We risk losing our country to permanent droughts and extreme natural disasters.
August 2, 2011
Scientists have been predicting for years that global warming would produce record-breaking extremes on either side of the thermometer. This past winter, America survived its so-called snowpocalypse, and now that summer has arrived, we’ve got a heat dome.
If you’re wondering what the hell that is — it’s just another obvious climate change assassin that we could see coming miles away, if some of us were paying better attention. If you’re looking for a more technical definition, according to National Geographic a heat dome is a seasonal high-pressure system of dense hot air, albeit one with a highly unusual (for now) strength and size, stretching one million square miles from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. It’s already killed a couple dozen people, adding to a swelling death toll resulting from recent tornadoes and floods that bedeviled the nation this year.
It conforms easily to the ravages of Kevin Borden and Susan Cutter’s so-called Death Map — academically known as “Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States” — which in 2008 peered into climate change’s crystal ball and found intensifying natural disasters capable of regionally reshaping the nation with every catastrophe. According to University of South Carolina scholars Cutter and Borden, heat and drought were the main death-dealers, along with extreme summer and winter events. Borden now works for homeland security risk management specialist Digital Sandbox. If his post-academic career choice doesn’t confirm it outright, then recent warnings from the United Nations Environment Program should: These global warming nightmares, not domestic or international terrorists, are the most dangerous threat to global security in existence.
In other words, the heat dome may be really bad news, but it’s only part of a much bigger picture: We are facing extreme weather from climate change that is challenging life as we know it.
“I think we need absolutely realistic reporting on what’s going on now, and what we can expect in the future,” explained 350.org co-founder, author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who in May connected the dots between climate change and the lethal tornadoes that leveled Missouri and Alabama in a popular article for the Washington Post. “I think the fact that the climate is coming unhinged already is starting to break through. How could it not with simultaneous Dust Bowl-scale drought in the Southwest, and Noah-scale flooding in the middle of the country?”
Scientists have been right in predicting that things are going to be bad, but just how bad is a more complicated scenario. Next time a report or study divulging the latest lethality of climate change surfaces, check for a quote from a well-intentioned scientist explaining that everything is happening faster than previously thought. It won’t take long, whether you’re reading about how nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as once assumed, or that the North Pole is melting much faster than everyone thought it would. For all of its supposedly radical activism, if you ask the denialists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), along with most other scientists have all been extremely efficient at one thing: Underestimating the severity of global warming.
“Scientists are by nature conservative, so it doesn’t surprise me that the earliest estimates of climate change’s impact would be underestimates,” McKibben told AlterNet. “But since the rapid melt of Arctic ice in the summer of 2007, scientists have been trying to send the message that things are happening faster and more violently than expected. The political community, including the United Nations bureaucracy administering the climate talks, hasn’t caught up.”
It could be too late for them to counteract that fatal mistake, according to writer James Howard Kunstler. They may have been better off striking while the iron was hot, especially given how little the American public wants to hear what they have to say. “The scientific community is demoralized by its realization that the public and our leaders are not sane and rational,” he told AlterNet. “The so-called Climategate scandal of 2009, organized by right-wing denialists, pretty much did in the scientists’ hopeful sense of activism. They’re just stuck now with the awful results of the science, and nobody wants to hear about it.”