Global warming: The conversation we need to have

The IPCC has begun to release the 5th Assessment Report and the latest installment has increased the certainty to 95 percent probability that humans are driving the observed and projected changes. Their purpose is to delay the important conversation. The effects are inescapable no matter where we live. Greenhouse gases do this by preventing heat from escaping to space, just as a blanket tucked around a child at night keeps her warm. Credit: Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, Orono

Let us not be distracted by those who misuse data in order to create doubt about global warming. Let's focus on actions, not distractions. 7, 2014, where red is warmer, blue colder than average. Greenhouse gases constitute a tiny fraction of the atmosphere, but their ability to trap heat has made the difference between Earth being a frozen ice-ball of a planet and the relatively balmy one we inhabit. Let's get to the right conversation.
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Global warming: The conversation we need to have
We all know the earth's climate is changing. We are adding to this greenhouse gas blanket, and earth is warming up.
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Global Warming: The Conversation We Need to HaveTemperature differences from average for Jan. A subset of years without a significant trend do not change the basic physics " that excess heat is held in the climate system by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.Second, in the past decade or so, more of the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gasses appears to be going into the deep oceans, which is why globally averaged warming has slowed. Let us instead turn the conversation to: What can be done to mitigate the worst-case scenarios and to prepare for the unavoidable ones? What is already being done? What do we collectively need to do?
Explore further:Climate: Growing certainties on warming and human role
The most comprehensive accounting of the evidence can be found in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessments. Our burning of oil, coal, and natural gas " fuels that have been extracted from fossil reserves buried in Earth's crust " is changing the composition of the atmosphere. (Data/image obtained using Climate Reanalyzer ( Note that over land, temperature increases have continued at a clip and global average temperatures remain at a record high, with the last 10 years qualifying as the warmest decade in the historical record.Third, Arctic sea ice continues to be substantially below the long-term average in both areal extent and thickness. In recent weeks, while the central and eastern U.S. Daily weather statistics continue to show that the number of record warm temperatures is far exceeding the number of record cold temperatures.
On these pressing questions there are many constructive arguments to be made. The consensus of climate scientists from around the world is that the link between human actions and climate change is as strong as the link between smoking and cancer.

The cold spell earlier this month, while breaking records, must be seen in the larger space and time context of the climate. Credit: Dana Nuccitelli, Skeptical Science
First, the scientific evidence that supports greenhouse warming is vast, and has been building for more than 170 years.
Still we hear in the media reports that global warming has stopped for the last 15 years; thatincreases in polar ice this year run contrary to the theory; and that an extreme cold snap puts a nail in its coffin.

Global Warming: The Conversation We Need to HaveEnlargeSeptember Arctic sea ice extent data since 1980 from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This past year's ice area is certainly higher than 2012's " but only because sea ice in 2012 was the lowest ever on record. became the playground of the polar vortex and its extreme cold, the rest of the northern hemisphere, including the polar region, experienced warmer than normal temperatures. You would not choose 15 data points when you had 170 to characterize a trend. This past year, the Arctic sea ice was 6th lowest and more than a million square kilometers below the average area from the period 1981 to 2000. In this case again, a comparison between two years does not tell the whole story. Here in New England, some changes are subtle (more humidity, consistently warmer nights), dramatic (more intense rainfall events), confusing (bigger snowfall events), and dangerous (more powerful hurricanes). Here's why:
We also know that we are in the driver's seat for these changes. Climate is the story told over many decades.
Do these observations blow a hole into the theory of global warming? Not at all. During any given 10-15 year period, the warming of the atmosphere may accelerate or decelerate but, in the longer term, temperatures are increasing and will continue to do so. The science tells us these are expected in a warming world, and indeed, we see them.. The climate system is noisy, and earth's temperature will vary around the long-term trend. At UConn, we are having lively conversations that have resulted in action plans to (1) reduce CO2 emissions and (2) adapt infrastructure and systems across campus

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