Global Warming

Oklahoma Escapes The Heat For Now

Image of wind turbines

As our local television weather forecasters fall all over themselves about the recent unusually cool August weather, more grim news about the overall climate and global warming has emerged.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just recently reported that not only was July the hottest July worldwide since records have been kept starting in 1880 it also was the hottest month ever recorded as well.

The implications, according to writer Eric Holthaus in an article published on Slate, are enormous and extremely bleak. He calls it a “very big deal.” Here are two of his major points:

. . . global temperatures are currently approaching—if not already past—the maximum temperatures commonly observed over the past 11,000 years (i.e., the time period in which humans developed agriculture), and flirting with levels not seen in more than 100,000 years.

But this is the scary part: The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any point since humans first evolved millions of years ago. Since carbon dioxide emissions lead to warming, the fact that emissions are increasing means there’s much more warming yet to come. What’s more, carbon dioxide levels are increasing really quickly.

The immediate cause for the hot temperatures has been attributed to an extremely strong El Niño weather pattern this year, which could result in another record hot year in 2015 and also in 2016, according to Holthaus. The same weather pattern, however, will probably mean a cooler and wetter upcoming winter for Oklahoma. But it’s the large-scare (that's intentional) picture here that’s important. Just because we might experience a couple of major snowstorms in Oklahoma this winter will NOT mitigate the terrifying possibilities of a planet devastated by global warming.

It also won’t matter how many snowballs Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe brings to the Senate floor this coming winter as proof global warming doesn’t exist. Global warming is happening. It’s getting recorded. Its effect on the planet is already visible. It should be clear by now to everyone that Inhofe’s crusade against climate science is incredibly damaging to the world.

Scientists have long noted that increasing amounts of carbon dioxide caused by the burning of fossil fuels accelerate the greenhouse effect, which raises temperatures and leads to rising sea levels as the arctic ice cap melts. Rising sea levels have the very real potential to destroy coastal cities and also create more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and flooding. It can also lead to the type of extended drought now experienced in California, which then leads to massive wildfires.

The important thing for Oklahomans to realize is that just because we’re experiencing moderate or colder weather doesn’t mean we won’t be affected by global warming. Massive population migrations, worldwide economic devastation, and food shortages because of drought in crucial farming areas throughout the world will affect everyone on the planet. We’re all connected.

By all means, Oklahomans should enjoy the cooler temperatures and be glad about our lower air conditioning bills this summer as we contend with our own manmade earthquake crisis, but the planet is still burning up, and our world leaders aren’t doing much to stop it.

The answer is to develop more renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and drastically lower our carbon emissions.


Science Not Snowballs

Humboldt Glacier Greenland from Greenpeace on Flickr The Commons

As Oklahoma experiences a relatively cooler and wetter summer than usual, it might be wise to take a minute and note that a stunning and deadly heat wave is striking the Middle East and India.

In one area of Iran, the heat index has reached a staggering 165 degrees. This year will almost certainly be one of the hottest on record, which is yet another indication of global warming and the impact of carbon emissions on the environment.

I’m not trying to be negative here just to be negative. It’s just that too often American politicians, and in particular U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, will point to a particular weather event, such as a snowstorm, to make the argument that global warming science and its predictions are part of some conspiracy against the fossil-fuel industry.

Just because we’re getting more rain and it’s relatively cooler than summer averages in Oklahoma does not mean that the planet no longer faces an extremely real crisis, from an extended drought in California to soul-destroying temperatures and heat indices elsewhere in the world to melting arctic ice that is contributing to rising sea levels.

So instead of throwing out a figurative snowball, here’s some summer reading for you. First, read this post on Democracy Now! that ties together the India heat wave and the California drought. Second, here’s an article about a new global warming study conducted by well-known scientist James Hansen and others that shows the planet’s growing predicament. Third, read this about how the expansion of the Antarctica ice sheet is overshadowed by Arctic ice melting and is probably the result of global warming, too.

Scientists have long argued that too much manmade carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels has accelerated the greenhouse effect, which radiates heat back to the planet. Even a sustained two-degree jump in a medium temperature could have catastrophic impact on the planet, wiping out coastal cities and leading to mass migration and economic disaster.

All this might not make for pleasant summer reading as the mild summer winds down here in Oklahoma, but the state does not exist in isolation to the rest of the world. Any catastrophic global warming event on the planet has widespread ramifications. If New York or Miami become submerged in water in a couple of decades, it will have an impact throughout the world, even here.

This just something to think about this summer and also the next time Inhofe throws around a snowball instead of talking about science.


The Pope Is A Believer

General Audience with Pope Francis by Catholic Church England and Wales on Flickr The Commons

The pope’s moral argument on global warming seems lost on Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who has spent much of his political career denying the negative ramifications of mankind’s pollution of the planet’s atmosphere.

The main message given in Pope Francis’s recent encyclical is not the concept of global warming itself or the huge, mounting evidence of how carbon emissions have accelerated it. The pope, along with most rational people, takes that for granted because of scientific evidence.

What the pope, from his religious perspective, is saying is that global warming can be blamed on “collective selfishness.” The pope’s encyclical states this about earth and how humans treat it:

We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her [earth] at will.

The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.

The pope, of course, frames the issue on religious and moral terms, whether one agrees with the approach or not. He’s not a scientist, but he can read and understand the scientific record. Inhofe, who is widely known for calling the science underlying the impact of global warming a “hoax,” isn’t a scientist either, but he also doesn’t seem to get the pope’s message.

In response to the encyclical, Inhofe, chairperson of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, trotted out his usual arguments:

I am concerned that his [Pope Francis] encyclical will be used by global warming alarmists to advocate for policies that will equate to the largest, most regressive tax increase in our nation’s history.

It’s the poor that spend the largest portion of their expendable income to heat their homes, and they will be the ones to carry the heaviest burden of such onerous policies.

The statement contains two of Inhofe’s favorite global warming fallacies: (1) Those “alarmists” will want some type of tax on carbon emissions, and (2) the poor will have to pay up. But those alarmists include highly educated scientists relying on a vast amount of scientific evidence, and there’s no reason in the world that poor people should have to pay more in taxes to reduce carbon emissions. (The pope would obviously be against hurting impoverished people.) These are the Inhofe conjectural myths we’ve endured for years now, but they miss the pope’s larger moral message.

Pope to Inhofe: Polluting the planet is morally wrong and selfish.

Inhofe to Pope: Taxes, poor people.

To argue that there’s a disconnect here is an understatement. Obviously, Inhofe wants to repeat his tired talking points to support the oil and gas industry, which has contributed more than $1.7 million to his campaigns in his political career. The pope intentionally wants to frame the issue on a larger level of morality, which Inhofe can’t or won’t address directly.

Those of us concerned about the environment and global warming can hope the pope’s message resonates and moves people to action, but as long as Inhofe and his fellow Republicans remain in power nothing much is going to happen.