Bluebirds are a sign of spring; warm weather and gentle south breezes they bring
The bluebirds have been here since January, but today we officially enter into the season of spring, ending what has been the fourth warmest winter ever recorded in the United States. The vernal equinox usually marks the end of freezing weather and darkness of the soul and wider world. As the earth gently tilts back towards the sun, it brings the hope of the rebirth of spring. For those of us who have been enjoying spring-like temperatures all winter, this usually joyous date is overshadowed by a feeling of foreboding.
If we are enjoying spring in winter,
and summer in spring,
then what will the days of summer bring?
If the balmy weather was just another statistical anomaly in an otherwise normal decade, we could rejoice in our good fortune, but instead it marks another piece of confirming evidence in a long line of similar evidence of hottest years and hottest decades in history. The unanimous predictions of climate scientists are coming to eerie fruition. We have broken earth’s climate.
Right now, the concentration of carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere is approximately 394 parts per million. This figure is two parts per million more than last year at this time, and this trend of a 2 ppm increase per year has been fairly consistent over the past several decades. Before the dawn of fossil fuel driven industrial revolution, carbon dioxide concentrations had been relatively stable at approximately 280 ppm for thousands of years, with minor fluctuations attributable to volcanic eruptions and other phenomena.
There is no doubt that carbon dioxide acts as a thermal blanket in the atmosphere, trapping infrared radiation and warming and tempering earth’s climate. Without our atmosphere, our planet would be prone to extreme temperatures, spiking to extreme heat during the day and plunging into bitter cold at night. For example Mercury, the planet closest to the sun, which has little in the way of an atmosphere, temperatures can reach 800°F in the daytime and then plunge to -280°F at night. On Venus, a planet the same size as Earth where carbon dioxide makes up as much as 96% of the atmosphere by volume, the average temperature is 860°F.
As we burn fossil fuels, we convert the carbon in ancient biomass into carbon dioxide and release it into the atmosphere at a staggering rate. Needless to say, the countries with the highest levels of industrialization are largely responsible for the post-industrial increases to atmospheric carbon dioxide. The United States alone is believed to be responsible for as much as 30% of it. What’s worse is that the US continues to generate carbon dioxide at a per capita rate that is more than twice as high as any other country.
At current levels, we are seeing increased temperatures of around 2°F. If we continue along this path without any alterations to the status quo, by 2100 at 600ppm, we will see increases of 9°F, a level at which much of the coastal world will be inundated and mega floods, storms, droughts and deadly heat waves will be annual events. Life on earth as we know it will completely change from one in which we enjoy a benevolent, abundant planet into one in which survival itself becomes questionable.
Time is of the essence, the longer we postpone making drastic reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, the more dire our reality becomes. This summer, the leaders of the world will be meeting at Rio’s Earth Summit to draw up a plan of action. Historically, the United States, the greatest offender, has stymied any global effort to control greenhouse gas emissions, but this year also has the benefit of being a US election year. We need to make it absolutely clear to our law makers that we expect meaningful action and that we will not continue to vote for them if they continue to sit on the fence.
Petty politics and corporate profit margins are meaningless in the scope of our new reality. Those who argue that fixing the problem will cost too much, need to evaluate their scale of measurement. What good are all the dollars in the world without a decent planet to spend them on?
Let’s hope that this new rebirth of the sun brings a rebirth of American conscience that marks the year we decided to turn things around.
For those who are interested in seeing the effects that various emissions reductions can make in the global climate, the following link provides an easy-to-use climate model. Type "1" in the first column for each country block and then start to play with the numbers. Be prepared for a real eye-opener.