A New Climate Reality

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 is 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 on occasion and take empathetic stock.

First and foremost are actual climate and weather events: storms, drought, wind, fire, flood, snow. T
here 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...

There is the impact upon species, one-third of which the IPCC report warns may 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, sudden wind shears between greater warm and cold air masses?  Is it encroachment of an exploding population on ecosystems, pollution, overfishing, or the many other culprits that produce the same result?  What can't be disputed: Species are stressed and many are disappearing.

The heartbreak of 5,000 dead birds without a good explanation makes it easier to gravitate toward cold data over warming empathy.

There was a curious incident in Northern Ireland that does have an explanation. 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. 100,000).

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 billions of glowing red jellyfish wiping out 100,000 salmon, was the fact 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. 

No matter what the impact is of the U.N. conferences, no matter who signs on to resultant accords or had signed its 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 and 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 that climate change will lead to political instability and, potentially, to global war.

Our empathy meter is now pinned with fear.

The long-term solution includes weaning off fossil fuels.  The funds oil gives to hostile nations and the BP catastrophe in the Gulf both point to the advantage of such a course even if the climate were not a factor, though the climate does require each person to reduced their carbon footprint.  That's a big idea and far removed from most peoples' everyday life where cold is interpreted as permission to ignore warming.

The new climate reality will force everyone, no matter what they believe 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.  But no one should give up because we've let it go too far. 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.  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 topples unstable governments into extremism.

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.

From NASA: