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End of 2012: Potpourri (Not a List of Extreme Events!)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 7:00 AM GMT on December 29, 2012

End of 2012: Potpourri

Climate-wise in the U.S., it has been a year of heat and drought. This year will go down as the warmest in the continental U.S. There have been many extreme events, and it is quite fashionable this year to list extreme events. Here are a few:

Angela Fritz Wunderground Blog - worldly with good discussion

Jeff Masters Summary of the U.S. Fire Season

Climate Central - U.S. focused list.

Washington Post - A more global perspective, including the cold spell in Europe

Al Jazeera - A search of stories from around the globe

The Weather Channel - Top 20 weather stories

Enough: I have listed more at the end. What has struck me as most compelling is how quickly we are seeing the emergence and convergence of a global picture of a warming planet. The weather is evolving in this environment of generally increasing temperature and more moist air. This evolution is consistent with what is expected from theory and predicted by models. The warming that is observed in the Arctic, the reduction of sea ice, the melting of ice sheets, and the theory-based link between these changes in the Arctic and middle-latitude weather – this collection of observations and knowledge is one of the most obvious examples of a coherent picture of the growing accumulation of heat in the Earth’s environment.

In a radio interview last week, I told the reporter why I did not like “new normal” as a way to communicate climate change. That term suggests that we have shifted from an old “normal” situation to a “new” normal situation. It suggests some flavor of stability in a new environment, but we are only at the beginning of the warming that we will see from increasing carbon dioxide. In ten years we will have the next new normal, then another in twenty years. If we look at our emissions of carbon dioxide, which are the primary cause of warming, any progress we make on reducing emissions is in the spirit of they are not as high as they could be.

Carbon Visuals provides a set of interesting figures that help to convey the emissions of carbon dioxide. The figures also suggest the amount of carbon dioxide that we will release if we continue with the use of fossil fuels as the main fire for our economic well being. This image from Carbon Visuals shows the amount of fossil fuels already held in reserve by the oil companies and compares that to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prior to 1750 (pre-industrial) and what we have already released into the atmosphere.

Figure 1: Caption from Unburnable Carbon @ Carbon Visuals : “Summary of the current situation. The blue cube is the total volume of all the carbon dioxide gas in the air in 1750 (before the growth of fossil fuels). The light pink volume is the extra, man-made carbon dioxide in the air now. The dark pink volume is the amount of carbon dioxide that would enter the atmosphere if the declared fuel reserves of fossil fuel companies were ever used. The red line indicates the point at which the warming would be greater than 2 °C.”

The same graph is in the Washington Post, but with some numbers. One number is that we can still release about 565 billion tons of carbon dioxide and remain below the trillion tons that has been proposed as the emissions total that would limit average surface air warming to 2 degrees Celsius. (That's the little pink box with the "2 °C of Warming") The other number is that about 2.8 trillion tons of carbon dioxide are in the declared reserves of energy companies. (That's the big "Declared Reserves" box at the top.) (see Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math").

Readers of my blog know that I see no evidence that we will limit our emissions in a way that will keep average warming to 2 degrees Celsius. I teach that we need to be planning for 4 degrees Celsius. We are already seeing fundamental changes in our weather and climate, and we are just at the beginning. Here at the end of the year, I am not optimistic about either U.S. or global policy to curb carbon dioxide emissions on the short-term (4 year) political landscape. Where I anchor the most optimism is in the students I see coming from high schools and colleges who have environmental science and sustainability as core interests and core values. I also see their take on the continuing political arguments that dismiss scientific knowledge and create chaotic energy and environmental policy. It is a take of growing irrelevance and irresponsibility of our political system, which ultimately impacts on our economy and technological competitiveness. So my optimism lies in the growing presence of the emerging sustainability generation in education, business, and government. It is the season for youthful salvation.

I want to end this entry with a new website that I was made aware of by Clark Weaver. It is called Temperature Trends .org, and calculates historical trends in congressional districts. Check it out, and use the Contact Temperature Trends to help them make it better.


If you are here looking for Mahlman memory piece, it is here.

Glaciers and Global Warming by Jeremy Bassis. Give it some more hits!

More Year in Review Links

National Public Radio - Discussion of the Year.

ABC News - Photo Gallery of U.S.

Huffington Post - Extreme Weather and Climate Change (original story Seth Borenstein from AP)

Fox News - Actually same Seth Borenstein from AP as at Huffington Post.

Fox News In a Way - An interesting bundling of a Fox News story on You Tube

National Public Radio - More people seeing connection between extreme weather and climate change.

Climate Change News Climate Change Politics Climate Impacts and Risks

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.