Snowmageddon, Haiti and climate change?
The East Coast saw record snowfall this winter. The country of Haiti experienced one of the worst earthquakes in history. Is climate change to blame?
Saturday, March 13, 2010 - 18:55
Earlier this year, Haiti saw one of the worst earthquakes in the small country's history. The already impoverished country was hit by a catastrophic 7.0 quake in January, leaving 300,000 dead and over a million homeless. In another part of the world, major earthquakes hit the country of Chile. Also leaving hundreds of thousands homeless, Chile's quake shook the rotation of Earth to a degree that shortened the 24-hour day by a microsecond.
Is climate change to blame?
Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions happen naturally, but some claim human activity can speed up this process. Earthquakes could be triggered when weight from the melting glaciers is released.
Linking climate change and earthquakes may be a stretch. More likely, the recent serious earthquakes are just coincidence. Every year we experience about 17 earthquakes from a magnitude of 7 to 7.9, and at least one 8.0 quake. Most go unrecognized because they are typically under the ocean or in unpopulated areas.
More snow, more rain
Earthquakes may not be caused by climate change, but that doesn't mean we can shrug off recent severe weather patterns as merely coincidence as well. Contrary to what it may seem, major snowfall on the East Coast this winter reaffirms evidence for global warming.
Climate change causes more dramatic weather patterns, not just overall warming.
According to climate scientists with the Union of Concerned Scientists, we are going to see more snow in areas where we usually get snow. We will also get a lot more rain in the typically rainy places.
Overall, things are heating up
Looking beyond Snowmageddon, the world just completed the hottest decade ever since humans began taking records in the 1880s. Time Magazine recently argued that global warming evidence is stronger than ever.
"Plenty of these climate effects had already been observed at the time of the 2007 IPCC report, including warming temperatures, shifts in rainfall (wet regions getting wetter, dry regions getting drier) and the increase in summer meltback of Arctic sea ice. Those patterns have continued, and in some cases gotten worse."
Where science meets politics
If humans cause climate change then we are required to take action. The causation of climate change is most notably linked to the burning of fossil fuels. This creates a big political issue.
Energy companies make up a major and profitable industry for many developed countries. These companies want to stay in business. Big oil and coal companies don't want to compromise their practices, or their profits. Addressing climate change creates serious implications for how these companies conduct business, just like addressing health concerns with cigarettes meant serious changes for the tobacco industry. (As you may remember, claims linking cigarette and health also received a fair amount of criticism and skepticism.)
The easiest way to argue against the solution is to argue the problem doesn't exist. Companies supporting fossil fuels pressure politicians to reject environmental legislation that would put them out of business. Science gets backlash in the media when politicians disagree.
Certainty is rare in any field of science, but climate change is real. The certainty of climate science was questioned recently when statistics produced by the IPCC concerning the melting of Himalayan glaciers by 2035 were skewed. Since the opposition picked up on this news, scientists have aggressively refuted claims that these statistics discredit years of study and over 3,000 pages of reports produced by IPCC.
Although it seems like we are experiencing more earthquakes than usual, we unfortunately just felt them in populated areas. We can't blame climate change for the disaster in Haiti, but record snowfall and other odd weather patterns confirm scientific consensus. Climate change is real and very serious.
The American Red Cross giving medical aid in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Photos: United Nations Photo/Flickr (top) and americanredcross/Flickr
Haiti is still in great need for medical supplies, food, and aid. Donate to help children in Haiti through the UNICEF Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. Donate to the Red Cross International Response Fund, for both Haiti and Chile.
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