Most of us don’t really need science to tell us the world is getting hotter. All you had to do over the past week or so was step outside and feel the weight of triple-digit temperatures, day after oppressive day. Like this year’s winter that wasn’t, the record heat is shouting, not whispering, that something’s out of kilter. It’s getting harder to deny that this development results, in part, from what humans are doing to the planet in overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, a “greenhouse” gas that, under the laws of physics, causes heat from the sun to build up more than if we hadn’t been interfering over the course of two centuries of steadily increasing combustion of fossil fuels.
Trouble is, even though we sense all this in our bones, nobody really wants to believe it. Denial persists, especially among those with a vested interest in business as usual, who depend on the unfettered burning of coal, oil and other carbon resources.
Some even see the warming as a beneficial thing. There have always been ice-weary northerners who envied the snowless winters down South, and they’re getting a super serving of the thick Southern air now that it’s spread over the Mason-Dixon line. Unfortunately, the answer to shivering Yankees’ prayers comes at a price. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report Tuesday with analyses from the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society showing climate change increases the odds that weather is not only getting warmer, but stormier, too.
That’s certainly consistent with this year’s observations in central Kentucky, where violent spring storms, including killer tornadoes, broke out amid the death throes of a mild winter. Although Frankfort and Franklin County escaped the worst of it, a devastating hailstorm crashed through in March, boosting business for roofers and auto body shops while sapping insurance company reserves.
Global warming deniers argue that we’ve always had to live with variable weather, and they’re right about that. Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s cold. Wet and dry spells come and go. There have been warmings and coolings throughout history. A temporary cooling trend half a century ago had some prognosticators convinced the planet was on the brink of a new ice age. Then, just when the dire prophecies reached their zenith, the planet started heating up again. Climatological contrarians say cooling could return if heat output from the sun diminishes, as it has periodically throughout history. Other scientists counter that a solar minimum would be overwhelmed by the greater impact of manmade heating.
So who’s really in charge of our climate, humanity or Mother Nature?
The meteorological analyses in the NOAA study, reported by the Associated Press, indicate both play a role. Scientists studying a 2011 heat wave in Texas found the La Nina weather pattern, a natural phenomenon, probably contributed. But even in a La Nina year, they said, warmth-trapping gases made the record heat 20 times more likely to occur.
Climate change is real, and so is the greenhouse effect that exacerbates it. The scientific consensus may be less universal than some maintain, but common sense ought to tell us the world would be better off reining in carbon emissions before it’s too late – if it isn’t already. More efficient energy use would have its own benefits, even if the global warming trend suddenly shifted into reverse.