By Adam Marletta
“Blow, blow thou winter wind,” Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It. “Thou art not so unkind/As man’s ingratitude.”
It is, perhaps, a fitting quote for this unrelenting winter with its merciless one-two-punch of back-to-back snow storms.
Winter 2015 has already been one for the record books. Snow is piled up so high in the city many streets have effectively become single-lane, one-way roads.
The barrage of winter storms have become a ubiquitous source of conversation at work, school, and among friends. In describing this “crazy” winter, people use terms like “weird,” or “unreal.” Some have even dubbed it “Snowpocalypse.”
But there are two crucial words missing in nearly all discussions about the weather: “Climate change.”
Contrary to conservatives’ absurd anti-science arguments, the presence of snow does not undermine the existence of anthropogenic (or human-induced) global warming. In fact, counter-intuitive as it may seem, climate change is expected to lead to greater frequency–and intensity–of snowfall.
This is because warmer air absorbs more moisture. As storms travel over the warming oceans, the increased atmospheric moisture causes them to grow in strength and intensity. When it is particularly cold—below freezing, to be exact—that atmospheric moisture comes down as precipitation in the form of rain, snow, or a “wintry mix” of the two.
According to Kevin Trenberth, senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, global warming has led to coastal sea surface temperatures “exceeding 7 degrees F above normal in parts and 4 degrees F over huge expanses, thereby resulting in 15-20 percent more moisture in the atmosphere” (“As Boston’s Crazy Snow Keeps Falling…” Thinkprogress.org, 02/12/2015).
As the aptly-named Cliff Weathers writes in a recent story for AlterNet.org, these sorts of winters “might become the new normal” (“The Real ‘Snowpocalypse’ is in Boston…” 02/11/2015).
“Climatologists agree that global warming will continue to make these storms worse over time,” he writes.
And while it is true no individual storm can be directly attributed to climate change, rising global temperatures and a moister atmosphere increase the overall likelihood of severe weather.
“The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question,” said Trenberth. “All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.”
In other words, if you are fed up with all this snow you had best start taking action against climate change. And the first step toward that end is making climate change an integral part of our weather-oriented conversations.
Last year was the warmest year on record according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scientists predict the rapidly melting Arctic sea ice will be entirely gone by 2030—perhaps even sooner.
And a major study published last month in the science journal Nature was unusually direct: The planet’s existing sources of fossil fuels—including coal, oil, and “most Canadian tar sands”—must be left in the ground to avoid a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.
(Two degrees may not seem like a heck of a lot. But, given the Earth’s relatively delicate homeostasis, such a rise in temperature could prove catastrophic. As it is, most projections place us on track for an unfathomable 5-6 degrees by the end of the century, barring a massive reduction in CO2 emissions.)
Finally, as I noted in a previous column, it is important we understand it is the system of industrial capitalism—and not, as many environmentalists would have us believe, consumer habits and lifestyle choices—that is the primary cause of the climate crisis.
While driving less, using energy-efficient appliances, and buying fewer Apple gadgets are all worthwhile ways we can each reduce our own carbon footprint, sadly, these individual actions alone are not enough to save the planet. Consider that just 90 corporations--most of them oil companies like ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron–are responsible for nearly two-thirds of CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution, according to researchers in the journal Climatic Change.
In other words, even if we all gave up our cars tomorrow, the overall effect on global CO2 emissions would be negligible. The world’s billionaire financial elite and the corporate state have despoiled the planet–not you and me.
“The danger of green consumerism,” writes Clive Hamilton in his sobering book, Requiem For a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change, “is that it transfers responsibility from the corporations mostly accountable for the pollution, and the governments that should be restraining them, onto the shoulders of private consumers.”
This is why any serious effort to curb the worst effects of climate change must understand the climate crisis as an inevitable result of capitalism–a system that is fundamentally at odds with sustaining life on Earth.
“The winter seemed reluctant to let go its bite,” writes John Steinbeck in East of Eden. “It hung on cold and wet and windy long after its time.”
As they say, everybody complains about the weather, but nobody is doing anything about it. Let’s start doing something about it–before we find ourselves in the midst of the real life “Snowpocalypse.”