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Published on January 31st, 2019 | by Steve Hanley

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If The Earth Is Warming, Why Is It So Cold In Chicago? Let Us Explain

January 31st, 2019 by  


As young activists gather in cities around the world to demand political leaders take meaningful steps to curb global warming, weather, forecasters are predicting in will be warmer today in Antarctica than in Chicago. The record cold temperatures have prompted the alleged leader of the free world to tweet America could use some good old fashioned “global waming.” Thanks, Donald. Good to know you are so well informed.

 

Credit: NASA

Weather And Climate Are Not The Same Thing

The thing The Donald is incapable of comprehending is that weather and climate are two separate and distinct things. Weather is what happens over a period of days or months. Climate is what happens over a period of years, decades, or even centuries.

Perhaps an analogy will help. Imagine the average number of home runs hit in a major league baseball game increases in 2019. Does that mean every player in the league will hit more home runs? No. For some, the number of home runs they hit may go down. For others, it may go up. But overall, the average will rise. Denying the evidence of the upward trend because one player has a lousy season demonstrates nothing but a poor understanding of statistics.

While it may seem counter-intuitive that the Earth is getting warmer while some areas are experiencing colder temperatures, this is exactly what climate scientists have been predicting for years. Some parts of the world will get wetter, others will get drier. Some will get hotter, some will get colder. Forest fires will become more intense and more frequent. The same thing will happen with regard to hurricanes and typhoons. The words “climate change” are remarkably accurate. A warmer planet will lead to changes in climate, the scientific community suggests, and that is exactly what is happening.

The culprit in the current surge of cold air flooding down from the Arctic is what climate scientists call the “polar vortex,” the upper atmosphere cyclonic winds that circulate around the area at the top of the world. Loss of sea ice may be responsible for a breakdown in the circulation pattern of those winds, allowing them to escape the Arctic and sweep down across Canada and into the Midwestern states.

As the New York Times explains it, “The term [polar vortex] refers to circular bands of winds near the poles that are strongest in wintertime and well above the jet stream in the stratosphere. The stratosphere is an atmospheric layer that extends roughly seven to 31 miles above the earth.

“Usually, those circular bands act as walls that keep the teeth-chattering cold air locked at the poles. But, every so often, the winds break down and allow the cold air to escape. That’s what happened at the beginning of January, when the polar vortex split into three separate bands.” See the graphic below by Zax Lawrence, a PhD candidate in the Physics department at New Mexico Tech, and an affiliate of NASA, JPL, and NorthWest Research Associates.

A 2009 study published by Geophysical Research Letters found there were as many record lows as record highs in the US in the 50s. But today there are twice as many record high temperature events than cold temperature records. There may still be record cold periods but they are occurring less frequently, reports the New York Times.

A  Money Guy Explains The Concept Of Risk

The alleged president may pooh pooh all this talk of climate change but Bob Litterman, a founding partner and chairman of the risk committee of Kepos Capital does not. Litterman was previously the head of risk management at Goldman Sachs and is on the board of the Climate Leadership Council, the sponsor of the Baker-Shultz carbon dividend plan.

After the announcement this week that Pacific Gas & Electric is filing bankruptcy as a result of its liability for a number of deadly wildfires in California, he wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times listing the financial risks the business community is facing from climate change.

“Utilities aren’t alone in facing climate threats. For transportation companies, for example, it may require hardening infrastructure like port facilities or rail lines to protect them from floods or fires. Fossil fuel companies may be forced to deal with stranded assets like oil fields and coal seams that have been bought but won’t be developed as society moves away from coal and oil.

“For society at large, and the government in particular, the most important and urgent action required is to minimize future warming by creating appropriate global incentives to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Economists generally agree that rather than regulate behavior, it is more effective to allow individuals to choose their actions, as long as the prices appropriately reflect the costs, including the risks posed by climate change.

“To date prices of energy have not reflected the risk of future climate damages. This is a stupid mistake and has resulted in too much climate risk. Not pricing climate risk is a bug in the tax code. It can be easily and quickly fixed.”

“But time is not on our side. Even if we take immediate action now to appropriately price emissions, it will take decades to reach a net carbon neutral world, and in the meantime the planet will continue warming. So we’ll also need to harden infrastructure, change building codes, protect fragile ecosystems and make farming and lifestyle choices that are compatible with the climate changes that will be occurring around us. We will also need to confront the very unequal impacts on people in this country and around the planet.

“And while sadly these actions are all costs that will grow over time, the unfortunate reality is that the longer we wait to act, the greater the bill will be.”

One would presume that a former risk manager for Goldman Sachs and founder of an investment company is a Republican. Yet here he is urging passage of a carbon tax and worrying about “unequal impacts on people in this country and around the planet. If only more of his Republican peers were as perceptive and concerned about their fellow human beings.

The recent record low temperatures in the Midwest are not proof that climate change is a hoax. They are proof it is real and coming soon to your home town. 
 
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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. His motto is, "Life is not measured by how many breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away!" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.



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