As I write, the worst possible candidate to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just got installed. It is terrible because it is via the EPA we get our legal authority to address Climate Change on a scale that will matter. States can do much, but it’s the feds that create a level playing field. So, Pruitt’s political (not scientific) confirmation could be a serious problem for our life support system. #ScienceMatters
Climate Change is affected by our politics in the sense that politics can affect humanity’s collective response to this crisis. But, at the end of the day, it is climate indicators, climate feedback mechanisms in our environment, that will determine whether we are making progress or not.
Basically, climate change indicators are things like:
“Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Atmospheric Concentrations of Greenhouse Gases, Climate Forcing, U.S. and Global Temperature, High and Low Temperatures, U.S. and Global Precipitation, Heavy Precipitation, Drought, Tropical Cyclone Activity, Ocean Heat, Sea Surface Temperature, Sea Level, Ocean Acidity, Arctic Sea Ice, Glaciers, Lake Ice, Snowfall, Snow Cover, Snowpack, Heating and Cooling Degree Days, Heat-Related Deaths, Lyme Disease, Length of Growing Season, Ragweed Pollen Season, Wildfires, Streamflow, Great Lakes Water Levels and Temperatures, Bird Wintering Ranges, and Leaf and Bloom Dates.” (From Climate Change Indicators in the United States, Environmental Protection Agency).
Please check these indicators soon, for we do not know how much longer they will exist on the EPA’s website.
Indicators are kinda like those tubes and monitors that are hooked up to you after you’ve had a life-threatening accident. If there are loud beeps from any one of those indicators, you are going to need a nurse Johnny-on-the-spot.
I want to make a point about the changes in our water, which constitutes many of the indicators above. The importance of our water goes far beyond our current state of dysfunctional politics.
Water, as you know, exists in three states on our planet: liquid, gas (vapor), or solid (ice). When it’s not present in any of these forms we have a drought, desert, or a lifeless space. #WaterIsLife
Here are some interesting data about water in our Northeast region, from GLISA a NOAA Risa team :
- · “From 1973 to 2010, annual average ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71%.”
- · “The amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest 1% of storms increased by 37% in the Midwest and 71% in the Northeast from 1958 to 2012.”
So, let’s talk about the liquid form for a moment. That recent California dam crisis offers a teaching moment about a particular water infrastructure, but also all our infrastructures, because it talks about planning, about how infrastructure change must be tailored to the local predictions of Climate Change. Decisions for this dam should have been made years ago because now everyone is freaking about displacing 200,000 people and trying to figure out if the drought is over. No, the drought isn’t over and, no, the aquifers that will be needed for more droughts a-coming are not being replenished. But they could have been recharged if the dam had been redesigned properly. It’s not just that damn dam, it’s all our infrastructure.
Our infrastructures—dams, bridges, waste water systems, gas pipelines, electric grids, etc.—are old and they were designed for a world that wasn’t feeling the consequences of Climate Change. Our infrastructures here in the Northeast haven’t had to deal with the dramatic droughts of the West; instead, heavy precipitation (snow and rain) at a 71% increase since 1958 presents many problems with sewage overflows and damages due to increased flash flooding.
The article (below) is great for understanding some of the key issues about addressing Climate Changing because it gets to more of the particulars than merely updating old structures. Our infrastructures of the future have to be ready for the climate disruptions that are already different from the calmer climate when those structures were first designed. The public needs to be more aware of how our infrastructures—which are now key to our survival because there are so many of us who need food, waste removal, communication, and transportation. Oftentimes, when our infrastructures fail, they do so dramatically, because so many people are dependent on them.
What California’s Dam Crisis Says About the Changing Climate After five years of record-setting drought, much of California is being pummeled by an extremely wet winter. The disaster unfolding at Oroville, where precipitation is more than double the average, is the latest reminder that the United States needs a climate-smart upgrade of our water management systems. In the West, much of our water infrastructure is old. Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento, was completed in 1968, nearly a half a century ago. Other major components of our water system are generations older, and maintenance has not been a priority. The damage to Oroville Dam, where the primary spillway developed a giant gash and the emergency spillway threatened to erode, illustrates the hazard of relying on aging infrastructure to protect us from extreme weather. But age and upkeep are not the only problems. Our water system was designed and built in an old climate, one in which extremely warm years were less common and snowpack was more reliable. Here in the West, we use the same dams and reservoirs for both water storage and flood control, so during the wet season, reservoir managers continuously balance the dual pressures of storing as much water as possible for the dry summer and releasing sufficient water to create room for the next storm. (February 14, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]
A dramatic shift in Great Lakes ice cover due to Climate Change could have profound changes to lake levels, weather, snow, shipping, nuclear power cooling, fishing, and the entire ecosystem. There’s more on this story here. Also, this is interesting:
Climate shifts affecting Great Lakes ice cover The mild winter across the Great Lakes is producing below average ice cover once again. As of Sunday, 13.5 percent of the Great Lakes is covered with ice according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s well below the historical median of about 30 percent for this week of the year, according to the Canadian Ice Service. (February 13, 2017) MPR News [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]
As of this writing, there is still official climate data from which the public and their government can work from. For example, check graphs and maps that show observed and modeled data for ROCHESTER, NY. This information comes from the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, which “is a website designed to help people find and use tools, information, and subject matter expertise to build climate resilience. The Toolkit offers information from all across the U.S. federal government in one easy-to-use location.”
This information from our government may not always be there. Data and public information from our government is disappearing in a cloud of denial and an ideology that still thinks the only way business can survive is to treat our environment as their free and unrestricted sewer.
I am continually reminded of Dr. Sagan’s warning: “Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.”