Is the climate stable?

We only see what we want to see.

The answer depends on who you ask and how much they care.

The question is best suited for scientists, especially of the climate variety. Yet, some will have you believe that scientists have an agenda: that they’re not really certain and that they can’t be trusted. We then prefer not to know from them and end up disregarding what scientists say about climate change.

There, I said those two words – climate and change. It’s difficult for me to give you my answer to the all-important question above, since I’m not really qualified to answer it. I’m not a scientist. I don’t have data (that is my own) to back it up. But, I’ll try to answer the question as best I understand or feel about climate change… because everyone would too.

No topic of a discussion is ever shut down because there is a lack of knowledge on the subject matter. We all want to give our opinions based on what little we think we know. Conversations are made by hunch and rumor anyway. They are often ill-informed, but we’re encouraged to have them. This is true for newspapers and the media.

I live on the east coast. We had Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy in back-to-back years. These two storms made us aware of how vulnerable our homes were to disruptive weather. Our homes were uprooted from their foundations. Our apartment buildings crumbled. And some of us were lucky enough to only lose electricity.

All of us would say that Irene and Sandy had a negative impact on our housing. That is for sure. Some of us have said that these two events are part of a weather pattern.   Some go on to predict that weather patterns will worsen in the future. And some are not so certain, not even the scientist.

Let’s be real.

No scientist will ever be able to say with certainty that any single weather event (or two) is caused by climate change. But that doesn’t stop us from having the conversation. We weren’t short of things to say when Irene and Sandy came along, including why they happened to be in the neighborhood. We were more inclined to believe that climate change exists because of them. Some even thought that the frequency and power of the storms is changing and the sea levels are rising.

And some didn’t care about that. People in the wrecked communities just wanted to help eachother rebuild and go home. They wanted to deal with climate change some other day and focus on the real problems at hand. They just wanted their homes back and continue to live normal lives. No one wants to be reminded of a global threat they can’t really see in the distance.

Well, let’s look at the evidence anyway.

Start with climate. We think of climate as simply the average weather over a long period of time. Scientists need 30 years of data to describe a region’s climate. They describe it as the average pattern of energy redistribution, formed when solar energy strikes the planet. Solar energy is converted to heat, and the planet’s system moves it from warmer to cooler regions throughout the year. Since the planet is a sphere, we do not get this energy from the sun evenly.

In addition to moving heat from one surface to another, the heat moves from the surface into the atmosphere back into space. This flow of incoming and outgoing energy is called the Earth’s energy budget. For Earth’s temperature to be stable over long periods of time, incoming energy and outgoing energy have to be equal. The energy budget must be balanced out.

Of all the solar energy that arrives on Earth, 70% is absorbed by the oceans, land and atmosphere. The other 30% is reflected back into space by clouds and ice more or less. The heat is radiated back into the atmosphere in increasing amounts. It does so until the energy leaving the top of the atmosphere matches the amount of incoming solar energy

So there you have it. Heat energy drives the climate. The heat warms the planet, evaporates moisture, creates weather patterns in the atmosphere and currents in the oceans. The Earth’s systems redistribute all that energy from one location to another. The heat dissipates as wave radiation both day and night throughout the year into the atmosphere. The atmosphere acts like the glass of a greenhouse.

Dog left in the car

Dog left in the car

To put it another way, imagine you are waiting for your spouse to return from grocery shopping. You sit waiting in your car inside the supermarket’s parking lot. The sun is high and the solar radiation is coming right in through the front windshield. It’s getting so hot in there, you roll down the window about halfway to breathe. You feel relief as the hot air flows right out.

In this example: the car is the Earth absorbing the sun’s energy. The atmosphere is the glass around your car. You roll down the window to get the right temperature. And your energy budget is balanced.

Climate change is what happens when you don’t roll down that window.

In our example, when you roll down the window halfway, the car’s climate becomes stable. When you roll down the window all the way, you lose more energy than you gain.

When the same thing happens to the planet over a period of time, the Earth would cool and we get things like the Ice Ages.

When you roll down the window just a crack, you gain more energy than you lose. The car will warm until it gets pretty uncomfortable and you can’t bear the heat any longer.

You have to admit: the Earth is warming right now.

You might ask yourself: is climate change human-induced then? Just as the person in the car is in control of rolling down the window, might we have a hand in the planet’s warming? This has been hotly debated. We seem to agree that the Earth is warming, but get highly sensitive and very emotional when our belief systems are challenged as to why.

Scientists have come up with 3 mechanisms that would cause the planet to warm the way it is.

  1. The sun is getting brighter, giving us more incoming energy.
  2. The planet is becoming darker, causing more energy to be absorbed.
  3. The outgoing energy leaving the planet is slowing down for some reason.

The first two have been dismissed (as you may have guessed) by scientists. They know for a fact that the sun is not getting brighter and that we are in a sunspot cycle where we are coming out of one of the dimmest periods in history. They know for a fact that the planet is not getting darker. Scientists are suggesting instead that the planet is getting brighter. Our pollution is creating an atmospheric haze that is reflecting the sun’s incoming light.

Scientists have observed the rate increase of greenhouse gases. They have measured the rate of atmospheric change corresponding to the increasing levels of carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor. And they studied the warming that we are experiencing while these are happening. Scientists have come up with the only scientific theory to explain the warming.

It is caused by us.

For over a hundred years, they’ve tried to prove this theory wrong.

And yet at least 97% of all scientists came to agree that we have an impact on greenhouse warming.

How do you prepare for climate change?

By planning ahead, you can adapt to change. Change is already here. And we have the technology and strategies to deal with change. The good news is that you do not have to change your life instantly. You just have to take it day by day.

You do not have to head for higher ground to avoid floods. Or move to where there is enough capacity to store water in case of drought. You can actually stay where you. Learn what you can do at home right now.

Stop the bleeding by reducing the carbon footprint of your home. Manage the resources you have already around you. Air-seal your home to reduce drafts. Insulate to keep your home’s internal climate stable. Ventilate right to make sure you and your family are comfortable. And reduce your water use. Because saving water is saving energy.

Consider having an energy efficient home.

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