Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Are New Words Needed for a Warming World?


Record hot days in December. Should we be happy or worried?

It was a beautiful weekend in much of Texas. Here in Austin, people arrived in t-shirts and shorts at the annual lighting of the Capitol Christmas Tree. They sang carols in the old fashioned way, but some may have decided to forgo the hot chocolate.

The temperatures hovered around 80.

Austin wasn’t alone in being unseasonably warm — Houston had record highs Saturday and Sunday.

As an unusually warm year stretches into December, more and more people are experiencing two conflicting emotions simultaneously. They’re happy with temperatures that allow outdoor barbeques and even a dip in the pool as winter begins, but concerned that it’s all somehow related to global climate change.

And they’re at a loss for succinct ways to express those feelings.

“This is great weather, but…” is one option. But could there be an easier way?

Their fears may be misplaced when it comes to the heat this year. It is difficult to relate individual weather events to longer term climate change trends. But, as we’ve reported in the past, unseasonable and dramatic weather events are a part of climate change according, to the scientific models.

Here’s how Professor Michael Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University and author of the famous “hockey stick” graph put it to us in a recent interview.

“Think of these individual weather events as the random rolls of a die, of a six-sided die. What we are doing with climate change is we are loading those dice. If you look at record breaking heat in the U.S. over the last decade, we have seen all-time heat records broken at twice the rate we would expect from chance alone. Over the past year we’ve seen those records broken at ten times of the rate you would expect from chance alone. That’s like sixes coming up ten times as often as you would expect.”

And it could be too late to reverse the trend. As Coral Davenport reports this week in the National Journal, more and more researchers are coming to the conclusion that man-made climate change is here to stay.

“Even while the U.N. climate-change process is working toward a 2015 global deal in which the world’s biggest polluters agree to cut their carbon pollution, the terms of the agreement won’t be enforced until 2020. That means countries won’t even be required to start cutting their emissions for another eight years,” Davenport writes.

Which brings us back to those Austinites singing carols in their shorts and t-shirts. How might they express their feelings for weather that feels so good, but may augur catastrophic changes in our global climate?

We already have two suggestions.  At an outdoor dinner party in Austin the same evening as the tree lighting, “beautominous” (a conjunction of beautiful and ominous) and “carbeautiful” (carbon and beautiful) were both offered up for consideration.

Now we’d like to ask our readers.

What word would you use for weather that is both beautiful and frightening in its implications?

Leave your suggestions in the comment box. And if you aren’t convinced by the robust science pointing to global climate change, feel free to chime in as well. Just remember to keep it civil.


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