The Weather Outside

It’s finally snowing again in Vermont, and we’re expected to get up to a foot in some places. Not necessarily central Vermont, which has lost a lot of its snow and taken on a spring-like atmosphere, something that will hopefully be changing. Meanwhile the rest of the country has gotten all of the snow that should rightfully be Vermont’s, with feet of snow at a time, exhausting the budgets of state highway departments two months into the year.

With the snow came, from conservative pundits, a quick outcry as to how the storms invalidated the theory of global climate change, on the grounds that if there is snow on the ground, clearly, there can’t be any sort of warming in the atmosphere, and that the liberal lies concerning man’s impact on the planet have been unraveled by the white stuff on the ground. Just as quickly, liberal commentators slammed, and rightly so, the thinking behind these fairly short sighted arguments.

There are a number of different theories when it comes to how the climate of the world has interacted with humanity in the past ten thousand years of our existence. Scholarly evidence points to irrefutable evidence that the planet has indeed been heating up – both the atmosphere and the oceans (which are a major component to the Earth’s atmosphere), and that this trend largely fits with the rise of industrialization around the world. By and large, there is an assumption that these two figures are inextricably linked together. This may or not be the case, but it does present a compelling notion that humanity is indeed responsible, at least in part, for some of the changes in the atmosphere. Numerous scientific groups from around the world look to general circulation models (which attempt to mathematically link the atmosphere, the oceans and life of the planet into a representation of the world) to help see what is happening in the world. While their methods differ, there is a general consensus that humanity has contributed to CO2 in the atmosphere in a way that is likely to raise global temperatures between .05 and 1.5 degrees Celsius. (Brian Skinner, Stephen C. Porter and Jeffrey Park, Dynamic Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology, 5th Edition, 518)
While a single degree doesn’t seem like a lot, and is even welcomed by some (I can’t begin to say how many people I’ve heard say that they’ll welcome Global Warming with each new snowfall each year) that sort of rise in temperature does more than just heat up the planet. With increases in temperatures, minute changes within atmospheric patterns occur – increased evaporation from water sources in turn leads to more precipitation elsewhere, which in turn has an effect on other areas, which in turn has its own effects in other areas. This is why the term Global Warming has been shifted in recent years to the more politically correct sounding Climate Change – not necessarily for politically correct reasons, but simply because Global Warming does not cover the entire story. Global Warming, in a way, is a component of Global Climate Change.

While wide-scale reporting of the weather did not really exist for much of the world prior to the Second World War, leading to only recent accurate data, other sources of information can be found within the geologic record. Global Warming and Climate Changing events are nothing new within the Earth’s history, and numerous locations around the world help to pinpoint what happened in the past. On each continent, large formations of Limestone, topped with glacial deposits, point to long periods of warming periods, followed by global cooling events. Ancient ocean bed deposits littered with drop stones provide concrete and tangible evidence that these sorts of events happened time and time again, over the courses of thousands of years. With the most recent indications pointing to new elements of climate change, and with the possibility of humans speeding up what might be a natural process, the real question becomes, not what we can do about it, but what can we do next?

When looking through the geologic column, it becomes readily apparent that these sorts of changes occur often, and that the planet’s climate has changed drastically throughout the billions of years of its existence. On both sides of the liberal and conservative arguments, there exists a certain stupidity and simplification to the issue at hand. I don’t necessarily think that human society should be vilified for essentially doing what life generally does when left to its own devices: expand and make it easier to reproduce, or that we should blindly close our eyes to the changes that are clearly happening in the world. Where there is snowfall in Washington DC – In the middle of winter, I might add, there are countless other problems around the world as global weather patterns shift. Our atmosphere has a fickle attitude, and our memory only extends so far, but we have become comfortable with what we remember and what we are used to.

What I dislike the most is the timing of much of the arguments against Global Climate Change, with allegations towards respected scientific bodies, resignations and the recent row with the sudden weather, and the entire theory of climate change has been thrown into question, with TV pundits talking back and forth, and instant polls from viewers being broadcast as real news. The notion that human-made climate change is certainly open to debate, but there is irrefutable evidence that the planet’s temperature is rising. The idea that the polling data taken from average Americans is put toe to toe with decades of scholarly, peer reviewed evidence is just ridiculous. I would hardly expect any sort of average person to understand the science and workings behind how our climate works, not to mention the analysis of such a study, and when said viewers are fed information and doubt from the media, the comparison is even more ridiculous. I, as someone educated in geology and scientific method, can hardly understand the implications and vast nature of such science.

