North of the Alaska Range mountains, global warming took a Tuesday setback in that snowy way that tends to make some people skeptical of climate change. Call this the normal variation problem.
Alaska is famous for it. Fairbanks was 39 degrees on Tuesday with snow falling in the hills above town. The temperature had topped 80 degrees only four days earlier. This is not usual, but it’s not freakish either.
The all-time high for March 16 in Fairbanks is 82 degrees set in 1993. But the extremes of high and low are not as revealing as the extremes of the “normal” high and the “normal” low, which are averages of temperatures over time.
The difference between the normal high and normal low for Fairbanks on May 16? 23 degrees Fahrenheit.
The estimated global temperature rise in the past century? About 1 degree.
The estimated global temperature rise forecast for the next century? A little over 2 to as much as 10 degrees.
A 10 degree rise would be dramatic, but it would also be well within what Alaskans experience as normal every day. This is not climate change denial; it’s climate-now reality.
It’s hard for some people to get worried about a possible, long-term rise of a few degrees when they live with the daily reality of ups and downs of tens of degrees.
Only a fool, of course, would deny that it’s gotten warmer in Alaska in the last few hundred years. The evidence is obvious. The forests have moved steadily to the once treeless west and north and ever higher into the mountains. The glaciers of Glacier Bay that touched upon Icy Strait at first white contact are now so far back in the bay you have to spend a day on a boat to get to them.
But this hasn’t meant the end of the world. Alaska has adapted, and Alaskans have adapted. So, too, other Americans.
Yes, we continue to use a huge amount of energy per person compared to Third World countries, but we’ve been steadily doing better since 2005. We now use less than our green neighbors to the south, the Canadians.
Can we do better? Sure. And we should.
The country needs a sensible energy policy that reduces consumption (to save money) and gets people moving regularly toward better health (to save money). But arguing over global warming or climate change, if you prefer that term; trying to scare the citizenry into some sort of global warming agenda; and treating as heretics those who raise questions about climate changes seems more a distraction from the goal of a sensible policy than an addition to it.