Warm winter serves as reminder of changing climate

Kathryne LeBell, Views Editor

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This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

The debate over climate change has grown more pressing in recent years. According to NASA, nine out of the 10 warmest years on record occurred after 2000 and polar ice caps are predicted to melt at unprecedented rates. With the winters growing warmer, it is something that should raise concerns. This December alone, over 5,000 local weather records across the United States were broken, some in place since the 1800s. This must be acknowledged and work must be done to combat it.

The simplest explanation for the temperatures is an unusually strong El Niño, a natural climate event that results in warmer oceans and associated weather patterns. Normally, El Niño only affects areas over the Pacific Ocean and coastal regions in Latin America. This year, however, it shunted north, affecting several states, especially in the northeast United States.

In a way, it would be easy to dismiss climate change at this explanation. El Niño is a phenomenon that has been observed since the 1600s, occurring every two to seven years. It is as natural as any other weather phenomenon on the planet, and it is a term known even by those who may otherwise be unfamiliar with meteorology. But that still leaves several questions — why is it so strong this year, why are winters getting shorter (10-14 days shorter than 20 years ago) and why is 2016 expected to be the warmest year on record?

For years, critics of the theory of global warming have used the lack of real-world effects as reason for disbelief. And though the current warm weather might be attributed to a cyclical effect, the increasing frequency and strength of the effect might be explained by carbon emissions. Given the unprecedented nature of the situation, it is difficult to understand how the two forces interact and what it will mean for future generations.

In all fairness, scientists have estimated that the average global temperature would only be 1-2 degrees cooler than it currently is if man-made forces were not taken into account.  But the issue is not only the simple temperature difference but the unpredictable weather patterns in the future.

The powerful effects of El Niño have brought consequences to New Orleans as well. These weather conditions resulted in heavy rainfall across the Midwest, one of several contributing factors to the Mississippi River’s high water level. On Jan. 10, the Army Corps of Engineers opened Bonnet Carre Spillway in Norco, Louisiana to mitigate potential flooding. Development in the Mississippi River Basin is believed to have also contributed to these rising water levels, though climate change is suspected to be another contributor.

Global carbon emissions are just now beginning to stall, with an expected decline in the next decade. This is a natural effect of countries moving from ‘developing’ to ‘developed,’ a point that removes the necessity of massive amounts of coal and fossil fuels. Still without a change in policy, carbon emissions are expected to increase by 46 percent by 2040 (from a 2010 baseline). Even following the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, the required 55 member states to validate the Paris Agreement to limit global warming will not be confirmed until Apr. 21, 2017.

This issue affects us all. Anyone who hopes to raise a family and live on Earth for the next century will experience the consequences of rapid development, pollution and disregard for the one place that humans can live unaided by technology. Society is finally beginning to experience what scientists have been cautioning against for years. Awareness and activism on the local level is hardly a solution, but it is what we can do as we wait for the Paris Agreement to come into effect. Until then, try to enjoy the sunshine and El Niño breezes.

Kathryne is a junior in Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached at [email protected]