With summer 2010 now in our
rear-view mirror, it's worth considering: Did global warming cause the
once-in-a-lifetime weather events? New Yorkers dealt with a sweltering
heatwave and were unsurprised to learn that the period from June to
August shattered previous temperature records. The National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration says that we've just lived through the
hottest decade on record. And after this summer, with many countries, including Russia to Saudi Arabia, setting their all-time heat records, people all around the planet are asking whether carbon dioxide emissions could be
Here's a quick roundup of extreme weather events
Forest Fires in Russia
This summer was
the hottest on record
for Russia, and the resulting wildfires plagued the country with smoky
skies. More than a thousand
people were killed and 300,000 acres were burned. The fires destroyed a
naval base, and there were widespread fears that the radiation-contaminated area surrounding Chernobyl would be ignited. President
Vladimir Putin, after a slow initial reaction, stepped into high gear,
with state media filming him co-piloting a fire plane. Putin declared
global warming a threat to Russia, a remarkable statement from a leader
whose country's economy is based on carbon dioxide intensive fossil
Pakistan set the record this summer for the hottest temperature in Asia when it reached 129 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, floods
ravaged Pakistan, with some estimates reaching as high as one-fifth
of the country inundated by floodwaters and more than 1,500 people killed.
The New York Times recently featured a story suggesting that the warmer-than-usual
oceans might cause a repeat of the 1998 coral bleaching event, when 16 percent of the world's shallow-water reefs died. The period from January to
August of this year matched the temperatures for the same period in 1998,
the hottest year in the historical record. Reefs are sensitive to heat
changes and shed their color, as if they were bleached white, in a
last-ditch effort to survive.
At Point Lay
in Alaska, thousands of walruses
are pulling themselves out of the water as the sea ice they depend on
for foraging has disappeared. Estimates are that 10,000-20,000
walruses are hauling themselves out right now along the Chukchi coastline.
almost unanimous in emphasizing that, while these types
of weather events are what we'd expect in a warming world, you
just can't pinpoint any single event as caused by global warming. We do
know that the planet as a whole has warmed and that the atmospheric
concentration of carbon dioxide is a little north of 388 parts per
million. Our best scientists
tell us that the level of 350 parts per million is what we'll need for
long term human survival, and we haven't been at that level since 1988.
All of this additional carbon is changing the weather, even if we can't
connect a particular storm to the phenomenon of climate change.
winter may again bring unusual weather. And the debates will continue.
The smart move is to move beyond the evidence and start getting our
insurance policies in place, since there's little hope for a U.S. or
global policy solution anytime soon. After every major earthquake, more
people in California sign up for earthquake insurance, regardless of
whether that particular earthquake signaled any increased vulnerability
for them. In the case of climate change, we know that freak storms will
increase, in our lifetimes, and the storms we're experiencing now may be
a part of that change. We know that ocean surface temperatures in the waters where hurricanes form have risen by about 1 degree
Fahrenheit over the last century, and higher ocean surface temperatures
are likely to lead to more powerful hurricanes. It's a good time to buy
flood insurance, if you don't have it already.
might insulate you to some extent, if you're wealthy enough and can move easily.
But societal solutions are the only choice that doesn't leave billions
of people in the rain. This policy gap, for now, puts the ball in the
hands of communities and corporations. The town of Lynchberg, Virginia
helped Team Edison 2 win the Automotive X Prize, and in the
process placed itself on the map as a beacon of engineering excellence.
Nissan is launching a new all-electric car that's generating
excitement for the company reminiscent of the release of the 280ZX.
Toyota is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Prius on 10/10/10.
if you don't believe that changes in the weather signal global warming, or that global warming is a real threat, you should know that those who do believe that global warming is real threat -- along with those who just act on the assumption that global warming is a real threat -- are the ones setting the agenda for tomorrow's economy. And what they're doing is setting themselves up for a future full of change, because their one certainty, and the one thing that we can count on -- and that climate scientists agree on -- is that change will be our future's only constant.