How a changing climate has messed with Texas: a cautionary tale.

Aug 26, 2011 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

National Public Radio offers an excellent in depth piece about how the long running and devastating drought is permanently changing Texas.

The climate science is absolutely clear that such droughts are part of the effects of a warming globe (if you are a real wonk take a look at the academic papers on the changing climate, drought and forest health).

Of course, reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases causing global warming is not a targeted attack on that drought – but it is the only way to slow (and possibly reverse) the trend towards a world where such horrific and wrenching events are commonplace.   A thought that should resonate here in already soggy New England as we brace for the impact of a hurricane and consider the climate science that tells us that a warming world will give us more extreme precipitation events.

The situation starts to veer towards the absurd when you consider that some leaders of Texas are denying the very existence of the phenomena playing out in their own state.  Could it be that the people getting arrested in front of the White House trying to stop a tar sands oil pipeline are serving the people of Texas (and the future people who will have to endure similar biblical plagues like droughts and floods) better than the elected officials doing all they can to hobble efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Severe weather signals amid the climate noise

Jun 29, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Flooding in Minot, ND (photo credit: USACE)

Earlier this month, my CLF Vermont colleague Anthony told the tale of his brush with a changed climate in dealing with flood waters in the Montpelier area.  Severe weather around the country continues to make news, with record floods in North Dakota and an “exceptional” drought and wildfires in the Southwest.  Although it got lost in the controversy over Al Gore’s critique of the Obama administration’s climate efforts, Gore’s essay last week in Rolling Stone also highlighted the mounting evidence that that climate change is causing severe weather and resulting disasters – record droughts, fires, floods, and mudslides – to increase in intensity and frequency all around the world. 

This week, a three-part series of articles in Scientific American is tackling the same issue.  (Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 is coming tomorrow.)  Some key points: 

  • Global severe weather data – not just sensational anecdotes – are demonstrating that climate change is the culprit.  As series author John Carey puts it, “The signal of climate change is finally emerging from the ‘noise’—the huge amount of natural variability in weather.”
  • Extreme weather is now regularly happening in places it has been exceedingly rare, and weather events are becoming much more intense, even where severe weather is a way of life.
  • What we are seeing is, essentially, elementary physics and meteorology at work.  More heat means more evaporation, and more water in the atmosphere changes longstanding weather patterns, often in dramatic ways.  As these patterns change, scientists are finding tipping points and feedback loops that are making severe weather events even more diastrous.
  • Climate scientists are increasingly able to finger climate change as the reason for the severity of individual weather events, including Hurricane Katrina and the 2003 European heat wave.

I urge you to read the whole series, and to share it with others.  Whether the next weather disaster is front-page news or actually hits home, as it did for Anthony, severe weather is yet one more reason why aggressive policies to transform our energy and transportation systems to curb emissions of greenhouse gases are so overdue.  As Betsy Kolbert eloquently argued in the New Yorker earlier this month, it is simply not true that these weather tragedies are “beyond our control.”

Climate chaos close to home

Jun 2, 2011 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Last Friday, I got a bad taste of life in a changed climate.

After barely sleeping through a night filled with constantly rumbling thunder, hail, whipping winds, and the most incredibly intense rain I have ever seen, my cell phone rang at 4:50 a.m.  The panicked voice on the other end was a friend who owns a downtown business with his wife.  Apologetically, he asked for help.  The Winooski River, which flows through downtown Montpelier, had broken its banks and was creeping toward their shop’s doorstep and they needed help getting merchandise up and out.  We spent a frantic hour packing inventory into cars as the water continued to advance and noisily poured into their basement.  Once they were as prepared as possible, I rushed to join my fellow citizens  helping other businesses as the air filled with the smell of sewage and fuel oil mixing into the river as buildings became inundated.  By 8:00 a.m., I finally got to CLF’s offices where the alarm was sounding to signal that flood waters in the basement were threatening the electricity.  Fortunately, forecasted rain did not fall and the river levels subsided throughout the course of a day that saw most businesses closed.

Though flood waters have receded in the neighborhoods and towns surrounding CLF’s office, reminders of last week’s terrifying deluge abound.  As you walk in the door to our building, a powerful smell of mold and mildew assaults you–a side-effect of our flooded basement.  Downtown dumpsters still overflow with discarded merchandise ruined when floodwaters rushed into low-lying businesses, some of which have yet to reopen.  Some city roads are still washed out and the City’s sewage treatment plant is assessing damage after it was completely underwater much of last Friday.  With the immediate crisis passed and the long recovery beginning, many are starting to ask whether this kind of flooding may be the new normal resulting from climate change.

Flooding at Montpelier's sewage treatment plan resulted in sewage discharges to the Winooski River. City residents await a final estimate of the cost to repair damage to the plant. (Photo credit: Louis Porter)

At this point, I am supposed to offer the obligatory caveat that we cannot measure climate change by any one single weather event.  Sadly, we don’t have to. Extreme weather is becoming the norm–just as so many climate scientists have for so long been predicting that it will.

The flash flooding that wreaked havoc across New England’s north country last week comes on top of earlier spring flooding throughout the Lake Champlain region.  In fact, Burlington, VT has recorded its wettest spring ever in 2011–as have several other parts of the country.  Before flooding came to our neck of the woods, we watched in horror as tornado after tornado flattened parts of the south and midwest.  And before that, all eyes were fixed on deluged areas along the Mississippi.  Just last spring, we were reporting on this blog about horrendous flooding caused by historic rain storms in Rhode Island and elsewhere in southern New England.  After all this, I refuse to believe the climate skeptics who argue that extreme weather has nothing to do with the rising global temperatures that made 2010 the second warmest year on record with the highest carbon output in history, pushing greenhouse gas levels to dangerous new heights.

In this last month, our region and our nation has seen climate change first hand and it sucks.  There’s just no other way to put it.

Politicians talk often about Americans as world leaders.  Unfortunately, when it comes to climate change , we are leaders in polluting the atmosphere with climate-changing greenhouse gases.  It does not have to be this way.

Americans have a choice.  It is up to us to demand that our elected officials like Senators Scott Brown and Kelly Ayotte stop doing the bidding of the mega-billionaire oil barons, coal companies, and their legions of bought-and-paid for climate change deniers while America continues to suffer devastation from climate change that they claim is not happening or is not a problem.  Climate change is happening!  It is harming Americans all across the country–from Barre, VT to Joplin, MO–and undermining the stability upon which our prosperity is based.  The time for action in Washington is long passed.

We can make the changes needed to stave off catastrophic climate change and–like Chicago–adapt to the climate change already happening.  Here in soggy Vermont, there are lots of hurting businesspeople, homeowners, and municipal officials realizing we have no time to waste…