The Dallas-Fort Worth area is currently on its 39th consecutive day of temperatures in the triple digits. The region might soon break its record of 42 consecutive days at 100 or above, set in 1980. And according to the Weather Channel, drought now affects over a million square miles of the Lower 48 states, or 32 percent. Some would say that this is the “picture” of global warming.
But as with most things—especially if you’ve tried to put together a piece of furniture from a two-sided instruction sheet—what would seem to be simple, isn’t. Just recently, scientists from Boston University, Harvard and the University of Turku in Finland published a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America that showed that the world didn’t warm as predicted between 1998 and 2008. In fact, between 2005 and 2008, global temperatures actually dropped slightly. This absence of warming occurred despite a steady increase in carbon dioxide emissions—which scientists have previously insisted would raise temperatures.
James Delingpole, writing for The Telegraph in London, has said that this damming evidence should finally put an end to what he calls the “Great Global Warming Boondoggle.” Yet, he posits, “the Warmists” have developed a new explanation for the inconvenient truth: sulfur pollutants pumped out from China’s coal-fired power plants are preventing the sunlight from reaching the Earth’s surface, thereby offsetting the warming effect of CO2 emissions. In other words, manmade global cooling is canceling out manmade global warming. Delingpole says that that’s nonsense.
Or is it?
We’re going to need a bigger air conditioner
Actually, the Chinese-coal hypothesis is a valid one, according to Andrew Freedman in a July 5, 2011, article for The Washington Post. China’s coal consumption more than doubled in the four years between 2003 and 2007, causing a 26 percent increase in global coal use. Since air-pollution standards in China are weak at best, the country’s coal burning sent massive amounts of sun-blocking sulfates into the atmosphere.
Freedman notes that there have been other periods in history when sulfur emissions temporarily mitigated global warming caused by greenhouse gases, such as in the aftermath of World War II. During the economic growth from the 1940s to the 1970s, the planet’s temperature seemed to level off, possibly from the cooling effects of aerosols. After the 1970s, however, clean air laws enacted in many industrialized countries curbed such emissions.
That could be what’s going to happen all over again. Recognizing the damage sulfate pollutants visit upon the country’s crops, environment and the health of its citizens, Chinese leaders have now ordered coal plants to be fitted with sulfur-scrubbing equipment. Once the effects of these cleaning devices have a chance to take hold, the drop in sulfur particles may trigger a sudden and dramatic rise in temperatures around the world, as the rising CO2 levels that have been masked for a decade are unleashed.
Two times the CO2
While the most widely accepted climate-change model predicts that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared with pre-industrial times—which will likely happen before this century’s end—will cause global temperatures to rise by about three degrees Celsius, researchers using an updated model, and who reported their work in a January 2011 paper in the American Journal of Science, found that such a doubling could produce a temperature increase of six to eight degrees Celsius. According to many, that kind of climb in thermometer readings would result in mass extinctions, large-scale desertification, the dying of our oceans, the drowning of our coastal cities, the deaths of billions of people and other devastating effects.
But putting all the conjecture aside for a moment, what we do know is that last year tied for the warmest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Could what’s going on in Texas be a sign of things to come?
Here’s to finding your true places and—still cool—natural habitats,