Yesterday’s 50-degree overnight temp swing in Chicago gave me new impetus to write on climate change, as I sat down to a bowl of hot chili in a neighborhood restaurant and read the lead story in the June 13-20 issue of The New Yorker, “Storms Brewing,” by the observant Elizabeth Kolbert. She succinctly reviewed the increasingly alarming aberrant climate conditions around the globe, and then proceeded to give one of the clearest explanations for it all that I’ve read. I wish I had her perspective on hand when at the Shakespeare Theatre the night before, a friend responded to me when I lamented our wildly vacillating local weather, “Well, no big deal, we’re just seeing some extremes.”
Kolbert wrote: “For decades, climate scientists have predicted, that as global temperatures rose, the side effects would include deeper draughts, more intense flooding and ferocious storms…the underlying science is pretty simple. Warm air can hold more moisture. This means that there is greater evaporation. It also means there is more water, and hence more energy, available to the system. What we are seeing now is these particular predictions being borne out.”
I was going to use the fading of the snows on Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya, Africa’s two highest peaks, as examples of global warming I have witnessed. But I checked and found a new theory is that deforestation is causing the receding snow, because mountain winds used to pick up the moisture from the trees and turn it into snow on the peaks. Attempts are now being made to restore the climate by replanting lost trees.
As to world climate, Ms. Kolbert maintains that today’s “new normal” of tornadoes, hurricanes and wind damage will change even more. “Each additional ton of carbon dioxide that is spewing into the atmosphere contributes to further warming, thus increasing the risk of violent weather.” Some of the reactions to this knowledge are bizarre. In Australia, some are proposing the killing of more than a million feral camels in the outback, each of which emits a ton of natural emissions a year.
Is is time for radical rejiggering of energy policy? Ms. Kolbert makes a wise distinction that is not widely recognized, especially by many leaning “right” politically, “It may be beyond our power to control the climate, but we can determine it. This is precisely what we are doing now, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.”