You may or may not think that the heavy rain of last week reflects a changing climate. Or is part of humans adding to the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Yet listen to the scientists, and this is what climate change looks like.
As the planet warms, the air holds more moisture. When it rains? Well, it can really pour.
A week earlier, the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva issued a report, “The Global Climate, 2001-2010: A Decade of Climate Extremes.” (See www.wmo.int.) It carries the familiar caution: Scientists believe “it is not yet possible to attribute individual extremes to climate change.” Then, it adds, helpfully, how scientists “increasingly conclude that many recent events would have occurred in a different way — or would not have occurred at all — in the absence of climate change.”
The report notes that “the likelihood of the 2003 European heat wave occurring [and killing 66,000 people] was probably substantially increased by rising global temperatures.”
What climate scientists advise is following the larger trend. The meteorological report includes an eye-catching chart tracking the global temperature from the 1880s to the 2000s, the level climbing, especially the past four decades, the increase double the pace of the previous nine.
The report cites the 2001-2010 decade as “the warmest for both hemispheres and for both land and ocean surface temperatures.”
The year 2012 ranks as the hottest year ever in the United States. Again, most revealing is the bigger picture, as reported by the New York Times and the Weather Channel. In the 1970s, the ratio of daily record highs and lows was roughly equal. By 2012, the balance had tipped sharply toward the record highs, 34,000, as opposed to 6,700 record lows.
More, the Times explained, those age 28 and younger have never experienced a month with global temperatures below the 20th-century average.
On Thursday, the day after the overwhelming rain in our area, the U.S. Department of Energy released a report that assessed how increasingly severe weather, driven by climate change, strains the country’s energy system. It points to floods and storm surges overwhelming refineries, pipelines and ports, power plants without sufficient cooling water, wildfires taking down transmission lines.
In May 2011, flooding closed nearly 20 percent of the barge terminals along the Ohio River, harming the shipment of coal and petroleum.
The department’s Argonne National Laboratory calculates that a warming West will require an additional 34 gigawatts, the equivalent of 100 new power plants, to keep up with the demand for air-conditioning at the mid-century mark.
This is the challenge of climate change, adjusting to the buildup, and impact, of greenhouse gases the past 150 years, plus somehow getting ahead of the accelerating demand for energy, estimated to grow twofold or threefold by 2050. Those in the developing world, especially, want to power their lives as we do.
In his speech on climate change last month, President Obama pushed for about all the political climate will allow. He wants to press ahead with new rules, regulations and standards to slow greenhouse emissions. He cited the need to adapt in vulnerable areas. He championed the cause of Washington taking the lead globally.
Then, there is a speech delivered eight years ago — by Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican, now state attorney general, then a member of the U.S. Senate. It is a measure of how much time has been fiddled away, the president barely beginning to apply his voice and platform, John Boehner, the House speaker, warning that the president’s course would kill jobs and damage the economy, oblivious, seemingly, to the massive toll in failing to take action.
What did DeWine say that June day on the Senate floor? He was troubled by details of the amendment under consideration, a bid for cap-and-trade, a way to put a necessary price on carbon emissions. He embraced fully the concept of taking action to curb greenhouse gases.
“Climate change is happening,” DeWine declared. “There is no question about that. It is time that the United States take the lead in slowing its progress and in decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.”
He argued for a much larger investment in energy research and development. “We need to be bold,” he insisted. “We need to be imaginative. We need to be visionary. This is a race, and right now, we just aren’t moving forward fast enough.
“Realistically … greater investments aren’t going to be made until we, as a nation, pull our heads out of the sand and accept the reality that climate change is occurring.”
The science? “Unambiguously clear,” in his view, the country knowing “a lot more” since 1997, the last time the Senate had debated the issue.
DeWine touted the economic potential: “Do we want to be the buyers of the technology that gets us there? Or do we want to be the sellers?”
Hard to imagine a Republican giving such a speech today, not that DeWine had much company then. Yet a consensus was forming about moving faster. Then it collapsed, and now eight years later, the momentum resides with a changing climate.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.