During our last snow day on Thursday morning, I was sitting on my family room sofa, drinking my third cup of coffee and watching the Today show while waiting to get plowed out. Per usual, they featured the latest storm, having field reporters in various northeast cities comment on snowfall totals, school and mass transit cancellations, etc. etc.... I found it interesting that Matt Lauer then turned the show's attention to one simple question: Why? Why are we in the northeast seemingly in this pattern where we're getting socked with so much snow? For that answer Lauer turned to physicist Dr. Michio Kaku of the City College of New York, who theorizes that global warming could be behind this weather pattern. Here's the clip:
We can talk about "global swings" as Kaku refers to them, but one fact is irrefutable: our planet is getting warmer. In fact, 2010 was tied as one of the hottest on record since records have been kept since the 1880's. I for one believe it is due to human consumption of carbon, not merely natural ebbs and flows of climate. Kaku's theory of the increased moisture in the atmosphere due to the increased temperature of the Gulf of Mexico certainly is an interesting one. It makes you wonder when you piece these recent snowstorms together with the other weather "aberrations," i.e., floods in Australia, mudslides in Brazil and California, and hurricane seasons that seem to expand in duration and intensity each year. Are they all by products of global warming? Are they our new norm?
All of this made me have flashbacks to 21 years ago when I began teaching. I taught an Integrated Science class to high school freshmen where one of our major units was on climate. One of the the topics we covered was "the greenhouse effect," where we studied the effects of carbon dioxide, CFCs, methane, et. al. on the atmosphere. I showed my kids this fascinating video I taped from Channel 2 entitled "After the Warming". The premise was interesting: British broadcaster James Burke was presenting a documentary fictitiously recorded in the year 2050. In it, he reviews how climate change has affected human history for centuries. The second part is the most fascinating, as he "recalls" was has happened from the 1990's to 2050 to address global warming. In turns out that this part of the video (which was shot in 1989) is downright prophetic, as Burke tells of such stories as $5.00 a gallon gasoline, oil spills in the Gulf, American wars in the Middle East due to oil, cap and trade legislation, and massive refugee displacement due to climate changes such as drought and flooding. The film also paints a negative picture of the governments of industrialized countries (including the US) during the early 21st century for the failure to take meaningful action to control carbon emissions and proliferate alternative energy sources. Sound familiar?
A key part of After the Warming that I distinctly remember is a section where Burke describes potential changes to the Atlantic Conveyor, the convection flow of the Atlantic Ocean that carries warm waters northward and cold waters southward. Most importantly, this "conveyor belt" is a key influence on the weather patterns for the northeast states. As Burke (and many other climate scientists) postulates, as polar ice caps melt due to global warming, the ocean waters are less salinated, thus the slowing the flow of the conveyor. Such a circumstance could bring strange weather patterns to us. Here is a clip from After the Warming:
Interestingly enough, the After the Warming video is available for free in its entire 2 hr format on on a YouTube page dedicated to all of the scientific videos of James Burke. It's wonderfully educational and I strongly recommend it.
Watch it on our next snow day!