Thursday, September 06, 2007

Living On a Warming Planet

All of man's little devices to stir up the air are now no longer luxuries - they happen to be pitiful and panicky keys to survival. The time is five minutes to twelve, midnight. There is no more darkness. The place is New York City and this is the eve of the end, because even at midnight it's high noon, the hottest day in history, and you're about to spend it in the Twilight Zone. ~ Rod Serling, Twilight Zone episode "Midnight Sun"
In 1961, Rod Serling wrote an episode for the third season of his television sci-fi series the Twilight Zone titled "Midnight Sun." He postulated an Earth that was getting closer to the sun. The temperature was rising over 140 degrees F. Most of the people in New York had gone north or died from the heat. The few who remained were struggling to survive as even the middle of the night was unbearably hot.
At left is the extent of the arctic ice cap as of a couple of weeks ago. The pink line shows the average coverage of the ice for August for the last two decades of the twentieth century. In just a five day period, from August 17 to August 22, the arctic ice cap shrank by 131,000 square miles, about the size of New Mexico. The current estimate is that summer arctic ice will disappear completely by the year 2030.

For comparison, at right is the arctic ice cap in September, 2006. Just one year ago. This is not esoteric babble. The lose of the ice cap is both a symptom and a cause of global warming. The white of the ice reflects the summer sun, moderating global temperature swings. The blue of the open ocean absorbs heat. The ice cap is melting because the Earth is warming and because the ice is melting the Earth will get even warmer still.

The Southern California heat wave has broken, daytime temperatures are back to normal. A couple of dozen people died from the heat.

The Twilight Zone Twist
In Serling's story, the Earth was not getting closer to the sun. The unbearable heat was simply the nightmares of a feverously sick woman. In fact, the Earth was getting farther from the sun and the planet was freezing to death.

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