by Jeremy Symons, via the National Wildlife Federation
Answer: One trillion tons of carbon pollution.
40,000 heat records have already been broken this year across the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Here in Fredericksburg, Virginia, the signs of an unbalanced climate system have been felt in recent years not just in heatwaves, but increasingly in the form of unusually severe wind storms. This past weekend’s storm brought 80 mph wind gusts that snapped three trees in our backyard like pretzels, even though they were each a foot thick. Once again, my insurance company is teaching me new weather terminolgy to explain the latest climate disasters. A few years ago, the term was “micro-bursts” (not quite tornadoes, but similar impact). Now it is “derecho” (not quite hurricanes, but similar impact).
Whatever you call it, we need to face up to the fact that our weather has turned dangerous because our climate is breaking down. Virginia has had 27 national disaster declarations due to storms in the past 20 years, three times as many as the prior 20 years. Meanwhile, wildfires and droughts are threatening people and wildlife elsewhere in the nation, particularly in the West, including the National Wildlife Federation’s staff in Colorado. More than two million acres have burned in U.S. wildfires already this year. Global warming has created longer wildfire seasons in the West due to heat and drought (warmer winters has also allowed pests to floursih, killing large numbers of pine trees that add fuel to the fires).
The current heat wave and climate disasters shouldn’t be catching us by surprise. Since the year 2000, we have witnessed nine of the ten hottest years ever recorded, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which tracks global surface temperatures. The first three months of this year has been the warmest first quarter ever in the United States, and March was an alarming 8 degrees warmer than average. As the planet heats, weather patterns are destabilized. Warm air sucks more water from the ground and holds more water (about 4% more for every 1 degree F increase in temperature). That’s one of the reasons our warming planet has been creating historic droughts out West and dumping torrential rains in the Midwest (in Iowa, for example, there have been four “100-year” flood events in the past 5 years, and 17 emergency disaster declarations for floods in the past two decades).
Scary Weather is a Warning: We Need to Act
For the moment, we are paying attention to the weatherman, and the weather is scary. But the media is still asleep at the switch when it comes to reporting the real story: What is causing this climate to unravel?
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences completed an exhaustive review of scientific research and concluded more forcefully than ever in a landmark 2011 report that pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes is destabilizing our climate. Here is how they put it in scientific terms: