Getting weirder every day

Thursday February 14, 2013

We were relieved to hear President Barack Obama speak about global climate change during his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.

Obama urged Congress to develop a bipartisan market-based solution to climate change, but added if it doesn’t "I will."

"I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now, and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

He also sounded a clarion call, calling on America to cut in half the amount of energy wasted in homes and businesses over the next 20 years. In addition, he continued to advocate for solar and wind power and more efficient use of energy.

The president noted several recent disasters linked to wild swings in the weather.

"We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science, and act before it’s too late."

Whether anything effective comes out of Congress in the next few years or Obama actually goes ahead with his executive threat is another matter, but it was good to hear the president even mention climate change after he had been silent about it during the run-up to the presidential election.

It was also important that he pointed out the wild weather we have seen over the past few years, weather we in Vermont aren’t likely to forget after Tropical Storm Irene dropped five to 11 inches of rain on the state in 24 hours, causing devastation from which we are still recovering.

The extremes of weather we have been experiencing -- most recently, about two feet of snow one day and rain the next -- have us wondering if the terms "global warming" and "global climate change" are accurate descriptors.

In fact, Rocky Mountain Institute co-founder Hunter Lovins has coined a new, more accurate term -- global weirding.

According to Auroop Ganguly, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern and an expert in climate change and severe weather conditions, global weirding is a concise way of expressing why we are seeing radical swings in weather.

"Last year, research suggested that about 7 percent of the intensification of heavy rainfall globally is a consequence of climate change," he wrote. "Our own research on heat waves showed that while geographical variability of heat waves is uncertain, the rising trends in the projected intensity, frequency and duration of the heat waves are unmistakable. On the other hand, our more recent research suggested that cold snaps may persist well into the end of this century. Thus, while the overall climate trend is one of warming, and heat waves are projected to intensify, extreme cold events on the average may continue to be as severe and long-lasting as they currently are."

Ganguly noted that one aspect of global weirding is its effect on infrastructure, resources, species diversity and the economy.

Some meteorologists blame the wild swings of the weather on El Nino and La Nina, while others blame them on the northern polar jet stream, which separates the cold air of the poles from the warmer air closer to the equator.

"The effectiveness of the jet streams in keeping these two vast regions of air apart depends on a host of factors in ways that aren’t fully understood," noted the editorial writers of Pakistan’s The World. "But what is clear is that a weakened jet stream can meander far from its usual course, allowing warm air to seep much closer than normal to the poles, and cold air to head towards the equator -- triggering outbreaks of weird weather for those on either side."

According to The World, Tim Woollings and Mike Blackburn of the University of Reading, England, conducted computer simulations to analyze what effects global warming has on the jet streams.

In results recently published in the Journal of Climate, they found that global warming does indeed affect the jet streams, pushing them closer to the poles.

"But what about those meanders, which have caused so much havoc?" asked The World. "Are they just natural variation, or the product of global warming? Veterans of the global warming debate will not be surprised by the answer: Maybe."

Climate change naysayers, such as the Heritage Foundation, are always quick to jump all over the "maybes" while ignoring the 98 percent of climate scientists who believe we are on an unsustainable path.

"No snow, too much snow," wrote the Heritage Foundation. "It does not matter to the enviroleft crowd. For them, global warming always is to blame."

It may not be always to blame, but we believe the majority of the time, it is. And we can expect worse if the United States doesn’t take the lead on combating global weirding.

"The warming, weirding, and change we’ve seen so far is from a little over 1-degree rise in global temperatures in recent decades," wrote Joe Romm for Think Progress. "If we listen to the anti-science do-nothing crowd and keep on our current emissions path, we face 10 times that warming this century, which is gonna make whatever weirdness we’ve seen appear rather mundane."


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