October 1, 2023

Discouraging to Be on the Back Burner

By Stephen Tuttle | March 25, 2023

The realities of climate change seem to have moved to many back burners. It’s not as if the causes and effects have suddenly disappeared.

First, let’s take a moment to acknowledge not every weather anomaly is related to climate change. We’ve always had droughts, floods, hurricanes, blizzards, tornadoes, heat waves, and cold snaps. What is obviously becoming different is the scope, frequency, severity, and duration of extreme weather events. (Climate is the prevailing conditions over broad areas for an extended period of time, while weather is what’s happening in your backyard right now. Climate impacts weather.)

California has become a pretty good microcosm of how extreme weather patterns can become. After the driest sustained period in some 1,200 years, California was at least temporarily rescued with inches of rain and, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, feet of snow. According to the National Weather Service, the central Sierra Nevada has already received nearly 56 feet of snow so far this year, the seventh snowiest on record, and the season is not yet over. About 25 percent of that snow fell in three brief but brutal recent storms. Farther south came the rains in multiple inches in the same storms which gave birth to destructive and deadly flooding.

The storms also brought some much needed, if temporary, relief to the drought-stricken area. The National Integrated Drought Information System had listed 71 percent of California in “severe drought” but has now lowered that to 46 percent. Lake Shasta, a primary source of growers’ irrigation and a major contributor to hydroelectric power, has risen to nearly 45 percent capacity from just 33 percent a year ago. San Francisco’s main reservoir providing residential water is now 80 percent full.

But much of that water on drought-hardened ground quickly ran off to create floods, and areas devastated by previous wildfires became prone to mudslides and landslides.

Not every watershed, home, or farm out west received such a bounty of snow or rain. While the mountains and coastal areas received historic precipitation, inland the aquifers are not being recharged and are slowly drying up. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tells us even all this moisture will not end the ongoing drought and refill reservoirs and recharge groundwater without above-average precipitation for years.

Plus, the Colorado River watershed—which provides water for agriculture, industry, and millions of households in seven states—experienced lesser snow and rain events. Lake Mead mercifully stopped receding and gained a few feet back but is still only about a third full. NASA has projected the drought/storm/flood cycle will continue as our changing climate becomes more severe…and not just in North America; this is a global issue.

Argentina and parts of Uruguay are struggling with record-breaking heat 12-18 degrees above normal as their summer has extended well beyond its typical February end. England, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, and the rest of western Europe just experienced their hottest years since they’ve been keeping records. According to a European Union report, the agriculture sector of western Europe is now at risk.

It isn’t only food supplies in danger. According to research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Greenland ice is melting twice as fast as it did just a decade ago. And research funded by NASA and published in the journal Nature found that Antarctica ice is now melting at an accelerating rate due to warmer water undercutting ice shelves.

Additionally, NASA research shows glaciers receding faster than predicted, and projections presented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) predict many glaciers—including those on Mt. Kilimanjaro, those near Mt. Everest, and more than one in Alaska—will be either gone completely or shrunk beyond recognition by 2050.

The melting ice sheets and glaciers are major contributors to the inexorable rise in sea levels, which put most everything on any saltwater coast at risk of a slow-motion inundation. Relocation of indigenous villages in coastal Alaska have already occurred for this very reason.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—which includes hundreds of scientists from several of the group’s 195 member countries—studies all available climate science research. Their most recent report was no more encouraging than previous efforts. Climate scientists have told us for years that if temperatures rise an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), we will have reached a tipping point from which recovery will be very difficult. Temperatures have already increased 1.2 degrees Celsius. At the current rate, we will reach 1.5 degrees Celsius sometime in the 2030s.

Yet, the world has once again increased the very greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, that continue to artificially and negatively impact climate. We created the problem, keep making it worse, and seem unwilling to stop. It’s discouraging.


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