Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that this summer would be consistent with this past winter that wasn’t — that is, hot. I double-checked by looking at the data from the Arctic. As expected, ice melt was accelerating faster than average.
A few days after that confirming data came through, Jon Gottschalck, head of operations of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said, “There’s definitely a tilt toward being above normal (temperatures) through the summer.”
Records we don’t want to break
From other NOAA agencies came the conclusions that last year the United States underwent the hottest 12-month period ever recorded. This continued through the first four months of this year, clocking in the period of May 2011 through April 2012 as the warmest on record. Another record continued to be broken also — For 326 months in a row the monthly temperatures have been hotter than the entire 20th century average. That’s almost 28 years of data.
If data doesn’t get your attention, a picture may be worth a thousand words. James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey video with the National Geographic Society should knock your socks off. Of course, for those who must insist that that climate change isn’t happening, no data will help.
For the wise, however, and for those of us whose conclusions are founded on data, few additional words are needed. But here are two anyway: Arctic amplification.
Nearly three years ago scientists determined that “Arctic amplification,” an irreversible positive feedback loop, had occurred. That condition has never been observed before and I can’t say what the implications are. Neither can the polar ice scientists, who have been complaining that their stock-in-trade was vanishing.
Of one thing there is agreement: arctic amplification is good news neither for polar bears nor for a billion people living on low-lying coastal areas.
For most of us, this is very bad news indeed.
The courage of acceptance
It’s been conclusively shown that most of us react to bad news with denial, and anger and bargaining.
Yet, some of us don’t see it that way. Crisis usually presents opportunity. Some, like those in the Transition movement, see a utopian-like possibility. They’ve studied the predicament and see a chance to reform society in a more local, neighborly, cooperative way. It’s been called a form of socioeconomic localization, with local currencies, time banks, and community owned resources. Since 2007, more than 400 official Transition initiatives have formed on every inhabited continent and the concept is spreading exponentially.
Some of us compare climate news to a medical diagnosis. Our choice of (or failure to choose) “treatments” can determine the outcome. It’s kind of simple. If I choose well, I may continue to live. So far America hasn’t done well with that.
We adults risk be taken to task by our grandchildren. If the observed changes have already begun to occur exponentially, it may be our children that get to berate us. And these days, children are traditionally fed up with their parents’ bullsh#t. Children bring a fresh set of eyes to view the world and openness to new ways of thinking. They’re not encumbered by the way adults have been trained to see the world.
Einstein used to quip that you can’t solve a problem from the mindset that created the problem. “It shall require,” he said, “a substantially new way of thinking .” We’ll be lucky if our kids don’t put two and two together while we’re around. There are signs that they’ve already figured out that we’re screwing things up badly.
A clue on how we might choose to react is for us to remember that within most crises there is some kind of opportunity.
Although a true dilemma rather than just a really thorny problem that may have a solution, global climate change is full of opportunities and many people are already reaping tremendous rewards. The trick is in understanding what Einstein meant by “substantially a new way of thinking.” One part of the new way is the ability to contain one’s panic in the face of catastrophic news.
“Greening” the world, if one does it right, can bring many benefits.
You can never hear enough about energy efficiency
Take energy for example. Reducing demand is very profitable because every kilowatt or Btu we save has a personal, direct cost attached. I can think of few places where the opportunities are so accessible and the rewards are so great. As prices rise for energy, and they are rising, we either pay the cost or pay to find ways to reduce our demand. Since Americans waste more than half the energy we use, we also waste half of our significant energy payments.
The world will spend roughly $1.23 trillion annually for energy this year. Why not divide that in half and invest it in efficiency?
So the economic advantages of eliminating wasted energy, a fitting task for responsible leaders and policy makers anywhere, are considerable. It requires no commitment to taxing emissions, caps and trades, armoring the coast or retreating from our beloved places at the shore. That is, if we continue to be lucky.
Or course, no one knows exactly where the global climate tipping point is. The safest scientific guess is that we need to lower CO2 emissions below 350 parts per million. In April CO2, as measured at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, was 396.18 ppm and rising.
The benefits of efficiency and conservation include at least a fifty percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. To exceed our Kyoto objectives, all we have to learn is how to be fiscally responsible when it comes to energy.
According to sources including ASPO, the Post Carbon Institute, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy, drastic price increases in energy coming soon will be followed shortly thereafter by insufficient global supply perhaps as soon as 2015.
Of course, the real predicament is the simultaneous arrival of at least three difficult crises in the areas of the environment, energy, and the economy.
Fortunately, cutting CO2 emissions can be funded, in large part, out of national energy savings. Doing so will temporarily require spending the savings on a very large green workforce. The million and a half returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan would be ideal. There will be plenty of jobs to go around to decrease unemployment.
Since we’ve wasted over a decade to get ready, a crash program will be needed. Energy efficiency and conservation are not magic bullets. But they’re the best “bridge” strategy that’s out there. Saving energy is simple, easy, fast, and cost effective. We have everything we need already on the shelf to do the job.
There are a number of wise words here and it’s up to the reader to interpret them and choose. If and how you do that could help catapult America into a leadership role in sensibly addressing global climate change. Or, it could continue to reinforce the notion outside our shores that Americans are greedy, wasteful, ignorant, and sadly out of touch with reality.
Another bit of good news is that getting started on the job is in everyone’s hands. We can each be examples, and our example can teach others. We don’t need a father figure like the president to lead the way. Each of us can make a difference if we come to our senses, start to notice our energy use and then eliminate the energy waste in our lives.
We all have a lot of power, if we choose to use it. We don’t need Uncle Sam to tell us which way the winds are blowing. It’s up to each of us to trim the sails and steer. A few final words: Just do it.
— Larry Menkes, Transition Voice