“Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.”
— Alvin Toffler
The effort to convince the world’s 7 billion people to cut greenhouse gas emissions before the global climate goes totally kooky and imperils us all took an unexpected turn this week when a top Washington official weighed in.
If you’ve been reading the headlines, you couldn’t have missed Secretary of State John Kerry’s little talk from Jakarta, Indonesia. While speaking to college students there, he said climate change is one of the world’s most serious problems, and compared it to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Kerry further called climate change perhaps the world’s “most fearsome” destructive weapon, and called upon all nations to respond to “the greatest challenge of our generation.” He also derided those who deny climate change’s existence, and compared them to people who insist the Earth is flat.
“We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact,” he reportedly said. “… It is time for the world to approach this problem with cooperation, the urgency, and the commitment that a challenge of this scale warrants.”
Because Kerry is our Secretary of State, his Jakarta speech about climate change is consistent with his foreign policy job. But when he diverted from generalizations to specific parallels between climate change, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, his speech went from ho-hum to unprecedented. The Secretary of State publicly gives equal weight to climate change and nuclear bombs? It made headlines. It raised eyebrows.
Some of those eyebrows belong to none other than Newt Gingrich. Apparently not a fan of the Secretary — which may have something to do with the fact that Kerry got closer to being elected President in 2004 than Gingrich likely ever will — the CNN Crossfire co-host and former speaker of the house criticized our nation’s top diplomat for his words. Not only that, he said Kerry should resign.
In a TV interview, Gingrich said that he found it “very troubling” that Kerry believes “climate change is a greater danger than a nuclear war.” Using social media as a platform, Gingrich reportedly urged Americans who care about national security to demand the Secretary’s resignation. “A delusional secretary of state is dangerous to our safety,” he purportedly wrote.
Delusional, eh? I suspect Gingrich won’t be getting a plump Virginia ham from the Secretary at Christmas this year.
I’m sure Kerry is a skilled and persuasive statesman. And there are times when tough talk is necessary to make sure a vital diplomatic point is understood. Yet, the man just doesn’t get it when it comes to convincing disputers of climate change to reconsider available data on the subject. You don’t inspire anyone to “cooperation,” “urgency” and “commitment” by barking that they’re “shoddy,” “extreme,” or even worse, members of the flat earth society.
I also must say trying to convince such doubters to watch the sky with new-found respect is wasted breath. And if they’re a “tiny minority” as Kerry stated, why even bother?
So what do I believe? Is global warming, which pundits claim has resulted in climate change, really happening? If you care to know, I don’t need Kerry or Gingrich to convince me either way. I also don’t need indisputable proof of receding glaciers, rising seas, cataclysmic tornados, and monster storms like Katrina, Sandy and Haiyan, to persuade me that something big may be astir in the atmosphere.
The proof for me is much smaller than that. Over the years, it has come in bits and pieces. Like just a few days ago. Last Friday night, a family friend from Montana drove down to ski Alta with me over the weekend. We got up early Saturday morning, ate a big breakfast and were excited to go. But then we checked the National Weather Service forecast.
It didn’t look good. The forecast called for overcast skies and unseasonably warm air — even at Alta’s base elevation of more than 8,500 feet above sea level. The snow was going to be worse than mashed potatoes. Not wanting to waste money on a cloudy, mediocre ski day, we went skate skiing instead. It didn’t cost us a dime thank goodness, because we could have done it on water skis. After we were done for the day, we did a tailgate lunch with lawn chairs and our bare feet propped on the cooler. If it had been sunny, it would have felt like April.
On Sunday, we made it to Alta around 10 a.m. Although the morning was still early, when we stepped out of the truck, the air felt and smelled like early spring. But about 90 minutes later, a forecasted front began to roll in. The wind increased out of the west, and the cloud base lowered — but it didn’t feel cold. And then precipitation began to fall. Yet instead of being Utah’s famous light, dry powder, it was those round little pellets called “graupel.”
Graupel is snow that looks like small white beads of Styrofoam or tapioca. It is usually seen in northern Utah during fast-moving storms in the fall and spring, but December through February, rarely at all because the air is typically too cold to allow graupel to form.
Shortly after the noon hour, graupel began to fall with greater intensity and size. In fact, they were the largest I had ever seen — and felt. The wind suddenly increased, and skiers, including my friend and I, began to get pulverized by the pellets. They hit so hard that it hurt, and we tried to cover our faces.
But graupel was only part of the day’s weather that suggests to me something is changing in our climate. It wasn’t forecasted, but lightning suddenly began to crack and boom. The chairlifts were shut down, and skiers, including my friend and me, scampered for cover. Thirty minutes later, the chairlifts reopened, but then temporarily closed again after more lightning peeled across the sky.
I’ve experienced lots of lightning in Utah’s mountains while skiing, but only in the spring. I don’t recall running for cover in mid-February. Neither does my ski buddy from Montana who noted, “Hey, isn’t it a bit early for this weather? It’s only February.”
“Yes,” I said.