Polar Vortex Is Nothing To Laugh At

Incidents of Global Warming We Are Ignoring

Frozen Over: Ice floes fill the Hudson River in early January during an extreme cold spell that fell over most of the country.
Getty Images
Frozen Over: Ice floes fill the Hudson River in early January during an extreme cold spell that fell over most of the country.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 15, 2014, issue of January 17, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Global warming didn’t create the hurricane, but it turned a commonplace misfortune into an epic calamity.

Another Arctic bulge over the Great Plains collided with a mass of warm, wet air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico in September 2013. The collision produced five days of unprecedented rain, causing the worst flooding in Colorado history and $2 billion in damage.

And now, the Big Freeze of January 2014, blanketing a continent with record cold. This wasn’t just a wintertime coincidence. It was an extreme weather event. These used to occur somewhere in the world every couple of years. Now they’re happening everywhere, month after month. And when the same coincidence happens over and over, it’s no longer a coincidence.

In the past few months alone, the strongest storm in recorded history hit the Philippines and the largest tornado ever seen struck Oklahoma. Central Europe had its wettest spring ever, and Scandinavia its hottest summer. And that’s just 2013. The past few years have seen biblical floods in Australia, unfathomable heat waves in Russia and drought covering four-fifths of the continental United States, altogether wiping out up to one-third of the world’s wheat crop. A growing band of central Africa is drying out and becoming a famine belt. Perhaps most dramatic: the European summer heat wave of 2003, which is now known to have killed some 70,000.

While scientists around the globe scramble to understand a fast-changing reality, the world’s governments meet annually to try and forge some joint strategy for coping.

The global reality is summed up in the Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, now in its fifth edition. It’s a three-part survey of some 10,000 peer-reviewed studies, summarizing current scientific knowledge, observable impact and possible responses.

Part 1, published in September, reported that while global warming is an unequivocal fact, the role of human activity — mainly burning fossil fuels — is a 95% certainty, up from 90% in the last report, in 2007. That might not sound like a big deal, but it means the uncertainty has fallen in half.

The amount of carbon in the atmosphere has risen about 40% since the start of the Industrial Revolution. It’s now at its highest level in 800,000 years. The measured rise in average global temperature since 1880 is about 0.8 degrees Celsius, or 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. If carbon emissions continue at their current rate, IPCC predicts a further rise by 2100 of 1.5 to 4 degrees Celsius (2.7 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

Consider the havoc a 1.4 degree rise is causing already. Now imagine a 7 degree increase.

Sea levels have risen about 7.5 inches in a century. At current emission rates they’ll rise another 2 to 5 feet by 2100, enough to inundate coastal cities like Shanghai and New York. So far, incidentally, measured outcomes have nearly always exceeded high-end predictions.

As for governmental coping strategy, that’s a bit stickier. Politicians grumble about the economic cost of reducing carbon use to slow emissions. Nobody wants to bite the bullet. And the cost only rises. Planners now speak of a three-part price tag: cutting emissions; adapting infrastructures to survive the catastrophes we can no longer avoid; and repairing the damage each time. All told, we’re talking about trillions of dollars in the next few decades, like it or not. Next to that, lost income from cutting coal is chump change.

The bigger problem: Who pays? Developing nations, led by top-emitter China, want the industrialized West to bear the brunt since it produced most of the carbon that’s in the air now. They want the freedom to catch up before they pay their share. The West, led by Britain and Europe, wants everyone to cover their own emissions going forward.

America, the second-biggest emitter and still the world’s largest economy, isn’t even in the discussion. Congress, you know.

That’s what we should be talking about. Everything else — everything — is secondary.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.