Climate change news: Baby, it’s not cold outside

The shorts and tee shirt weather that’s been gripping the eastern U.S. during recent weeks is not, of course, “proof” of global warming any more than the “polar vortex” of a couple years back disproved it. Weather is weather and climate is climate.

That said, there’s little doubt that global climate change is closely linked to the intensity of the current outbreak and the El Nino that’s helped spawn it (and, sadly, the frequency with which we will experience such events in the future).

This is from a recent story on Bloomberg Business that explored the recent tropical outbreak in New York City:

“A strong El Nino is under way across the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and that upsets things in a way ‘that is much less favorable for outbreaks of cold Canadian or Arctic air,’ said Kevin Trenberth, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. In addition, a pattern called the Arctic Oscillation is favoring warmth in the northern U.S….

That said, climate change also plays a role in setting the larger stage, Trenberth said.

There is evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared with what existed in preindustrial times has elevated the chances of a mild December in Central Park, said Henson. And that demonstrates why carbon and emissions play such a big role in discussions like the one that just ended in Paris.

‘So, in a nutshell, this month’s eastern warmth strikes me as the kind of dramatic event that one might expect in a strong El Nino, with record-warm temperatures at least a small bit higher as a result of the overall warming of our climate,’ Henson said.”

The story goes on to reiterate what we all already knew — namely, that all of this is devilishly complex and very hard to predict in the short term. But it also highlights the fact that the average high temperature in Central Park in mid-December has gone up a degree in just 10 years. Here in North Carolina in recent days, heat records have been shattered by several degrees. In other words, just as with so many other areas in life, few things are certain, but it’s absurd to ignore data and probabilities — especially when the very health of the planet and viability of the human species are at stake.

Right now, the data and statistics culled and compiled by thousands of our best scientists indicate strongly that events like the current record-breaking warm weather (and all the problems that tend to come with it) will become more and more likely in the years ahead. That any person who gives a hoot about his or her children and grandchildren could be aware of this truth and not believe that urgent societal action is essential to tackle the problem ASAP (are you listening, Governor McCrory?) is something that remains remarkably difficult to fathom.


ExxonMobil: Strong government action is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate warming

Many in the hopeless, head-in-the-sand crowd on the far right will still be denying the reality of climate change when the ocean water is knee deep in Greenville, but fortunately, their position is becoming increasingly isolated. As the Washington Post reported on Sunday, even the bosses at the world’s second largest oil and gas company are now calling for strong government action to address the crisis:

“To understand how dangerously extreme the Republican Party has become on climate change, compare its stance to that of ExxonMobil.

No one would confuse the oil and gas giant with the Sierra Club. But if you visit Exxon’s website , you will find that the company believes climate change is real, that governments should take action to combat it and that the most sensible action would be a revenue-neutral tax on carbon — in other words, a tax on oil, gas and coal, with the proceeds returned to taxpayers for them to spend as they choose.

With no government action, Exxon experts told us during a visit to The Post last week, average temperatures are likely to rise by a catastrophic (my word, not theirs) 5 degrees Celsius, with rises of 6, 7 or even more quite possible.”

But, of course, as we know all too well, such obvious science and common sense talk mean nothing to the denizens of right-wing “think tanks” and cynical politicians who place, respectively, their fetishistic worship of obscure Austrian economists and lust for personal power above the survival of the biosphere.

In such a situation, it is more important than ever that caring and thinking people who want the planet to survive in some semblance of its current self to redouble their efforts to defeat the deniers. And as for ExxonMobil finally coming around to the obvious truth, all one can say is “welcome to the fight — better late than never.”


The best editorial of the weekend: NC’s shameful backslide on climate change

You don’t have to have read the lead editorial in Sunday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer to know that North Carolina’s conservative political leaders have charted a disastrous course on climate change and fossil fuel emission in recent years. Heck, one need only watch TV commercials being run by various oil companies in which even they — the chief polluters themselves — admit the need to take action.

That said, the editorial makes several excellent points that should be taken to heart. Here, with the recent and promising climate talks in Paris as the backdrop, is the central thrust:

“In that regard, it matters how seriously North Carolina’s state and local governments take the issue and what actions that concern produces. Generally, North Carolina is more part of the solution than the problem of global warming. The state has been a leader in encouraging renewable energy, especially solar energy, and some of its cities and towns have promoted the use of renewable energy in homes and required it in public buildings.

