Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Real Crisis at Our Doorstep

This can be awfully maddening. While Beltway media pundits are fixated on Congress' latest manufactured crisis, they're essentially serving to suck oxygen out of the rooms in Washington where all the serious problems facing our country and planet are being discussed. Yes, that's right. Because these media pundits and kooky G-O-TEA politicians are so busy pointing fingers and engaging in petty, histrionic nonsense that they're threatening to crowd out everything that actually matters.

So what are the real problems we face that aren't getting enough attention in Washington? Here's an example.

The world has suffered from severe regional weather extremes in recent years, such as the heat wave in the United States in 2011 or the one in Russia 2010 coinciding with the unprecedented Pakistan flood. Behind these devastating individual events there is a common physical cause, propose scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The study will be published this week in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and suggests that man-made climate change repeatedly disturbs the patterns of atmospheric flow around the globe’s Northern hemisphere through a subtle resonance mechanism.

“An important part of the global air motion in the mid-latitudes of the Earth normally takes the form of waves wandering around the planet, oscillating between the tropical and the Arctic regions. So when they swing up, these waves suck warm air from the tropics to Europe, Russia, or the US, and when they swing down, they do the same thing with cold air from the Arctic,” explains lead author Vladimir Petoukhov.

“What we found is that during several recent extreme weather events these planetary waves almost freeze in their tracks for weeks. So instead of bringing in cool air after having brought warm air in before, the heat just stays. In fact, we observe a strong amplification of the usually weak, slowly moving component of these waves,” says Petoukhov. Time is critical here: two or three days of 30 degrees Celsius are no problem, but twenty or more days lead to extreme heat stress. Since many ecosystems and cities are not adapted to this, prolonged hot periods can result in a high death toll, forest fires, and dramatic harvest losses.

Climate change caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning does not mean uniform global warming –in the Arctic, the relative increase of temperatures, amplified by the loss of snow and ice, is higher than on average. This in turn reduces the temperature difference between the Arctic and, for example, Europe, yet temperature differences are a main driver of air flow. Additionally, continents generally warm and cool more readily than the oceans. “These two factors are crucial for the mechanism we detected,” says Petoukhov. “They result in an unnatural pattern of the mid-latitude air flow, so that for extended periods the slow synoptic waves get trapped.”

This is even more evidence confirming the link between climate change and recent extreme weather. It strongly suggests that climate change has indeed had a hand in such recent meteorological disasters as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Superstorm Sandy last year, and the ongoing drought effecting huge swaths of the nation (including Nevada).

And in case that isn't bad enough, it gets even worse. A new Oxford University study of Siberian caves reveals what may happen if we see a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (as scientists now believe we're at least heading for). The last time this happened, which was around 400,000 years ago, there was a substantial melting of permafrost. And that led to an epic release of greenhouse gases that were previously stored in the soil covered by permafrost. If this happens again, we may very well see 100 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2100. Just to put that into perspective, that roughly causes 2.5 times the amount of climate change as current deforestation!

So this is the real crisis at our doorstep. Yet what do we keep hearing from Capitol Hill? Oh, just more drivel on the manufactured crisis.

Yet while Congress is paralyzed by insane fiscal gridlock, the military is not. Rather, it's quietly embarked on a clean energy revolution. Since 2009, The Pentagon has been implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. That's led to fewer carbon emissions, lower costs, and better national security.

If the military can get serious about climate change, why can't the rest of the country? Here in Nevada, we especially stand to benefit from the clean energy revolution. And we're also already suffering from climate change. So what's the hold-up? Why not do something about this real crisis?

I suspect the inaction is largely because of the "tea party" fueled climate denial campaign. Fossil fuel industry campaign contributions probably also have something to do with it. And frankly, it's just so shortsighted and irritating!

Most likely 90 years from now, no one will be asking how much the federal budget deficit was in 2013. And no one will likely ask who was to blame for the string of manufactured fiscal crises of our time. Rather, whoever is alive then will likely ask what was done to combat climate change. That will be our true lasting legacy. So why don't we ditch the manufactured BS and start solving the real crises of our time?

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