Global warming in context

Global warming in context

Kelsey Routhier

Sometimes it seems like the snow never stops coming. A few weeks ago, we had temperatures nearing -50 degrees Fahrenheit with windchill. You’ve probably seen videos of people sledding off their roofs, pictures of frozen eyelashes and I’m sure all of you have gotten your vehicles stuck in a Northern parking lot.

You’ve probably also seen a lot of Facebook posts saying, “The U.P. could use a little global warming!” or “How can you say global warming is real when we’re having record-breaking snowfall and temperatures?”

These posts are not only annoying, but demonstrate complete lack of understanding about global warming. Quick and easy research will show that global warming causes an increase in extreme weather — including polar vortexes and winter storms. Global warming (and, in turn, this extreme weather) is caused by climate change. Contrary to popular belief, the terms are not synonymous.

The term “global warming” first appeared in the title of a 1975 article by geochemist Wallace Broecker titled “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” Previous to this article, human impact on the climate was referred to as “inadvertent climate modification.”

In 1979, the National Academy of Science published a study on the effect of carbon dioxide on climate. Its chairman, Jule Charney, set a precedent of using “global warming” in reference to surface temperature change, and “climate change” when discussing the numerous other results of increased carbon dioxide emissions.

In scientific journals and discussion, global warming is an increase in the average surface temperature of earth as a result of rising greenhouse gas levels. Climate change is a long-term change in the climate of either a specific region or the world as a whole.

This distinction makes a lot of sense. Thus, it’s irritating when someone who denies climate change uses the fall of snow to try and argue against the scientists who have proven the occurrence of both global warming and climate change. In fact, besides showcasing their ignorance, they’re providing more evidence of the extreme weather that comes with global warming and climate change.

I’m not trying to say that we never had this much snow, this magnitude of wildfires or as many hurricanes before our significant negative impact on the environment. The world has always known extreme weather and natural disasters, but since the Industrial Revolution, the frequency and scale of these events are ever-increasing. Global warming has been proven to cause more extreme droughts and heat waves, which makes sense with the word “warming” in the term. But how is global warming responsible for record-breaking snowfall in recent years?

According to climate scientist Illisa Ocko, the warmer our atmosphere is, the more evaporation occurs. As evaporation increases, so does the amount of moisture our atmosphere is holding. If there’s less moisture in the air, less snow can fall. That means that with more moisture comes more snow. So, with that series of events, as earth’s average surface temperature increases, so does our annual snowfall and occurrence of blizzards.

The U.P. could not “use a little global warming.” Global warming is causing increased amounts of snow. While I understand this concept, and that the warming of earth causes increased extreme weather, I still wish it wasn’t called “global warming.” People hear “warming” and assume that must mean the Earth is turning into a dessert (and that snow means we’re fine). In reality, global warming causes all kinds of extremes. What the U.P. could use are milder winters and a slightly cooler atmosphere.