I'm going to tell you something that my Republican friends are loath to admit out loud: climate change is real.
I am a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative; a fan of small government, accountability, self-empowerment, and sound science. I am not a climate scientist. I'm a meteorologist, and the weather maps I'm staring at are making me uncomfortable. No, you're not imagining it: we've clicked into a new and almost foreign weather pattern. To complicate matters, I'm in a small, frustrated and endangered minority: a Republican deeply concerned about the environmental sacrifices some are asking us to make to keep our economy powered-up, long-term. It's ironic.
The root of the word conservative is "conserve." A staunch Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, set aside vast swaths of America for our National Parks System, the envy of the world. Another Republican, Richard Nixon, launched the EPA. Now some in my party believe the EPA and all those silly "global warming alarmists" are going to get in the way of drilling and mining our way to prosperity. Well, we have good reason to be alarmed.
Weather 2.0. "It's A New Atmosphere Floating Overhead."
These are the Dog Days of March. Ham Weather reports 6,895 records in the last week – some towns 30 to 45 degrees warmer than average; off-the-scale, freakishly warm. 13,393 daily records for heat since March 1 – 16 times more warm records than cold records. The scope, intensity and duration of this early heat wave are historic and unprecedented.
And yes, climate change is probably spiking our weather.
"Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." 129,404 weather records in one year? You can't point to any one weather extreme and say "that's climate change". But a warmer atmosphere loads the dice, increasing the potential for historic spikes in temperature and more frequent and bizarre weather extremes. You can't prove that any one of Barry Bond's 762 home runs was sparked by (alleged) steroid use. But it did increase his "base state," raising the overall odds of hitting a home run. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, more fuel for floods, while increased evaporation pushes other regions into drought.
Here's what I suspect: the patient is running a slight fever. Symptoms include violent tornado sneezes, severe sniffles of flooding and raging rashes of jaw-dropping warmth. It's 85 in March. What will July bring? It's as if Mother Nature seized the weather remote, put America's seasons on fast-forward, and turned the volume on extreme weather up to a deafening 10. This isn't even close to being "normal". Weather Underground's Dr. Jeff Masters put it best. "This is not the atmosphere I grew up with."
Some TV meteorologists, professionals who are skilled at predicting short-term weather, are still in denial. Why? Some don't like being upstaged by climate scientists; we've all been burned by weather models, and some (mistakenly) apply the same suspicion to climate models. Others haven't taken the time to dig into the climate science. "It's all political" one local TV weather-friend told me recently. No, it's science. But we've turned it into a political football, a bizarre litmus test for conservatism. Weather and climate are flip-sides of the same coin; you can't talk about one without understanding the other.
Acknowledging Climate Science Doesn't Make You A Liberal
My climate epiphany wasn't overnight, and it had nothing to do with Al Gore. In the mid-90s I noticed gradual changes in the weather patterns floating over Minnesota. Curious, I began investigating climate science, and, over time, began to see the thumbprint of climate change, along with 97% of published, peer-reviewed PhD's, who link a 40% spike in greenhouse gases with a warmer, stormier atmosphere.
Bill O'Reilly, whom I respect, talks of a "no-spin zone." Yet today there's a very concerted, well-funded effort to spin climate science. Some companies, institutes and think tanks are cherry-picking data, planting dubious seeds of doubt, arming professional deniers, scientists-for-hire and skeptical bloggers with the ammunition necessary to keep climate confusion alive. It's the "you can't prove smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer!" argument, times 100, with many of the same players. Amazing.
Schopenhauer said "All truth goes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Then it is violently opposed. Finally it is accepted as self-evident." We are now well into Stage 2. It's getting bloody out there. Climate scientists are receiving death threats and many Americans don't know what to believe. Some turn to talk radio or denial-blogs for their climate information. No wonder they're confused.