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Feeling the Heat of Global Warming

Record-breaking and intense heat waves are indicative of the trend of a warmer worldFor more than a decade there has been increasing evidence of a pronounced warming trend around the globe. Last year we saw a new record for the second highest average global temperature over a 12 month period. This year, the U.S. has experienced widespread record breaking heat waves.

Although hot summers are to be expected in the U.S., this year is different. As explained by Christopher Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, “this heat wave is exceptional not only for its strength, but also for its breadth and duration.”

According to NOAA data, July 2011 has broken many heat records. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology for the Weather Underground, indicated that “July 2011 is on pace to be one of the five hottest months in U.S. history.” Masters added that high humidity make this year’s heat wave feel even hotter.

Despite the record-breaking summer temperatures, the vast majority of climatologists know that you can’t extrapolate a long-term climate trend from a single weather event or finite period. As reviewed in a 2010 article edited by Joe Romm, it all comes down to the distinction between weather and climate. As NASA explains:

“The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time.”

However, as Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, told the Christian Science Monitor, weather is itself a variable that is at least partially a result of an overall climate. “You can’t say any one heat wave is caused by global warming,” Leiserowitz said. “But you can say that what global warming does is make events just like this more likely.”

In 2010, we saw record breaking temperatures all around the world. There was a “Hellish heatwave” in Pakistan which set records, including a temperature of 53.5°C (128.3°F), the hottest temperature ever recorded in Asia. The Great Russian drought of 2010 prompted fires and destroyed 25 million acres of crops. Thousands died around the globe as many parts of the world suffered under the record breaking heat.

For the globe as a whole, 2010 ranks as one of the hottest on record. China recorded the second highest temperatures it had ever seen, and India recorded its warmest year ever. Many heat records were also set in the U.S. in 2010. According to NASA, 2010 was tied for the hottest year ever in the U.S. and NASA’s temperature record showed that it was the hottest January to April in U.S. history.

Canada reported the warmest winter and warmest spring on record, 2010 was also the year with the highest average temperature in the nation’s history.

Even before 2010, the evidence for a warming trend was building. Researchers have been pointing to a link between weather and climate for decades. Eight years ago, a study published in the journal Nature indicated that global warming was partially responsible for the deadly heat wave that scorched Europe in 2003.

A 2009 study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research showed that there is an increasing trend of record breaking heat in the U.S. According to measurements at 1,800 weather stations located across the U.S from January 1950 through September 2009, there has been a substantial increase in the number of record daily highs. More than 4000 heat records were set in the U.S. in the spring of 2010 alone and in the last 30 years, record highs have increasingly predominated.

An article from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) titled Record high temperatures far outpace record lows across U.S. presents some of the findings from a climate study by NCAR, Climate Central, The Weather Channel, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

“Spurred by a warming climate, daily record high temperatures occurred twice as often as record lows over the last decade across the continental United States, new research shows. The ratio of record highs to lows is likely to increase dramatically in coming decades if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to climb.

Climate change is making itself felt in terms of day-to-day weather in the United States,” says Gerald Meehl, the lead author and a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). “The ways these records are being broken show how our climate is already shifting.”

The NCAR study predicted that it will keep getting warmer. “The modeling results indicate that if nations continue to increase their emissions of greenhouse gases in a ‘business as usual’ scenario, the U.S. ratio of daily record high to record low temperatures would increase to about 20-to-1 by mid-century and 50-to-1 by 2100.” The 2009 NOAA led report on U.S. climate impacts indicated that we can expect that it will get much hotter. The report predicted a 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090.

In America, states from Texas to Maine suffered from extreme heat this July. More than half of the 50 US states were under extreme heat warnings with the record temperatures and high humidity reportedly claiming dozens of lives in July alone.

As many as 34 U.S. states were under heat advisories at the same time during the month of July. This year, Detroit experienced what could be the worst heat wave in more than 20 years in what may prove to be the hottest July on record in that city.  Many other cities also reported record temperatures across the U.S. including Newark, New Jersey which saw an air temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 Celsius), the highest ever recorded in the city since records began there in 1931, and the hottest reported by the National Weather Service on the East Coast. At Dulles Airport near Washington, temperatures hit 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 Celsius), the highest since the facility opened in 1962. Two cities in Connecticut, Hartford and Bridgeport, also set all-time temperature records as the mercury hit 103 Fahrenheit (39 Celsius).

