Tuesday, June 10, 2008
What one degree of temperature can do
For a long time I was convinced that the heaping snows of my childhood only seemed so big because I was so small. If you grew up in New England and you're over 50 you've probably had the same feeling. It's not that we can't have heavy storms-- last winter broke snowfall records for Northern New England-- simply that winter storms are less frequent and less potent.
One degree warmer or cooler doesn't seem like much. We've been sweltering in temperatures in the high 90's for several days; the difference between 97 and 98 degrees isn't noticeable. Yet a drop of less than one degree Fahrenheit in 1400 brought a "Little Ice Age." Glaciers in the Swiss Alps crushed whole villages; Iceland could no longer grow grain and people could walk from Staten Island to Manhattan because the New York Harbor froze over.
Of course cooler is not exactly where we're headed. It's warmer now than any time in 10,000 years, and we're within one degree Celsius of being the warmest in a million years. New Scientist. One degree warmer means four times as many forest fires, according to Tom Boatner, chief of fire operations for the federal government.. One degree warmer will cause an extra 20,000 deaths by pollution. One degree warmer will turn semi-dry parts of the Southwest into desert.
Five years ago, global warming skeptics rejected the idea that the planet was warming. They can't do that now, so they reject the idea that global warming is not natural. But what does it matter? Carbon dioxide levels haven't been this high for more than half a million years, long before anything resembling a human walked the earth. Surely even the skeptics agree that the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer it will become.
It's why everything we do matters. We have a lot of bad habits to break; we've been trained to consume and to look the other way so we don't see the price we are paying. We need to start acting in our own interest and I believe we can do it, but let's do it now before snowy winters are just a memory.