Climate Change: Not Anecdotal

By Christina B. Farnsworth | 10/24/2013

The first of two international climate assessments are out. It is beyond anecdotal. The globe is changing because of people.


The first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the facts; the second report, due out in 2014, will have recommendations for mitigation.

It’s no secret that the oceans have warmed and are more acidic, that snow and ice have diminished, that sea levels are rising and greenhouse gases have increased. It is no secret that weather gets stuck (those big high or low pressure domes) leading to climate extremes—drought and massive forest fire storms, as the West experienced last summer, and near apocalyptic flooding as seen recently in Colorado.

Though naysayers like to claim reports are anecdotal, there have been legions of experts warning us all of climate change. We heard Robert G. Strom author of the 2007 book Hot House speak some years ago. He warned of the dangers and consequences continuing past the 300 parts per million carbon dioxide levels we were already exceeding. He noted that he thought the globe would reach a tipping point from which there would be no return, especially since there was a time lag between stopping the increase in carbon dioxide levels and those effects being seen in the atmosphere.

A story featured on NPR in May announced that a Hawaii-based monitoring station, which had been recording ever-increasing carbon dioxide levels for 50 years, had now seen levels breech 400 parts per million.

And if that weren’t enough, Common Dreams ran an article entitled “2047: The Year the World Hits ‘Climate Departure.’” Talk about harm to future generations and grandchildren. Researchers at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, created an index of 39 climate models and compared data to weather extremes records from 1860 through 2005. Doctoral student Ryan Longman said, “We looked at the minimum and maximum values that occurred in that 150-year window, and that’s how we set our bounds of recent historical variability.”

The average date for when the maximum temperatures of some places become the new minimum temperature of other places tomorrow was 2047. However, there were locations on the planet where their models predicted a time much sooner. Camilo Mora, the study’s lead author wrote: “The results shocked us.”

2047 was the date when maximums became minimums in Washington, D.C., and New York City, but Mexico City could be that much hotter by 2031. For places, such as Kingston, Jamaica, the change could come in 10 years. For Moscow, the change could be 2063.

Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog in a “A New Study Calculates When Climate Change Will Hit Your City,” reports that because there is less temperature variability in the tropics, it takes less climatic change to push temperatures. Because there is more variability to begin with in regions farther from the equator, the new norms in hot will arrive a little later.

Part of the question of species and plant survival is whether they will be able to move to more hospitable climates in time? Just as concerned scientists have sought to preserve seed diversity and save endangered animals, they may need to start moving ecosystems for preservation. And though there is concern for the tropics, what happens when there are no choices to move to a more hospitable climate in what will have been colder regions?

Last year, we heard Life in the Hothouse author Doctor Melanie Lenart talk about climate change. She is no climate denier but says that the earth has been hot before, long, long ago. There will be change all right, but not all of it will be bad. Lenart argues that forests and wetlands expanded during warmer times. Her findings suggested that that if the planet could count on more forests and wetlands to moderate climate, the less it would need to suffer the effects of hurricanes and floods.

The University of Hawaii study includes an interactive map that allows viewers to click on any location and see projected temperature over time with two different years. One year, the one which we have discussed, is what we can expect if we keep emitting at our 400 parts per million level. The other number takes into account the temperature we will reach in specific areas if we can figure out how to stop emitting so much carbon dioxide.

It is hard to say what the IPCC will recommend as mitigation techniques in its second report on climate change. For those who want to act now, it might be wise to take a leaf from Lenart and start planting trees—maybe trees that grow in a slightly warmer climate planting zone.


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