Tag Archives: global warming

February Smashed Global Heat Records: But What Does That Mean?

You’ve already seen the news. February was a record month for global heat. It followed the hottest January on record. Which followed the hottest year (2015) on record. Which follow the previous hottest year (2014) on record. Etc. Etc. Etc.

So, maybe we think: A bunch of scientists are sifting through data from all over the world, and we’re supposed to be alarmed at a few more degrees of heat? Seriously, what does this mean to us? Well, let’s see if we can distill this down to a few key points.

First, these records are not flukes or outliers. Global data has been kept for 137 years. Of all the Februaries over that time, this one ranked #1, unseating last February, the former hot-weather champion.

Picture2Worse, it wasn’t just the hottest February. It was the hottest month ever, compared to 20th century averages. And the prior record had just been set only two months earlier, in December.

Worse yet, it continued a ten-month string of record-hot months. Yes, February was the hottest of all 137 Februaries. But January was also #1 for all Januaries. And they were preceded by #1 records in December, November, October, September – and all the way back to May 2015. Something like that has never happened before. Doubters will tell us “The climate always changes!” Not like this. Not always in one direction. Not in lockstep. We’re seeing something frighteningly new.

Second, did you notice the amount of warming? For all land and ocean surfaces, the earth was 1.21oC (or 2.18oF) above the 20th century averages. You may recall that the nations of the world just agreed in Paris on efforts to limit global warming this century to no more than 2.0oC, and to make every effort to keep it below 1.5oC, to spare our fellow humans from the Philippines, Bangladesh and island nations from being inundated by rising seas. Well, already, we’ve experienced a month within a whisker of breaking that 1.5oC threshold.

Worse, if we look at land surfaces alone (where most of us live) the average global temperature was 2.31°C above the 20th century average. Two-point-three degrees. That’s territory we’re not supposed to see in our lifetimes, or even our children’s. But it just happened.

Third, the heat was just about everywhere. Record heat took hold across much of South America and southern Africa, southern and eastern Europe, around the Urals of Russia, and most of Southeast Asia stretching to northern Australia. Here are some examples:

  • New Zealand had its second warmest February and second warmest month of any month since national records began in 1909, at 2.2°C above long-term averages.
  • In Venezuela and Colombia, the heat was about 3.0°C higher than average.
  • Germany ran 3.0°C above average and Austria was a whopping 4.1°C hotter than average.
  • Speaking of whopping, Alaska reported its warmest February in its 92-year period of record, at 6.9°C higher than the 20th century average. That’s not a typo. Six-point-nine degrees Celsius, or 12.4° Fahrenheit. That’s more than the difference between the last Ice Age and today’s world.

Fourth, all this heat is destabilizing the Polar regions dangerously. For starters, this winter marks the lowest sea ice coverage ever measured in the Arctic. It’s way less icy than 2012, the previous record year for summer Arctic ice melt. That means that this summer and fall there will be less ice to start with, and the seasonal warmth will have an easier time melting what remains there. Not only that, but less winter ice mean less bright, reflective snow surface, and more deep blue, heat-absorbing water to soak up the sun’s heat, which will warm the region even further.

Sea IceBut an even greater concern is now emerging in the southern Pole, with new warnings about the instability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. About the size of Mexico, the ice sheet could raise sea levels by 12 feet or more if it becomes destabilized. Many of us took some comfort in believing that while this will occur in a warmer world, humanity and the rest of creation would probably have hundreds of years to adapt. But new research from scientists at Penn State and UMass now projects that continued greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting heat could disintegrate the West Antarctic sheet in only decades. That would mean that coastal cities like New York, Boston, Miami and New Orleans would be largely inundated during the lifetimes of children born today, with further sea-level rises of one foot per decade thereafter.

