Pete of the blog Citizens Challenge has written an essay on extreme weather events, climate change and the general publics lack of understanding. I asked Pete to write a post for WtD as I wanted a North American perspective from someone living with the extremes of heat, drought and wildfires.
I believe bloggers such as Pete – and so many others – are the authentic voice of the climate change debate. Working outside the traditional media and academia there exists a wonderful chorus of voices reflecting on global warming, what it means for the future of our species and for the individual.
Indeed, I prefer the voices of my fellow bloggers to the official chatter emanating from the media, well-intentioned think tanks, activists etc.- there is a clarity, honesty and forthrightness often missing from the words of the former.
These writings are comparable to the voluminous letters and journals written by “ordinary individuals” during the US Civil War, the Russian Revolution or Eastern Europe during the Second World War. They offer a unique, and personal view of how our society is responding to the challenge of a changed climate.
In time historians will shift through the billions of words we have written to gain insight: think how the specialist on Medieval history will examine the Domesday Book, or the historian of the Second World War will read the diaries of Victor Klemperer.
I do not claim my words will be read by future generations: but I do know that some time ago the National Library of Australia asked for my permission to digitally archive this blog - a privilege I granted.
I was deeply moved by this request: I am librarian by training and profession. I know the value preserving knowledge for historians and future generations.
Forget the stereotype of librarians – understand the intent of my profession is to be civilisation’s archivists. We categorise and preserve, thinking of the long centuries ahead and how knowledge can survive the passage of time.
We are conservationists of another kind: of words and ideas, of knowledge and songs.
I have held the clay tablets of ancient Sumer in my hand, marveling at the cuneiform scripts of those ancient scribes: I have turned the pages of illuminated manuscripts; I have read from the pages of the first printed books. I have read the letters of long dead soldiers and grieving mothers; I have seen the words of scholars scribbled in the margins of a 16th century edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
So, if by some remote chance a historian or student comes across my words, know this – I’m sorry.
Sorry because some of us acted with a sense of urgency appropriate to the challenge. Others, perhaps myself included, acted too late. Sorry because some preferred to reject the certain knowledge that our species has altered the planet’s atmosphere. I apologise that some accepted this fact, and yet continued with business as usual practices. I apologise that some spoke rashly, while others said nothing; I’m sorry that despite all the words written, spoken and broadcast, we talked ourselves into catastrophe.
Climate change is humanities crucible: the response is telling.
Pete’s article follows.
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I’ve read many excellent articles on climate change with much interest; particularly “Locals’ views differ on warming theory,” where the opinions were truly saddening.
Quotes such as: “It’s climate change, but I’m not sure it’s man-made” – “It may not be something we’re causing” – “may be part of a cycle that may have come along regardless” – reveal a sad lack of basic understanding regarding our planet’s physical situation. We as a society must become clear that the physical dynamics at work in this global warming thing are indeed well understood by those who study climate.
Please consider our planet for a moment, orbiting around our sun through a freezing cold solar system. Earth was blessed with being just the right size and distance from the sun’s heating influence for evolution to make the difference between becoming a blue planet of life or dead like Mars and Venus. Today’s atmosphere and its climate are the product of many billions of years worth of day by day geology, later joined by the processes of life.
Our atmosphere has evolved to a state of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, with a fraction of 1% Argon and 0.1% water vapor. According to old text books, squeezed into there was 0.03% CO2 and other greenhouse gases. However, our fossil fuel burning will push that concentration past 0.04% in the next couple years. This is worrisome because it’s like putting on an extra sweater when you don’t need it and it’s alarming because people still refuse to come to grips with that reality and its implications.
Look at astronaut’s pictures of our planet’s horizon. Our atmosphere is that narrow glowing ribbon, proportionally it’s thinner than the skin on an onion.
But size is a deceiving indicator of importance, considering that together with that tiny percentage of greenhouse gases, this sliver thin layer of troposphere along with the oceans, have become a heat engine circulating air, moisture, heat and energy around our globe. This is where our weather comes from; the end result of interconnected global circulation patterns; a mighty global heat engine at work.
One of many reasons we can trust the consensus understanding of climatologists regarding these greenhouse gases is because the Army and Air Force spent years doing intense atmospheric studies to understand it. And why did it matter to them? Because without a flawless understanding of the energy physics of the various gases in our atmosphere, heat seeking missiles would have been impossible.
“Skeptics” will suggest it’s the sun causing all this warming. But they ignore the fact that our sun has been closely observed for a long time and the range of it’s fluctuations is miniscule compared to the warming we are witnessing.
“Skeptics” claim there hasn’t been any warming in the past decade or so. But the surface data they point to ignores the warming that continues being recorded in our oceans. In fact the data they point to doesn’t include most of the Arctic Circle where the greatest warming is being observed. They also ignore the melting throughout our world’s frozen realms, known as the cryosphere, as sure a global thermometer as we can hope for.
Back to that global heat engine. We know greenhouse gases are for real; also that society is injecting them by the gigatons; thus they WILL increase our atmosphere’s insulation – it’s unavoidable physics; it will warm our planet, that warming will continue melting our cryosphere, it will increase evaporation along with our atmosphere’s holding capacity for water vapor, the most powerful greenhouse gas of all. It will increase the energy within our weather system.
Look at it another way – how can you warm a heat engine and not increase its activity? In the case of our planet that would be increasing extremes in atmospheric conditions resulting in increasing storms, heat waves, droughts, extreme wind events, extreme down pour events, even cold waves.
For example, given the melting at the North Pole, large areas of sun reflecting ice cap are being replaced by heat absorbing ocean water. This water is warming, some turning into vapor, then the heat drives convection columns high into the troposphere. In turn, creating circulation patterns that haven’t existed in eons. These go on to impact the polar circulation cell, which then impacts the flow of the Jet Stream.
One of the cascading consequences is reflected in the Jet Stream’s more erratic behavior of late. Getting more serpentine it reaches further south, grabbing warm air masses and shoving them up into Arctic regions. This in turn forces cold Arctic air masses to be displaced and forced southward. When these Arctic Fronts flow into the Atlantic Ocean’s moisture saturated sky, well what do you expect? Severe winter storm events. Next time something like that happen, check out the temperatures in the Arctic Circle, you’ll see what I mean.
It’s simply global heat exchange in action. There is nothing surprising about it. This is exactly the sort of behavior climatologists have been warning us about. Of course, self-styled “skeptics” will never share that part of the story with you since all they focus on is winning their political battles.
Unfortunately, our planet doesn’t care who’s winning the political argument. All it does is react to what we are doing to it. And while our planet and life will surely do fine given eons to adjust – we and our society along with our gods will not fare so well.
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Peter Miesler writes from near Durango. For links to authoritative sources explaining the details described in this essay please visit Citizenschallenge.blogspot.com