Weather vs. Climate Change vs. Global Warming

Weather vs. Climate Change vs. Global Warming

Jennifer Wilson Pines

During a patch of unusual weather, it’s not uncommon to hear someone claim that it proves or disproves the existence of climate change or global warming.  When our area got its first measurable snow in over 700 days, that triggered quite a few of these pronouncements. But while they overlap, they are not the same.

Weather is the current conditions occurring in a local area or region; rain, snow, drought, hurricanes, tornados, or a mild sunny day.

Global warming is the rapid rise in average surface temperatures around the world over roughly the last century. Scientists point to increased release of greenhouse gases from humans burning fossil fuels as the main cause.

Though the earth has experienced dramatic temperature changes in the past, none were in such an extremely short time period that can’t be traced to a specific event like a massive volcanic ash discharge or meteor collision.

Climate change includes the earth’s rising average temperature and other effects that are occurring because of it, like rapidly melting mountain glaciers and ice packs in the Arctic and Antarctic, heavier rainstorms, more frequent and intense droughts, shifts in flowering plant times, shifts in insect hatch times, rising sea levels, and forest fires.

This recent rapid temperature rise coincides with the modern industrial era. This led to the proposal for a new geological era to be christened the anthropocene, or human age. This concept was introduced by atmospheric chemist and 1995 Nobel Prize winner, Paul Crutzen, in 2000.

It’s proposed that this new era of human driven influence should replace the current Holocene Epoch that began at the end of the ice age, roughly 11,000 years ago.

The anthropocene is proposed because of the effects of human activity on the earth’s soil, atmosphere and biology that are now preserved in layers of sediment and biological specimens, including everything from nuclear fallout to pollution to steadily rising temperatures.

Living, as we do, on an island, we will experience the impacts of climate change in the form of sea level rise, flooding and more frequent and intense storms as experienced in Sandy and Irene. Since I live near the shoreline of Manhasset Bay, at only 22 feet in elevation above sea level, that threat is something I consider often.

And the reverse can also be devastating – though we live in a temperate area with a decent average rainfall, a small shift in that pattern can bring on drought, and that will impact the recharge of our sole source aquifer, our only source of clean drinking water. Unlike NYC with its vast reservoir system, all our drinking water comes from under our feet.

The recharge capacity is already diminished by increased impervious surface from buildings, roads and parking lots and increased demand. When I hear calls for increasing the available housing and population of the island by another third, which would necessarily increase impervious surface, and without taking into account the finite amount of available water, I am horrified by the short sightedness and lack of environmental awareness.

But we are currently buffered from these changes by technology and infrastructure. Migrating birds arriving on their breeding grounds after flying thousands of miles are now off cycle to the insect hatches they depend on to recover from that exhausting journey. Polar Bears are starving, as the lack of pack ice prevents them from hunting for seals.

The half a million residents of the low-lying islands of the Maldives face the loss of their homeland within their lifetime.

NASA predicts that, “Beyond 2100, the consequences of sea-level rise could well force an inland retreat by human civilization to higher elevations.

By 2150, storm surges likely will be twice as high, or higher, than they are today. And in general, after 2100, rising sea levels in the 3 to 6.5-foot range (1 to 2 meters) will cause widespread damage to coastal areas.” A

t the top of the target list is NYC and the surrounding coastal areas.

By now you’ve heard the litany of personal changes you can make to reduce your carbon footprint, and there are online calculators to give specific items to reduce your impact. If we don’t each do our parts, the Anthropocene might be a very short era.

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