Preparing for a Tornado

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In January 2013, the U.S. National Climatic Data Center revealed that 2012 was the hottest year ever in the contiguous United States since records began in 1895. Among other things, the current year brought with it blistering heat, severe drought, and massive storms that caused broad devastation. While temperature differences between years are usually measured in fractions of a degree, 2012 buried the previous 1998 record by a full degree Fahrenheit. Further, according to the Weather Channel, using federal temperature records, no less than 34,000 new daily high records were set at weather stations across the country, compared with approximately 6,600 new record lows. That ratio, roughly 50/50 as recently as the 1970s, has been lopsided for decades, but never by as much as it was in 2012 as the country has continued to heat up to record high temperatures.

While scientists say that natural variability almost certainly plays a role in last year's extreme heat and drought, many of them expressed doubt that such a striking new record would have occurred without the addition of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And yet, incredibly, with all these data, global warming is an issue today that remains controversial, with most opinions varying somewhere between two extremes.

At the one end of the opinion spectrum, warnings from the scientific community are becoming louder, making many people from various nations sit up and take notice of the increasing body of science pointing to rising dangers from the ongoing buildup of human-related greenhouse gases, produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and forests. At the other extreme there are those (and plenty of them) with their heads in the sand (sand that used to be ice?) or somewhere else, who maintain scientific-based claims about global warming to be alleged, that global warming-related climate change is sensationalistic and that little if any real global warming has occurred at all over the last 15 years.

Adopting a more balanced perspective, and taking into account the complexity, conflicts and controversies that comprise global warming climate change, the issue can be seen, at least in part, to center around four important areas: (1) the differing obligations of industrialized and developing nations, (2) the question of who will pay to help poor nations adapt, (3) the perceived urgency of protecting tropical forests and, (4) the need for rapid development and deployment of clean energy technology.

And The Emissions Just Keep on Coming

In 2011 global emissions of carbon dioxide jumped 3 percent to a record high and were predicted to jump another 2.6 percent in 2012. New figures just out show that emissions are slowly falling, both in the U.S. as well as in some of the most advanced countries. Such new and modest declines can be attributed to a combination of factors including global economic weakness, the transfer of some manufacturing to developing countries, and conscious efforts to limit emissions. The boom in the natural gas supply from hydraulic fracturing is also a factor, since natural gas is supplanting coal at many power stations, leading to lower emissions.

Unfortunately, the same reports show the decline of emissions in developed countries is outweighed by continued growth in developing countries like China and India, as the use of coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is growing fastest, with coal-related emissions leaping more than 5 percent in 2011, compared with the previous year.

Indeed, scientists fear that emissions continuing to grow so rapidly precludes the possibility of attaining an international goal, established three years ago, of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees. Nations around the world, despite a formal treaty pledging to limit warming -- and 20 years of negotiations aimed at putting it into effect -- have shown little appetite for the kinds of controls required to accomplish that goal.

Interestingly, even as scientists have established long ago that the earth's climate has powerfully shaped the history of the human species (e.g. biologically, culturally and geographically), humans are loath to embrace the real possibility that a reciprocal relationship may exist: that they can be a powerful influence on the climate.
If you are wondering if global warming is real, you might check out the information regarding weather events such as Hurricane Sandy. The condition of arctic ice is another clue regarding the reality of the climate.

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