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Fri, July 19

Column: Global warming evidence heats up

So what's new in climate change news? Lots. Here's a quick rundown.

We hit 333 months in a row of high temperatures. According to NOAA (National Ocean and Atmospheric Association). Looking at global temperatures, "November 2012 also marks the... 333rd consecutive month with global temperature higher than the long-term average. The last month with a below average temperature was February 1985, nearly 28 years ago."

According to the Weather Underground, looking at weather data from around the country in 2012, hundreds of locations recorded record highs, but none of them broke their record lows.

The U.S. Federal Advisory Committee on expected climate change has a new draft report that is more blunt than in the past, pins it more concretely to human causes, and points out real-world effects. "Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate..."

China's official es-timation is, to use their word, "grim." They are not looking at this because some wing of their politics compels them to, but through the cold hard lens of it impeding their economic growth. As a Reuters article about the report says, climate change "threatens China's march to prosperity by cutting crops, shrinking rivers and unleashing more droughts and floods... projecting big shifts in how the nation feeds itself." Quoting the Chinese report itself, "China faces extremely grim ecological and environmental conditions under the impact of continued global warming..."

Corporations are seeing the same thing. A survey of more than 400 major global companies found more than 80 percent say they are expecting real physical risks to their facilities, transportation lines, etc., and more than one-third say they are already experiencing this.

The Koch brothers have been leading backers of skeptics. A common claim among skeptics is that solar activity accounts for warming. Charles Koch was a leading backer of a study to see if solar activity did account for much of the warming. The study found "the most straightforward explanation for this warming is human greenhouse gas emissions," and "the contribution of solar activity to global warming is negligible."

One of the leading former skeptics who had some scientific credibility was part of that study. Richard Mueller, a professor of physics, had been an outspoken skeptic for years. In 2011 he said further study and new data had changed his mind. Last July he went further and wrote in the New York Times that he finds the change almost entirely attributable to humans.

Speaking of skeptics, there has been common criticism that the IPCC predictions of climate change have been overstated. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is taken to be the closest thing to an official source. They've been issuing official reports and predictions since 1990.

The folks at Skeptical reviewed their predictions, and what has actually happened, and laid it all out on their site. The result is that the IPCC has actually been remarkably accurate, and much more accurate than their most notable critics.

NOAA also released an updated "Arctic report card." They note record ice melts and dangerous warming of the permafrost. The changes are dramatic enough they describe the Arctic condition as a "new state," citing "...widespread, sustained change driving Arctic environmental system into new state."

In what may seem curious at first, the U.S. Geological Survey says the East Coast is experiencing more sea level rise. There are a variety of reasons why the rise will not be even around the world's coasts: slight variations in gravitational pull due to what goes on in the Earth's molten core, ocean currents that drive levels higher in some places, and other factors. In addition some coastal areas are more susceptible to high tides or flooding from storms, which means that damage equal to that expected from, say, a 100-year storm, now becomes much more likely to occur in some areas.

New York is, of course, well aware of that in the wake of hurricane Sandy. Both municipal utilities and private building owners are looking at adapting to the change. In some private buildings the generators and utilities that used to be housed in the basement will be moved to higher floors.

Sometimes it makes for surprising news. The L.A. Times had a story about the first sailboat to pass through the Northwest Passage. A few more substantial ships have made it through in recent years, but this is apparently the first sailboat.

Here's a way it might actually get the attention of people in D.C. A study to help the area plan says sea rise could lead to flooding of numerous military facilities and "monuments/museums on or around the National Mall... Governmental buildings and agencies... include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Education."

Tom Cantlon is a longtime local resident, business owner and writer. Contact him at


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