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Climate chaos

The issues we face today are often muddled by a plethora of media outlets. Whom to believe? Often, the points of the issues can get distorted or exaggerated. And all too often, we don’t discuss the issues, and when we do, we don’t always listen with an open mind. We hang on to our opinions like a spider to its web. Most of the issues are not black and white; they’re gray.This column is not about one particular person’s opinion. This column is about “why and how.” The sources are reputable organizations. If we don’t include statistics in some areas, it’s because we don’t trust where they came from. Stats can be skewed to anyone’s agenda, too.Any national issue is up for discussion. We’ll take it on – with respect to all sides.A February snow and ice storm that gripped the country, from the Rockies to New England, produced record-cold, minus-30 degree temperatures in Oklahoma; wind chills of 20 to 30 below zero in Chicago; record snow – 25.9 inches – in Tulsa; shut down I 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City for the first time in history.This winter’s frigid temperatures and heavy snow have wreaked havoc in other countries as well. In December, 66 people died because of subzero temperatures in Poland; and the always-busy airports of London and Frankfurt closed, stranding numerous holiday travelers. According to the National Climatic Data Center, January 2011 was the coldest January in the “contiguous U.S.” since 1994 and the 37th coldest in the 117-year record.Cold snaps, record snow …Global warming? Are you kidding me?According to the World Meteorological Organization report, 2010 was probably among the three warmest years on record – and 2001 to 2010 will go on record as the warmest decade in history. Michael Mann, director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, in an interview with LiveScience, said a warming world increases the potential for winter storms and weather extremes. “There’s no inconsistency at all,” he said.Regardless, people are rightfully skeptical as they dig out their cars from mounds of snow. But scientists do agree that warmer temperatures produce more moisture in the air.Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the National Center for Atmospheric Research Climate Analysis Section, explained the connection between warm weather and moisture in the air. “There is a systematic influence on all of these weather events … there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago,” Trenberth said. “It’s about a 4 percent extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms … this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.”In February, “Nature” magazine published a new report about human influence on precipitation. Climate scientists used sophisticated computer programs to analyze the degree to which natural variables in the atmosphere were causing severe rain and snow storms. The computer programs, which simulate the climate, were affected only when greenhouse gases released by human activities were factored in. The study showed that the likelihood of extreme amounts of precipitation has risen about 7 percent throughout the last half of the 20th century. Francis Zwiers, a climate scientist from Canada and one of the researchers of the study, was quoted in the article: “This 7 percent is well outside the bounds of natural variability.” The study only covered the years from 1951 to 1999 and didn’t include the worldwide floods in 2010 (Pakistan, Australia and U.S.).Can we trust the computer?Craig Idso is the founder and chairman of the board for the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.In “Carbon Dioxide and Earth’s Future: Pursuing the Prudent Path” author Idso says that “computer-driven climate models … reduce the important physical, chemical and biological processes that combine to determine the state of the earth’s climate into a set of mathematical equations.” Idso says it’s impossible to know all of the complex processes and their interactions – and managing them with a computer code is unreliable at best.He says a small increase in the air’s CO2 concentration is unlikely to cause the dramatic weather patterns. “Even if the air’s CO2 concentration was tripled, carbon dioxide would still comprise only a little over one-tenth of 1 percent of the air we breathe, which is far less than what wafted through earth’s atmosphere eons ago, when the planet was a virtual garden place. Nevertheless, a small increase in this minuscule amount of CO2 is frequently predicted to produce a suite of dire environmental consequences.”It’s all in a phraseIn 1975, geochemist Wallace Broecker of Columbia University wrote an article titled “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” Prior to Broecker’s use of the term “global warming,” scientists had referred to the human impact on climate as “inadvertent climate modification.” Scientists agreed that human activities could cause climate change, but they didn’t know the outcome of those activities. While aerosols could cause cooling and greenhouse gas emissions warming, scientists didn’t know which effect would reign. However, the media latched on to the term global warming, which eventually replaced “inadvertent climate modification,” but it was never meant as a catch-all phrase for climate change.Scientists define global warming as the average global surface temperature increase from human emissions of greenhouse gases.Climate change is the long-term change in the Earth’s climate or the climate of a region of Earth. Climate change includes global warming and anything else that results from greenhouse gases.Today, many scientists, climate scientists especially, prefer to use “global climate change” as the more scientifically accurate term. They say higher temps might not be the most devastating effect when it comes to climate change in general. Variations in precipitation patterns and sea levels could have more of an impact on the population.Scientists also agree that no single weather event should be linked to global climate change.More researchClimate change issues are entangled in technology and Mother Nature vs. human activity, and climate is a measure of decades and centuries, not months or years. As climate technology expands and improves, further research is beneficial.Last week, NASA was scheduled to launch a satellite that will orbit the earth, analyzing “grit spewed by volcanoes, forest fires, smokestacks and tail pipes” – aerosols. The Glory satellite is designed to make the most accurate aerosol measurements from space by studying their distribution and properties.According to NASA, the aerosols are smaller than the diameter of human hair and as they “track great distances across the globe” they produce hazy skies. Scientists are unsure about aerosols and their effects on climate. While greenhouse gases linger in the atmosphere for years, aerosols are only in the atmosphere for a few weeks, so it’s more difficult to measure their activity. About 90 percent of the aerosols in