Sunday, April 24, 2016

Earth Day conundrum

This Earth Day, I might as well share a dirty secret: I've loved living in Northern California during the dreadful drought of the last few years. We've had a little rain this winter (enough to make for this green panorama overlooking the city), but for an urban resident who takes to the hills to run trails, this winter has been dry enough to create no impediment. Mostly we've had day after day of lovely weather. I can't imagine a more pleasant climate for my personal taste than we've enjoyed.

Apparently I am not alone in this. Patrick J. Egan and Megan Mullin share their version of my observation and point out that our comfort with the weather is blocking urgency about rising temperatures.

For a vast majority of Americans, the weather is simply becoming more pleasant.

Our findings are striking: 80 percent of Americans now find themselves living in counties where the weather is more pleasant than it was four decades ago. Although warming during this period has been considerable, it has not been evenly distributed across seasons. Virtually all Americans have experienced a rise in January maximum daily temperatures — an increase of 1.04 degrees Fahrenheit per decade on average — while changes in daily maximum temperatures in July have been much more variable across counties, rising by an average of just 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade over all. Moreover, summer humidity has declined during this period.

In order to more effectively raise awareness and increase public concern about climate change, our research suggests that we need to stop talking so much about rising temperatures. A focus on extreme weather events — which are easily understood by the public and have potentially much greater impact on human health and the economy — may be a better strategy.

And when we do discuss temperatures, we should acknowledge the temporarily pleasant side effects of global warming. But then we should stress that these agreeable conditions will one day vanish — like ice on a warm winter day. ...

Well maybe. Or maybe individual humans are pretty much incapable of generalizing from the minuscule evidence provided by our own experience to something so big, so without precedent in human terms, as the warming of our island home. We either believe the scientists -- who after all have delivered life spans exceeding 80 healthy years, the green revolution, and air conditioning -- or we don't.

Or, as David Roberts points out, we adopt a middle ground. The climate is warming and human beings' carbon pollution is the cause, but the change is not serious ... yet.
We know there is worse to come -- but it sure is a lovely season, isn't it?

We need leaders who take the long view and who listen to the scientists. Fortunately, they seem available if we insist we want them.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

Yeah. You are having day after day of the kind of weather the Bay Area used to get only in October, and then only if we were lucky.

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