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Global Warming: Questions and Answers

Don’t the record snowstorms hitting the Northeast mean there is no such thing as global warming?

No, not at all. No one single event event, cold or hot, wet or dry, can be blamed on global warming or used to deny global warming. Global warming is due to increased amounts of heat trapping gasses in the atmosphere. A Higher average global temperature is just one outcome. Snowstorms are dependent on atmospheric moisture and warmer air holds more moisture. As long as the temperature at the base of the cloud is below freezing, it will snow. The higher the (below freezing)temperature, the greater the snowfall.

More rainfall will be better for crops then, right?

Not necessarily. Not only is a warmer atmosphere wetter, it is also more dynamic. Severe storms will be more common, including flooding. Even without floods, too much rain can be a problem. Too much rain in the spring can delay planting. Too much rain in the fall can cause problems with harvesting. Both effects will lower crop yields.

cropflood

cropflood

Well then at least we don’t need to worry droughts, right?

Not necessarily. Global warming is the cause, climate change is the effect. Climate scientists make predictions for the future climate based on computer algorithms called Global Climate Models (GCMs). There are several of them and they all generally agree. Not only will the atmosphere get warmer but other changes will occur. Rainfall will be greater overall, but the distribution patterns will change. Precipitation in coastal areas will increase but in mid-continental areas it may increase only slightly or actually decrease.

drought

drought

Wait, you can’t have it both ways can you?

Actually yes. Consider the following scenario. Here in Arkansas the climate is predicted to shift from one amenable to mixed hardwoods such as an oak/hickory biome to a more savanna like climate. Rainfall may increase but it will come in fewer, more intense storms. The factor that is most important to plant growth is soil moisture during the growing season. Higher temperatures mean faster evapotranpiration. The Ozarks very well may become a badly eroded prairie-like biome. We are predicted to have more rain but a drier climate.

Even drinking water may become harder to get – or at least more expensive. Fewer but more intense rainfall events means more runoff. This means less recharge of natural aquifers so less well water. Reservoirs will need to be greatly expanded to capture larger rainfall events.

Well, at least it won’t cost so much to heat homes and offices in the winter, right?

OK, I’ll give you this one but over all utility bills may be higher due to the greatly increased demand for air conditioning in warmer months. Summer electric loads are currently higher in the summer than winter, and this differential will expand. Not only will hotter summers cost more, heat waves will become more frequent. Heat waves are already the most lethal extreme weather event.

The climate has changed in the past and we survived. Why is this any different? Climate has changed before but never as rapidly as it is/will be changing in the near future. We will no doubt survive but a lot of plant and animal life won’t. Our future will be hotter, both drier and wetter, more lethal, and less diverse unless we act and act fast.

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