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!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • 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.