Warm and rainy winter is not a fluke

Last modified: 1/27/2012 12:00:00 AM
Something that's become a common sight around New Hampshire: a snowmobile with a "For Sale" sign on it. A sight that's probably never been seen before in the Granite State: golfers using a cordless drill to insert their tees into the frozen ground of a snowless New Hampshire course. That occurred at the Amherst Country Club where, according to The Telegraph of Nashua, 200 golfers showed up to play in 50-degree temperatures on Jan. 7.

The front page of yesterday's Monitor displayed two weather-related stories. The first was the two-week postponement of the 1893 Black Ice Pond Hockey tournament due to thin ice. Given the historic unpredictability of New England weather, that could be a fluke. The second story proved that it isn't. That story reported that U.S. Department of Agriculture has redrawn the color-coded planting zone maps that appear on seed packets to reflect the rapidly warming climate. But you wouldn't know about that by listening to the presidential candidates, and most of the time that includes President Obama.

If there is any hope of averting a climate change severe enough to eliminate species and render populous areas of the globe uninhabitable, that has to change. It won't, however, unless voters of both parties insist that candidates explain what they would do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vow to rule out any candidate with no credible plan to do so.

In his State of the Union speech, the president reaffirmed his commitment to government support of alternative energy projects and research and an end to federal subsidies for the oil industry. Both are necessary and laudable. But he also proclaimed his support for a stepped up exploitation of America's fossil fuel resources. That would increase the nation's energy independence, but make addressing climate change much harder, if not impossible. India and China are not going to take significant steps to reduce their rapidly-increasing consumption of fossil fuels while the United States is expanding its extraction of them.

Since 1970 the average winter temperature in New Hampshire has increased by about 4 degrees. Snow covers the ground, on average, one week less each winter. Nationally, the first 10 days of this month were the warmest and driest on record. December temperatures were 4.6 degrees above normal in Concord and 3.9 degrees warmer than normal so far this month. Since Dec. 1, snowfall in the city has been 19.5 inches below average.

Instead of a serious conversation about climate change by presidential candidates, and most members of Congress for that matter, what voters are getting is energy industry propaganda aired nightly on television. The American Petroleum Institute's Vote4Energy.com campaign is singing the praises of the Keystone XL pipeline and pitching energy independence in its ad. The coal industry's offering is an initially stirring ad that shows people from all walks of life out-cold on the canvas of a boxing ring and then, to triumphal music, rising to their feet, shaking it off and preparing the fight again. The message: So-called "clean coal" will create jobs and "power the next American comeback."

There is no such thing as clean coal. New power plants are cleaner, but old ones, like Bow's Merrimack Station, are among the nation's worst polluters. And little to no progress has been made at capturing and sequestering the planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions power plants produce. The only way to dramatically reduce the emissions from those sources and others is to tax carbon at a rate that makes it more economical to use cleaner energy sources. Most politicians don't want to talk about that - and won't unless voters force them to.

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