Has anyone else noticed how, um, warm it was this November? Though it has been nice to keep my T-shirts in regular rotation, part of me has been a little unsettled by it. Upon self reflection, my disquiet has been simmering below my conscious radar for quite a while, but it has bubbled up to the surface here and there. I just didn’t recognize it for what it was. Several times I’ve commented to friends, family, and co-workers, “I can’t believe it’s already December!” or something along those lines. Maybe you have too. The weather hasn’t seemed... right... for this time of year. The time is passing on the calendar, but but world has gotten stuck in September. It wasn’t until I found a mosquito in my kitchen last week that I realized just how out of whack things really are.
Last year on November 29th, the temperature in Salem was 42 degrees Fahrenheit. The year before that? 47 degrees. Before that? 42 degrees. In fact, I dug back and tracked the average temperature on November 29th for the past 30 years and it came out to 43 degrees Fahrenheit with a single high temp of 53 degrees. The median temperature (meaning the temperature that showed up most often) was 42 degrees. (Farmer’s Almanac)
No wonder this fall/winter has felt so odd to me and everyone else I know. Weather like this has literally never happened in my lifetime. Actually, the data from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) indicates that weather like this has never happened in human history. Chew on that for a while.
Actually, scratch that. Don’t spend too much time processing the implications. You don’t have the luxury of time. Neither do I. Neither do any of us. You see, climate scientists all over the world have been running numbers and crunching the data, and they all agree that there is an unavoidable amount of warming already locked into the system. Even if we could snap our collective fingers and magically stop putting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere today (not add another molecule from this moment on) the planet is still going to warm up another 2 degrees Celsius (that’s about 4 degrees Fahrenheit.)
“So what?” some people might say. “4 degrees isn’t that big a deal.” Others might be inclined to throw their hands up and say, “We’re screwed. No use doing anything now.” Well, those reactions are both right and wrong. A world that is 4 degrees warmer than it is today will be different, and in some places it will be unpleasant, but 4 degrees warmer is a manageable situation. It’s something humanity can deal with. However, let’s not forget that that number is based on a mythical situation in which not another single molecule of greenhouse gasses is emitted from this day forward. In reality the population is growing and our collective need for energy is growing with it and the use of fossil fuels to meet those increasing energy demands is causing the warming trend to pick up speed.
Think of it like an investment plan. The more greenhouse gasses we put into the atmosphere today, the more massive the payout will be later on, but in this analogy the payout is one that should be prudently avoided. The “do nothing” scenario lands humanity well beyond unpleasant. The worst case emissions data presented in the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report indicate the by 2050 (that’s only 39 years down the road) most of the month of July in Salem will be over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. For the very young and the very old with no access to air conditioning during a power failure caused by everyone trying to run their AC units at the same time and overwhelming the grid, that’s more than just unpleasant--it’s life threatening. But the worst case emissions data is easily avoidable. We don’t have to invent any new “sci-fi” style technologies to save ourselves. We already have all the necessary technology we need to generate lots and lots of energy without adding any more greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. The real trick is to convince community scale (and ultimately nation wide) implementation of those technologies.
A lot of people pooh-pooh the idea of climate change. They argue that it’s not really happening or that the scientists crunching the numbers are exaggerating things. I’m willing to bet that even those doubting Thomases have been feeling a little unsettled lately. November was just so oddly warm! Our lifetime of experience is the backdrop for why November’s lovely weather didn’t sit 100% pretty with most people. There’s a nagging voice inside telling me, ‘Something’s not right about this...”
It’s like the girl in the horror movie who has a bad feeling about climbing the stairs to the attic because she’s heard strange noises up there and saw on the news that a killer is loose and now the light switch doesn’t seem to be working anymore and deep down inside she knows that he’s up there but she doesn’t want to believe it because it’s just too awful to admit so she climbs the stairs anyway. Do we want to be the girl in horror movie? Do we want future generations (in the role of the audience) screaming at us that we were stupid for ignoring the obvious signs and for ignoring our sense of disquiet about the situation? No way. Some folks are still climbing the stairs, but more and more people are re-writing the horror story. More and more folks are recognizing that a killer is lurking their house and are taking some brave and bold measures to dust the sucker, because (as in the horror story) not only do they not want to get killed but they also don’t want something horrible to happen to the kids downstairs.
People are making changes on all levels. I noticed the strange warmth of last month, but I also noticed how many more hybrid vehicles I’m seeing on the roads. A neighbor down the street from me just installed a residential solar panel array (you rock, sir!), as did Beverly high school some 30 years ago (and those panels are still producing electricity from the ultimate energy source on our planet--the sun.) Towns like Hull and Ipswich just to name a couple have installed wind turbines to harness the natural and perpetually available resource of the wind to generate electricity. Even entire countries can unite in an effort to get climate change under control. Look at Denmark, a country who meets a full 10% of its energy needs with wind power and has set a goal to increase that to 50% by 2050. Or how about countries in central Africa that are giving climate change a 1-2 punch. Just by planting trees between agricultural fields, African farmers are doubling crop yields and helping to pull back in and remove more and more carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.
Humans are resourceful. We are tough. And when we decide to put up our dukes and decide to fight for something (like our kids), look out. The danger, the thing that worries me is not that we can’t get climate change under control--we can. What worries me is that people will waste too much time hemming and hawing, debating whether or not climate change is real or whether this strategy is better than that strategy. Remember the investment analogy? The more we can keep out of the fund now, the less payout we’ll have to deal with down the line. The key to winning this battle is action NOW, and every action is worth taking, even the actions of which we aren’t completely certain.