This weekend, Atlanta experienced record-setting temperatures in the high 70s, continuing a trend of warm winters. There's a growing sense, even in conservative Georgia, that something's not right when you're attending Christmas events like ice skating and the evening parade in t-shirts and shorts. With apologies to Dean Martin and Frank Loesser, baby, it's not cold outside.
Unless you're a Southerner, you probably wouldn't think those temperatures were unusual. But the average high for Atlanta this time of year is 50, with a low of 37. The low today here was 63.
It's not just here in the Southeast where temperatures are soaring. In the "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field, the game in Green Bay was the warmest ever played there in December, at 54 degrees. They set a record as having the warmest day for a December 13 up there in Wisconsin. The "blustery" Windy City of Chicago managed a low of 56 degrees.
The Heritage Foundation sent me an email article denying there's an environmental problem. They claim "Amount of warming since 1998: Almost none," citing arguments by a Georgia Tech climate change denier. Then they claim that there's been some warming, but that it's not man-made, or a problem. And I'm sure when the temperature finally goes below freezing this winter, someone will say "Global warming... disproved!" But that's not how it works. This is getting to be the equivalent of a July snowstorm.
This weekend's wave of warmth was hardly an exception. Last year, 2014 was the hottest year ever, even including the cold experienced by the Northeast United States. In fact, ten of the warmest recorded years in history have all occurred since 1998, which was then cited as the hottest year ever. Eastern Virginia sported a high of 71 and a low of 59. Boston's high was 50 with a low of 46, while Seattle was only slightly lower. You have to go to Juneau, Alaska, for temperatures in the 20s. If current trends persist, 2015 will top 2014 at the hottest ever.
Countries successfully negotiated COP 21, the landmark climate deal with limits on fossil fuel emissions. But the issue is sure to devolve into partisan bickering, even though it's hard to put the blinders on weather like this. In fact, a HuffPost/YouGov poll showed that a majority of people worldwide see global warming as a problem.
They aren't alone. An overwhelming majority of scientists are reaching the same conclusion. Even though climate change skeptics claim that there is some disagreement (they've convinced 51 percent of the public that there's a lot of scientific disagreement on the issue), John Oliver on his HBO show showed a debate where 97 percent of scientists debate three percent, instead of an array of skeptics going after Bill Nye, the science guy.
Critics cite the damage switching to different forms of energy, ignoring not only the damage to coastal cities and ports, as well as the agriculture industry, water. They also overlook the benefits of shifting to cleaner, renewable energy, giving the American consumer options, as well as fewer health concerns air and water pollution.
We find ourselves at a similar crossroads to what we were considering on April 5, 1988, when President Ronald Reagan signed the UN's Montreal Protocol. Here's what Reagan said.
I believe the Montreal protocol, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme, is an extremely important environmental agreement. It provides for internationally coordinated control of ozone-depleting substances in order to protect a vital global resource. It requires countries that are parties to reduce production and consumption of major ozone-depleting chemicals by 50 percent by 1999. It creates incentives for new technologies-chemical producers are already working to develop and market safer substitutes-and establishes an ongoing process for review of new scientific data and of technical and economic developments.
If the United States follows Reagan's example of environmental success, not only will other countries not be able to cite the U.S.A. as the country holding back environmental reform, but they'll hopefully be able to compare our post-pollution standard of living, and compare it to their own smog-filled cities, and realize that COP 21 is in every country's interest.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.