Have you been paying attention to the weather lately? I mean, you've obviously noticed the weather, but have you actually paid any attention to it? Over the past couple of weeks, we, here in Asheville, have experienced everything from chilly and wet (approximately, oh, late March weather) to cool and dry (late Fall weather) to hot and humid ("appropriate" August weather). A year and a half ago , Asheville laid claim to a statewide temperature record. Do you remember that record-setting day? 80 degrees Fahrenheit... in Asheville... in February.
I remember, as a puppy growing up in the northern foothills of North Carolina, consistently cold weather in the Winter, and, oddly enough, consistently hot weather in the Summer. To be sure, there were mild days, both in the Winter and Summer, but for the most part, Winter was cold and Summer was hot (those of you who grew up in South Florida and Southern California will have to trust me on this seasonal climatic variance).
I also remember general precipitation patterns. In Winter there were regular snowfalls and/or ice accumulations (depending on latitude and elevation). Springtime brought showers and steady rains, Summer had its strong afternoon thunderstorms, and Autumn delivered its usual gentle rains and occasional early frosts. These patterns were well established and had been observed and relied upon by the Cherokee and other peoples that inhabited this area long before any Europeans came this way.
What about cataclysmic weather, you may ask? Of a certainty, Spring brought tornados through the Midwest and in the Piedmont and coastal regions of the southeast, and, from late Summer through Autumn, hurricanes were always a potential threat. There were also periodic droughts and floods. I remember a family trip to Texas in 1975, the purpose of which was a visit with my grandfather, that took place during a great Mississippi flood. As we traveled west on I-40, we encountered standing water just west of Nashville, Tennessee, and didn't reach the other side of the flood until almost Little Rock, Arkansas.
I also remember listening to Walter Cronkite relay a news item, some time in the early 1970s, about a new theory proposed by climate experts, a phenomenon they called Global Warming, caused by something known as greenhouse gases. There was concern expressed that, unless more research was done and steps taken, these accumulations of greenhouse gases could eventually adversely affect our climate.
Well, it's thirty years later, and what have we learned? Carbon dioxide (CO2) content in the atmosphere is at its highest since the time of the dinosaurs. There is at least one hole in the Ozone layer (which protects our planet, and all life on it, from ultraviolet rays from the sun) which, despite the banning of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) is continuing to grow [ This, however, may be changing; see here] .
We have also learned that the two main contributors to these record CO2 emissions are power plants and automobiles.
And so we come to the heart of the problem: power plants and automobiles -- electricity and cars. The abilities to dispel darkness and be mobile -- two cornerstones of the "American Dream". A recent report shows that there are more autos in the US than people by almost 20 million. Cars probably outnumber legal drivers by upwards of 100 million.
Power companies steadfastly refuse to voluntarily reduce harmful emissions, and our elected federal officials (Senators and Congressmen) are equally steadfast in their refusal to mandate reductions. The reason usually given for this stance by industry and government is that it would be cost-prohibitive to retrofit existing plants to make them cleaner. I'm here to tell you that it will be much less "cost effective" (not to mention impossible) to retrofit our planet with life once our modern, enlightened society destroys what exists now.
So when you vote this November, remember that all the money in the world won't help you breathe when the air is toxic.
Well, it's been another seven and a half years since I wrote that. What has happened since then? Weather patterns have become even more unstable. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased, both in the United States and abroad. The Current Occupant of the White House has voided implementation (in the US, at any rate) of the Kyoto Protocols and directed political appointees to edit scientific studies to show reduced climate impact by pollution. Even NASA has muzzled climatologists who wish to speak out regarding Climate Change.
In the meantime, the scientific community has continued its' attempts to beat past the bulwark of misinformation and religious obstinacy (see Falwell, Robertson, et al) and illuminate the problem. An Inconvenient Truth, and Al Gore's continued efforts, are helping. Even the disbelievers (see Inhofe, etc) sometimes, through the sheer stupidity of their arguments, inadvertently champion the cause.
My personal opinion is that it matters not at all whether human activity is contributing to climate change (and, yes, I believe that it is). What matters is, human activity can help minimize the change, if we get off our fat asses and do something.