Triple-digit temperatures were also recorded in Long Island, Philadelphia, Allentown, Georgetown, Boston, Atlantic City, Manhattan and Baltimore. In Washington, the mercury climbed to 101 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius). With humidity, it felt like 116 Fahrenheit (47 Celsius).

As reviewed in an ENN article titled, “Extreme Heat the New Norm,” a study published in the journal Climate Change in late July predicts increased global warming:

“According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years…Within the next 20 to 60 years, if greenhouse gas levels continue to rise, summer temperatures are likely to rise irreversibly around the globe, with the tropics feeling the heat first, and parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas suffering unprecedented summer heat within the next two decades.”

Although we should not draw conclusions about the climate from any single weather event, statistical analyses across large regions are a scientifically valid approach to understanding what is happening to our climate. When we look at the data we see that seventeen of the warmest years in recorded history have occurred over the last twenty years and the warmest years on record occurred in the most recent decade.

On its own, a single weather event does not constitute evidence of climate change, nor does a month of record breaking heat. However we have a growing pool of data that is making it increasingly clear that our climate is getting warmer.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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Comments

  1. That’s right, heatwaves are clear evidence that the climate changes only, but they are not evidence that CO2 is the cause. I agree with you on this.

    Cheers.

  2. The new denier is anyone who still thinks there are enough voters who will vote yes to taxing the air to make the weather colder and lower the sea levels. Not going to happen. And I’m not the only former believer urging prosecutors to lay criminal chargers to the leading scientists and news editors for knowingly inciting this needless panic of CO2 climate crisis for 25 years. Now we can get back to being responsible environmentalists and civilized and progressive. Even Obama failed to mention the “crisis” in his Feb. State of the Union Address. Now only the media thinks it’s real. Do you see the countless thousands of consensus climate change scientists marching en mass? Don’t they have kids too?
    This planet lover is happy it was all just a tragic exaggeration but with good intentions. Now I can stop condemning billions to a CO2 death. Love, not fear.

    • I agree with you mememine69, the new deniers are the environmental socialists who still follow the AGW alarmism. I used to be an alarmist too; I know how hard it is to switch over from that religion, to admit you were wrong about it and face the fact that carbon controls will not save the planet from a non-threat. I too want to get back to cleaning the air, land and water, real environmentalism, the environmentalism I have been fighting for since I was 10 years old back in 1970.

  3. Besides condemning billions of children to a CO2 death, the UN had allowed carbon trading markets that were run by corporations and politicians, to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over 25 years of climate CONTROL rather than the obviously needed POPULATION control.
    They watched as thousands of scientists presented their own personal and unique papers on climate change and called it scientific “consensus”. Climate change was a lab coat consultant’s w&t dream, and criminal exaggeration, but worst case scenarios have a longer life than just simple exaggeration and “lying”. Fear always is unsustainable. What they DID agree on however, was that there “would” be effects, so studying effects of something that hasn’t happened yet presumes climate change to be real. Did you notice after tropical fossils were found under the melting ice that all research suddenly went totally into effects, not causes? When this is all said and done with scientist and news editors convicted, only then will we see what climate change was; modern day omen worship.
    So until Obama decides to mention the crisis in his next state of the union speech like he didn’t this year, and when I see the thousands of climate change scientist marching in the streets and acting like it’s the emergency THEY said it was, I will be a former believer and a planet lover that is happy a crisis was averted.

  4. To klem: Please re-read the article, you entirely missed the point. There is a scientific consensus on the connection between anthropogenic greenhouse gases and climate change. Anyone who believes otherwise has not reviewed the evidence, or is being paid to misinform.

    To mememine69 : Faced with such a crisis I can understand how some are envious of a state managed economy. However, in a democracy, whether we like it or not, we are bound by the tyranny of the majority. “Tax the air” may be a clever line to sway conservative voters, but even conservatives will one day be forced to acknowledge the veracity of climate change (hopefully before it is too late). Further, much maligned solutions like cap-and-trade put the free market to work to reign-in carbon and other pollutants, this is capatible with conservative dogma and has a certain traction amongst some conservative voters. Even though the Republicans are beholden to interests in the old energy economy, there is a long history of Republican leadership on the environmental front. Although I work for change in the private sector, I understand that we must continue to work for political change. There really is no alternative to achieve the broadspectrum changes required.

