Lavey: Warm February in Chicago should serve as a reminder that climate change is producing an unpredictable Earth


Source: Moriah Lavey

A February day in 2017. Climate change has produced unpredictable winters, with abnormal weather patterns just one result of global warming.

Moriah Lavey, Op-Ed Contributor

I don’t have to be from around Chicago to know that this and last winter are not normal. This January, for example, there were multiple days where the actual highs and actual lows were more than 20 degrees warmer than average highs and lows of the past. Although these odd local weather patterns are difficult to discern, the overall trends of weather are a testament to planetary changes resulting from human-caused climate change.

I remember how many people this fall talked about the upcoming winter being one of the worst on record in Chicago. That forecast came from the Farmer’s Almanac, which predicted this winter to be “numbing cold” and for snowfall to be above average.

Given that I, and many others, wore shorts during the sunny and warm last week of a mild February, the Farmer’s Almanac seems to have missed its mark.

The Farmer’s Almanac has been published since 1792 and is based on different patterns of climate that we are familiar with. Unfortunately, the planet we are living on is no longer familiar. Because of human’s incessant use of fossil fuels, the average global temperature is up almost one degree Celsius (more than a degree and a half Fahrenheit). Some results of this drastic change are an increase in thunderstorms, a decrease in Arctic ice, sea level rise, increased wildfires, droughts and other natural disasters. These issues challenge our current economic, social and political institutions and threaten our very existence. As Bill McKibben puts it in his powerful book, “Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet,” we are currently living in conditions unlike those any human civilization is accustomed to.

How does this relate to the poorly predicted “Chiberia” winter? Storms are longer, more common and harder to predict. Precipitation patterns that were once familiar are now changing. Worse, the change is self-reproducing in a feedback loop that is tragically ironic (e.g. sea ice melts because of increased temperature, less ice cover attracts more sunlight, which melts more ice). The botched prediction of this winter is just one manifestation of the disconnect between the world we are used to and the world we have induced through an addiction to burning CO2. Yet despite this, our political leaders are doing little to keep human civilization safe.

On Feb. 17, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was confirmed as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt does not believe in anthropogenic climate change, has questionable ties to the fossil fuel industry and has been involved in 14 different cases suing the EPA for environmental regulations. For example, he fought against a provision of the Clean Air Act that requires safe levels of mercury in the air. President Donald Trump supports his efforts to roll back regulation and “overreach” by the federal government, including the Clean Water and Air Acts as well as Barack Obama’s 2015 plan to combat climate change.

Trump and Pruitt’s ideological fight against regulation goes too far. Environmental regulations in the United States are nowhere near as stringent as they should be to maintain “safe” levels of climate change, considered to be two degrees Celsius above normal levels. Despite the belief of some, these regulations are not antithetical to economic growth; environmental policies are concerned with the health and stability of human life.

In the midst of the warmest winter on record, in the third consecutive hottest year on record, our energy and focus, as well as that of politicians, must be on unifying against the biggest threat human existence has ever faced. The future is uncertain and change is undeniable, but we have the opportunity to react to these changes with just and sustainable solutions.

I do not have the answers, but as a collective, we do. As individuals on this small campus in a small part of this globe, awareness followed by personal and political responsibility should shape our actions. Read a book (McKibben, Hansen, or Klein are good starting places), subscribe to InsideClimate News, join an environmentally focused organization on campus, start conversations, call your senators and keep them accountable, guide your everyday decisions using an ecocentric rather than egocentric ideals and, most importantly, don’t lose faith. The planet that sustains our very existence is worth fighting for.

Moriah Lavey is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.