Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The UN’s World Meteorological Organization has issued its annual report. As you will have guessed, things don’t look good.
There were 117 heat waves in 2022 and 58 droughts globally. But there were also 61 wet spells and 63 floods. We are rushing toward weather extremes. Global heating has driven a 6-fold increase in heat waves over the past 40 years.
By the way, this spring, India and some other Asian countries confronted the worst April heat wave on record. I’ve lived in India and Pakistan in April, and even forty years ago it was sweltering hot. I can’t imagine what it is like now. It reached 111 degrees F. some places, such as Bankura, Bengal, and schoolchildren weren’t able to go to class in many instances.
One of the striking WMO findings is that in the Swiss Alps, 6% of the mass of the glaciers was lost between 2021 and 2022, a record breaking setback. If you did that every year for the next 17 years, all the glaciers would be gone from Switzerland. That development is a little unlikely, since the average volume loss in the past twenty years has been more like one to two percent per annum. Still, the rate of global heating is increasing, and the glaciers in the Swiss Alps have lost half their volume in the past 85 years.
Some glaciers in the Alps may be 120,000 years old, and we are melting them so fast we could wipe them out in this century.
What was the reason for this weird 6% loss of volume? The WMO gives three. There wasn’t much snow in 2022, so the glaciers were left uncovered, increasing their exposure. Second, winds brought an unusual amount of dust from the Sahara Desert up to Switzerland and deposited it on the glaciers. Brown dust reflects less sunlight back away than does white ice, making it hotter for the glaciers. Finally, it was unusually hot in Europe last summer, and the extra heat helped melt glaciers.
Just to underline, this. is. not. normal.
Melting glaciers are a problem for several reasons. Many parts of the world depend on summer glacier melt for drinking water. In fact, the whole country of Pakistan and the Indian province of Kashmir do. In the old days before we humans heated up the earth by burning coal, petroleum and fossil gas, the glaciers would melt a little in the summer but then grow back in the winter. Now, they are not growing back to the same extent. Hence the 6% loss in volume. If the glaciers go away, maybe entire countries thirst to death.
Second, the melt water eventually flows into the seas and oceans, causing them to rise. In past times on earth when it has been so hot that there is no surface ice, the seas have been as much as 300 feet higher, and there was a third less land area than there is now. I.e bye-bye Louisiana, the Carolinas, and the countries of Egypt and Bangladesh. Those past warm epochs were caused by thousands of volcanic eruptions over millions of years. We humans have managed to heat up the globe in only 270 years, a rate never before seen in earth history.
I put solar panels on my roof and got an electric car, but there is only so much individuals can do. This is a job for governments, and it matters a lot whom you vote for.
But fighting climate change is always possible. Think of it like a scale of 1 to 100. We can stop it at 2 or go to 3. If we go to 3 we can stop it there or go to 4. Wherever we can stop it or slow it down, we win. Since it is a spectrum, there is never a point where you could say that it is too late to do anything. If you don’t do something you guarantee that things will move further to the other side of the spectrum and get even worse.
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