Heat wave ignites climate change debate, 2010 warmest year ever

a thermometer during a heat wave

The heat wave scorching the east coast is stoking the fires of the climate change debate, and it turns out the Climategate scientists have been right all along. Flickr photo.

A scorching heat wave on the east coast is intensifying the climate change debate. The climate change debate was also hot last March when raging blizzards battered the east. Extreme weather events are being seized upon by both sides to support their global warming arguments in the debate about climate change and energy bill in Congress. And just in time for the heat wave, a British panel exonerated the “Climategate” scientists, saying it found no evidence the group manipulated research to back up global warming. Meanwhile, 2010 is shaping up to be the warmest year in history.

Heat wave goes global

The heat wave is news because it’s cooking places like New York and Washington where the national media hang out. But other parts of the world are also roasting. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the heat wave has gone global. Beijing hit a near-record 105 degrees Fahrenheit. In Baghdad and Riyadh, on July 6 it was 113 and 111 degrees. Kuwait set the day’s world temperature high at 122 degrees. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for the first five months of the year was the warmest on record, and 1.22 degrees warmer than the 20th century average.

Climate change: more heat waves and blizzards

During the March blizzards, climate change skeptics built igloos and mocked Al Gore. But will heat waves be the norm if humans fail to reduce carbon emissions? Time reports that the fact that no single weather event is caused by climate change is obvious, but politicians and lobbyists will try to use them in the climate and energy bill debate anyway. Actually, weather and climate aren’t the same thing. Figuring out exactly how climate change affects the weather is tricky. But the March blizzards and the July heat wave conform to a general scientific consensus that climate change will result in more extreme weather.

Climategate scientists’ research is legitimate

The above climate change argument is the position of the Climategate scientists, a group of researchers at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in England. The New York Times reports that these people have played a leading role in efforts to understand the earth’s climate. Last year some e-mail messages sent by the scientists about global warming were stolen and posted to the Internet. Politicians, lobbyists and other global warming skeptics seized upon the e-mails as proof that the scientists were hiding data that conflicted with their positions on global warming. But a report by the panel investigating Climategate said no evidence was found of behavior that might undermine their conclusions.

Climate change: better safe than sorry

Heat waves and blizzards aside, climate change is such a controversial issue because climate science is incredibly complex and hard to explain, and the people doing the explaining still don’t understand climate as well as they would like. This opens windows of opportunity arguments on both sides of the issue. Meanwhile, Ezra Klein at the Washington Post points out that if we can’t deal with a disaster like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010, how are we going to reverse concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere?

Carbon tax: pay me now or pay me later

This leads us to the climate and energy bill and its proposed cap and trade system or carbon tax. Republicans against government intervention are potentially setting up a future in which the government is forced to intervene on a planetary scale. Klein said he’s a lot more comfortable with the government’s ability to levy a carbon tax now than its ability to repair the atmosphere later. That’s why, he said, when faced with the choice between being avoiding the economic risk of a carbon tax or taking a step to preserve the future of the planet, we should choose the planet.

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