“Save me Mr. Wizard!” Global warming, it just keeps getting worse and worse…
Until this summer it was possible to make a reasonable case that alarmism was a hallmark of global warming theory. The terrible predictions about extremes had not and would not come to pass, that the changes occurring were part of a natural cycle, and that humans had adapted just fine to changes that occurred during the previous 100 years, I mean the sea level rose a foot or so in the twentieth century and the world didn’t end. And when it came right down to it, there were very many things about how the world’s climate works that we don’t know, and that making alarmist predictions is very irresponsible. All good points, and ones that many global warming proponents often failed to address adequately, thus further polarizing an already polarized debate.
Until this summer. While the debate continued, what happened in the Arctic this summer pretty much destroyed the idea that we were seeing a slow gradual warming of the globe from natural variation. The melting that occurred in the Arctic this summer was far worse than anyone predicted. Even the most fervent proponents of global warming didn’t think the Arctic would melt so soon and so thoroughly. And we are talking thoroughly melted, not only did the area covered by ice shrink to an unprecedented low, the amount of old thick ice has dropped to negligible levels. This means that what remains will be very vulnerable to melting next year, some are now predicting ice free Arctic summers by as early as 2013. Um, a year ago scientists thought this would take many decades, if not centuries. This is not alarmist, this is alarming.
What does it mean? A year ago I said it might make sense to wait and see what another 5-10 years brings. Now I think we can shave that down to a year. Global warming is real, no one denies that. And the Earth has warmed before, again, no one disagrees. The problem is that the scope and speed of the warming in the past few decades do not appear to have happened any time in the last few hundred thousand years. And in the last couple years, it is spiking even faster and higher than anyone dared predict.
When one is witnessing an event that is unprecedented, saying that “it’s natural variation and it will likely change soon” is basically wishful thinking. When you’ve tossed a coin and it’s come up heads a hundred times doesn’t mean the odds are good that it will be tails on the next toss…it means you need to look at the coin and figure out why it keeps coming up heads. And with this summer’s Arctic ice melt we’re at about a hundred heads in a row, if global warming keeps accelerating at the rate it’s been accelerating the past few years, we’re screwed. Humans can adapt to slow change, fast change is a whole other problem.
I’m not even sure what can be done at this point. Way too many things have gone on way too long without check, the energy lobby and the dam building lobby and the cattle lobby and the military lobby and all the other corporate lobbies are too powerful and too entrenched to change their ways quickly. I suspect that by the time most of the world’s governments are on board, it will be too late to avert catastrophic climate change and sea level rise. Could I be wrong? Ask me in another year after we see what happens in the Arctic and Greenland…
Tomorrow, ten things that could kill us all! It will be fun! Trust me!
(The above image of Krakatoa erupting in 1883 is public domain under US copyright law. I used it to illustrate the post because an enormous volcanic eruption would cool the Earth and buy us years or decades to deal with global warming. Great, we need a mega disaster to save us from our own folly, who’s running this trolley anyhow?)