February 11, 2010
On one side of the continent two blizzards buried the American East Coast this week in snow deep enough to shut down the Metro subway system, strand thousands of travelers, and shut federal offices in Washington for four days.
Similarly weird weather unfolded more than 3,000 miles west in Vancouver, which last month experienced the warmest January on record. The opening of the Winter Olympics, which starts on Friday, has been buffeted first by snow shortages and then by concerns that a cold front would prompt storms that brought too much snow.
What all this means, of course, is that episodic storms clearly define short-term weather patterns. But they are hard to read as indicators of climate change, which is a meteorological narrative that unfolds over decades. If anything, said scientists last week, the intensity of the Vancouver warmth and the East Coast blizzards reflect the severe and erratic conditions that climate models have predicted for much of the last decade.
That, however, didn’t halt the ardent voices of climate denial – Rush and Sean among them – who sought to leverage the East Coast storms to wrongly assert that climate change doesn’t exist. Tellingly, they avoided snowless Vancouver. No surprise.
As we have long known there is no boundary to the deceit of those in and outside Washington committed to blocking climate action. In the summer of 2009, oil interests financed a series of fake letters sent to a select group of House lawmakers in order to influence their votes on the House bill, which narrowly passed. In December stolen emails hijacked headlines and airtime in the U.S. in the weeks before Copenhagen.
While we still haven’t discovered who was behind the email theft, we do know about the strength of the science. Arctic sea ice is melting. Carbon dioxide levels are rising in the atmosphere. The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record. From 1900 through 2009, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the global average surface temperature rose by approximately 0.7° C (1.3°F). “For the last 50 years,” said the science agency, “global temperature rose at an average rate of about 0.13°C (around one-quarter degree Fahrenheit) per decade-almost twice as fast as the 0.07°C per decade increase observed over the previous half-century. In the next 20 years, scientists project that global average temperature will rise by around 0.2°C (about one-third of a degree Fahrenheit) per decade.”
Also this week Bill McKibben and Terry Tempest Williams joined several other writers of exceptional skill in co-authoring a letter in support of Tim DeChristopher, who last year bid on and won 14 oil and gas leases worth $1.8 million. Now he’s headed for a trial for making false statements and interfering with an auction. If convicted he faces up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. “He bid for the oil and gas leases on several parcels of federal land even though he had no money to pay for them, thus upending the auction,” the letter said. The government calls that “violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act” and thinks he should spend ten years in jail for the crime; we call it a noble act, a profound gesture made on behalf of all of us and of the future.” Read more about Tim and other civic activism in our Energy Rebellion report.
Until next week, Keith Schneider