2012

15 August 2012: It’s getting hotter, faster

It’s getting hotter — faster

If you’re feeling the heat, the reason is that it’s hot, way too hot.

June and July were the two hottest months in Denver history.  July’s record bumped the then-second hottest July—2005—to third place behind Dust Bowl Era July 1934.  What is discomforting is that records being broken are those recently made.  That implies a trend.

One caveat before proceeding: It’s crucial to avoid the mistake climate-change deniers make by confusing weather with climate.  A long, hot, dry summer in itself does not prove the climate is warming any more than a bitter cold winter proves it’s not.

Long term trends based upon observable data, upon which science is based, do offer evidence to climate change, and it keeps amassing.  Ask Richard Muller, the founder and scientific director of Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study, funded in part by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation to the tune of $150,000.  Koch, a rightwing mega-bank roller and climate-change denier, had probably hoped Muller would drive a death nail into global warming by exposing it as an Al Gore-inspired hoax.

Instead, Muller had his Road to Damascus—see Saul of Tarsus, aka St. Paul—conversion.

“Call me a converted skeptic,” he writes in a July 28, 2012 NY Times op-ed piece. “Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct.”

Muller concludes the introductory paragraph with a zinger. “I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

The BEST Study—gotta love that acronym—shows that “the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years.”

A double zinger: “Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.”

In other words, we—human beings—are the culprit.  Think Industrial Revolution, aptly named a revolution in that it overthrew the way of life for humanoids from either cave man days or the Garden of Eden, whichever you prefer.  Goods began to be mass-produced in fossil-fueled factories, which in turn spewed noxious waste into the atmosphere.

A degree in rocket science is unnecessary for one to see not a correlation between the pollution and a warming atmosphere, but a cause-and-effect relationship. Still, science is demanding.

The warming trend is accelerating, as Muller notes, with 60 percent of the temperature increase occurring over the past 50 years.  So, it took 200 years for the land temperature to rise 1 degree and just 50 years, or one-fourth of that time for it to rise another 50 percent.  The scarier aspect is that we’re looking at another 1.5 degree increase over the next 50 years (thus, a 2-degree increase in 100 years) assuming China does not tap into and use its vast coal reserves, which it will.  “Then that same warming,” holds Muller, “could take place in less than 20 years.”

It’s getting hotter faster.

In his seminal work “An Inconvenient Truth,” Al Gore demonstrates the correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and its warmth by analyzing the record over the course of 600,000 years.  Muller affirms Gore’s point:

“By far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.”

The BEST team looked at every other potential explanation for the warming trend including the sun’s activity and concluded that “solar activity changes the brightness of the sun very little,” as satellite measurements prove.

When every other explanation is eliminated as reasonable, what or who is left?

“How definite is the attribution to humans?” asks Muller.  “The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation.”

Friends told me about how the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, a landmark and tradition, will install air conditioning after managing a century without it.   That in turn will likely depend upon fossil-fuel produced energy that will ironically exacerbate the root cause of the need for air conditioning.

I don’t blame the owners but simply point to it as a small indicator of the larger problem: Population growth, fossil-fuel consumption, and our ongoing defiance of the laws of nature.

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