What would it feel like to be a tiny crab scuttling about at the bottom of a very shallow pond that is being filled with toxins? We should know. We are looking up through a very thin and increasing polluted layer of air — air that is getting rapidly hotter.
If you compare our earth to an apple, the atmosphere is no thicker than the skin. The troposphere is the layer we live in. Almost all of our weather occurs here, and it only goes up about six miles. That’s less than six minutes of drive time on the open road.
Next comes the stratosphere. That ends about 30 miles up. This is a kind of shield. It’s where the protective ozone layer is, as well as the continent-sized hole we’ve punched in it. If you want to know what the planet would be like without our atmosphere, think about the surface of the moon.
Tracey Holloway, Director of the UW-Madison Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, speaking at the UW-Arboretum Winter Lecture Series, gave me some clarity on how we get our climate information and what some of it is telling us.
1. Ice cores (Ice core data is king. It is a true time capsule of trapped atmosphere from the past.)
2. moss in peat bogs.
3. sediment in lakes.
4. tree rings.
5. computer modeling.
No one is modeling climate on their laptop. The computers that shoulder the load are massive and costly, and they operate out of 16 centers around the world — each doing its best to figure out what is going on up there. We have three of them in the U.S.
- The NASA computer modeling program is operated in New York (above a restaurant that used to be featured on Seinfeld).
- The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) program works out of Maryland.
- A National Science Foundation team operates its center out of Boulder, Colorado, and is said to have the largest number of atmospheric scientists gathered in one place of anywhere in the world.
While much of the information we hear about global warming is stated as a rise in average annual temperature, that doesn’t really tell us anything we can grasp in our day to day lives. A temperature rise of a few degrees doesn’t seem that bad, until you start to break it down and make it personal to your own area.
Take Wisconsin summers. Take a day in June. We all remember days in June that were a perfect 70 with a gentle breeze. We also remember that rare day when the temperature hit 100, and that freaky cold spell when it dropped below freezing.
Holloway said what’s predicted is that we are going to see more of those weird days out on the end of the range. What used to be rarely possible will now become all too probable. Forty years from now that rare 100 degree day may be much more typical and we will be looking at some June days that top 110 degrees.
Check out this graph Holloway showed us from 2002 that details carbon emissions per person by nation. Look at the US at the top of the heap. Things have gotten worse yet in the past nine years.
We have got to turn this around.
We fill our tanks with gas and motor off. All too soon, the tank is empty. Where did all that gas go? It’s now CO2 heading up into the atmosphere, where it will stay for 200 to 500 years, because there’s no quick way to get rid of it.
We have to take our foot off the accelerator, and hit the brakes. We don’t have to give up every comfort. We don’t have to go back to the stone age. Look at Europe. They live very well, and yet their consumption is about half that of ours.
Let’s go put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat, and on the way turn off that light you aren’t using right now. Then let’s oil our bicycle chains. It’s going to be spring soon. You never know, but increasingly, the odds are, it will be an early, warm one.
Categories: Climate Change