In the past when visiting some of our relatives, we’ve learned that it’s better to stay off such subjects as politics and religion and stick to less controversial ones like the weather. But recently we’ve discovered that the weather is no longer a safe subject, either.
This past week the federal government released its National Climate Assessment, a definitive scientific statement by 300 leading climate scientists and experts on how human-caused global warming is being felt “here and now” nationwide. As a consequence of the nearly two degree Fahrenheit rise that occurred throughout the country over the past century, Americans are experiencing water scarcity in dry regions, increasing torrential rains in wet ones, increasingly severe heat waves, worsening wildfires, and the death of forests as a result of heat-loving invasive insect species.
Gary Yohe, an economist at Wesleyan University and co-author of the report, said, “I just hope that we can convince as many people as possible that they live in a dynamic climate, that the old normal has broken and we have no idea what the new normal is going to look like when all this is done.”
Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, commented, “The divide between the fossil fuel industry’s misguided attempts to place profits above the need of our families and communities grows as each new science report is released. As our communities reel from droughts, floods, forest fires, fossil fuel disasters, crop failures and more, it becomes harder for these polluters and those aligned with them to hide just how out of touch from reality they are.”
Following are some of the startling climate change examples included in the National Climate Assessment:
The 2000s were the hottest decade on record for the U.S. In 2011 Texas had the hottest and driest summer on record with temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees for 40 straight days. In Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 and 2012, the total cost to agriculture amounted to $10 billion. In 2011 Arizona and New Mexico had the largest wildfires in their recorded history, affecting more than 694,000 acres, and Texas saw unprecedented wildfires and 3.8 million acres consumed in the state (an area about the size of Connecticut).
In Iowa in the summer of 2008 a flooding event exceeded the once-in-500-year flood level by more than 5 feet. The Northeast has seen a 71 percent increase in the amount of precipitation that falls in the heaviest precipitation events, rain or snow, since 1958. Sea level around the world has risen by eight inches in the last century and is projected to increase by one to four feet over the coming century. Almost 5 million Americans currently live within four vertical feet of the ocean at high tide. Waters around southeast Florida are expected to rise and flood over the Florida coastal lands. Miami is especially vulnerable because of its unique geology. The city is built on top of porous limestone which is allowing the rising waters to soak into the city’s foundation, polluting fresh water supplies and affecting the infrastructure. County governments estimate that the damages could rise to billions and even trillions of dollars.
Alaska is rapidly losing its glaciers. Eighty percent of the entire state has permafrost beneath its surface. The ground is giving way in many places as it thaws, destabilizing roads, infrastructure, and the places where people live. The state currently spends $10 million per year to repair the damage from thawing permafrost and is projected to spend $5.6-$7.6 billion repairing infrastructure by 2080.
On May 6 President Obama released the National Climate Assessment to a group of local and national weather broadcasters to give them greater understanding of the major carbon emission problems being brought by climate change and to build political support for new regulations he plans to issue in June.
The assessment group has stated, “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” Any kind of response, however, will be a difficult one to put into action. As columnist Frank Rich has written, “Climate change denial has become a proxy for a whole smorgasbord of powerful ideological imperatives: opposition to governmental regulation; resistance to taxation (especially of such Republican sugar daddies as the coal, oil, and gas industries); class resentment of intellectual elites in academia and Prius-driving Hollywood; and, in some quarters, rejection of any kind of science that dares to undermine the supremacy of God as the primary actor in all Earthly activity.”
Politics and religion no longer remain the only two historically contentious subjects in our national conversations. We now have a third to join the fray: the weather!
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Stumptalk is published weekly in the Crossville Chronicle. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. To contact Stumptalk, email coordinator Jim Sykes at email@example.com.