But it’s not hotter EVERYWHERE. And that’s actually alarming. There’s one spot on earth where it’s not getting warmer. It’s Iceland, and the North Atlantic Ocean. See that spot of blue on the map? In a warming world, it was cooler there all last year, and in each of several years before that. That region has always been warmed by tropical ocean currents (called thermohaline, or the Gulf Stream) carrying equatorial waters northward along the US East Coast to Iceland, before they dive to the ocean depths and return southward. Scientists have long believed that fresh meltwater from Greenland could slow down the Gulf Stream, trapping hot water off the US coast, and chilling the northern seas.Picture1

So what’s the big deal? A little warmer here, and little cooler there? Actually, it’s a very big deal. Warm coastal waters off the American East Coast are what gave us Super-Storm Sandy, but that storm happened when the oceans were cooler than they are today. And warm Icelandic waters have given Northern Europe the benign climate it has enjoyed for millennia. Tinker with the Greenland Ice Sheet too much, and we’ve got something much worse than a few more feet of sea-water on our hands.

Final thoughts from a Christian thinker: So before we hand these climatic records off to the statisticians for filing, maybe we could take a minute to consider where we stand in history. Two centuries after the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve pumped eons’ worth of carbon – long hidden deep within the earth – back into the atmosphere. As a result, we’re seeing the early results of our planetary carbon experiment: a consistent record of global warming; heat growing at an ever-faster pace; not just here and there, but spread all over the map; and destabilizing the Polar ice sheets, which are raising sea levels and threatening coastal communities. And we’re even seeing signs of disruption in planet-regulating systems like the Gulf Stream.

“Where is God in all this?” asks Christian author Rev. Edward Brown, in his landmark book, Our Father’s World. “God would not allow us to destroy his creation, would he?”

Well, yes he might, concludes Brown, noting that within his sovereignty, God allows us humans a shocking amount of latitude in what we do with our lives – including what we do with his creation. “If we choose to destroy our home,” says Brown, “God will not stop us. Unless, that is, God were to step into history the way he usually does, through human beings who have aligned their lives with him and who are committed to accomplishing his purposes in their own small histories.”

Brown reminds us of God’s answer to Israelite prayers from the misery of slavery in Egypt: “I have heard them crying out…. So I have come down to rescue them” (Exodus 3:7-8).

Phew! So maybe God will rescue our injured planet, just like he did in Exodus! But Brown demands that we read on: “So now, go” he tells Moses, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

Go? Who, me? How? What can I do? “I will be with you,” says God to Moses, words taken up again by the resurrected Christ more than a thousand years later: “Go…. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Do you think maybe it’s time for God’s people to hear that call once again?

Should I Be Worried?

The candidates want you to worry. Be very worried – about immigrants, about job security, about terrorists, about China, about billionaires, about healthcare.

Here’s one thing they don’t particularly want you to worry about: The planet has a fever. Its thermostat is broken. Our only home is heating up dangerously.

Take last year, for example. It was the hottest year for the world since measurements began in 1880. Take a look at what that meant all over:Picture2

In pockets here and there, 2015 was a little cooler (see the blue?) than average: If you lived in a boat off the Straits of Magellan, for instance. But almost all of the world was “Much Warmer Than Average” (the deep pink on the map above). And “Record Warmest” (pictured in red) prevailed in Central and South America and the Amazon, Europe, and vast expanses of ocean: the Pacific, the Indian, and the mid-latitudes of the Atlantic.  The Arctic was off the charts, but that doesn’t show up on this map.

Should I be worried?

Well, maybe things just change from time to time. Heat goes up. Heat goes down. Maybe 2016 will be different?

Well, unfortunately, this year is off to another blazing-hot start. Maps for February aren’t out yet, but it was a global sizzler. But January (another record) maps are here. Take a look:Picture1

We can add Southern Africa and the Mediterranean to the “Record Warmest” list. But notice a couple of exceptions. First, the US lower 48 states were about normal in January (and this is a problem, because we tend to ignore things we can’t feel right here at home).

And then, do you see that blue blob in the North Atlantic just below Greenland? (It was there in 2015 too.) The Gulf Stream usually keeps that part of the world warm, carrying warm tropical water northward, warming Europe in the process, and regulating climates all over the globe. But these days, the warm Atlantic waters are getting stuck in the sweltering tropics, and the northern waters are now cooler. Mess with the Gulf Stream, and you’re messing with just about everything on earth. Some have predicted that global heat could slow or stop the Gulf Stream entirely, and that’s the basis for apocalyptic movie scripts.

