By Michael D. Lemonick
After Al Gore, James Hansen is probably the man climate skeptics most love to hate. Unlike Gore, Hansen is an actual scientist, at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York (it’s located above the restaurant that used to be featured in Seinfeld). It was Hansen who single-handedly put climate change on the national radar when he testified before Gore’s committee in 1988 during a killer heat wave, saying “. . . the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”
Nearly a quarter of a century later, Hansen is more deeply immersed in the issue of climate change than ever. He’s still writing scientific papers — a new one, titled “Public Perception of Climate Change and the New Climate Dice,” which argues that the notable recent increase in climate extremes is no accident, has been submitted to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Credit: Mari Monrad Vistven
He’s also come out of the ivory tower to join protests against coal-fired power plants (he was arrested outside the White House) and the Keystone XL pipeline (another arrest, same place). And he’s speaking out wherever and whenever he can about the dangers of climate change, along with our responsibility to do something about it — in a recent TED talk, for example, and in an even more recent interview with The Guardian, in which he declared that human climate change is a “great moral issue” on a par with slavery — an “injustice of one generatio...
Last month I wrote about how global warming might not be so bad after all. Not for me, anyway. Sure, sea level is rising, threatening millions of Americans and many more millions of people around the world. Sure, glaciers are melting and winter snowpack is disappearing in the West (and again, in other parts of the world), putting summer water supplies at risk. Sure, extreme weather is on the rise, almost certainly as a result of human-triggered climate change.
But February, which normally alternates between cold and bitterly cold in Princeton, N.J., where Climate Central is headquartered, was unusually mild. Call me selfish, but I kind of liked it. I didn’t realize at the time that March would be even warmer, and I really liked that. The average high here in central New Jersey is 50°F in March, but this month we went over 60° no fewer than 15 times (the forecast says we might do it once more before April begins). We topped 70° eight times. We hit 78° twice, and once we got all the way up to 79° — fully 29° above normal.
All of that was really nice. But then I began thinking about summer . . . and thinking about how it gets kind of hot. The average high for July, the hottest month, is 85°, and of course there are plenty of days that get hotter than that. Then I thought: what would it be like around here if this coming July resembled the month just ending in term of beating the average. And I began to sweat.
Credit: flickr/rachel a. k.
If July temperatures beat the averages by t...
By Andrew Freedman
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome when communicating climate science is the resistance many have to accepting the notion that human activities are capable of altering the earth’s climate system. After all, the planet is a pretty big place, and the climate was doing its thing long before humans arrived. To some, the abundant scientific evidence showing that manmade emissions of global warming gases, such as carbon dioxide, are likely the key driver behind recent global warming seems, well, kind of arrogant.
To these folks, I say check out a recent study that had nothing to do with global warming. By showing that human activities can have measurable impacts on small-scale weather phenomena – in this case, thunderstorms that spawn tornadoes and hail – the report highlighted that we’re already able to influence weather on a daily basis.
And if we are capable of modifying thunderstorm behavior, it’s not a large leap to understand that we’re also altering the atmosphere on much broader scales.
The scientists behind the research – Thomas Bell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and Daniel Rosenfeld of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, did not set out to prove a point about global warming. But the weekly storm cycles they identified and the physical mechanisms they proposed are responsible for these cycles contain important lessons for how people think about human interference with weather...
By Michael D. Lemonick
It’s that wonderful time of year again, and no, I don't mean March Madness. March 20 marks the first day of spring, a fact that newscasters and TV meteorologists and The Weather Channel will be making their usual fuss.
But the truth is, we don’t really care about the first day of spring, which is simply the date when daylight and darkness last equally long. We care about the onset of spring weather and all it brings — flowers blooming, birds chirping, that sort of stuff. And what we’ve designated the first day of spring is only loosely related to all of that. If you live in Maine or North Dakota or northern Minnesota, the flowers and such come long after March 20, and if you’re in southern Mississippi or Alabama, it comes well before.
In an ordinary year, it does anyway. This year hasn’t been normal, of course, in much of the nation: the winter has been a lot warmer than average, with no sign of that trend letting up. Here in Princeton, N.J., for example, cherry trees and daffodils are blooming weeks ahead of schedule.
This strange mistiming is mostly just a glitch of the weather: next winter could easily be unusually cold. Until the full onset of human-caused global warming, however, the ups and downs balanced out, with no long-term trend.
Not anymore, though: over the past several decades, spring weather has been coming steadily earlier on average, and that affects more than when we start going on...
By Mike Lemonick
One year ago today, a massive, 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan sent a huge tidal wave, more than 100 feet high at some points, up and over the coastline, killing some 20,000 people and wreaking unimaginable havoc over a wide swath of territory. For most Americans, however, it was the tsunami-triggered meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex that was the really scary part.
As an indirect result of the disaster, only two of the nation’s 54 plants are now generating power, and the last two are likely to shut down soon. The Japanese, which once got 30% of their electricity from nuclear power, are limping along under severe power cuts, while utilities are ramping up the burning of coal and natural gas to try and make up some of the shortfall.
Which brings me to the subject of magic. The world’s developed nations have come to depend on ample, cheap electricity, and we shudder at the idea of giving it up. Developing countries like China and India aspire to do the same, and who can blame them? In the U.S., at least, we also think we have the unalienable right to drive whenever and wherever and as far as we want.
Rolling blackouts in Japan as a result of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. Credit Kyodo/Reuters.
But we know, too, that there’s a climate crisis going on. Poll after poll has confirmed that a majority of Americans are well aware of climate change. We don’t want it to happen, and we’re happy to do something about it — as long as that something doesn...