011 are a direct result of Climate Change. It’s just as incorrect to say that the February 5–6, 2010 North American blizzard also known as "Snowmaggedon" that put hope in the souls of a dying breed of Climate Change deniers proved that climate warming wasn’t true. Actually, Climate Change predictions predict periodic big snow fall events because our warmer air holds more water (about 4% more) and when that warm moisture hits cold air you get snow—sometimes lots of it.

Back and forth those trying to engage the public on Climate Change, some who know what they are talking about and some who don’t, are trying to convey to an reluctant public their views on the greatest calamity humanity has ever faced . But it isn’t easy. In today’s political climate, where the old order of world views and economics, where many are trying to hold on to their incorrect modeling about the way the world actually works, is fighting tooth and nail against the looming reality. This is the looming reality:

  • The Year in Weather: It Was a Disaster Some areas experienced historic floods, others saw historic droughts. Is climate change to blame? A once-in-five-hundred-year flood inundated the Mississippi River valley. A once-in-a-century drought in Texas shriveled the summer's crops and sparked sweeping forest fires. The deadliest tornado season on record tore communities to splinters. 2011 was clearly a year of extreme weather. Perhaps it is a sign of the pending 2012 apocalypse, but more likely, it is the result of a changing climate that is amplifying extremes. The chart above marks more than 2,900 separate weather records broken this year, and these records were costly. In all, Mother Nature inflicted $52 billion dollars in damage on the United States.  (December 22, 2011) The Atlantic
  • Environment world review of the year: '2011 rewrote the record books' The ecologically tumultuous year saw record greenhouse gas emissions, melting Arctic sea ice, natural disasters and extreme weather – and the world's second worst nuclear disaster The year 2011 was another ecologically tumultuous year with greenhouse gases rise to record levels, Arctic sea ice nearly equalling 2007's record melt, and temperatures the 11th highest ever recorded. It was marked on the ground by unparalleled extremes of heat and cold in the US, droughts and heatwaves in Europe and Africa and record numbers of weather-related natural disasters.  (December 22, 2011) The Guardian

Dismissing, ignoring, and putting off reality for a future time just won’t do. Things are getting hot. But how do Climate Change communicators talk to the public about this unsavory topic? Right now in order to be a Climate Change communicator one has to bend over backwards not to say things like ‘Climate Change Crisis,’ or ‘Global Warming, and ‘Methane Bomb’ (that describes the potential massive release of stored up methane gas in permafrost regions) or anything else that seems offensive to the social standards of good taste. Even religion is having a tough go of it:

From the pews: Facing the reality of climate change Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian climate scientist who, when asked whether she “believes” in climate change, answers “no.” Don’t get Hayhoe wrong: She’s convinced that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it, like the vast majority of other climate scientists. She just doesn’t like talking about something like climate science in terms of “belief.” (December 16, 2011) Climate Reality

Here’s the thing: Should Climate Change communicators use fear, hope, or military thinking that says Climate Change will put more stress into all world conflicts that arise over potential wars over water shortages? Should they present the possible green energy paradigm where we can use all our gadgets without global guild, or really push the stop buying anything that isn’t energy efficient strategy? Or, should they cling on to sports events, movies, and vacations trips thus pandering to the public’s tendency towards escapism?

Should they link every extreme weather event to Climate Change or never do it and let the message seep in through a kind of oblivious osmosis? Should they connect the dots in local areas (like does) between expert studies on Climate and local news stories? Should they use psychology and sociology or just the power of the market? Should they use the insurance argument that it’s going to get very expensive to live next to coastal areas because of sea rise due to glacier calving? Maybe we should use the World War II analogy where we all got together and faced the common enemy when the time was ripe—though with something so all-over-the-board as Climate Change it’s hard to tell when the time is ripe so people can get going.

Or, should we just lay out the facts and say things like the last time our planet’s atmosphere was at our present 390ppm of Carbon Dioxide sea level rose to seventy-five feet above what they are now-- which, if enough time were to pass and the concentration was held at 390ppm, the glacial melts and other associated causes (like warm water expansion and the oceans being less capable of sequestrating carbon dioxide) would put us at that mark. Florida by the way, which is only a few feet above sea level, would be long gone.

The truth is that our environment has changed. However Climate Change communicators spin the message, our planet’s atmosphere is warming up. As Bill McKibben states in Eaarth, our atmosphere holds 4% more water vapor since the centuries that we evolved. Everything now and in the future on this planet must be viewed through the lens of Climate Change. Even environmental groups, who view themselves as preservationists, will have to change how they act as environmentalists because their targets will be forever moving in a changing climate.

This brown Christmas might be a moment to reflect that this might be the new normal for Rochester, NY.

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