Monday, February 27, 2017

Weather or Climate Change?

Weather change or climate change? It may be more appropriate to use weather change more frequently. Climate change is seriously misunderstood, particularly in the last several decades. Climate change is one of the important topics du jour at present. One can barely read or listen to media commentary without encountering the term global warming or climate change as a part of reportorial cachet. The term “global warming” has been transitioning to “climate change.” Real or perceived changes in animal or plant populations or behavior on land or sea? Heat waves, cold spells, droughts, or floods? Long or short term trends in our weather? Memories of deep snows from our childhood? Retreat of glaciers or changing habits of polar bears? Increased occurrences of tornadoes or hurricanes? Seldom is discussion of these issues   raised without coupling it with climate change. We are highly interested in weather and climate phenomena, but we long for more sanity and realism in our analyses of these vital topics. 

Of course the climate is changing. Long term changes have occurred for millennia. Some changes are subtle; others are more dramatic and impactful. With respect to global warming, we recall our recent discussions on the birth of civilization and its coincidence with the waning of Earth’s latest Ice Age. The cessation of the last major Ice Age beginning roughly twenty thousand years ago relegated our contemporary concerns about global warming insignificant in comparison. A large area of the northern US, Europe, and Asia was covered in thick layers of ice back then. In just a few thousand years the bulk of the ice sheet had melted. We now exist in a period of relative climate favorability and stability. Periodic changes in the shape of Earth’s orbit, the axial tilt, and the precession of our planet’s axis and orbital plane brought about most of the warming. A more recent theory posits that in addition, melting glacial ice caused a disruption of deep ocean currents leading to release of trapped CO2 in the southern hemisphere and intensified the warming. As with all weather and climate, uncertainty and complexity are difficult to untangle and separate.

The theorized events related to the end of the Wisconsin Ice Age are only moderately related to climate change concerns which have intensified in the last few decades. Carbon dioxide is presently receiving much of the blame for Earth’s current slight warming. This naturally produced trace gas, vital for thriving plant life, has been labelled a “pollutant” by the EPA. Even if it deserves a modicum of “credit” for a small amount of Earth warming, we cannot attribute a rise of 8º C since the Ice Age began its retreat to increased amounts of CO2 released by human consumption of fossil fuels since the onset of the Industrial Age. Since the Ice Age began its retreat our Earth has gained 8º C in average temperature. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the significant rise in human use of fossil fuels, Earth’s temperature has risen less than 1.5º C. Some scientific organizations claim the slight climate and weather changes of the past several decades have been natural and that human beings cannot delay or stop the progress of these changes. We are able only to adapt to them. We concur with this statement. (These organizations are disparaged as “climate deniers.”) These changes are related to natural cycles which occurred in human history many times before. The current evangelistic zeal of many citizens is rooted in questionable science.

Recently our Northern Illinois environment experienced a noteworthy weather event. For now we withhold the details of this weather event, except to say that it was a rare February weather phenomenon. Our question remains: Was it “Climate change?” or was it an unusual “weather change” event? Our analysis: It was both. (We report in more detail in a future post.) Our population has an insatiable urge to consume news analyses and information on a broad spectrum—weather and climate change events ranking near the top. This is a commendable objective sometimes with an undesirable downside. Journalistic zeal for the story sometimes overwhelms measured, realistic analysis. Details of the story are selectively and disproportionately reported to accomplish a specific agenda. As “producers” of the news, scientists have a sober responsibility to investigate and report free of personal and political agendas. As “consumers” of the news readers must read, listen, analyze, and conclude using the same standards. Never have these guidelines been more important than in our quest for the truth about weather and climate change.

Earth’s weather and climate systems are of paramount concern as they relate to human well-being. Weather and climate processes are beautiful partners with the physical matter composing our planet. This partnership is the venue for our total existence and supplies all of man’s nutritional requirements for healthy physical sustenance. Acquiring a correct and appropriate knowledge base of our systems of weather and climate is of utmost importance. Our physical planet with its interacting systems is one of humanity’s beautiful gifts from the Creator of all things. “The Earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it.” Psalm 24:1 (NASB).