Politics, personal views, and controversies aside, climate as usual is no longer the norm on Planet Earth.
The Earth's climate is undergoing tangible changes. That's reality, whether you're among the growing numbers of Americans who don't buy into the idea of "global warming"; whether you agree with global warming advocate former Vice President Al Gore; or whether you're skeptical of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group established by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization that has studied climate change for more than two decades.
The see-for-yourself changes don't depend on scientific data -- flawed or not -- or reputed errors in expert reports. The changes in climate are apparent to each of us, and they are not weather anomalies, according to experts interviewed for my recently released book, Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America.
The Arctic polar icecap is melting. Pictures taken from space show it thinning and disappearing , as do statistics -- no matter who analyzes them. The average ice extent this February was the fourth-lowest for the month since modern tracking began, and well below the average for the period 1979-2000, according to reports from the National Snow and Ice Data Tracking Center at the University of Colorado.
The meltdown isn't confined to the polar icecap, either...it's getting warmer farther south, too. Consider Grinnell Glacier in Montana's Glacier National Park. The U.S. Geological Survey has side-by-side photos of the glacier taken nearly 100 years apart. In 1910, the glacier is impressively obvious; in 2008, it's gone, retreated, vanished, leaving barren rock in its wake. (Check out the Repeat Photography Project photos here.)
Mother Nature apparently has bought into the scenario of changing climate, ushering in spring early. Maple sap from trees in New England and Canada runs two weeks earlier today than 100 years ago, Pennsylvania-based water law expert Joseph Dellapenna says in "Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America."
Climate change doesn't necessarily mean that total annual precipitation is different, adds Dellapenna, also author of Water and Water Rights, a standard reference work on U.S. water law. "But the pattern of precipitation will be different ...."
That could mean more precipitation in the form of rain instead of snow, he adds.
However, this year, it seems to be just the opposite. Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C., for example, has recorded more snowfall so far this season than Colorado's Denver International Airport at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
This February, only one small tornado was reported across the entire United States. (Initial reports claimed zero tornadoes reported, but that was revised). Whatever that means--and no one is sure -- it's highly unusual. Generally about two dozen tornadoes are reported every February, according to the Storm Prediction Center, part of National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service.
Changing climate may mean less precipitation, too. On the other side of the Earth, Melbourne, Australia, is coming off its driest decade ever recorded. Water storage levels were as low as 25 percent in mid-2009, according to Victoria government officials.
Whether these climate differences are natural or man-made and exacerbated by higher ozone levels and pollution -- or something else entirely -- change is undeniably afoot. Believe your eyes. It's not an optical illusion, it's reality. To deal with these changes, we must first acknowledge them.