It seems to me…
“We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.” ~ Margaret Mead.
As of summer’s end, 2011 was the driest year in 117 years of record keeping for New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, and the second driest for Oklahoma. Numerous fires resulted from the record heat and prolonged drought conditions. It was the hottest summer ever recorded for New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, as well as the hottest August ever for those states and Arizona and Colorado.
Models for the Southwest have been predicting a 4ºC (7.2ºF) increase in mean temperature by century’s end and events seem to be outpacing predictions. The simple rule of thumb for climate change is that wet places will get wetter and dry places drier.
Because tree rings record growing conditions year by year, people who study them have been able to reconstruct climate over very long spans of time. One of their biggest discoveries is that droughts more severe and far longer than in recent centuries have occurred repeatedly in the American Southwest. Dust Bowl droughts in the 1930s, the 1950s, and of the period from 1998 to 2004 are remembered in the region yet none lasted a full decade. The drought ending the ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi centered at ChacoCanyon, civilizations in the twelfth century, lasted more than 30 years. The drought terminating the Mesa Verdean culture in the thirteenth century was a similarly “mega-drought”.
Reluctantly accepting that so-called 500-year events are occurring with increased frequency due to climate change, local communities are being forced into taking their own actions[i] to counter the effect of global warming as U.S. Federal policies are blocked by some members of Congress who ignorantly accuse scientists of fabricating the issue. Cities, towns, water authorities, transportation agencies, and other local entities can not afford additional ideologically-based delays as they respond to an unprecedented number of floods, droughts, heat waves, rising seas, and the resultant death and destruction from these events.
Hundreds of communities and local agencies and about 16 states currently have or are developing climate adaptation plans[ii] to deal with increasingly common severe weather occurrences. National and regional efforts play an important role but since every community faces mostly unique challenges, their responses must be tailored to meet local conditions. Effective preparation to what many consider to be environmental uncertainty frequently faces regulatory, political, or budgetary obstacles.
Recent data indicates such efforts definitely are justified. Climate models predicting an anticipated increase in average nighttime temperatures have been shown to be correct. Those models predict heat and drought can be expected to increase in bands across the U.S. Southwest and central east. Heat waves will be increasingly common at higher latitudes such as the upper Midwest.
Greater heavy rainfall, as happened this year in the Northeast, also was predicted. For every increase in temperature of one degree Celsius, the atmosphere can hold an addition 7 percent of moisture and result in 6 – 7 percent additional severe rain events. 10 of New Hampshire’s 15 worst floods since 1934 have occurred in the last 15 years – so-called 200-years storms now occur on average about every 25 years.
Unfortunately, though preparing for anticipated severe weather events is much less costly than responding to the results of extreme weather (e.g., New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina), many areas are not only refusing to prepare but existing programs are being cut due to budget deficit pressure. We have a choice: pay a bit now or pay much more at some point in the future.
That’s what I think, what about you?