    • “There is a scientific consensus on the connection between anthropogenic greenhouse gases and climate change. Anyone who believes otherwise has not reviewed the evidence, or is being paid to misinform.”

      I HAVE reviewed the evidence. It was the evidence which made me switch from being an AGW alarmist like you, to a skeptic/denier. Back in 2007 when the IPCC released their AR4 report, I actually took the time to download and read it. It was so terrible, I was shocked by how poor and full of holes the science was, it started me questioning the science of climatology and the whole AGW theory. Sorry but I have reviewed the science and have been reviewing it since 2007. So that leaves me somehow being paid. Well that would be nice but sorry no one is paying me one red cent.

      Are you being paid to post AGW alarmism?

      • Klem, I don’t think Richard ever accused you of being paid. He isn’t referring to people leaving comments on blogs. It’s interesting that you took that so personally.

        If you’ve read IPCC fourth assessment report then your point is taken. However, you’re not the only one that has, or that has done extensive research otherwise, or both. Or perhaps sought out a climate scientist and talked directly about climate science.

        You may find it difficult to believe, but there are people with whom I have had discussions about AGW that feel, more or less, as you do and who have the intellectual courage and honesty to seek reasonable debate.

        You don’t really seem interested in that. At least I see no evidence of it.

        What I don’t understand is why you and mememine69 are so vociferous in your rhetoric. mememine69 comes in here with incendiary phrases like “condemning billions of children to carbon death,” “taxing the air,” and “rounding up all the scientists” (and I assume me, Richard, Al Gore, anyone that doesn’t agree with him) and throwing us all in jail. And then calling those people (as you do) “alarmist.” All without even a hint of irony.

        You may have been an alarmist before you read AR4, my friend, and you’re still an alarmist.

        Yes, I know you will vehemently deny that, I suppose you may even believe it. But if you are interested in an honest debate, you’ll not get it with that approach.

        I applaud your concern for clean water and air, but if you think that people concerned about AGW somehow are not – are in fact just “environmental socialists” – than I am forced to wonder how much of a handle you have on the issues.

        You’ve got your politics and science all jumbled up and don’t seem to have a grasp of either one.

        You give me little reason to think any differently, though I’d prefer to have a reasoned discussion than respond to the same tired, hackneyed, jingoistic rhetoric that does not seek debate, but only inflammatory accusation and in being “right.”

        That’s just my opinion of course, and surely you think I’m “one of them” and evil and my opinion is not worth the bandwidth it consumes. Your mind is made up and closed for any further discussion.

        So be it.

      • First let me thank you for actually reviewing some of the evidence, (this is far too rare amongst deniers). I concede that the science behind the IPCC’s AR4 report is far from perfect, but like all science, it is subject to review. (In fairness, criticisms came from both sides with some portraying the IPCC report as too conservative in its estimates of the potential impacts of climate change).

        Second, assuming you concur that climate scientists are best equipped to assess the varacity of anthropogenic global warming, allow me to suggest that your review is incomplete.

        For example, in 2009, a group of 3,146 earth scientists surveyed around the world overwhelmingly agreed that in the past 200-plus years, mean global temperatures have been rising, and that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.

        http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090119210532.htm

        Much of the criticism of climate science is due the fact that there are powerful players in the old energy economy that are determined to defend their interests. These powerful interests fund and disseminate misinformation on climate change.

        To cite a recent example of misinformation posing as science, a fake climate change wiki from the Heartland Institute was exposed as misinformation. Although the Heartland Institute presents itself as providing ‘neutral’ information about climate change, it is in fact ideologically driven and intended to undermine carbon reduction efforts. The Koch brothers are also notorius for their involvement in psuedo-scientific climate change denial.

        While individual studies may come to different conclusions, taken as a whole, the data supporting anthropogenic climate change is very convincing. Perhaps most importantly, the vast majority of climate scientists are in agreement that global warming is caused by human activity.

  5. For those who are reluctant to believe that Republicans are undermining the science proving anthropogenic global warming read the following:

    “Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming”
    by James Hoggan with Richard Littlemore

    “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”
    by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway

    “Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change” by Clive Hamilton
    He outlines the decade-long, coal-industry funded campaign in Australia to deny climate science

    “Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate” by Stephan H. Schneider and Tim Flannery

    “Censoring Science: the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming” by Mark Bowen

    “The Boiling Point” and “The Heat Is On” by Ross Gelbspan

    “The Republican War On Science” by Chris Mooney

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