Yeah, I know. It's been a chilly spring so far.
Over the weekend I saw a lame cartoon in another local publication. Two dudes in winter clothes are up to their knees in snow. One holds a sign that says "Beware Climate Change." The other dude says, "When?"
Yes, another tired variant of the old "How can there be global warming when it's cold here at this exact spot where I am" pseudo-joke — though at least this one had a bit of topicality given the unseasonably cool spring.
Usually we hear this joke, or some equally threadworn version, during the winter. When it's, you know, supposed to be cold.
In fact, that's usually the tart response of WTOC meteorologist Pat Prokop when some comedy genius is all, "Where's your global warming now?" on a really cold day.
"It's cold because it's winter," Pat deadpans.
Granted, it's not winter anymore, it's May. It's been an unseasonably cool spring, to say the least. Here where we are, anyway.
But on some places of the planet — news flash — the weather isn't the same as here where we are. It's a big planet!
This is another reason why the words we choose are so important. If the misleading phrase "global warming" had never seen the light of day, climate change deniers would have so much less ammunition with which to disparage the concept. It's a shame, really.
The entire premise of climate change is that the average temperature of the entire atmosphere is rapidly rising across the board, which — and here's the kicker — may or may not result in warmer temperatures at the exact spot where you are.
The most visible result is generally a massive disruption of typical weather patterns, including things such as our unseasonably cool spring, the unseasonably warm winter which preceded it (here anyway), and the possibly brutally hot, record-setting scorcher of a summer to come, if past trends are any indicator.
Recently, my old buddy Dave Kyler of the St. Simons-based Center for a Sustainable Coast gave a talk to the local Sierra Club chapter. At the meeting held at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, Kyler talked about the latest developments in the arena of climate change, specifically the concept of permafrost thaw.
Simply put, the thawing of the Arctic permafrost soil layer — essentially removing the "perma" part from the scenario — means the release of an enormous amount of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, millions of years worth spewing upward and outward in a very brief amount of time, geologically speaking.
At issue, Kyler says, is the recent report from the United Nations Environment Program which says "all global climate projections... are biased on the low side relative to global temperature."
According to Kyler, the group which does climate analysis on behalf of the UN — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — is still using computer modeling from 2009 as the basis of its most recent reports. The 2013 and 2014 reports will also rely on 2009 models.
The face of climate science is rapidly changing, and unfortunately almost all the numbers get worse, not better. The use of the older models, while perhaps admirably conservative and consistent, could serve to mask the true nature of the threat.
"By locking down the computer model many years before related assessments are issued, the IPCC has left out some very important research done since 2009," Kyler says.
"By being overly cautious in corroborating global scientific studies, the IPCC is failing to keep decisionmakers and the public current on extremely important trends that directly threaten both our economy and environment."
According to Kyler, the "neglected information," as he puts it, has enormous implications, including wildfires, crop loss, and extinction of species.
For us here on the coast, or more accurately, for our grandchildren here on the coast, one of the main implications is sea level rise.
Until now, the IPCC has predicted that sea level will rise about three feet by the year 2100. "But that forecast was based on very limited analysis of the causes and effects of global warming, primarily the expansion of water volume in the oceans as temperatures rise and cautious, limited assessment of glacier melting," Kyler says.
When taking into account the effects of permafrost thaw, accelerated rate of glacier melting, and increasing destruction of forests from wildfires, "it is probable that future conditions will be far worse," he adds.
One could always take the long view and say, well, who knows what other crazy stuff will be happening in the year 2100 anyway. Technology could find an answer to all this. The entire East coast was underwater not that long ago anyway, so in a sense rising sea levels are just the ocean reclaiming its own.
But a more immediate concern about climate change in our region is ocean acidification, mentioned in the UN report and countless other studies.
Coral reefs in warm waters are dying exponentially due to the effects of increased acid levels in the ocean. The removal of a key part of such a sensitive ecosystem can have disastrous effects up and down the food chain.
If the fish who make coral reefs their home can't adapt and hence die off, the fish who eat those fish will die off as well. This has impacts all the way up to your friendly neighborhood grocery store.
You need to eat too, and not every fish you eat can or should be from a farm off the coast of China.
So maybe temps will heat back up to normal soon. In any event, I'd certainly enjoy the coolness while you can — the trend is not our friend.