The world changes so fast, it's difficult to see it in context. Scientists watch from a mathematical point of view, points on a graph, comparative analyses, blips on radar from sensors slapped on the bows of ships. Dry bits of brain matter fight the brain freeze caused by information overload of drought in the Southwest, typhoon-caused floods in Bangladesh, tornadoes in the Midwest, and where's all that snow coming from? It begins to look horrifyingly familiar: one person's agony is another's data.
It's helpful to step back and take empathetic stock.
First and foremost are actual climate and, measured separately, weather events: Storms, drought, wind, fire, flood, snow. There are the forces (forcings) behind them; natural weather phenomena, the quantifiable increase in intensity caused by greenhouse gases; the loss of glaciers and polar ice; the inability of the Southern Ocean to function as a carbon sink; the increase in wind speeds due to the growing temperature differential between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere; C02 released into the atmosphere from fires in California and Greece; the methane once trapped in the tundra.
The snowstorm that all but blanketed the United States recently has been used by those who deny climate change to point and say, "See? It's cold, not warm." But is it because of warm? There are reports the Arctic is warmer than at any time in recorded history. One report equates the impact to defrosting a freezer (before they self-defrosted). Open the freezer door as the temperature warms and cold air will rush out. Whether that is the explanation or it's as simple as more moisture in the air equals more snow, it fits with predictions by scientists of more intense weather events due to climate change. .
There's the impact upon species. A Boston University report warns many will be lost due to climate change. Polar bears are the obvious indicator, but there are also the diminishing pollinators upon which we depend; the coral in the Great Barrier Reef, the damage done by invasive species such as the Lionfish, the wolves that go off and on the endangered list, birds that fall out of the sky. Is it the climate; perhaps sudden wind shears between greater warm and cold air masses? Is it encroachment of an exploding population on ecosystems, pollution, over-hunting or fishing, or the many other culprits that could produce the same result? Is it natural attrition or some other cause that would have happened without climate change? That's still to be determined in some cases and will be disputed no matter what empirical data is proven as causative. What can't be disputed: Species are stressed and many are disappearing.
It becomes easier to gravitate toward cold data over warming empathy.
There was a curious incident three years ago near Scotland. A ten-mile wide migration of billions of Mauve Stinger Jellyfish swam to the Northern Irish Sea and killed every salmon within their reach (est. 150,000).
The fishermen who tried to reach the trapped fish (nets a mile offshore had created a semi-wild farm environment), could only watch as they faced a solid block of glowing red jellyfish to the horizon. They could not get through to salmon so revered, it had been served at the Queen's table for her 80th birthday.
The salmon died.
What makes this alarming, apart from the fact that billions of glowing red jellyfish wiped out 150,000 salmon, was that they had traveled from the warm waters of the Mediterranean to what are supposed to be the cold waters of the North Irish Sea.
Scientists have attributed it to global warming.
A new report has come out that oysters are now functionally extinct. They're still available on the dinner table, but are dying out in the world's oceans.
No matter what the impact turns out to be of U.N. conferences, no matter who signs on to resultant accords or had signed their predecessor, Kyoto, it's time to adjust to a new climate reality.
The new reality includes the need for increased humanitarian commitment, as evidenced by U.S. Naval vessels that rush throughout the world to provide aid, from countries who pledge and too often do not follow through with the funds. It's time for business to step up where Congress will not. A German reinsurer has provided the context in a 2010 annual report where they stated their greatest expenses last year were due to two causes: Earthquakes and climate change.
There's been a written commitment from diverse and, in some cases, unlikely sources. Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is among the hundreds of big business signatories calling for binding carbon targets. It makes sense for them. No matter where they stand on climate change, they need to plan for their expenses.
There was this report from the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College warning climate change will lead to political instability and, potentially, to global war. The price of food has skyrocketed in the Third World. Egypt and Tunisia erupted over corruption, unemployment and the sudden rise in food prices. The blame is assigned to Wall Street speculators driving up food prices and to climate change destroying crops in Australia and in Russia. The assignments of blame to market and climate are not mutually exclusive.
Our empathy meter is now pinned with fear.
The long-term solution is to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. The funds the sale of oil gives to hostile nations and the BP catastrophe in the Gulf both point to the advantage of such a course of action even if the climate were not a factor. Climate change also requires each person to reduced their carbon footprint. But those are big ideas and far removed from a population's everyday life where cold is interpreted as permission to ignore climate change. Climate change will not ignore them.
The new climate reality will force everyone, no matter what their belief about climate change, to live in an unstable climate where droughts last months instead of weeks and then years instead of months. Where storms speed up as they approach land (Cyclone Sidr). Where floods happen so fast they defy forecast and correctly earn what used to be the hyperbole of "biblical." Where snow becomes thundersnow and underfunded cities run out of plows. Where food becomes less tasty, less nutritious, less interesting, as we lose more pollinators. Where the loss of species becomes a psychic wound upon the planet's soul because we can feel that loss, even if we can't identify the empty hole in our planet's and our souls, as they go.
Those who understand climate change know that increasing world temperature cannot be stopped even with a cold stop of greenhouse gas emissions. It's a new reality that the loss of the carbon sink in the Southern Ocean, the loss of ice in the Arctic and the melting of the permafrost and the Greenland Ice Sheet have sped up the timetable for change. No one should give up because we've let it go too far. We are required to adjust to the new reality while we work to reverse that change. It means accepting the pain that empathy brings when we peek out from under our numbers and see millions leading a different life. It means facing the enemies we will have created as the deprivation of drought and flood have the potential to topple unstable governments into extremism if we don't handle the change with sophistication and empathy.
It's been a heck of a fossil fuel party. It's time to clean up, do the dishes, recycle the garbage, look out the windows, and walk (don't drive) outside.
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