What scares me the most is that the television pundits who go on screen and doubt the existence of such a phenomenon or before a wide scale audience at a convention to dispute such claims most likely know that what they are doing is playing to the fears and uncertainty of the public to fulfill some larger agenda that they might have: whether it’s demonstrating climate change legislation as a sort of over-reach of the Federal Government or of elite liberalism gone wrong. And in reaction, the left overreacts, making fun or coming across as arrogant in their rebuttals, rather than explaining the background of the science involved with such a concept. In the end, it just helps to fulfill the images of both sides of political thought, all the while just adding to the hot air around the world.

The problem with all of this is the dismissal of scientific method, and it demonstrates that much of the mentality and feeling that existed under the Bush administration still exists within a large segment of the United States. There seems to be an irrational fear of academics, of learning and of knowledge, in favor of someone’s gut instincts and what they can see. The principles behind science are sound: any sort of phenomenon can be replicated and tested, but the thinking behind sciences seems to elude much of the population, something that is then exploited when something out of the ordinary occurs, such as the storms that have blanketed the United States recently.

In the meantime, I wouldn’t mind if the weather patterns would shift back to normal, so I can get a proper winter back to the places where it can be appreciated.

(In the time that I wrote this last night and the time that I posted this, we got a foot of snow.)

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “The Weather Outside

  1. 1) I’m glad you noted that global warming and cooling are larger trends in the earth’s history.

    2) In regards to your quote: “The notion that human-made climate change is certainly open to debate, but there is irrefutable evidence that the planet’s temperature is rising.” I would point out that the scientist who recently resigned from the climate change research institute admitted the other day that the earth’s temperature has actually not risen since 1995.

    3) Resistance to climate change legislation in Congress is reasonable, in my opinion, because all such legislation proposed to date will be exceedingly costly and will have no real impact on preventing climate change.

    4) The earth has been MUCH warmer in the past (medieval warming period), and we survived.

    5) I’m open to a solid scientific debate, but you have to admit that it’s pretty detrimental to the cause of climate change research when it’s now been proven that the scientists promoting man-made climate change have purposefully thwarted and manipulated evidence that didn’t fit their model. That’s not science, that’s politics. It is also important to note that much of the “research” behind the IPCC report is completely unraveling.

    I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that. I’m not a “denier” but I am skeptical. The problem with “climate change” as a term is that it can never be wrong — the earth is getting warmer! It’s Climate Change! The earth is getting cooler! It’s climate change! It’s raining! It’s climate change! It’s snowing! It’ climate change! It’s a drought! It’s climate change! — you get the point. Duh – of course it’s climate change. That’s what happens, climate changes, whether man has anything to do with it nor not. Maybe man does, maybe he doesn’t. But to use vague terms to describe a potential scientific principle doesn’t really help matters. Science should be falsifiable. The term climate change doesn’t meet that simple benchmark.

    OK, I’m rambling…

    • It’s actually alarming that we haven’t had a deep freeze this winter. And yet, that’s not “global warming”, it’s a symptom of the climate and weather pattern changes that happen BECAUSE of global warming.

      And therein lies the problem — global warming changes weather patterns, which may or may not make it warmer. Sometimes, it makes it colder. But the result is still the same — abnormal weather patterns, or extremes (i.e. cold places get colder, warm places get warmer). You’d think that the ridiculous snowfall in the US would actually be just as alarming, because it’s an outlier.

      Climate is not temperature, AUGH.

      (… and I’d recommend reading papers on the water shortage problems facing the international community, as they tie in more-or-less directly into weather phenomena. Fascinating stuff, really, and a good intro into the more complicated climate stuff.)

      PEE ESS.
      May have been warmer in the past, but not everybody survived.

      • Lihn – I completely agree with you. I think one of the main problems is getting the concepts across to people via mass media. With political agendas, that gets annoying…

    • Well, there’s a couple of counter points – I don’t necessarily take the word at just one scientist – when looking at trends, there’s ups and downs, but the overall trend is that the Earth’s temperature has been rising. There would certainly be down periods, and while I’m not entirely up to date on what the global trends are, a number of scientific communities have put forward evidence that the upwards trend has or is continuing.
      When it comes to Congress, the issue is a bit more split. I don’t necessarily think that the climate change bill should be ONLY for helping the environment: I think that there’s very little downside in more efficient systems that capture pollution, if anything, for the safety of people in a localized area around the facility. Vermont’s rains are quite a bit more acidic, resulting in biological damage to our state. Sounds like a silly reason, but when the state largely depends on natural tourism, that’s a big deal. Plus, I think that the US should move to more effective types of energy creation – I dislike waste, and I think that if the country was to put solar panels, wind turbines, reinvest in nuclear technology, we could reduce the problems that we have with the existing grid, which would ultimately save a lot of money.
      Sure, the planet’s still here, but that’s not really the point, is it? The world today is very different from what it was like during any last climate change occurrence, and since then, we’ve organized ourselves into nations and societies that are pretty dependant upon the status quo that we’ve evolved in. When climate throws that out of whack, there’s a lot of other issues – throw a drought and famine into a couple of countries with a really young population (such as in Africa or the Middle East) and you’ve got a powder keg that threatens a lot more than our survival.
      I’m skeptical of some aspects of climate change, but I don’t know that I’d go as far to label the scientific efforts as politically motivated – it’s too big for that, with hundreds of thousands of projects and scientists involved. Moreover, I’d say that they’re trying to prove a theory: climate change is made by mankind, and they’ll work to prove that, and that sort of thing might get disproven – that’s how science works, and right now, with politics involved, it’s a more convoluted issue. I think you’ve got some good points about yes, the climate is changing, but I think that steps need to be taken to ensure how our societies function. Now, whether that’s working to change things back, or working to evolve our societies into something that works well, that’s the question.

