While our politicians Twitter themselves into oblivion, and the national media feeds us a 24/7 cycle of circus circus circus, and talking heads salivate over the latest ploys of Ms Palin or Michelle Bachmann, and pundits weigh in on their bets as to the likely Republican nominee, life goes on. Indeed it does. Spring seems to leap-frog into summer, and the usual mayhem of cold air mass meets hot air mass swirls around The Bible Belt, giving glimpses of some kind of End Daze. Naturally it is all God’s fault or God punishing us for our faults. Were I a believer in a god, I’d have to conclude that the latter was the case and that we are just beginning to be punished for our errant ways. No, not those of sexual inclinations for this or that, or running up debts, or such things, but for our communal unwillingness to take heed of our modern day Cassandra’s, the scientists. The warning was made, now quite some time ago, about global warming, and US politics is still dominated by deniers, by oil-industry shills, by Congressmen and women and it appears even a President who are all swayed by the song of gotta-grow capitalism requiring a mainline fix of energy all the time. So we construct our society around this religious totem and hold to it even when slapped in the face with the dire suggestions as to its consequences.
“We are seeing conditions that we normally don’t have until August,” said Jim Keeney, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “The heat has been pushed north all the way into Wisconsin, and in the North especially, we are seeing temperatures 15 to 20 degrees above normal.”.
A sampling of high temperatures from the past several days in places where early June temperatures are often in the low 80s: Washington, 99 on Thursday; Indianapolis, 92 on Wednesday; St. Louis, 97 on Monday; Richmond, 99 on Thursday; Minneapolis, 102 on Tuesday; Cincinnati, 96 on Thursday; Detroit, 95 on Wednesday; Kansas City, Mo., 96 on Monday; Philadelphia, 99 on Thursday but felt like 103; Baltimore, 103 on Thursday; Milwaukee, 97 on Tuesday; and New York, 96, on Thursday.
Out west the crackle of fires hints at worse to come, the Arizona Wallow fire suggesting what the future likely offers. The great forests, or what is left of them, of the Rocky Mountain and Sierra ranges are decimated with a beetle infestation, caused, so all evidence indicates, by global warming. The culprit, the Pine Bark Beetle, whose range once was firmly held to the south, now goes all the way up into Canada. Why? Because once it was held in check by cold winters, which its grub, planted under the bark of pines, could not survive. But now, the winters are milder, and they get by. And the trees die. And dead trees make very impressive tinder. So the real culprit isn’t the beetle, which is only doing what it can do, but we humans who have pumped gazzillions of tons of carbons into the atmosphere, and heated up the little membrane of gases that allows us to live. And, alas, it is only starting. A chain of further cause and effects lie in the wings, as in some profound Greek tragedy where we know where it will end, and that makes it all the more tragic.
So here’s a little scenario we could draw from this: these forests die, and, in an area where forest fires are quite normal and part of the ecological system, this might not be so bad. However here the massive die-off of trees is exceptional, and is going to make a very grand bonfire. As the trees die and are burned, they will cease to work as a carpet to hold the soil in place. The global warming, making for moist air in the winter, makes for more snow. This year there were record snow packs in the Sierras and Rockies. Where previously this was useful as the snow functioned as a slow-release water storage system, in the new weather pattern it is likely instead to be dangerous: melting faster owing to higher temperatures, it is likely to cause flooding, and owing to the damages to the forests, this flooding will wash away what tenuous top-soil there is. In turn the kind of smaller plants that flourish will invade, blooming in the spring – plants of a kind that in the heat of summer will turn into very nice combustible tinder. More fire. More washing away of topsoil. Worse flash-floods. In fact the managers of the systems of dams and reservoirs that might normally cope with this have already expressed concerns that the snow-melt may overwhelm them. In some places they are drawing down reservoirs now in anticipation of a fast snow melt. In the Sacramento Delta they are having – as they have had earlier – serious question whether the system of levees that protects the low-lying valley areas will be sufficient (many of these once-farming areas are now covered with suburban ticky-tacky housing). It is a form of the butterfly effect: we inject some carbons into the atmosphere with industrialization and….
For the East Coast the weatherman promises a break on Saturday, a steep drop in the temperature. Hmmm, that old cold air mass meets hot air mass. Kind of like they got the politicians to shut their mouths for the weekend. Time to put on that old chestnut of the 30’s:
So while we all temporize, pumping those carbons into the sky, and we communally whistle in the dark, things keep going on. Maybe this is the “change you can believe in” which we heard about not so long ago.
Looks to be a lively summer of meteorological events which like not-so-long ago Katrina will have political implications. Just how many more summers of sweltering heat, tornadoes that flatten half a city, or floods of record levels, combined with winters of record snows, and all the other computer-predicted global warming weather patterns – no to mention that incrementally, each year the global average temperature does indeed go up – it will take to convince Americans and the world that indeed global warming is real, and has real tangible effects? Well…. who knows?
Sometimes I imagine it might take something as blunt as the kind of tornado that hit Joplin MO hitting instead a nuclear power station and ripping it to shreds and spreading radioactive contamination in a thousand mile radius. Perhaps that would wake us up. Perhaps….