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We’re in January, and in the Northern Hemisphere there’s a cold wave of up to -50º North, specifically hitting the United States. Some leaders, like Trump, say that global warming doesn’t exist because temperatures are cold. However, the reality is that this excessive cold is a new warning signal about the unsuspected consequences that climate change can have. Look at this little explanation:

The cause of this phenomenon is the irregular behavior of the winds in the Artic region, which normally contain the vortex in the area, but right now have pushed large masses of icy air from northern Canada to the United States.

Is this strange behavior a consequence of the climate change that has been affecting the planet in recent decades? If the most visible consequence of this change is global warming, how can we explain such extremely low temperatures? We’ve consulted different specialists to try to answer these questions.

What is climate change?

The first thing we have to do is to differentiate climate from weather. The climate is a combination of meteorological phenomena consolidated over the years, such as temperatures and average rainfall. In contrast, weather is the meteorological phenomena that occurs at a particular time. Thus, weather cannot be accurately predicted more than four or five days in advance, but it is possible to predict what the evolution of the climate will be like in the coming decades.

Climate change produces changes in the averages of rainfall and temperatures, and can also cause an increase in the frequency of extreme events, such as heat waves or cold waves,” says socio-ecologist Manuel Calvo Salazar, environmental consultant at the EstudioMC.

“But you cannot link an isolated event, a polar wave in particular, with climate change. It can be said that it favored the proliferation of cyclones in the Pacific and of hurricanes in the Atlantic, but not that it is the cause of a certain cyclone or hurricane”, he adds.

The same goes for the cold wave that is crossing the United States this week. We cannot affirm that it is a direct consequence of climate change, but it is probably another expression of a phenomenon that is a result of it: the reiteration of extreme episodes.

Climate change is a consequence of the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which causes radiative forces that suppose a change in its energy balance, triggering different meteorological phenomena” says Calvo.

The most important of all is the increase in average temperatures in the world. But if the most prominent phenomenon is the increase in temperature, how do you explain that there are also episodes of extreme cold?

 Gentileza: Municipalidad Provincial de Carabaya 163

Source: Municipalidad Provincial de Carabaya 

When the heat causes cold

The sustained increase in the average temperature on the planet is an indisputable reality. This causes a wide range of imbalances that manifest themselves in extreme weather events. Hurricanes, cyclones, strong storms and abrupt changes in weather are some examples that are becoming more and more common.

“Unusual temperatures or rains are likely to occur as a function of global warming, including intense cold. There are hypotheses that associate the decrease in ice at the North Pole with an increase in jet streamThis normally causes very low temperatures near the poles, and that could reach more remote areas, such as the North of the United States” explained us Enrique Jurado, a biologist from the School of Forestry Sciences of the Autonomous University of Nuevo León.

Global warming can increase the frequency of cold waves and heat waves because when the energy balance of a system is modified, the point of equilibrium is changed. These sudden increases and decreases in temperature are the response that the system has to rebalance” says Calvo.

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The need to change our lifestyle

“There are some very dangerous effects associated with global warming,” Jurado says, “for example, the melting of ice masses at the poles causes important changes in marine currents and an increase in sea level, which puts the coasts at risk.”

And the worst of all is that for at least 30 years world leaders have been fully aware of the environmental impact caused by the way we live. However, they do very little to change the patterns of production and consumption. Everything is reduced to large conferences on climate change, the conclusions of which are reflected only marginally in specific policies.

So we, people, are the ones who must change this. Ghandi used to say: “You are the change you want to see in the world”.

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