By Michelle Werts

Grenoble, France
Grenoble, France. Credit: Richard Stowey/Flickr

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas … and I may have to keep dreaming if the unusually warm temperatures of the past week continue into the rest of the month. And while I know that warm temperatures do not equal climate change evidence exactly, it does feel appropriate on a balmy December day — at least here in D.C. — that we discuss a few recent reports of conditions affecting our climate.

Let’s start with the newest global carbon dioxide output numbers — exciting, I know. Global Carbon Project released its newest emissions numbers in 2011, which show that worldwide CO2 emissions grew by 3.1 percent last year and are expected to grow another 2.6 percent this year. To put this in perspective, if the estimates for this year hold true, global carbon dioxide emissions will be 58 percent above the emissions rate two decades ago! China and India represent two of the biggest leaps in emissions this year, while the U.S. actually dropped its emissions by 1.8 percent. Yay for us, but don’t break out the bubbly just yet, as the authors of the report reveal that if immediate action isn’t taken to alter global emissions from their current trend lines, the international goal of limiting a global temperature rise to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit or less is going to become unattainable.

Alas, CO2 emissions aren’t the only thing that can contribute to warmer temperatures according to another recent study. The mountain pine beetle infestation that is ravaging North America’s western forests is causing temperatures to rise — and not just in ire. In a new Nature Geoscience report, scientists reveal that forest areas of British Columbia that are affected by the beetle are seeing surface temperatures one degree Celsius higher on average in the summer months. Analyzing data from 1999 to 2010, the report’s authors found that bark beetle infested areas of British Columbia are also experiencing:

British Columbia, Canada
British Columbia, Canada. Credit: Steven Tomsic/Flickr
  • A sensible heat flux increase of eight percent — in other words, the amount of heat radiating from the earth into the atmosphere has increased by eight percent.
  • An evapotranspiration decrease in the summer months of 19 percent — 19 percent less water going from the ground and/or vegetation to the air.

Approximately 42.2 million acres in British Columbia have been infected by the beetle, and in the U.S., another 41.7 million acres of western forest is estimated to be dead or dying. That’s a lot of land mass that could experience increased temperatures due to loss of forest cover.

So maybe I shouldn’t be dreaming of a white Christmas, but instead, some Christmas miracles of reducing carbon emissions and a slowdown in beetle populations and destruction. Oh, Bing, where are you and a catchy song about that?