State of the Global Climate – A Quick Look

Posted on Sunday, April 1st, 2012 at 9:00 am by jmccharen

A few years ago I was involved in a very fun event called Step It Up 2007. It was dreamed up by Bill McKibben, author and activist extraordinaire, and implemented across the country by separate small groups — including the rag-tag group of activists I was leading down in Jacksonville, Florida.

Our event was simple. We wanted to get folks together to talk about the facts of climate change, as separate as possible from all the politics that has been mixed in for as long as the problem has been observed. We gathered together all the scientists we could find who were willing to go on the record as saying, “Yes, climate change is real, we caused it, and it’s serious.” This wasn’t as hard as I had feared in my rather conservative hometown. In the end we had a great turnout and started a great conversation. We didn’t really figure out a perfect way to follow up on the energy we felt that day, but the core group of us who put the event together continued to meet, attend events, talk, and generally poke at the problem of climate change for another year or so.

When I first heard about the Transition Towns movement my first thought was, that’s what we should have done! By then of course I had moved on, as frantic twenty-somethings seem apt to do, and was working on a career in farming. Which I subsequently gave up for a career in publishing.

It’s incredible, and quite silly, to realize how completely your view of the world can change when you shift your attention. Thus, the problem of climate change which used to keep me up at night worrying, and used to haunt me while I washed the dishes, struggling not to waste a drop of the fossil-fuel heated water, simply doesn’t seem to matter anymore. It’s a kind of blessing I suppose. The dishes are certainly easier to clean when you’re not as angsty about rinsing them. But I know it’s just a trick of perception. The atmosphere is still filling up with carbon, even if I don’t think about it much anymore. The global average temperature is ticking upward inexorably, even if I don’t check.

One nice lesson from my personal experience is this: worrying really doesn’t help save the world, so feel free to stop.

But I’m struck with a kind of morbid curiosity today. What exactly is up with the global climate right now, in May 2012? Let’s take a look around the internet and see what we can find out.

You can always count on James E. Hansen, climate scientist at NASA GISS, to tell it like it is. In an article from this past January which includes a nifty animation to show the global temperatures since 1880, he said:

“We know the planet is absorbing more energy than it is emitting. So we are continuing to see a trend toward higher temperatures. Even with the cooling effects of a strong La Niña influence and low solar activity for the past several years, 2011 was one of the 10 warmest years on record.”

Follow this link to NOAA’s interactive map, and you can find out how your home will fare when sea level rises. Maybe you can use it to speculate in future-waterfront property! I looked at the little barrier island where my parents live in northeast Florida and got kind of sad. But then I hopped over to the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange (or CAKE). Their advice? DON’T PANIC! Also, 42.

Looking northward, ice sheets in Greenland have not accelerated into the ocean quite as rapidly as was predicted, according to a study mentioned by Climate Central last week.

“The good news stemming from this study is that the worst-case scenarios scientists have been entertaining for sea-level rise by the end of the century — two meters, or about six feet, by 2100 — appear less likely given the rate of observed ice motion. The middle range projections, however, are still well within reach.”

In other words panic, just do it gradually over the coming century so you don’t wear yourself out.

It’s clear from a peek around the online world that the science of figuring out climate change is accelerating almost as fast as the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For instance, scientists are now able to measure changes in intensity of the water cycle by measuring changes in ocean salinity. According to Reuters, the cycle of evaporation and rainfall, is speeding up, sucking water out of arid regions and dumping it on wetter ones 4 percent faster than it did in 1950.

Around this point in my research, I start to regret having gone down the climate change rabbit hole again. Oh well, can’t stop now! Let’s try to wrap this post up with a little hope, shall we?

According to the Guardian, some analysts are starting to recognize that fossil fuels are a bad investment. They’ve even been dubbed “sub-prime assets” by advisors to Sir Mervyn King (the awesomely-named governor of the Bank of England). The reasoning for this shift toward taking the situation seriously comes as nations expect to see binding international agreements on greenhouse gases in the next rounds of UN climate talks. See? Policy works. It gets greedy bastards bankers to feel a bit sore around the pocketbook and then they behave a little more like they have to live on this planet too. In the absence of policy the moneyed elite sometimes talk like they’ve got someplace else to set up shop when things get hot and nasty down here.

Finally, perhaps the most hopeful development in years comes from right here in our catalog, a book we published last year from Rocky Mountain Institute and Amory Lovins: Reinventing Fire.

We’ve talked about Reinventing Fire a good deal on this site, and others have spread the word as well. Essentially, the study presents a detailed set of steps toward an economy run by renewable energy (fire) instead of fossil fire. The push is geared toward business instead of government (we’ve seen how fast governments have dealt with the problem), and requires no new inventions — just the will to get to a sustainable place. The best synopsis is from Amory himself, contained in his recently released TED talk. Check it out here.

Trust me, it’s a great antidote to the climate change blues.

– Jennifer McCharen, Web Content Editor

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