On Sunday, the Washington Post ran an article written by Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. The message Dr. Hansen delivered was dire, as shown by the title of the piece: Climate Change is Here—and Worse Than We Thought.
During the hot summer of 1988, he testified before the Senate and warned of the consequences of ignoring man’s continuing use of fossil fuels, which was contributing to the rise of global temperatures. Everything he said at the hearing has come to fruition, but he states that he failed to explore just how rapidly the rise in temperature would cause an increase in extreme weather.
In a peer-reviewed study published by the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Hansen and his colleagues have examined the past six decades of global temperatures and found that the incidence of extremely hot summers has become more frequent as well as more intense. Referring to the oft-repeated claims that there have always been hotter than normal summer and colder than normal winters—natural variability—he asserts that climate change has affected that variability and altered weather patterns around the globe.
Using the metaphor of dice, he explains it:
In a normal climate without global warming, two sides of the die would represent cooler-than-normal weather, two sides would be normal weather, and two sides would be warmer-than-normal weather. Rolling the die again and again, or season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.
But loading the die with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal. Even with climate change, you will occasionally see cooler-than-normal summers or a typically cold winter. Don’t let that fool you.
He goes on to explain that using data gathered from 1951 to 1980 to form the base of the study, extreme heat covered .01 to .02 percent of the planet. Over the last three decades, while the average temperature has slowly but steadily risen, the number of extreme heat events worldwide has skyrocketed to 10 percent.
It’s hard to refute scientific data, although climate change deniers are intent on doing just that. Given the drought conditions in the breadbasket of the United States and looming higher prices at the supermarket, it is fair to say that even if one doesn’t want to believe that climate change is here, wouldn’t it be the prudent thing to act as though it is and try to do something about it? The worst thing that can happen is we’ll wind up with new technologies that will drive an economic recovery, with the added benefits of clean air and water. The downside? It’s all true and we have no one but ourselves to blame when the wars for food, water and territory begin.