the atmosphere come from natural sources and the remainder is from humans. Aerosols can influence both warming and cooling of the planet – all dependent on the chemical makeup of the aerosols. Glory also will monitor changes in solar activity to determine the sun’s effect on climate.The launch was postponed because of technical problems with ground equipment.Another study called Science Ice Expeditions hopefully will soon be under way in cooperation with the U.S. Navy. Navy nuclear submarines that cross under the Arctic during their missions will have civilian scientists on board. The scientists from the Navy’s San Diego-based Arctic Submarine Laboratory will gather data on a myriad of Arctic issues, including the effects of global warming and how Arctic changes will affect U.S. shipping interests. The research was initiated by an agreement among commanders of the submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the chief of naval research and the National Science Foundation.However, despite continued research by reputable U.S. institutions – research that includes the effects of solar activity – some in Washington still use climate change/global warming as political party ammunition.A snow job in WashingtonPolitics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong. – Richard Armour, American poet (1906 – 1989)Apparently the same partisan poppycock that goes on in the Capitol today has been around for quite some time.Climate change has become a polarizing hot-button issue in Washington that taints the truth. How can we possibly make judgments about climate change based on our political preferences?You can’t blame every little bump in the weather on carbon dioxide from humans. And every time we have a cold snap, it’s rather immature to keep saying “I told you so.”The Environmental Protection Agency is under attack; some would like to do away with it altogether.Newt Gingrich would like to eliminate the EPA, but a recent poll by Opinion Research Center International shows that 63 percent of Americans want the EPA to do more to protect air and water quality. Only 18 percent of Americans want Congress to block the EPA’s role in updating pollution regulations.Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is among three senators who have introduced a bill to bar the EPA “from using its regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.” Basically, they want to block the EPA and any other federal agency from using the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws to try to reduce climate pollution.However, in January, the EPA began regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of CO2-equivalent per year are now required to report emissions to the EPA. Newly constructed or remodeled facilities that emit more than 75,000 tons a year will require EPA greenhouse gas permits. The new rules apply to larger companies like fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries. But plans eventually call for the regulation of all sources of greenhouse gases in every industry throughout the U.S.The EPA has been regulating lead, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide under the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for a long time. Denver’s “Brown Cloud” in the 1970s was an eyesore and a health hazard. Air quality measurements reduced the thick, dirty haze that once hovered over the mountains.Fearing cap and trade regulation?One of the major reasons some politicians are adamantly opposed to EPA regulations of carbon dioxide is the threat of cap and trade – a system that sets government limits on overall emissions of pollutants, such as heat-trapping gases. “Trade” allows utilities, manufacturers and other emitters to exchange pollution permits or allowances among themselves. The idea behind it limits the pollutants being capped through market forces.At one time, the climate and energy bill was built around cap and trade, and many, including industries, were in favor of it.But it soon became known as “cap and tax” and lost all momentum, especially in the last year.Under the George H.W. Bush administration, cap and trade was used to address airborne sulfur dioxide pollution – known as acid rain – from coal-burning power plants in the Eastern U.S. A limit was imposed on emissions, and utility plants bought and sold permits to comply. Many considered it one of the most effective approaches to mitigating pollution problems.The brass tacksOverall, the whole climate change issue is as gray as a rainy day. But there are some black and white signs that things are changing: melting ice in the Arctic, melting glaciers worldwide, increasing ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, precipitation changes, changing ecosystems and wildlife habitats. Many say the earth is never exactly in equilibrium. The massive motions of the oceans including El Nino and many other variables create constant change in the climate worldwide. Most admit that human emission of carbon dioxide might have some impact, how much is the question.I don’t want to compromise objectivity here, but let’s compare climate science to medical science. Air pollution is more dangerous to the heart than cocaine and is as high-risk for heart attacks as alcohol, coffee and physical exertion, according to a new study published in “The Lancet” journal. Medical research is good, and most Americans support the majority of doctors who align with a study. We also have regulations governing medical research.Plus, we wouldn’t ask members of Congress to advise us on medical science, either.Ten independent scientific studies have found a 20th century warming trend compared to temperature changes over the past millennium or two. There is no scientific evidence that any period during the last 2,000 years was warmer than the 1990s – including the Medieval Warm Period.The National Academy of Sciences – probably one of the best research bodies in the U.S. – has concluded this: Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for – and in many cases – is already affecting – a broad range of human and natural systems.”No one wants the government breathing down our backs, and who wants higher taxes?But how can we ignore the still-troubling effects that lax regulations have had on our recent economic and environmental woes. We had to bail out banks and bail oil from the Gulf. How could anyone in business in states like Florida and Louisiana affected by the BP oil spill decry regulation? Think about oil-soaked wildlife and dead fish.It’s wise to be objective and listen to all climate scientists. It’s prudent to do everything possible to preserve the American life and environment. Fearing the loss of some of our freedoms as possible consequences of human activity on climate change is selfish.If there is one inkling that human activity is compromising our environment and our climate, don’t we have a responsibility to address it?It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it. – Joseph Joubert, French essayist (1754 – 1824)

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