Feb. 20, 2010
Buried under snow, Washington, D.C., and other mid-Atlantic regions have become showpieces for the folks who want to dispute the possibility of global warming. Not so much here, though, where southeast Michigan has tromped through a winter that has been extraordinarily ... average.
At 30 inches as of Friday, measured snowfall is 2.3 inches below normal; temperatures are running a bit above normal, including this month, which is 0.6 degrees warmer than average to date. And then there's the other side of the continent, where Canadians struggle to keep enough snow on the slopes in the Vancouver area to host Olympic events.
All of which reinforces how daily weather is irrelevant to discussions of climate change. Even on a warming globe, new low temperatures may occur and snow records may be set. Inexorably, though, carbon dioxide is building up in the atmosphere in finite and measurable quantities.
Scientists can only model so much about the global climate, and their predictions may prove wrong about what happens as greenhouse gases build up in the atmosphere. Moreover, as recently disclosed e-mails and other reports have indicated, there have been several slip-ups in how well the research has been reviewed and in the characterization of some data.
So it's important for continued and rigorous review of various climate studies, as it is in any scientific field. But it's also important to acknowledge that the long-term global trends are not suddenly reversing to suit the arguments of those who would prefer not to invest anything in countering potential climate change.
The stakes for future generations remain high, despite the D.C. area snowdrifts. And the effort to move beyond a carbon-based economy -- in which humans dig up fossil fuels that formed over millennia and burn them within a few centuries -- must continue for other reasons as well.
While oil and natural gas fields continue to be discovered, they exist in places that are increasingly difficult to reach. The era of cheap oil, in particular, is basically over. Coal becomes a "clean" fuel only at increasing expense.
So let it snow. But let's also unleash far more investment in new energy sources. Washingtonians getting stuck in snowbanks shouldn't have to mean everyone else has to get stuck in the status quo
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