Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Global Warming Versus Climate Change

As you know, I live in the northeast US in Boston, Massachusetts. Our country, except a couple small pockets, has had an unseasonable cold snap in recent weeks, most notably places like southern Florida.

Online friends have posted photos of palm trees encrusted in ice, their own yards engulfed in the rare sight of frost and other odd occurrences due to this weather and although not all, some of these folks have accompanied these photos with statements like “So much for global warming huh?”

Actually, no. As a matter of fact the warming part of global warming has everything to do with the current state of affairs.

First of all let me define both terms, global warming and climate change.

Global Warming: An increase in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere, especially a sustained increase sufficient to cause climatic change.

Climate Change: Any change in global temperatures and precipitation over time due to natural variability or to human activity.

Wait, so does that mean these two terms define the same basic thing? Well, sort of. They are not exactly the same, but one certainly can not occur without the other.

Here’s how I explained it to a friend who shared the photo of the ice encrusted palm leaves and who had also linked to an article indicating North Dakota had experienced temperatures at -52 degrees (with the wind chill), and she made reference to the ‘so much for…’ statement I talked about above:

It is actually BECAUSE of global warming this is happening...temps go up, water & polar ice shelf melts, more water is evaporated into atmosphere, less definitive line where the "cold" weather should be, more severe weather as more moisture falls from the sky :-(

That is in the simplest of terms, there are certainly loads of other factors and ways of explaining it, but the bottom line is that when the climate changes due to the overall temperature (global mean temp) increasing, a whole lot more extreme weather will most definitely be seen everywhere.

So what can we do?

One of the number one contributors to warming is greenhouse gas, sometimes referred to as CO2 but better known as emissions. Every time we turn up our heat, drive our car, run water, eat prepackaged foods, fly in an airplane, shop for new items and a plethora of other somewhat ingrained daily activities we are creating emissions. By focusing our lives in a more concerted effort to reduce our emissions we will all make a step toward a more regulated environment.

Use throw blankets, sweaters and fuzzy wool socks if alternative energy is not an option in your home. Plan so errands are done in bulk and closer to home on the same day to reduce the number of times you start your car. Try to work from home one or two days a week (this not only reduces driving but energy use in the office as lights and heat remain off or lower than average). Turn off the water while brushing teeth, only flush every other time, or drink filtered tap water to help conserve water resources. Shop at a weekly Farmer’s Market for local and organic produce (if that isn’t possible due to geographic location [like me], try to shop for regionally grown in-season produce) instead of buying prepackaged foods (something had to be run to create all that packaging right?). Take a train for your next trip or if you absolutely must fly be sure to get on a full flight and sit in coach as opposed to a private plane.

But most importantly spread the word! It is only by education that we are able to fully understand the meaning of a word or phrase so if someone in your life is blowing off global warming as ‘not real’ because of the frigid temperatures and record snowfall in their area, educate them! The more the word spreads the faster we can find ways to fix it.

Photo credit: Gary Braasch, Chicago, Illinois 1995, World View of Global Warming

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