The danger of Chiberia’s polar vortex

Snow coats Navy Pier in Chicago on Jan. 8. Dangerously cold air has sent temperatures into the single digits around the United States, with wind chills even lower. (Nam Y. Huh | AP)
Snow coats Navy Pier in Chicago on Jan. 8. Dangerously cold air has sent temperatures into the single digits around the United States, with wind chills even lower. (Nam Y. Huh | AP)

Fifty degree-days in December, bike riding in winter and bone-chilling temperatures brought in with the new year. Some might write this off as the usual unpredictable weather that often greets Chicago’s citizens. But what if this is just the start of the climate change we’ve all been talking about?

Climate change has been a hot topic in global politics and policymaking for the better part of the last 30 years. With the evidence regarding climate change being strikingly one-sided, the question of whether climate change is real is no longer relevant.

And though the debate will likely persist, the conversation needs to shift toward what the potential fallout will be, and what actions need to be made to counteract the indisputable change.

The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) closely monitored the rise of global carbon emissions from fossil fuels. These numbers have significantly increased since 1900. Between 1900 and 2008, the EPA concluded that emissions increased by more than 16 times as much. However, between 1990 and 2008, those numbers have increased by only 1.5 times.

Global greenhouse gas emissions can be broken down into a variety of different categories that refer to the different activities that promote these emissions. From energy supply and land use, to agriculture and transportation, fossil fuel combustion remains at the top of the charts as the source of the majority of carbon dioxide emissions. The United States sits among the top three countries emitting the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Mark Potosnak, assistant professor of environmental science and studies at DePaul University, has many concerns regarding the weather, but he cautions students and Chicago residents to dig deeper into the matter. Although admittedly not an expert in the field of climate change, his extensive studies in earth system science have made him quite knowledgeable about several aspects of climate change.

“Climate change is widely recognized to be a serious problem facing our global society,” Potosnak said. “Effectively communicating the scientific, political and ethical dimensions of climate change is very tricky.”

Many arguments have been proposed to explain the change in our climate and confront the one-sided scientific consensus about climate change. From mentioning that climate change has occurred before, that the sun is the cause of climate change or that there really is no general consensus on who is contributing to global warming, the reasons are many and valid. However, scientific work helps combat these assumptions.

The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated, with            95 percent confidence, that humans were in fact the main cause of the current global warming. Although it can be disputed that the consensus of countless scientists doesn’t exactly equate to scientific evidence, the numbers are quite telling nonetheless.

“As Earth warms through climate change, scientists predict that extreme weather such as floods and droughts will be more frequent,” Potosnak said. “In affluent countries like the United States, these extreme events can lead to loss of life. In developing countries, these events are     often catastrophic.”

While Chicago’s residents are already well aware of the erratic weather patterns that seem to be a common occurrence, that doesn’t exclude them from needing to be aware of these climate changes. Whether it is a heat wave in the middle of July or another polar vortex similar to last winter, Chicago residents must be alert, for all of Chicago’s safety.

Debating over whether climate change is something worth worrying about should be placed on the backburner, while solutions to combat the warming need to take center stage. The possible implications of how climate change can potentially harm countries around the world and their citizens is reason enough to take the topic seriously.

“We should realize that many people on Earth live in marginal conditions, and extreme weather can be the difference between difficult and fatal,” Potosnak said.