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Extreme Weather, Climate Controversy Set the Political Stage

Winter Weather is changing across the globeA strong and steady flow of climate change news is crossing news sites and blogs this week. With the advent of fall in the Southern Hemisphere, Northern Australia is experiencing a record-setting heat wave. Threatened with the prospect of running out of water, the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo (with a population of about 11 million people) now has to cope with severe flooding. Having been buried in snow, residents and government officials are trying to cope with severe flooding in the wake of massive snow and rainfall across northern Spain.

Here in the U.S. snow pack in the Sierra Nevada indicates drought will bite deeper into the economies and societies of California, Oregon and Washington. The governors of Oregon and Washington have declared drought emergencies for parts of the respective northwest U.S. states. California Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators are proposing to spend $1.1 billion on emergency funding for flood protection and drought relief.

Residents, along with government officials and power, water and waste management providers across New England, meanwhile, are struggling to cope with all the snow that has dropped down. Snowfall in some parts of the region, such as Boston, “are blowing past all-time records,” Weather Underground’s Jon Erdman reported in a March 23 post.

Record heat, droughts, snowfall and severe flooding

In climate science news, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports that this winter’s Arctic sea ice maximum will almost certainly set a new low this year. And newly published scientific research reveals that Atlantic oceanic conveyor belt – sometimes known as the Gulf Stream system or more formally as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation – that keeps northeastern North America and western Europe warmer than they would otherwise may be slowing down.

Gulfstream ocean circulation

Of course, fossil fuel companies and their supporters in the U.S. Congress – including the new chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee James Inhofe (R-OK) – would have us believe that all this is nothing more than normal variability in the earth’s climate.

Inhofe has long been known as the most vocal and strident climate change denier in the U.S. Congress. Late last month, Inhofe tossed a snowball on to the floor of the U.S. Senate chamber, a theatrical stunt he employed to drive home his contention that the massive amount of snow falling in the northeast is a clear sign that human activities – more specifically, greenhouse gas emissions – aren’t causing causing climate change.

Many others believe otherwise. The world’s leading climate scientists – those that have and continue to actually conduct primary research and have built careers studying climate – are about as sure as it’s scientifically possible to be that human activities are indeed the main factor driving climate change to a possible tipping point.

This past week in the nation’s capital, environmental and public health watchdogs say the EPA gave the U.S. oil and gas industry what amounts to a free pass by failing to propose stricter new environmental regulations governing hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” They laid a similar charge on the EPA this past December in the wake of the federal environmental agency issuing the first-ever rules governing disposal of coal ash.

Climate change debates heat up in the run-up to Paris climate talks

Inhofe's Snowball

These latest EPA fossil fuel-related environmental rules stand in stark contrast to the vigor with which President Obama and his administration has been working to address climate change by reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, spurring development and deployment of renewable energy and supporting investments that enhance  energy efficiency.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three environmental cases that could call into question the validity of regulations that limit emissions of mercury and other hazardous toxins from coal-fired power plants.

This and forthcoming debates in Washington D.C. and across the U.S. will collectively define national policy on energy and the environment, as well as the prospect a global climate treaty can be agreed at the upcoming U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change talks to take place in Paris this December.

December’s U.N. climate treaty negotiations are likely to be the last chance the community of nations will have to show that they’re serious about addressing the wide range of interconnected issues centered on climate change in our time. The results will go a long way towards determining the standard of living and quality of life for generations to come.

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*Image credits: 1) Mashable; 2) Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research; 3) Americans Against the Tea Party

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