by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
August 10, 2012
TIME TO STAVE OFF THE WORST OF GLOBAL WARMING IS RUNNING OUT
DUMMERSTON, Vt., Aug. 10, 2012 -- July 2012 was the hottest month ever in the continental United States since modern record-keeping began in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
This continues a pattern stretching back to August 2011, where every state observed warmer than average temperatures except Washington state, which was near average.
The record-setting heat has led to a record-setting drought that is affecting nearly two-thirds of the lower 48, according to NOAA's latest Drought Monitor report, with the Midwest seeing the worst drought conditions since the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.
And, according to a statistical climate-change analysis led by NASA's James Hansen, which was presented in a report released this week on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these recent extreme weather events - it 116 degrees in Canoga Park, a City of Los Angeles community in the San Fernando Valley, for instance - are not anomalies, but rather the result of systemic climate change patterns fueled by man-made global warming.
Hansen, the scientist who put the words "global warming" into our lexicon in the 1980s, says that in analyzing the past six decades of global temperatures, researchers have found "a stunning increase" in the frequency of extremely hot summers.
"This is not a climate model or a prediction but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened," Hansen wrote in The Washington Post last week. "Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.
In other words, the dire predictions of climatologists of an altered climate due to a warming planet are no longer events that might happen in the future. They are happening now.
"The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010, and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change," Hansen wrote. "And once the data are gathered in a few weeks' time, it's likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now. "These weather events are not simply an example of what climate change could bring. They are caused by climate change. The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills," Hansen said.
And here's the kicker. All this has been happening with average global temperatures that have risen 0.8 degrees Celsius over the past century.
The goal in international climate negotiations has been to keep the temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. However, it is becoming very clear that If we double the rise in Earth's temperature, there is virtually no chance of avoiding a climatological disaster that will affect every living being on the planet.
Quite simply, the human race is nearly out of time to deal with global warming. We have wasted nearly three decades of opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and make the transition to renewable energy sources. All that can be done now is to minimize the damage done by climate change.
The immediate damage from the current drought is going to be the social unrest sparked by food shortages and rising prices due to the expected collapse of U.S. grain supplies. It's worth remembering that one of the biggest factors behind the political movements that overthrew the governments of Tunisia and Egypt last year was a huge increase in food prices. Which government will be toppled this year or next?
"When we think about climate change (if we think about it at all), we envision rising temperatures, prolonged droughts, freakish storms, hellish wildfires, and rising sea levels. Among other things, this will result in damaged infrastructure and diminished food supplies," wrote global security expert Michael Klare for commondreams.org this week.
"These are, of course, manifestations of warming in the physical world, not the social world we all inhabit and rely on for so many aspects of our daily well-being and survival. The purely physical effects of climate change will, no doubt, prove catastrophic. But the social effects including, somewhere down the line, food riots, mass starvation, state collapse, mass migrations, and conflicts of every sort, up to and including full-scale war, could prove even more disruptive and deadly."
This sort of dystopia may be on the near horizon. It would give us a world that's physically and socially ravaged, a world where centuries of human progress can be undone in a matter of years.
If anyone if left to write the history of our age, they will not judge us kindly. They will rightfully indict us for our greed, our apathy, our blindness to an unfolding disaster. And we will deserve that indictment.
AR Chief of Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.