I have started to hear it all over again. The intense and record cold weather has led ideologues on the political Right to proclaim: "You see, there is no global warming! How can there be global warming if we are freezing?"
It is almost tragic that the term "global warming" became the popular means of explaining climate change. While it is absolutely and incontrovertibly confirmed that the temperature of the planet Earth has been increasing, what too many people continue to miss is that it is not happening all at once. Neither is it happening in the same way across the planet. For that reason it is more accurate and useful to discuss "climate change" and "extreme weather."
What has been unfolding, as the temperature of the planet increases, is that weather patterns are also shifting. California, for instance, suffered an extreme drought leading to near panic. That has been followed by a massive deluge of rain that has resulted in dangerous mudslides.
The Midwest and the East Coast have been subject to cold snaps that have taken us way below normal temperatures, along with subjecting us to snow storm after snow storm. To this must be added the torrential rains and flooding in southern England and the complete unpredictability of the modern hurricane season that now seems to range from almost nothing to the sorts of intense storms that have hit Cuba, Haiti and Central America, not to mention Hurricane Sandy's assault on New Jersey and New York.
In other words, the fact that this winter has been cold and snowy – as one would expect in a winter – for the Midwest and East Coast should not be interpreted as a return to normal. There is no return to normal outside of activities that must begin right now on the part of human beings. This starts with taking on fossil fuels and the fossil fuel industry. This is what makes the struggle around the Keystone Pipeline so important.
The danger with the pipeline is not mainly the possibility of pipeline rupturing, though that is always a real danger. The danger lies with tapping into the tar sands of Alberta, Canada and the use of fuels that will, more than likely, have a devastating impact on the environment. The problem rests with the amount and type of energy that is needed in order to separate the oil from the sands.
So, let's put this together. While the climate of this planet has been known to change in various eras, the speed and nature of the current changes are clearly related to human, industrial activity and, specifically, the use of fossil fuels. With such fuels, the planet heats up and this sets in motion climate change on a planetary basis typified by extreme weather.
None of this means that each day's weather becomes more extreme than the last's. Rather, we start to see irregular and disastrous patterns emerge that make long-term survival a question.
Time to stop engaging in wishful thinking and, instead, take actions to reverse this trend. It not only can be done; it must be done...and now.
(Bill Fletcher Jr., a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.)