Should I be worried?

Well, let’s not get carried away by one or two years of funny data. Haven’t I heard politicians saying that the world hasn’t warmed in 20 years, or something?

Yes, in fact you have. Unfortunately, it is entirely wrong, even cynical. Even after the data began screaming just the opposite, many kept saying it. Most are now trying to avoid the topic, or to revert to dog-whistle rants about jobs and government meddling, but Senator Cruz remains undeterred by the facts, doubling down on the “no-warming” message.

But the facts are, well, worrisome. Here’s a look:Picture3

Last year was the hottest year on record, followed by 2014 in the number-two spot. 2010 takes the bronze medal, so to speak; but fourth place goes to 2013. In fact, of the 15 hottest years on record, 14 occurred during the first 15 years of this century. The only exception was 1998 (which, of course, just barely pre-dated our century).

So it’s hot, staying hot, and getting hotter. Should I be worried?

Well, if you’re a Christ-follower, you’re confronted with the challenging command not to worry. “Do not worry about your life … your body … your clothes …. But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness…” (from Matthew 6:25-34).

But orders from anyone not to worry can be tricky in practice, don’t you think? And then there’s that ubiquitous qualifier: “your.” Your life, your body, your clothes. What if it’s the plight of God’s world that worries me? Or his creatures? Or the children he’s given my wife and me? Or our little grandkids? And what if Jesus’ antidote to worry – “but seek first his kingdom” – means precisely that I should be willing to look unblinkingly at the worrisome facts around me, even if it costs me a bit of sleep?

Should I be worried? Should you?

Cool Summer? Record Hot Summer? You Might be Surprised

Most people I know don’t really doubt the reality of global climate change. The daily news of nasty weather – including deadly droughts, flooding and wildfires in remote places – makes this hard to do without seeming callous. California is burning, and running out of water; Phoenix is flooding in freak monsoons; more than 150,000 Kashmiris are trapped in record floods, and water-borne diseases now threaten many more; the multi-year drought in Syria and Iraq has given rise to a wave of climate migration and the resulting ethnic tensions.

But around here, the weather seems remarkably cool and pleasant. Everyone says that this was the coolest August they can remember in New Jersey.

So we might be surprised to learn that for the entire Earth, August broke all records for global heat. No fooling. NASA has reported that last month was the hottest August since record-keeping began in 1880.nmaps

It was hotter than average almost everywhere:

  • Eastern Europe and western/central Asia were 3.6-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the 1951-1980 average, as were Siberia, central South America and East Africa.
  • The American West Coast and Alaska were 1.8-3.6 degrees F hotter, just like Brazil, India, Greenland and Scandinavia.
  • And West Antarctica was so hot (up to 14.4 degrees F above average!) that NASA had to re-code its temperature map colors (the old maps had no category for that much heat).

Really? But it felt so nice here!

Well that’s true. For much of the central and eastern U.S., and especially the Northeast, it was nicer than most Augusts in recent memory. But memory can be tricky. Actually, for most of the country, this August was just about exactly the way August used to be back when JFK was in the White House. When your parents were kids (or when us Boomers were), August was normally pretty nice. We played outside. We slept without A/C. And even in the breezy Northeast, this August was less than one degree cooler than the thirty-year average temperature before 1980.

And of course, that’s the big problem with runaway climate change. Even when our pollution is changing the global systems at breakneck speed, it’s pretty hard to notice within the timescales of human generations and memory.

So if August seemed cool to you, then I suspect you lived in pretty near me. And like the rest of us, perhaps you’re having a hard time remembering what a normal summer is supposed to feel like.

“Nothing from the past is remembered. Even in the future, nothing will be remembered by those who come after us.” Ecclesiastes 1:11 (GOD”S WORD translation)

What Really Drives Climate Denial?

I don’t know that anybody knows the answer for certain. But I’m almost certain that it doesn’t have much to do with the data. (More on that below.) In this morning’s Times, an economist (admittedly, a liberal one), offered as good an answer as any I’ve heard yet:

“Think about global warming from the point of view of someone who grew up taking Ayn Rand seriously, believing that the untrammeled pursuit of self-interest is always good and that government is always the problem, never the solution. Along come some scientists declaring that unrestricted pursuit of self-interest will destroy the world, and that government intervention is the only answer. It doesn’t matter how market-friendly you make the proposed intervention; this is a direct challenge to the libertarian worldview.”

