We don’t have certain days when global warming injects itself by some nefarious means into the natural, 1776 atmosphere we live in the rest of the time. That’s not how this works.
The comments I made during the arrival of this instance of global warming ice are now a couple of days old. I wrote Two Stick Ice on Friday evening, it is now Sunday evening. I still cannot go anywhere including the house next door, even walking, even with two canes, without significant risk to myself. And the house next door and I share a back yard and have connecting paths. I would not attempt to walk to my car, even with my sticks, because it is on smooth pavement in the middle of an ocean of global warming ice. Whatever “Slicker than…” simile you have ever heard, this is way slicker than that. I’d be risking my mobility for the rest of my life, at my age and with my replaced knees, to attempt to walk to my car. Don’t even think about trying to drive it anywhere.
It’s not because I am old and rickety, although there is that. I am still pretty agile for an old guy. I still work on ladders, still repair and climb on machinery, still park at the farther end of parking lots and walk in. This is different. They covered the whole world with ball bearings. You cannot walk on this stuff unless you have grass under it, and even then it’s tricky.
Chica has to go out. She is a lady; she’s not going to go potty in the house. This stuff is miserable for her. Chica is far more agile than I am; she’s an athlete. We do Dog Agility together, not at a high level but with a bunch of 4H kids where we volunteer. Chica can jump higher than her size requires, and runs agility courses with joy and vigor, if not technical perfection. She is probably, next to the teacher’s dog, the top agility star in the group.
Chica cannot get back into the house tonight because of the ice. Chica can’t climb the back porch. Usually my problem with Chica and the porch is that she zips up it so fast that I can’t get the door open in time, and she comes to a screeching halt with her nose stuffed into the door jamb. If it’s ok with her it’s ok with me, but I try to get it open for her. It’s kind of a game we play. We both win, or we both lose. My favorite kind of game. It’s fun.
See that reflected fence post in the steps in that picture up there? Those steps are regular lumber yard concrete blocks. They are not reflective. Not even in a howling downpour. You can’t put enough water on that concrete to make it reflect. What you are seeing is a thin but solid layer of the slickest substance I have ever encountered anywhere, right here at home on my back steps. Chica the Athletic Chihuahua cannot climb that porch. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t get awkward, obese Donald Trump from my back yard to my kitchen tonight, and he’s only a few months older than I.
People speaking in public ask, over and over on TV, radio, and in text media on paper or online, “Did global warming cause this storm?” “Did global warming cause that flood?” Today in particular they are no doubt rubbing their evil palms together like a character from Shakespeare and gloating: “Look at all that ice! I thought you said the globe was warming! It’s 8 degrees out there!”
I don’t like the phrase “global warming” very well. As I point out in my essays, what we have done is store a large amount of energy in the global system. Which system? There is only one. It is made up of everything from the outer reaches of our atmostphere, inward. The earth is one complex system made of all the air, dirt, rocks, cars, caterpillars, water, sand, whiskey, people great and small, computers, concrete blocks, ice crystals, steam, bacteria, mold, things living and dead, and all the remaining traces of them that are still here. The system to which we have added energy is absolutely everything there is in, on, and above earth to the outer reaches of our atmosphere. There are no dividing lines; it is one. This isn’t religion, it’s physics.
It is the nature of energy to move from greater to lesser concentrations. That is pretty much what makes the world go around. Thermal systems in contact with one another seek equilibrium. Your coffee gets cold, your beer gets warm, the energy stored in your fuel tank is released inside cylinders at high concentration and swooshes out the tailpipe into the cool air with its lower concentration of energy. Some of the energy traveling from your gas tank to the surrounding atmosphere expresses itself as motion, for a while. Your car moves, for a while. Finally, and perhaps several times over a journey, you take the motion energy moving your person through distance and convert it back into heat energy by pushing down on your brake pedal and dissipate that heat into the cooler, lower energy concentrations of the system you’re in. Perhaps you sit for a moment in traffic, centered in a growing puddle of energy moving directly from the fuel tank to the surroundings, creating no motion except the pistons and parts, but in the long run it’s all the same stuff. Energy moves. We pump stored energy up out of the ground, sell stored energy at the gas station and distribute it into the system we are part of by the quadrillions of measurable units, and then we say, “Where’d all this energy come from?” “What made this weather?”
Well, they call it global warming.