But that positive record is being clouded by the rise of climate-change skeptics in the General Assembly and the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory. Not only has state government lost a sense of urgency or even obligation about addressing global warming, it also has begun rolling back earlier efforts and thwarting current ones.

Last session, the General Assembly allowed a renewable energy tax cut to expire, undermining the state’s booming solar power industry. Meanwhile, some lawmakers are continuing to seek an end to mandates requiring utilities to produce a rising percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. The legislature has backed fracking in North Carolina despite its tendency to leak methane from drill sites. The McCrory administration opposes the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, which calls for reductions in carbon emissions from power plants. And the governor is leading a regional push to allow off-shore drilling….

Fortunately, an oil and natural gas glut has slowed North Carolina’s movement into fracking and may make off-shore drilling not worth the effort. And the gains of earlier years are still having an effect in growing solar and wind power. But in a race against global warming in which time is essential and governments at all levels must contribute, North Carolina’s state government has chosen to run backward.”

Let’s hope fervently, that in 2016, our state gets back in the business of saving the planet, rather than laying waste to it. Click here to read the entire editorial.

This week’s most hopeful NC news story: Prominent meteorologist comes around on climate change



Most readers have probably already seen something about this story as it has been public in one form or another for weeks, but it seems worth reiterating and celebrating today after it received front page treatment in yesterday’s edition of Durham’s Indy Week. I speak, of course, of the recent actions and statements of Greg Fishel, the much-beloved (and devoutly Christian and conservative) meteorologist at Raleigh’s WRAL TV, in which he finally and publicly discarded his skepticism about global warming and the contributing role that humans are playing.

As Fishel explained in an article for last week, the science is simply to overwhelming to deny or ignore any longer.

“We have known for almost 200 years what gases make up our atmosphere, and what the radiative properties of those gases are. We know for a fact that the pre-industrial revolution levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the difference between life and death on this planet. In other words, without the natural levels of these gases, the earth would be an iceball and uninhabitable. That is fact, not conjecture.

We know for a fact that the earth’s temperature is rising, and that it’s not the sun. If it were the sun, the entire atmosphere would be warming, but it’s not. The troposphere, where most of the weather occurs, is warming up, and the stratosphere is cooling. This is all part of the radiative adjustments that are taking place because of what man is doing to the composition of our atmosphere.

Satellites confirm that the amount of long-wave radiation leaving the earth is decreasing and is emanating from a higher and higher altitude. Again, the exact response one would expect from human forces.

We know for a fact that the lifetime of carbon dioxide molecules is on the order of hundreds and even thousands of years, unlike water vapor molecules whose lifetime in the atmosphere is just shy of two weeks.”

In both his article and the Indy week story, Fishel laments the fact that so many of his fellow conservatives see acceptance of the facts of climate change as some kind of surrender of their core values. This is from the WRAL article:

“In closing, I believe science is a gift from God. We benefit from science in our daily lives 1,000 times over through all the conveniences we enjoy. Why have we chosen to turn our back on science when it comes to basic chemistry and physics? It is time to stop listening to the disingenuous cherry-pickers and start taking responsibility for learning the truth about climate change.

For those of you who are ardent skeptics, it’s going to be uncomfortable. I know, I have gone through the entire process. But in my mind, I didn’t make a mistake, I simply grew as a human being. There aren’t too many experiences in life that can top that.”

In the Indy Week story Fishel even opines that the issue has become a new passion for him that may even become the “focus of my life from here on.”

To which all a caring and thinking person can say in response is: Congratulations, Greg. Thanks for your honesty and courage.


A small sign of hope: Charles Koch admits CO2 is warming the planet

Climate change - droughtLooking for something at least a tiny bit hopeful to mull over during a period in which hopeful news seems to be at a minimum? Here’s something: Charles Koch — yes, that Charles Koch — admits that CO2 is warming the planet.

Koch grudgingly told the Washington Post’s Matea Gold in a recent interview that “…there has been warming. The CO2 goes up, the CO2 has probably contributed to that.”

Naturally, his admission was tempered and followed by lots of untruths — the folks at The Guardian have a nice analysis here in which they more fully explore the various stages of Koch’s denial — but, even so, it has to be seen as at least a small measure of progress that Koch, one of the wealthiest individuals in human history and the underwriter of a network of destructive propagandists who are doing much to hasten the demise of life as we know it, is at least seeing a small sliver of the light.

Let’s fervently hope that the relentless march of time and his own mortality continue to push the aging plutocrat further out into the light of day in the near future (and that the network of climate change deniers he funds get the memo).