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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Time will tell

From Time Magazine's cover story this week:
No one can say exactly what it looks like when a planet takes ill, but it probably looks a lot like Earth.

Never mind what you've heard about global warming as a slow-motion emergency that would take decades to play out. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the crisis is upon us.

From heat waves to storms to floods to fires to massive glacial melts, the global climate seems to be crashing around us.

The problem -- as scientists suspected but few others appreciated -- is that global climate systems are booby-trapped with tipping points and feedback loops, thresholds past which the slow creep of environmental decay gives way to sudden and self-perpetuating collapse. That's just what's happening now.
Here in Michigan, I've only had to wear boots about three times since Christmas. Here are a few facts gathered from some quick Googling:
  • It's about eight miles north from the bottom of the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay to Marion Island, and for decades that stretch of water froze almost every winter. We know that because a record of the first freeze-up and first ice-out has been kept for 155 years, ever since 1851.

    Then, about 1970, something odd started happening. The number of years when the bay froze began to nose-dive. And, since 2000, said Jim Nugent of the Michigan State University Horticultural Center in Traverse City, the west arm of the big, deep bay has frozen only once.

  • Traffic accidents are way down in Isabella County, apparently due to the unusual lack of snow and ice.
  • From late December through mid-February, Michigan experienced 48 consecutive days where the temperature was above average.
  • January temperatures for most of the state were more than 10 degrees above normal.
  • The entire year, from February to February was the warmest 12-month period in Canada's history.