Sunday, July 29, 2007

Climate change will hit home—it’s only a matter of how hard.

The latest in climate forecasts for our region, NEW YORK is the report "Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment" by Union of Concerned Scientists. It reemphasizes and updates predictions of massive changes for our area due to climate change. There are other reports (“Forecast For New York” by Environmental Advocates of New York) and undoubtedly there will be more, for that is the direction things are going.

Manmade Global Warming is happening. In fact, what many don’t appreciate is that climate change is going to happen even if they refuse to believe or adapt to it. Global Warming is not a belief-system or some by-product of a deranged political agenda: it’s a model of reality based on decades of continual research around the world by thousands of scientists. Global Warming is, given the inadequacy of nailing down with complete precision anything dealing with weather and climate prediction, not going to go away because people disagree about its validly or get tired of hearing about it in the news. All indications are that we have a tiger by the tail.

What this latest report about Global Warming in New York State says is that there are already profound changes going on in our climate and that if we do not make wholesale changes in our energy use things will be lot worse. This probable scenario seems to numb many into inaction, avoidance, and indifference, which are strange responses to a major catastrophe. If there were a report of large meteor hurtling towards New York State, my bet is that the public wouldn’t be turning off their TV sets or shaking their heads in despair. They’d get moving. They’d find out all they could about the meteor’s trajectory and make sure those in charge came up with a solution (which, as most scientists say, the last thing you want to do is nuke it) that would work.

What’s happening now is that a lot of people are getting it about global warming in our area, but most are not. Some even believe that we will be better off with climate change: Some realtors think property previously too Northern to enjoy will become more Southern like. We won’t have those nasty New York winters and vacation time will increase. They forget or chose to forget that our weather is far too complicated for a single prediction of our area’s warming—as this report by the Union of Concerned Scientists indicates. Yes, we may have more days at the beach, but you probably won’t want to spend much time there because the ultraviolet rays will be too intense and the prevalence and potency of diseases, like West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and maybe even malaria may be too appalling to endure.

One of the problems with getting everyone onboard for massive climate change solutions is that it’s so easy to dismiss. It is cognitive dissonance: we casually think that Global Warming is real, but keep intact the idea that our children’s environment will be like the one we experienced. You can kill the messenger: “Al Gore and those Greenies are nuts!” You can disregard the Laws of Nature, like when George W. Bush said he wouldn’t join Kyoto Protocol after he said he would in the run-up to the 2000 election so there was no debate on this crucial subject. You can trash the character of those harping on this issue, as if finding something you didn’t like about Albert Einstein’s character would negate his equations, e.g. E=mc² is wrong because old Albert annoyed you. And quite frankly, many find climate change so dreadfully depressing they don’t want to deal with it at all. The media just won’t get off it.

Well, like it or not, it’s becoming ever more evident that in New York State we can expect these possible scenarios: temperatures rising, a migration of plants and animals north as our climate adopts a Southern visage (though, most ((especially plants)) won’t move quickly enough), droughts, change in precipitation, lowering of Great Lakes water levels, coastal flooding, sea-level rise, shore-line change, extreme heat in our cities, more diseases (like Lyme disease, West Nile Virus, and maybe malaria) and more potent cases of poison ivy, air quality loss, agriculture changes, changes in the fisheries, changes in the dairy industry, changes in spruce/fir forest of the Adirondacks, alterations in winter recreation (did you know the NYS has “more ski areas than any other state in the nation”?), and an increase in ozone pollution. These changes are going to happen even if we get off our butts. Even if we stop right now and curb manmade climate change, the consequences of our not acting long before this point in time will occur. By the way if there are tipping points (not factored in this study) like massive ice melts, and ocean currents abruptly changing, things could get much, much worse. The take home message about climate change in our area is that it is going to be bad because we have waited so long to begin doing something about it, but it’s going to get much worse if we continue to do nothing.

In saying all this, New York State and even the Northeast is not and may not experience as many of the devastating effects of global warming that other counties around the world. Some Pacific island nations are getting ready to bolt as refugees to other countries as sea rising begins to take over their lands. (Don’t we bear some responsibility for their plight?)

Sorry to be so dreadfully depressing. But, it’s a shame to watch ourselves slowly being boiled like a frog, e.g., so used to our fish being uneatable (check out “Up To the Gills” by Environmental Defense ), our waters undrinkable, our land eaten up by development, and nothing but excuses and public and political indifference for an answer. Our media periodically notes the changes our way of life has wrought on the planet, but overall presents a future unchanged from the one we rosily expect.

At this point in an essay of this type, it is conventional to offer up a glimmer of hope. The report on New York’s Climate Change above offers some. However, I, given human history, don't have much hope on doing anything but a meager effort on halting Global Warming because in order for change to occur rapidly enough to reverse course on our environment, it must happen on a massive scale--everyone has to 'Get it'. A few greenies giving up a few gas-guzzling cars are not going to do it. Moreover, in the last couple of decades in the United States there has been a great politicization of environmentalism. Industry fears a growing public revulsion towards pollution. As more and more people want to help our environment, there seems to be a stronger and stronger effort by those in power to thwart it. Environmentalist were arguing the case for Global Warming ten years ago and little was done because the media and industry successfully muddied the waters about the lack of concrete evidence, while doing everything in their power not to get that evidence.

So, that’s the real deal. Not only do you have to ‘get it’ your neighbors, your politicians, and your media have to get it also. New York’s climate is going to change; it’s only a matter of how much.

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