Just because we still have winter in the Northern Hemisphere doesn’t mean global warming and climate change are not a reality.
The impacts of the economic crisis are being felt in many ways. Most are naturally economic. Jobs are being lost in record numbers, and bankruptcies are on the rise with no end (or bottom) in sight. These are the obvious and immediate surface impacts. We can measure and quantify them on a daily basis. But there are deeper and less obvious effects.
The Great Depression impacted the psychology of an entire generation, and it had multi-generational ripple effects. We can recall having to clear our dinner plates, regardless of whether we were hungry or not. This ethos was passed down from our grandparents, who lived through the Depression, and it’s conceivable that it had something to do with the current obesity epidemic. Because, of course, you couldn’t have dessert unless you cleared your plate.
Feast or famine, right? That seems to be our pattern, whether it’s food or the economy. Either way, there’s no denying the psychological impacts of crises such as this, especially when it’s prolonged. Without the benefit of hindsight, we can’t know what they’ll ultimately be this time around, but we’re already noticing a shift in attention away from the need to address global warming and its root causes. It’s back-page news in the mainstream media. It’s as if we don’t have the luxury of worrying about such long-term threats, given the immediate and tangible economic meltdown. It’s also provided an opportunity for global warming skeptics to trumpet a victory of sorts.
The infamous Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma recently declared victory over the global warming conspiracy based on the observation that “his opponents won’t say global warming any more” and instead prefer “climate change”. His argument for victory is basically grounded in semantics coupled with the drop in global warming headlines and the fact that he’s giving this interview during the winter, when it happens to be cold. (He also refers to dubious science.)
The reality is that climate change more accurately describes the various phenomena caused by global warming. The latter simply refers to the increase in global temperature as a result of CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases. We’re therefore seeing more droughts, floods, and a greater rate of anomalous weather events i.e. climate change. The effect of a warmer atmosphere might, in fact, cause more snow and colder temperatures in some areas with devastating, long-term effects. We don’t know precisely. This is uncharted territory for the planet (in terms of recorded CO2 concentrations) and mankind. Has the climate changed in the past? Yes. At this rapid pace without a reasonable explanation? No.
By the same token, global warming believers should be more thoughtful in how they casually refer to the proof. Just as skeptics cannot disprove global warming by pointing to a cold winter day, it’s foolish to cite an unseasonably warm winter day or a summer heat wave as proof that global warming is real. “I’m wearing shorts in January in Connecticut. Thank you global warming!” one might be tempted to exclaim sarcastically.
Global warming isn’t something happening today. That snow storm or tornado or heat wave was not caused by global warming. This is part of the problem in addressing it. It’s a long-term trend that has been building over decades and will continue. We don’t quite know where it’s headed, but we do know that something has to be done, whether in trying to reverse it, slow it down, or just plain deal with it. (Incidentally, 2009 will be the year we decide that we have to live with it at some level and then consider the best ways of addressing life with climate change.) Weather patterns fluctuate regardless. The fluctuations are occurring within the context of atmospheric warming, but you can’t point to global warming as the cause for a given day’s temperature or a single weather event. That’s not how it works.
Now if both sides would stop with the foolishness, we might be able to actually deal with it. Just as soon as this economic tsunami subsides.