In short, it’s not about facts; it’s about defending a worldview.

Today, I got a comment on Beloved Planet that almost certainly bolsters this argument. The comment’s writer makes a remarkable claim: That there’s been no global warming for 17.8 years. This is offered as a fact. The “fact” is accompanied by an effort – easily debunked – to discredit other sources I had cited as “staunchly left wing” – a harbinger of the ideology that surely drives this person’s view of climate change.

But what about the “fact?” Is it possibly true? Does the proponent of the fact believe it himself, or is it just another effort to manufacture doubt? Well, you take a look, and make up your own mind. Here’s the global temperature data, as assembled by the four global meteorological organizations that do this sort of thing, including the USA’s NASA and NOAA:

Picture2

Source: NASA

So what do you think? Can we argue – by selecting a runaway record hot year, 1998, as a starting point – that the global climate isn’t warming? Continue reading

Warm Winter? But it Felt So Cold!

Here, that is – where I live.

It turns out that last month was the fourth hottest March for the entire planet on record, according to NASA. In fact, it’s been 29 years – 349 consecutive months, to be precise – since we’ve seen a month that was actually cooler than the historical average. And it also turns out that the changing weather is making a lot of people very hungry.

The data is now in, and for the whole world, our frigid March – shivering in the path of a wobbly “polar vortex” – was actually 1.2°F hotter than the average global temperature for the last 30 years. A look at the global temperature map tells a remarkable story:

assets-climatecentral-org-images-uploads-news-3_19_14_Andrea_LandTempAnom2014Winter-500x386Notice how there are just two or three cool spots (in blue) on the planet. Midwest and Eastern North America were wicked cold, and some places in western Siberia and Uzbekistan were too. But now look at the rest of the world: all of South America, Africa, China, and Australia were warm (in red). And Europe, Alaska and eastern Siberia were downright hot, compared to the historical average.

A bad month perhaps? No such luck. The whole winter – freezing for us – was very warm for the Earth as a whole. It was cold here under the wobbly winter vortex, and warm just about everywhere else. In fact, the whole world was 1.57°F hotter than average.

Maybe all of last year was better? Well, you decide: It was the fourth hottest year on record according to NOAA. And three of the four hottest years have all occurred since the year 2000. And as we noted, it’s been almost three decades since we’ve seen one single month that was actually cooler than the 20th Century average.

The world is warming, and maybe it’s time to take note. The UN’s climate panel, which convenes the world’s climate scientists to issue an advisory report every 5-6 years, has warned that climate change will mean more hunger and rising food prices, falling hardest on the hungry poor.

And almost on cue, our food prices shot up last month, largely because of persistent drought in the West and extreme weather in the Midwest. Wholesale beef prices increased 23% over last year, and pork soared by an amazing 56%. Globally, food prices increased 2.4% in March, and they’re more than double what they averaged in 2002-2004. If you spend most of your income feeding your family – as the world’s poor do – this is a really big deal.

And maybe that’s why more and more Christians are beginning see global climate disruption as having a lot to do with their faith. The Christian Reformed Church has passed a call to action to confront climate change, which they call a core gospel issue.  “Climate change,” they say, “poses a significant threat to future generations, the poor, and the vulnerable.”

In this, the CRC has followed in the footsteps of the 190-nation Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization, which in 2012 issued a comprehensive call to action for climate justice. “The world is in crisis,” they said, “brought on by global climate change, deforestation, pollution, loss of species to extinction and water stress. These threats place a heavy burden on the poor….”

Meanwhile, here at Good Hand Farm, we’re still wrapped in extra sweaters, as we watch in vain for our first asparagus and pea shoots to push through the frigid ground. But around the world, it’s unusually hot, food’s getting scarcer, and unless ordinary people take action, it’s hard to see how hunger won’t keep getting worse.

The World is Getting Hot. So Why am I Freezing?

