There are three reasons half of America does not believe the strong scientific evidence. Burdened with economic issues, we just can’t be bothered. Second, an effective campaign against science has been waged by a powerful coalition of special interests, many of which previously fought a losing war against the medical and scientific community when it was proven tobacco was seriously unhealthy. Finally, despite dramatic consequences, humans cannot easily perceive the slow incremental average temperature rise of global warming, which is further hidden by large fluctuations in local weather and other climate cycles lasting months to decades.
The longer we put off developing effective policies of conservation and alternative energy sources, the greater the economic crunch will be later, possibly devastating. Ten independent climate indicators all prove warming over the last 50 years. Global warming can’t be blamed for any one specific event; but it is the probability for extreme weather that continues to rise, along with the sea level. The last decade was the hottest in 131 years of direct measurements and its years were 10 of the 11 warmest ever — the other was 1998. The year 2010 tied 2005 as the hottest, was the 34th consecutive year that average global surface temperature exceeded the 20th century average, and was the wettest year ever — warming oceans evaporate more water which increases precipitation, the reason we had record snowfall all over America this winter and last.
In 2010, all-time heat records were broken in 17 nations (most ever in a year), 12 states and 28 eastern cities. Last summer Iowa capped its wettest 36-month period in 127 years of record-keeping with historic flooding. Russia’s hottest-ever summer produced the worst drought in 50 years, toxic urban smog, its most extensive-ever wildfires, and reduced the wheat harvest by more than a third. Snow and ice continue to decline — spring now comes about a month earlier in Montana than 50 years ago. The May 2010 snow-cover in the Northern hemisphere was the smallest ever recorded in 43 years of satellite measurements. The largest-ever iceberg/island broke-off the Greenland continental glacier during its greatest and earliest melting. In 31 years of recording, the three lowest Arctic ice sheet summer areas occurred during the last four years. Antarctica had its eighth smallest-ever summer sea ice area, but then rebounded to its third largest winter area in a 31-year history — warming atmosphere and ocean speeds melting but greater water vapor increased 2010 Antarctic precipitation. After the largest monsoon rains and flooding in history, one-fifth of Pakistan remained under water, killing 2,000 and affecting over 20 million people. Pakistan also reached 128 degrees F, the highest-ever recorded in Asia. India and China experienced record flooding and landslides. The year 2010 will rank in the top 10 for the number of American tornadoes in 60 years of measurements. Atlantic hurricanes were the second most-numerous in 45 years of satellite monitoring; the most-ever were in 2005. Alex was the strongest June hurricane in 44 years. Finally, Florida experienced its first outbreak of dengue fever in over 70 years as warming temperatures spread disease northward from the tropics.
Average global temperature increases are mainly due to rising carbon dioxide pollution from human activities, but depending on location, climate and extreme weather events may be wetter, drier, hotter or even colder than in the past. In 2010, Chile and Bolivia experienced coldest-ever Julys leading to extensive crop failures, high levels of respiratory illnesses and a massive die-off of fish. Northern Brazil saw the worst drought in 40 years while southern Brazil had its heaviest rains in 48 years. Tributaries of the Amazon River had record-low water levels. Overall, Australia had its wettest spring in a 111-year history yet the Southwest had never been drier.
Despite increasing consensus of over 95 percent of global climatologists, Republican majorities at both federal and state levels are blocking progress on climate change. Montana Republicans have tried to eliminate all conservation and alternative energy opportunities. Yet climate change is not going away, and is happening much faster than earlier scientific predictions indicated. America really can’t afford to ignore this issue any longer.
Don Kiehn of Helena, a retired professor and teacher, holds a Ph.D. in biology and for the past two years has written a weather column for the Glacier Reporter.