Ignore Climate Change? I Think Knot!

That’s more than just a tie. It’s a handy visualization of, and a stealthy way to start a conversation around, our impact on the world’s climate. However, for the record, I received more compliments on this tie than any I have ever worn. But I digress.

We are inextricably tied to global climate change.

The necktie above is a set of warming stripes, a unique visual designed by Ed Hawkins, climate scientist in the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) at the University of Reading. (You can order your own necktie here.) The image below shows the annual temperature of the continental United States between 1895 and 2017. (He even links to the data to back it up.)

Annual temperatures for the contiguous USA from 1895-2017. (Photo: Climate Lab Book.)

While I am on the subject of global climate issues:

Photo: March for Science via Owen Shieh at Untamed Skies.

That is a picture of active storms being tracked this week, all of them made stronger by the increased presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Oceans absorb excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions, making them warmer, which significantly increase the conditions necessary for storms to build in strength, collect moisture, and become far more catastrophic than they otherwise might have been. Because of the predicted damage hurricane Florence is expected to visit upon the east coast of the U.S., I thought I might tie together some interesting data points related to the data tracking global climate change and how it is manifesting itself at a more tangible level. All of the linked resources in this post should help pass the time for those of you who will be impacted by the impending storm. Just be sure to load up your browser tabs before the power goes out!

These are just two of the many sources compiling visual proof of the increasing effects and threats of anthropogenic climate change. Our friends at NASA recently put together a video showing global temperature variation since 1880. Further, the University of Colorado determined the global mean sea level change over the last two and a half decades, shown here:

Data Source: University of Colorado

Driving the point home, Dr. Peter Gibson at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently shared this graphic of just the month of June for the past fifty years:

Photo: Dr. Peter Gibson at https://twitter.com/scigibson.

All of these are poignant reminders of the impact humans have on this planet, the very real threat these impacts pose, and how little we seem to be doing about it. But it’s not just data points. Last month, in the northern part of Greenland, warming temperatures contributed to a substantial piece of sea ice breaking away and floating into the Arctic Ocean. While sea ice levels have fluctuated with the seasons, this year represents a record low in the total amount of ice. This is contributing to everything from increased sea level rise to the record-setting heat wave much of the northern hemisphere experienced this year. Drilling down a level, global climate change continues to impact very real aspects of daily life. The threat of increased storms and damages is adversely affecting home prices in some parts of the United States, to say nothing of rising insurance premiums. Further, the value of significant infrastructure assets is under threat, and the cost to reinforce them is easily passed on to consumers. Most of us know this. I would argue, just about everyone knows this by now. Those who understand empirical data and can draw substantive, irrefutable conclusions dwarf the number of people dismissing our link to global climate. Further, there is measurable progress in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly here in the United States where natural gas continues to supplant outdated and incredibly polluting forms of electricity generation. So we are moving in the right direction, yes? Not really. There still remain many who casually ignore that our consumption patterns – energy generation, transportation, etc. – are inextricably linked to this pervasive issue. Some argue global climate has been in flux since the dawn of time. This week I read of someone trying to dismiss anthropogenic climate change by saying, “Carbon dioxide does not create hurricanes.” Both statements are true, but do not actually address the issue at hand. For example, a police officer might warn me of the dangers of texting while driving, to which I might respond with a comment about my multitasking skills. Does my comment adequately serve as a replacement for an argument that texting while driving is actually harmless? Clearly not, but that is the exact tactic climate deniers try to employ. Unfortunately the challenge goes far beyond the average climate-denier-on-the-street. It is currently sitting on the desks of some important decision makers. The Trump administration hopes to roll back environmental regulation related to power plants, greenhouse gas emissions and other toxins. It also wants to ease restrictions on methane, the most dangerous of all greenhouse gas emissions. Such a move will undoubtedly add to the data sets behind the above graphics and erode some of the gains made in emissions reduction. However there may be some cause for hope. Typically once an environmental rule is in place, repealing it has to be supported by a scientific case that the benefits of repeal will outweigh the cost of keeping it in place. While the benefit of repealing the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) may be a lower regulatory bar for power plants, the drawback will be an additional 1,400 premature deaths every year. Further, it appears the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may have put itself in a bind in making the case for repeal. Earlier this year the agency proposed limiting the types of data and studies that can be considered when examining the link between air pollution and premature deaths. However, to repeal MATS, it appears the EPA needs to access the very same data to make its case. It’s a thin ray of hope to be sure, but it may be enough to stifle the repeal of an achieved regulation that limits pollution and saves lives. It is very easy to think that global climate change is an overarching issue with no real discernible impacts on daily life. That false security is underscored when destructive storms are infrequent or happen in a far off place. But the truth is that it is creeping into our daily lives daily, bit by bit. It’s important to pay attention, and to rely on data that links to verifiable conclusions -- and perpetually challenge those who do neither.


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© 2020 by Mark Konold