The Whole World Is Hotter

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has reopened the topic of climate change.  Understandably the loudest voices come from those most affected, worried that this unusual storm is just the beginning of weather as usual on a warm planet.  Mayor Bloomberg of New York City was especially forthright.

How did we get such a strong hurricane so late in the season?  Why did it hit New Jersey, a place that’s had only one hurricane make landfall in 161 years of hurricane records?  (And that was in 1903.)

I learned the answers on WESA’s Allegheny Front on Saturday. Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground explained how hot ocean temperatures, prevailing winds, and high pressure centered over Greenland spawned the storm and steered it west.  (Click here to listen to the podcast.)

And though this individual storm can’t be pinned on climate change, its causes can.  The bottom line:  The whole world is hotter.

I hadn’t realized how much hotter and how rapidly the heat has increased until I watched this NASA animation of global surface temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2011.  Using the average global temperature in the mid-20th century as baseline, the map is colored blue when colder, orange when hotter.

Play the animation and see for yourself.

The train is rolling down the track.  (Perhaps it’s naive of me to say…) we could do something if we worked together politically and individually.  Meanwhile …

Old Charlie stole the handle
And the train won’t stop going
No way to slow down
Jethro Tull, Locomotive Breath, 1971

(animation from Goddard Multimedia, Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA, January 2012. Click here for more information)

9 thoughts on “The Whole World Is Hotter

  1. The Earth’s climate is a complicated system depending on many factors including sunspots and volcanoes (and, I think, magnetic field changes), which we can’t do anything about. And it may have cycles which are centuries long, that we don’t know about because we don’t have records that go back that far.

    I have read that dendrochronologists have shown that for a period of several hundred years around 1200 AD, it was warm enough to grow oranges in England. And they don’t know what caused that….probably not human activity, given the population of the planet at that time.

    The earth is constantly changing. I never realized until I watched a show a few weeks ago that the Great Lakes are only about 12,000 years old, formed because of the activity of the last glacial age, and that the Niagara river is retreating at a speed of about 3 feet a year, I think they said, so that in another 12,000 years there will be no river constricting the flow of water between Erie and Ontario, and most of the water in the Great Lakes could drain out into the ocean when that happens. Imagine the climate change that will cause, and that won’t be caused by humans.

    And they are expecting another glacial age in the next 10,000 years or so, whether we’re here or not. And of course, we could get hit by an asteroid and have another colossal ecosystem collapse, like what they think happened when the dinosaurs disappeared. The planet recovered from that, although the dinosaurs were big losers.

    The Earth will recover from whatever happens to it…perhaps not in a way that will support our current lifestyle, but the Earth itself will still be here. I guess I don’t understand what all the “climate change” people are trying to accomplish when they want to put all of the restrictions on people’s behavior. Do they want to say that we should never use any natural resources? That’s impossible. Are they saying that cutting down all the trees on the planet or fouling all the water (which I don’t advocate) will cause the Earth to cease to exist? I don’t think that will happen either. I think it is reasonable to say that if certain behaviors can be proven to impact the environment in a way that causes the human living conditions to degrade, people would want to correct those so that the species can survive. But perhaps the environmentalists would be happy if we didn’t survive because then the planet could go on its “natural” course.

    I certainly don’t advocate wasting the resources that we have because we’ll run out of them eventually. The planet only has so much coal, iron, gold, silver, etc. in its crust, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. And certainly you’d hope that people could live reasonably without completely wiping out the habitats of most other species on the planet. But, I think that environmentalist should be realistic and realize that there is no way that we cannot effect the planet (for example, no energy generation method is without its undesirable effects, including wind and hydro). Everything affects the environment in which it lives. If something affects its environment too negatively, the environment will take care of itself and get rid of the offending resident by changing to the extent that the offender dies off.

    1. Good comment, Mary Ann.

      “But perhaps the environmentalists would be happy if we didn’t survive because then the planet could go on its “natural” course.”
      No, I think environmentalists are the most conservative of all, wanting to save what’s on the earth right now (including people), grieving in advance for what will be lost, asking others to help save the beauty we all love.

  2. We do not know that reducing human activity would not cause a reversal and more change in the opposite direction, do we? Another ice age might be even worse. It would certainly increase the desire for more energy usage for heating.

  3. But Kate, the Earth is constantly changing. Species have been coming and going and adapting to changes the entire existence of the planet. There is fossil evidence that 90+% of all sea lifeforms and possibly land lifeforms disappeared several hundred million years ago. And then the Earth recovered, and we had dinosaurs, and sharks, and now us.

    Even if we weren’t on this planet, I’m sure that things would be changing. Who is to say that this is the “perfect” collection of life on this planet? If we truly damaged the Earth’s environment so severely that it wouldn’t support our lifeforms anymore (due to starvation, disease, whatever), people would die out, and other lifeforms would become the dominant ones on the planet. That’s all.

    I was being sarcastic, of course, about the environmentalists wanting people to die off, but the problem is that the regulations they would like to see in place affect people’s livelihoods. Companies have stopped building new refining and manufacturing plants here because it’s not cost effective. The people in China are getting all the money now, and they have a lot of pollution to deal with. So what’s better? No jobs and a clean environment, or jobs and some pollution to deal with?

    People keep saying how terrible the air is here in Pittsburgh, but it’s a heck of a lot better than when I was young. And oddly, when I was young, I didn’t know anyone with severe allergies and asthma, which people blame on the air pollution (which was so much worse then).

    I wish all the people so concerned with the air pollution and global warming were more concerned with all of the unnatural chemicals that are in our foods now, which I think are a much more likely cause of the autoimmune problems that are so prevalent today. Or the antibacterial soaps, that are killing off all of the weak bacteria and breeding stronger and stronger strains that are resistant to antibiotics. Or the artificial hormones and other medical waste that are excreted from our bodies and dumped into the water supply, to affect animals and humans that drink the water. I think that these problems are much more likely to have an immediate negative effect on our population than “climate change”.

  4. Considering the Little Ice Age ended in the mid-1800s, I’d be very concerned if things weren’t warmer by now.

  5. Here’s why it’s important to do something about climate change. An AGU presentation by Sir Bob Watson. An hour long but well worth it:

    So far the world has (mostly) delayed doing anything about it because we cannot grasp how fast things will collapse — and how long it will take to reverse because of the inertia in the ocean systems. For instance, in the past we stopped black soot pollution in Pittsburgh and things turned around in a matter of years.

    That won’t be the case with climate change. The video shows why.

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