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Chilling news on global warming
The Plain Dealer
11/18/03


Sturgeon's Law, as noted here re cently, states that "Ninety percent of everything is crud." Murphy's Law, which is actually Finagle's Law, says if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy's Original Law says, "If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it."

My law says: You can't win.

Unfortunately, as the days grow shorter, I have discovered this law applies even to the climate. It applies specifically to global warming, which I have been trying to view in a positive light.

Global warming does exist. There is no legitimate dispute about that, despite any politics surrounding the issue. The Arctic ice cap is receding at a rate NASA calculates could melt it by the end of this century. Glaciers and Antarctic ice fields are melting. Sea levels have risen. Permafrost is liquefying.

Researchers say the Earth has been warming since the mid-1800s and that the atmosphere's concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide is the highest in 450,000 years.

The only real argument is about what exactly causes it, what all the effects will be and whether it's too costly or unprofitable to do anything about it - even though the costs of warming are likely to be high and varying around the world.

Skeptics say the warming could bring longer growing seasons. They note carbon dioxide is plant food.

Most scientists, however, predict more extremes of heat, more winter flooding, more droughts, reduced summer supplies of freshwater and increasingly destructive wildfires.

One thing leads to another. Scientists foresee the possibility of famine, the spread of infectious diseases and the destruction of plant and animal species and habitats. Researchers in Australia warn of a large increase in the death rate among older people from heat-related causes. Demand for air conditioning would spike energy needs. In some places, railway lines and roadways have begun to buckle.

Some experts say the Great Lakes, which hold a fifth of the world's fresh surface water and are at their lowest levels in decades, could drop as much as three feet over the next 30 years because of global warming, with a costly impact on shipping. For every inch the lakes drop, the Cleveland-based Lake Carriers Association says 270 tons have to be removed from a 1,000-foot ship to prevent running aground. Rain and snow replenish only about 1 percent of the water the lakes lose each year.

Other effects could be as varied as the loss of fall foliage, disruption of maple-syrup production and shorter ski seasons.

Naturally, the question becomes: What's in it for me?

There's nothing I can do about global warming. The U.S. Senate just defeated the Climate Stewardship Act, the first such bill to reach a vote in seven years, which was designed to cap the greenhouse gases that growing evidence fingers as the cause of warming.

Why focus on bad news? Why not look at the good side?

Around here, I figured, global warming could mean beaches like Southern California. It could mean balmy winters, palm trees and planting tomatoes before Memorial Day.

Forget about it.

A study released by Colgate University this month says global warming has had "a surprising impact on the Great Lakes region of the U.S. - more snow."

Published by a team of researchers in the Journal of Climate, the study found a "statistically significant increase in snowfall" in the region since the 1930s, but no such increase outside it.

"This leads us to believe that recent increases in lake-effect snowfall are not the result of changes in regional weather disturbances," said associate professor of geography Adam Burnett. "Recent increases in the water temperature of the Great Lakes are consistent with global warming. This widens the gap between water temperature and air temperature - the ideal condition for snowfall."

So there it is. Global warming and more snow. I can't tell you which laws of thermodynamics apply, but my law says you can't win.

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