This month the World Meterological Organization released its report on climate for the decade 2001 to 2010. No real surprises; it’s the warmest decade on record since records began to be taken in the late 1880s. Nine of the 10 warmest years occurred during this decade (1998 was the other warm one), and for the decade, temperature averaged 0.88oC warmer than a century ago. The warming brought the now familiar melting of sea ice in the Arctic, melting of glaciers, rise in sea level, and increasingly violent storms. The rate of loss of ice on glaciers has clearly been speeding up as the decade came to an end.
Rate of loss of ice from glaciers, worldwide, since 1945. Losses in the last decade are the greatest loss rate since measurements were first made. Graph © WMO.
Warming is proceeding more rapidly in the Arctic than at more temperate climes, and this warming reduces the temperature differential with latitude. This in turn impacts the jet stream, causing it to slow down and meander more, instead of moving rapidly from west to east. Here in North America, we completed a strange winter which was alternately cold and mild on about a 7-10 day cycle, driving up frost damage to our roads, and confusing our plants totally.
The oscillating jet stream has continued through the spring producing a maddeningly slow start to summer and a difficult time for those who like to plan what they will wear from day to day. As well as disrupting peoples’ lives in this minor way, the erratic jet stream has kept stalling weather systems so that we have been experiencing prolonged and heavy rains, prolonged and searing heat waves, and lots of other excitement. The US south-west has been going through a prolonged heat wave with temperatures breaking records nearly daily. Calgary, Alberta, just suffered its second 100-year flood in a decade, and yesterday, Toronto received a month’s worth of rain in less than an hour, causing considerable damage.
All this climate change is encouraging interest in the Arctic, principally from oil and gas companies that want to get in there and drill, baby, drill, scarcely before the muskeg has dried out. The Arctic environment is now changing more rapidly than any other ecosystem on the planet, and our fossil fuel multinationals are dying to drill, knowing that the sooner they get in there the greater a head start they will have on any administration or regulatory agency putting sound environmental regulations in place. I can hear the politicians now. “Protect the fragile and changing environment, yes, we’d better establish an expert panel to look into that and produce some recommendations for us to consider”. (And those were the politicians who actually want to protect the Arctic environment!)
Meanwhile, the Fortune 500 is published and, again no surprise, the list is dominated by energy companies. Royal Dutch Shell topped the list, while Exxon Mobil was the most profitable. Altogether, 7 of the top 10 corporations are in the energy sector; in addition to Exxon and Shell, BP, Total and three Chinese corporations cracked the top ten. There is lots of money tied up in the fossil fuel business. (WalMart, Volkswagen and Toyota round out the list, while ensuring people have cars to drive and malls full of cheap stuff to buy.)
Lots of money. And no doubt some of it will be used to continue to convince us we cannot survive without burning fossil fuels, convince us that granting them access to Arctic supplies is a vital national need, and confuse us about the reality of the links between CO2 emissions, climate change, and the crazy, dangerous, violent weather we are having. Just wait and see, because some money is going to be used in the next few weeks taking advantage of a tragic train accident in Quebec to convince Canadians that we have to build lots of pipelines in order to be safe in our beds. We could alternatively decide to stop the rampant, poorly regulated growth of the tar sands industry in its tracks. Sometime soon we will probably find out why Google and Facebook are supporting the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a well-known climate science attack-dog, or Senator James Inhofe, the most notorious climate change denier in the US Senate. Google and Facebook, such nice friendly organizations… they seem to be getting into bed with the wrong crowd.