      • I’m all in favor of cutting back on pollution. The reality is, pollution levels in the U.S. have decreased dramatically in the past half-century. No reason to stop, but it’s progress and something we can be proud of.

        I’ve long thought that many environmentalists confuse the issues of pollution and climate change. I think everyone, even doubters of man-made global warming, can agree that pollution is a bad thing and we should continue to strive to cut it.

        I’m also in favor of renewable energy, IF it can be done productively. Currently, solar and wind technology is simply not a profitable and sustainable provider of energy, even with God knows how much in regular government subsidies. Plus, windmills are ugly, and as soon as a wind farm gets approved (to environmentalist acclaim), the same environmentalists freak out when a decision has to be made about WHERE to put the wind farm.

        Personally, issues at Vermont Yankee notwithstanding, I’m all in favor of next-generation nuclear power plants. We should build them. Lots of them. It’s by far the most environmentally friendly option, it is safe, it’s efficient, and it’s cost-effective.

      • I think that it’s mainly a link of convinience when it comes to pollution and global climate change – to some extent, I think that there’s a lot that warrents it – vehicular pollution is most likely a contributer for a number of things, such as smog and other air pollutants, and large scale efforts on the parts of some cities (such as Athens) have largely worked. I think that there will be much better success when you make an argument that it’s better for everyone’s self interest.

        I think that Solar power is a much more exploitable technology, cost aside, because it can be a huge, decentralized way to get power to people – there are places around the world, such as in Israel (or so I hear), where there’s an incredible amount of solar panels on houses. There needs to be major incentives or requirements for this (such as incredibly high oil prices) to make that happen, but in my mind, every little bit helps. Granted, that’s not a huge help when you have clouds, but nothing’s going to be perfect.

        I like Nuclear power very much, but, Vermont Yankee is a good example of why there’s issues, and there needs to be an incredible amount of regulation in the actual operations and creation of these plants – as much as I like them, I don’t want to be killed, either immediately, or long term by them. But, Nuclear power doesn’t necessarily solve the problems, because you’re still dependant upon a number of central plants to supply power. More plants, more risk, and that’s where there’ll be problems – you don’t actually have to have one go up in flames, you just have to have that risk, or perception of risk. I think that decentralization would be much better, at least to lift the burden off of the grid itself (which is horribly antiquated and vulnerable to foreign attack or misuse).

      • Do not start depending on nuclear enegery until you find some way of disposing it safely. And, no, dumping it into a very deep canyon in Nevada is not “safely”. Neither is selling it to third world countries because they need the money. :[

        Argument for space ++ research: LEARN TO SHOOT OUR WASTE INTO SPACE!!

      • Well, when it comes to nuclear technology, there *are* newer and safer ways to manage the plants. If you look under the About tab on this site, someone posted up something about newer tech that’s being used overseas – more efficent power planets means less waste.

  2. This has been an unbelievable year for us down here in the south. The snow has truly caused havoc for our school systems and Department of Transportation. I cannot imagine how much money was spent on snow removal. My sister lives up in VT and she is saying the same about the absence of snow. The extreme atmospheric changes this season has been pretty unreal.

    • Well, I’m not sure that I’d necessarily tack this up to any sort of climate change event. Typically, geological and metorlogical events such as this have storms that are classified as once a year, once a decade, once a century, etc, meaning that on average, something to this size happens. Doesn’t necessarily happen like clockwork, but it generally does happen when you look at the statistics after the fact. It’s a good way to see that it pays to prepare for these sorts of things, and not (like in our state) raid the budgets of avaliable funds for such things.
      What’s a pain to me is that when you have people hearing the word snow, they tend to freak out as a whole – I know that Massachusetts seems to be cancelling their schools for just a couple of inches, and while 1-2 feet (we just got 20 inches) causes more problems, it’s not the end of the world.

Comments are closed.