Yes, the Earth is still warming

For information about global climate change, including links to data and studies, visit
See “Visions of an Emerald Valley”—an essay by SN&R president and CEO Jeff vonKaenel about how Sacramento might best become a truly “green” and sustainable city.

Thanks to La Niña, a “Pineapple Express” weather system, and normal cyclical changes in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, it’s a rainy winter in the River City. Parts of Southern California have endured flash flooding and mudslides, while a good chunk of the country is digging out from Snowmageddon II. Freezing temperatures in the South are being blamed for traffic accidents in Atlanta and the deaths of eight homeless people in a fire at an abandoned New Orleans warehouse where they’d taken shelter.

These weather conditions lead to another persistent drenching from the annual flood of climate-change deniers, who point at the thermometer and shout, “Hey! It’s cold! That means global warming is a lie!”

Some denial is caused by simple inability to distinguish between weather and climate. Even Southern California gets colder and has rain in the winter. And there’s an underlying difficulty in the language—“global warming”—used to describe the serious, long-term change to our climate as a result of greenhouse gases and rising average temperatures.

The scientists who first investigated climate change used terms like “greenhouse effect” and “global warming.” It’s accurate; the overall average temperatures of the planet are climbing, sea levels are rising and Earth is getting hotter.

And the effect of global warming on weather is that it gets more extreme. Those 100-year floods start to happen every five years, extreme temperatures are more common, storms become more severe.

It took time and investigation to understand that the full effects of this warming included unusually high amounts of snow- and rainfall. And certainly, the scientists who first described the situation as “global warming” didn’t expect that they would have to deal with a public which, for reasons of either personal fear or political baggage, would be so determined to deny the evidence presented.

The current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are higher than they’ve been in 650,000 years. The evidence is widely available and easy to find, once we take a break from shoveling snow or unclogging backed-up gutters. As attendees at the international conference on global climate change held in Cancún, Mexico, in December heard, it’s far more serious in places like the Cook Islands. That South Pacific island nation of 19,000 is in danger of being washed away by increased erosion from a rising sea. At the same time, they must ration drinking water, survive ever more powerful typhoons and watch as their coral reefs die.

Right now, the effects of climate change are falling disproportionately on poorer countries. The United States is comparatively well-insulated from feeling the pain.

But it will become our problem, sooner rather than later. The agreements on greenhouse-gas emissions reached in Cancún are not nearly enough, and without serious action—by Americans, by Californians and by Sacramentans—we’ll discover just how bad it can get. In the Cook Islands, they’re already learning.