There is no “is caused by” global warming. There is only, “is” global warming. All weather, everywhere, every day, is the weather which forms in this warmer system. We don’t have certain days when global warming injects itself by some nefarious means into the natural, 1776 atmosphere we live in the rest of the time. That’s not how this works.
The energy we capture with our carbon atoms arrives here as heat. From the sun. Sort of. Perhaps one can always perceive it as heat, measure it with a thermometer. Frankly I’m not sure. Energy is slippery stuff. The more you read about it the slipperier it gets. Everything is energy. It appears that matter is energy, but that’s getting off into the place where my comprehending circuits say, “Huh?” and make electrical fritzing noises.
Energy does wonderful things. Energy arrives here as light, as sunlight, yet some of it winds up as blackness personified, blackness buried in the dark of the earth, blackness that might be fire and motion but is still energy. Pure light. Pure dark. It’s all heat – stand the coal with oxygen, add a little heat to remind it what it once was, and it becomes heat again. Heat escapes. The sunshine and the blackness make your living room feel better or your ship cross the ocean. Energy.
When we capture heat with our added atmospheric carbon (and related) atoms we add energy to the entire system.
When a raging flood storms through a valley tearing homes from their foundations, rolling cars like pebbles, sweeping away possessors, possessions and the possessed, all that motion is work. The way a system consumes energy is through work. Energy entered this building, did work moving the building, and when the energy was used up the building stopped moving. Here. For the moment don’t think about the storm that caused it, just look at what is happening right in front of your eyes. Motion. The energy in the world, including the part we stored in the atmosphere last week or last year or during the Civil War, is expressing itself as motion. Same principle as the energy in your tank moving your car, except we don’t know where the gas pedal or the brakes are on the world we live in, It’s All. One. Thing.
So one doesn’t look at a storm and say, I wonder if global warming caused that storm. No. Global warming is that storm. That storm came today; all the energy on earth causes all the motion on earth; therefore all the energy in and on earth today contributed to that storm. There is more energy here than there was yesterday. It really, really is that simple.
Somewhere some hardworking atmospheric scientist is tearing his hear out and screaming, “No, you lunatic, it’s not simple at all!” And she’s right. It’s not. We can’t figure out for the life of us exactly how this new energy is changing our planet, or where or how it is going to manifest itself. That question is complex beyond description. But the broader question: Did global warming cause [X] weather event?
Yes. It did. Every time. It’s the only weather we have.
But I digress.
When Chica needs to go outside, we go outside. Most days year round we just zip out the door, take care of our business, and zip back in. We have various assigned places, we go there, we do what we need to get done. If the temperature is much above 25 or 30 degrees and the wind is mild or still, and there is no water falling from the sky, we just go in our inside clothes. We’re not going to be out long. When it gets much chillier we start putting on coats. When it’s six or eight degrees with a whistling wind and little balls of ice with liquid centers are falling at broad angles from the sky we dress warmly indeed.
The yard is regularly mown grass. We keep it fairly short for the chihuahuas’ comfort. The ice, as it fell and formed, bridged the grass part-way up the blades. At the end, as the surface cold absorbed the energy from the warm air above, the water began to crystallize as it did in the old days. Snow fell, a thin layer atop the covering ice.
The shrews and the tiniest of the mice are, today, traveling in near darkness beneath a translucent ceiling of snow covered ice, walking amongst the tall trunks of grass on dry ground. Chica and I are above the surface in ice world. The photo above shows where my big feet have broken through.
As Chica attempts to walk her feet sink through the inch or so of snow, come to a firm surface at the ice layer, then break through as she puts her full 11 pounds down. I have had a similar experience walking on / through heavily crusted snow: plant foot, push, break through, struggle, repeat. She is not pleased. I don’t blame her. I clump out with my two sticks, walking slowly, ever so slowly. If someone took a video of me walking Chica toward the Big Yard Gate, and played it, viewers would likely think they were watching a slow motion clip. Chica and I, side by side, taking step… step… step… in my case punctuated by stick… stick… stick.
Eventually we got there. Eventually we got back. I stood in the garden with the back doorknob above my head, reached up and opened the door. I picked up my little friend who could not run up her porch and placed her carefully indoors, let the door shut, and began the process of getting myself back into the house.
It will be, according to the forecast, a few days before there is any chance of melt. On the other hand, two winters ago Chica and I were trapped in this house for two months while I got two knee replacements, and we got through it. This too shall pass.
Part 1 of this story, Two Stick Ice