The results are in, and 2013 ranks as the fourth hottest year for global heat since record-keeping began in 1880. That’s 37 straight years with above-average global temperatures. The last below-normal year was 1976, when I was still in college. All 13 years of the new century have ranked among the hottest 15 ever on record. And nine of the hottest ten on record have all occurred since the millennium.

Wow. I guess it’s really hot, right?

assets-climatecentral-org-images-uploads-news-1_21_14_andrew_10warmestyears-660x372Um, well, let me check. Yup, just like I thought. It’s cold out there, and it’s snowing! With these freak winter storms, the U.S. has registered the second coldest January since 2000, although well short of 2011’s January freeze. And everyone’s talking about that strange new term – the “polar vortex.” It seems something has kicked open the door to the Arctic, and the cold is pouring in everywhere.

Actually, not quite everywhere. While the Central and Eastern U.S. shiver and dig, it’s eerily warm in Alaska and the West. Last Sunday, it was warmer in Homer, Alaska – 55°F – than anywhere in the lower 48, except for South Florida. And last Tuesday, Nome, Alaska, that remotest of Arctic outposts, hit a record 51°F. That’s FIFTY-ONE DEGREES in January! No need for Balto under these circumstances. You could rescue Nome by bicycle.

And it’s not just Alaska. Los Angeles registered average highs of 75°F for the month of January, a full seven degrees above normal. And coupled with the heat, California is in its third straight year of crippling drought, with the state’s reservoirs 30 percent below the long-term average, and widely-publicized forecasts for spikes in prices at the grocery store.

But let’s not quibble. The Central and Eastern U.S. are feeling pretty darn cold just now. After an amazingly warm decade in these parts, what’s up? Are all those scientists still sure about the perils of global warming?

No Question, It’s Been Getting Much Hotter

Both NASA and NOAA – the nation’s twin atmospheric research powerhouses – have compiled the data for 2013, and it was another global scorcher. Using slightly different methods, they ranked 2013 the fourth hottest (NOAA) or the seventh (NASA) – but the difference between the two was a mere 0.02o Fahrenheit. Continue reading

How Fast is the Planet Warming? One Picture Tells the Story

Unless you’ve been curled up like Rip Van Winkle this last decade,  you’ve heard the cacophony of voices clamoring about global warming. It’s hotter than ever! Global ice is melting, sea levels are rising! And today’s extreme weather is the first small glimpse of the chaos ahead! No, no, no! Don’t believe those self-serving scientists!  It’s all a massive hoax! Actually, it’s been cooling recently!

Since most of us don’t do our own global climate monitoring, we have to believe someone. But whom?

Even for those of us who are inclined to trust the consistent findings of national and international scientific academies, the countervailing claims can give us pause. How can we be sure that the world is really warming, or that the trends are all that alarming?

Well, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has just helped us out in a big way. The WMO is the world’s most authoritative voice on the state and behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources.  It’s been around for more than six decades, and has 191 member nations. And it’s just released a climatic review of the decade 2001-2010, and compared it to prior decades.

The report is chock full of fascinating and alarming findings about global heat, precipitation, ice cover trends, droughts and floods. But a single picture – actually, a single graph – tells you most of what you really need to know if you’re wondering how serious anthropogenic warming of the planet really is. Have a look:

Picture1

The WMO has taken the planetary surface temperature records from all the most authoritative US and UK climate research institutions – including NASA and NOAA – and averaged them. Then, they’ve bunched them together by decades, to eliminate the inevitable ups and downs that happen from year to year. What emerges is a clear picture of what’s happening to our world – decade by decade. And when you consider the trajectory, it’s no wonder that scientists are so alarmed.

It’s why last week, more than 200 evangelical Christian scientists wrote to Congress with these words of warning: “Average global temperatures are at their highest level within the measurement record, and we are beginning to see indications of increasingly disturbed weather. For example, 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded for the contiguous United States, and it will go down as one of the most destructive and disruptive years in U.S. history: wildfires, drought, superstorms, and public health outbreaks.”

You’ve heard the words of warning, no doubt. Now you’ve seen the picture.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood