Is climate change to blame for extreme cold?


Camryn Cutinello

Keeping the temperature down in your house will lessen your environmental impact.

Camryn Cutinello, Staff Writer

In recent years, extreme weather, such as hurricanes, fires and winter storm, has been on the rise. Some climate change scientists say, this could be due to human activity. According to the National Climate Assessment, a government-funded study, winter storms have increased in intensity and frequency since the 1950s.

The recent extreme cold that had temperatures at record lows and led to the cancellation of school was due to a polar vortex.

“[The Polar Vortex] connection to climate change is uncertain, as these events take time to study all factors contributing to their causes,” said Mary O’Sullivan, a biology professor at Elgin Community College. “Studies from the 2014 polar vortex lend some evidence that climate change has at least a partial effect, such as causing a slowing of the jet stream as well as the release of heat from the warming oceans — both of which interact with the polar vortex.”

The effects of burning fossil fuels have been widely debated, as climate scientists report that it’s having a negative effect on the environment. In the early 1980s, NASA started Global Habitat and have reported that the climate is being affected by the burning of fossil fuels, with extreme weather being one of the side effects, but some have questioned the studies.

“Linking climate change and extreme weather events is very difficult,” said Victor Gensini, a meteorology professor at Northern Illinois University. “The recent increases in losses due to extreme weather can mostly be attributed to the increasing human footprint on the landscape. However, many studies suggest that certain aspects of extreme weather will become more common in the future.”

The link between extreme weather and climate change is still a theory, but climate scientists are studying to prove it.

“The scientific studies being conducted now are showing some strong evidence that warming oceans are having a strong influence on weather events on land,” O’Sullivan said. “Our weather is shaped by the oceans, so as they absorb more heat, that will play out in many different ways, from droughts to hurricanes, record heat to ice storms. But the subtleties of how and why these events happen require more research, which will enable us to better predict them.”

Recently, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come under fire for her fight against climate change due to claims that the earth will be destroyed in 12 years. While many scientists agree that there could eventually be a point of no return, they don’t know when that is.

“The rate of CO2 growth over the last 10 years is estimated 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last Ice Age.  Nobody knows what the tipping point will be for CO2 levels, but as it continues to rise, we may find out sooner rather than later,” O’Sullivan said.

What can be done to save the earth from this potential doomsday? Unfortunately, the answer is not an easy one.

The biggest contributor to climate change is China, which produces almost twice what the U.S. does. The U.S. pledged to work to burn fewer fossil fuels during the Obama administration, but unfortunately, the 2008 recession led to a rise in fossil fuel, and President Donald Trump has publicly denied climate change, so major changes do not seem possible in the coming years.

As for the individual, there are things that can be done to help.

“Using your furnace and air conditioning less will lessen the amount of fossil fuels that enter the atmosphere,” said Walker Ashley, a meteorology and climatology professor at Northern Illinois University. “Recycling, eating less meat and walking or biking instead of driving all help lessen your effect on the climate.”

There’s still time to help the environment, but now is the time to act.

“Action is needed, but it will most likely involve a series of solutions which complement the process of greenhouse gas reduction,” O’Sullivan said. “An incentive-based system is more likely to be effective than a punitive system, such as providing tax incentives to companies who reduce their carbon output or to the homeowner who incorporates solar panels into their home. The longer we wait, the more drastic the future solutions will become.”