Essential Pittsburgh
6:24 pm
Mon July 8, 2013

United Nations Report Examines "Climate Extremes" Over Past Decade

Sea ice, shown here in Nunavut, in northern Canada, reflects more sunshine than in the past, while and open ocean absorbs more, accelerating melting.
Credit Wikipedia Commons

Extreme weather, greenhouse gases, carbon monoxide and glacial melting; all these buzzwords have increasingly entered the public vernacular in the past 20 years. 

Following a UN report by the World Meteorological Organization, scientists expect that the topic of global warming and climate change will continue to be a hot issue.  The report, “The Global Climate 2001-2010: A Decade of Extremes,” cites that the past decade has seen an abundance of greenhouse gas emissions that has caused increased temperatures on both hemispheres, all oceans and an accompanying rapid decline in arctic sea ice and glaciers. 

Director of Science at the Carnegie Science Center, John Radzilowicz, has been following the topic of global climate change and was not necessarily surprised by the UN report.  He was optimistic, however, that the report was gaining attention and combined a multitude of data pointing to the extremes in weather conditions throughout the world.

“We can’t deny this any longer,” Radzilowicz insisted, explaining that the rise was a result of the greenhouse effect where solar radiation enters the Earth’s atmospheres and after leaving the ocean and earth, cannot get back out because of heightened CO2 levels.  The re-radiated sunlight causes higher temperatures, approximately 1.5 degree Celsius in the last decade. Radzilowicz explains that the redistribution of heat changes the way currents flow in oceans and airflows throughout the atmosphere are shifted, altering the normal weather patterns of certain regions. 

He says while it is “extremely difficult to pick one event that can be pinpointed by global warming,” patterns storm frequency and intensity are undoubtedly shifting.

Addressing Skeptics

Radzilowicz  addressed those that may be confused or may not believe in climate change by explaining that “it’s basically settled science…If you get 97% of scientists to agree on anything, that’s an amazing number.”

This settlement stems from a convergence of global warming data in which different teams that are unrelated complete different projects that are unrelated and all come back with the same answer.  The result of this convergence is agreement among scientists, which is, according to John  Radzilowicz and Joylette Portlock, co-creator and star of independent video series on climate change, "Don't Just Sit There - Do Something!" often refuted by politicians and businesses that “cherry pick” data and skew numbers to make the problem appear obscure or invisible.

Obama's Statement, the Clean Air Act and International Discussion

Many measures can be taken to ensure a better environment for the future. Portlock points to the recent statement by President Obama in which he set a number of environmental standards for the EPA to regulate throughout the United States. Portlock notes that while the regulations are not huge, they “definitely address all the major areas and put us squarely on the path of climate stability.” These regulations, including those on carbon emissions, are extended to the executive branch by the Clean Air Act of the 1970’s.

While the United States does not currently have the largest number of carbon emissions, it still falls behind countries such as China and India in terms of investing in "renewables" and placing restrictions or taxes on gases like carbon.

Coming to the table internationally will make a huge difference in those [carbon emission] levels,” Portlock says. At home, however, she suggests that everyone can make a difference in small ways by turning down the hot water heater, cutting back on methane and black carbon, and installing power strips for computers. She also suggests looking into local and global organizations which are coming together as a community to combat global climate change.