Whenever I bring up even the slightest hint of climate change (i.e., hottest temperature on record for my city and drought conditions in a normally wet climate), eyes glaze over and people make a joke about it to clear the air and change the subject. The attitude is, “Hey, it’s too big for me to do anything about it anyway.” It’s like hitting a brick wall. And my experience isn’t unique. Since the brutal winter of 2012-2013, American attitudes have chilled on global warming.
But the sobering truth is, people suffer from short attention spans and are hugely ignorant of what is in store for the planet. And as long as people are in denial, nothing will change.
“Extreme weather years like 2010 and 2011 are very likely to increase in frequency, since there is a delay of several decades between when we put heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and when the climate fully responds. This is because Earth’s oceans take so long to heat up when extra heat is added to the atmosphere (think about how long it takes it takes for a lake to heat up during summer.) Due to this lag, we are just now experiencing the full effect of CO2 emitted by the late 1980s; since CO2 has been increasing by 1 – 3% per year since then, there is a lot more climate change “in the pipeline” we cannot avoid. We’ve set in motion a dangerous boulder of climate change that is rolling downhill, and it is too late to avoid major damage when it hits full-force several decades from now. However, we can reduce the ultimate severity of the damage with strong and rapid action. A boulder rolling downhill can be deflected in its path more readily early in its course, before it gains too much momentum in its downward rush. For example, the International Energy Agency estimates that every dollar we invest in alternative energy before 2020 will save $4.30 later. There are many talented and dedicated people working very hard to deflect the downhill-rolling boulder of climate change–but they need a lot more help very soon.” -Dr. Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground and weather provider for the Associated Press.
On Friday, May 10th NOAA reported an average for a 24-hour period of 400.03 parts of CO2 per million, while Scripps reported 400.08.
The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth since the Pliocene, at least three million years ago. (Read here about abrupt climate change.)
The burning of fossil fuels has caused a 41 percent increase in the heat-trapping gas since the Industrial Revolution, a mere geological instant, and scientists say the climate is beginning to react, though they expect far larger changes in the future.
Virtually every automobile ride, every plane trip and, in most places, every flip of a light switch adds carbon dioxide to the air, and relatively little money is being spent to find and deploy alternative technologies.
China is now the largest emitter, but Americans have been consuming fossil fuels extensively for far longer, and experts say the United States is more responsible than any other nation for the high level.
Climate-change contrarians, who have little scientific credibility but are politically influential in Washington, point out that carbon dioxide represents only a tiny fraction of the air.
But climate scientists reject that argument, saying it is like claiming that a tiny bit of arsenic or cobra venom cannot have much effect.
Above graph represents the departure of global temperature from average for 2011. The Arctic was the warmest region, relative to average. Source: Weather Underground. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.