Climate-science skeptics have been gleeful in their assault on climate change theory, the hard research and tens of thousands of scientists behind it and the very concept of human responsibility to the environment, because there has been snowfall. In a stunning display of ignorance, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) openly claimed the record snows that hit Washington, DC, were evidence there was in fact no climate change, that the whole idea is just a myth.
His obvious ignorance about the definition of climate —it does not mean local weather— is one facet of his failure to reason. But the truly sinister feature of his non-evidentiary, ideologically driven, and well-funded (by corporate donors) attack on climate response policy is his unwillingess to see pattern of global climate destabilization. Record snowfalls across the nation, with snow falling in 49 of the 50 states (none in Hawaii, of course) are anecdotal proof of global climate destabilization.
But while Sen. Inhofe is using his family to build an igloo, alleging that snowfall makes global climate change an impossibility, the science is showing the destabilization of global climate patterns to be far more severe than any previous models had projected. It remains to be adequately studied whether eight years of flagrantly climate-skeptic industrial policy in the US may have contributed to a worldwide emissions binge, accelerating the process.
What the most unthoughtful, mean-spirited and self-interested climate skeptics, like Inhofe, fail to understand, or want the public and the government to fail to understand, is that a slight warming of the global average temperature alters weather patterns of all kinds. This leads to the destabilization of major climate patterns, and can mean the breakdown of deep ocean currents, the jet-stream —which keeps Europe warm despite its high latitude— and even the African and south Asian monsoons.
One of the most visible and immediate effects of destabilization is the more intense storms that come with warming of the global average temperature. With warmer seas and a slightly warmer atmosphere, storms that feed on sea-water evaporation —which is accelerated in a warmer climate— become more powerful, and have more precipitation to dump when they hit land. Intensifying hurricanes and the intensified snows of 2010 are equally indicative of that trend.
But the inconvenience, beauty and/or shock of incredible snows, is just one detail of how warming shifts climate bands and causes patterns of weather communication between regions to break down; the most dangerous scenarios relate to the oceans. The rapid and accelerating melting of polar ices shows not only the risk for rising sea levels, but also the risk of undersea climatological destabilization factors: the breakdown of sea methane hydrates along the sea bottom or the Deep Ocean Current could fundamentally alter climate patterns everywhere on Earth.
Methane clathrate hydrates —more commonly called methane hydrates— are deep ocean deposits of highly concentrated methane gas, trapped in the crystal structure of water ice. If these become vulnerable to melting, the release of methane could have a catastrophic effect on the relatively stable climate patterns that have existed throughout recorded human history.
Research in the permafrost region of Siberia in 2008 showed millions of tons of methane being released from melting clathrate hydrates, with the result being concentrations as high as 100 times normal in some areas. Methane is many times more greenhouse effective than carbon dioxide, and an atmosphere filled with massive concentrations of it would certainly produce significant destabilization in global climate patterns.
It is believed the rapid release of methane from methane hydrates may have been part of the feedback loop of catastrophic climate destabilization that led to major extinctions in the past. Major extinction events or global climate alterations may have been spurred by massive global methane release that resulted from melting of hydrates thawed by warming induced by either meteor strikes or volcanic eruptions of catastrophic magnitude.
The severe warming of the global average temperature over recent decades has no evident natural cause, though it is clearly explained by the massive increase, over the last several centuries, and most importantly over the last 100 years, of carbon-based gases that contribute to the “greenhouse effect”, keeping warm air closer to the surface of the planet, creating these dangerous climate destabilizing feedbacks.
The Deep Ocean Current has been described as a conveyor-belt of stable climate, required for civilization as we know it to function. It is, in fact, a global flow of water, the dynamics of which protect the climate distribution we view as “normal”. The most crucial engine of the Deep Ocean Current is where the warm Gulf Stream waters, having brought warmer temperatures to northern Europe —which is on the same latitude as Newfoundland—, reaches a literal tipping point in the North Sea, where the ambient temperature is so low the tropical waters rapidly cool and plunge to the bottom.
The effect is a powerful waterfall with more downward thrust than the driving current of any river system in the world. That thrust is crucial to keeping the global Deep Ocean Current moving, because it has enough force to push that same current down around Africa and into the Indian Ocean. Similar inducement zones occur across the globe, but the most crucial is the North Sea plunge. The breakdown of this “conveyor belt” could simply do away with warm European climates or the monsoon rains on which half the world’s population depends for food.
This is why “warming” is global and not local. The snows of Washington, DC, might appear to mean “cold” to the non-evidentiary observer, but in fact, they mean “warm”. Harsh mountain winters can just as easily be a sign of warming as snowless winters, because “global warming” is just a trigger for what is actually climate destabilization. It is foolish, if not brutish, to argue that somehow “cold” will make for climate stability in the same way water stands still when it freezes.
The climate does not work that way. It is a global contagion of temperature variations, humidity, atmospheric gases and feedbacks, which never stops or freezes. Winds are not mystical forces or the breath of gods, but rather the result of temperature fluctuations. Sen. Inhofe cannot explain away decades of climate science with record snowfalls, in part because the snows are a predicted proof of the warming and destabilization trend, and secondly, because he is talking about weather, not climate.