November 30, 2021

Climate Update

Spectator
By Stephen Tuttle | Oct. 30, 2021

It's once again time to run our irregular statistical check on that pesky climate change business. Whether you believe in actual climate change science or think this is all part of some natural cycle or don't believe anything unusual is happening, it's hard to deny some of the numbers.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAAClimate.gov), global temperatures in 2020 were the second hottest since pre-industrial 1880 and reliable record-keeping began; 2016 was the hottest. In the same 140-year period, June-July-August of 2021were the hottest summer months ever. Temperatures are now increasing an average of .32 degrees Fahrenheit every decade. That doesn't sound like much, but it's already more than double the increase from the 1980s and significantly faster than most computer models had predicted. 

If, in fact, human use of fossil fuels and the resulting CO2 emissions, among others, are significant contributors to a potentially destructive global climate change, we aren't doing a very good job of controlling ourselves. Fossil fuels account for nearly 78 percent of all energy production in the U.S. Our fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions declined during the 2020 lockdown months but are rebounding significantly this year. Still, they are more than 20 percent below 2006 levels.

(Yes, we know there were times in our geologic history that were much warmer with more CO2 in the air. And we've seen the graphs that seem to show regular cycles of temperatures up and down. The difference is the length of time those natural, pre-human-intervention, climatic changes took and the comparative warp speed at which it is now happening. 

The Snow and Ice Data Center gives us the sad news that glaciers are continuing to retreat at a record-setting pace, losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice annually and now accounting for 20 percent of sea level increases.

NOAAClimate.gov. tells us ice loss in the Arctic set records in 2020, creating open water across the region while losing an area equal to the size of Alaska, Texas, and South Carolina combined. Fortunately, that does not raise sea levels because the ice already sits on and in the water. The good news on the ice front was that the Greenland ice sheet losses in the 2019–20 cycle were less than record-setting previous years, although still above the 20-year average.

And the weather seems to be acting up. We're having a series of especially unpleasant years when it comes to remarkably destructive and expensive natural disasters. We set a record in 2020 with 22 disasters causing at least $1 billion in damages. There were multi-billion-dollar disasters caused by thunderstorms, a derecho, floods, hailstorms, tornadoes, wildfires, and hurricanes, accounting for nearly $2 trillion in damage altogether. It appears 2021 will be just as bad.   

Why? There are more incidents of extreme weather occurring with greater frequency and severity combined with the fact there are more people living in more places now more exposed to those events. Those who study such things tell us it's going to get worse. 

For some in the drought-ravaged and still thirsty Southwest, things are already getting worse — especially for those dependent on the water from the Colorado River. The Colorado provides water for agriculture, commercial and residential use in two countries, seven states (Arizona, Colorado, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming) and 29 tribal nations; drinking water for more than 36 million people; and irrigation for more than 4 million acres of food crops. In fact, agriculture consumes about 70 percent of the water.

Unfortunately, more Colorado River water has been allocated to those various entities than the river contains — imagine a gallon has been promised but only three quarts exist. Making things much worse is a prolonged drought. Lakes Mead and Powell, the two giant reservoirs retaining Colorado River water and providing hydroelectric power, are both more than 155 feet below their capacity and only feet away from impacting power generation.

Arizona has become the first state to lose part of their Colorado River allotment, with some farms experiencing as much as a 70 percent loss. Squash, alfalfa, and cotton farms will be forced to significantly reduce production. Water restrictions, long overdue in a desert that receives about 7 inches of rain a year, are now being considered in several Arizona communities.

Yes, despite it all, the so-called Upper Basin states receiving water from the river — Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico — which have not taken their full allotment in the past would now like their full share, creating an even greater shortage. The Lower Basin states — Arizona, California, and Colorado — will have to cut back on water for people and crops. 

Higher temperatures, continuing significant ice loss and sea-level rise, more severe weather events, more fires, and a growing water shortage impacting 40 million of our citizens and plenty of the food we eat. The frequency increases and the severity worsens while we debate the reality that already exists.    

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