Wednesday, January 25, 2012
I moved to Massachusetts a few years ago and I've gotten used to winters like this:
But this year I'm finding things like this:
NOOOOOO! Go back to sleep. It's not time for you yet, we still have February to get through.
Professor! Professor! Is this mild winter a sign of Global Warming?
It's nice to see some students are paying attention. Good question.
I can't answer it.
I know, I know. Scientists are supposed to know everything about everything (unless it's something you don't want to hear in which case we're all intellectual elitists without any common sense).
A single event does not Global Climate Change make. It takes a LOT of data to determine if a long term change is occurring.
Fortunately we have a lot of data and it's all pointing in the same direction. The planet as a whole is getting warmer.
This does not mean that where you live will get warmer. It may be that where you live will get cooler or drier or wetter. What it does mean is this...
The higher the average temperature of the planet the more energy is in the atmosphere. More energy means unstable weather. Unstable weather means we should expect more frequent and larger storms. This can include more blizzards (anyone heard from the poor folks in Nome lately?).
What kind of evidence do we have? Lots. I'm not a climatologists so I can't speak to the historic and prehistoric temperature and weather patterns. I'm a biologist. And I can tell you that biology is changing. And the changes look like a response to changes in the climate.
Bird migration patterns have changed. Insect distributions patterns have changed. Plant bloom times have changed.
For some of these we have a relatively long, documented history.
For others... Well... Some of the native peoples who live in the extreme northern parts of North America are starting to see birds and animals that they don't have a word for in their language. They have no history that their people have ever seen them before.
To me that's just... well... seriously interesting. Wow, huh?
As far as the actual information about long term changes in the climate I'll leave that to the experts.
The climatologists, not weathermen. Weathermen go on TV and tell you what to expect when you go outside tomorrow (and how often are they wrong?). Climatologists study long term atmospheric events that affect the weather, which requires a lot of education and a specialized degree (or two, or three).
Do I believe that Global Climate Change is occurring?
Do I believe that the modern combustion engine and consumer culture are contributors to this change?
Do I think that climate change will become a problem for future generations?
Yes. But that's a topic for another time (and another glass of wine).
I'll leave you with a sign from my yard.
No, that's not snow. That's a piece of paper. We have no snow on the ground even though it's January in New England.
Maybe Global Climate Change won't be too bad after all...