Monday, May 5, 2008

Come Hell and High Water

It's one of those mornings. I put on my grunge clothes, made a list of all the things that needed done in the garden, and fully intended to take advantage of a cool, overcast day to do the dirty work. But before I got out the door, something I had read yesterday started niggling at my mind, and I knew I would have to see it onscreen before I could go forward with my day. So here it is.

In August of 2005, a storm named Katrina struck the Gulf coast of the USA leaving a legacy of death and destruction. In Pass Christian, Mississippi, a 30 foot high wall of water with waves up to 55 feet obliterated the once charming, southern town, including the home of one Mr. Romm and family. Now Mr. Romm lived one mile inland. He did not have waterfront property. Was this storm a freak of nature or something likely to repeat, he wondered. Temporarily relocated in Atlanta, he contacted his brother, Joseph, and said, "Hey, Bro. This is your area of expertise. Tell me, should I rebuild in Pass Christian or get a new life?"1

Now his brother, Joseph, was highly qualified to answer that very question. After all, he had a doctorate in physics from MIT, had done his dissertation on physical oceanography, and had served as head of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy during the Clinton administration. But Joseph knew this was a question that deserved careful analysis. So he did some research. He asked top scientists in the field. What he found out was that "the climate situation was far more dire than most people -- even many scientists, myself included -- realized. Almost every major climate impact was occurring faster than the computer models had suggested. Arctic sea ice was shrinking far faster than every single model had projected. And the great ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica were shedding ice decades earlier than the models said. Ecosystems appeared to be losing their ability to take up carbon dioxide faster than expected. At the same time, global carbon dioxide emissions and concentrations were rising faster than most had expected."2

In Romm's estimation, and in that of many climatologists, hurricane seasons like those of 2004 and 2005 may become commonplace in the very near future. 2006 was a lucky year -- most of the hurricanes headed out into the Atlantic. 2007 was not so lucky.

Aha, my friends would say. 2007 was a dud so far as hurricanes go. The US hardly got hit at all. Well, despite what some of my friends seem to think, we are not the only country in world. According to Wikipedia, 2007 was a record-breaking year in many unfortunate ways:

On August 18, Hurricane Dean was upgraded to category 5 status and eventually made landfall at that strength on the Mexican Yucat√°n Peninsula. When Hurricane Felix reached category 5 status, 2007 became one of four recorded Atlantic seasons that have had more than one category 5 storm — the others being 1960, 1961 and 2005 — and the only time two Atlantic hurricanes have ever made landfall at Category 5 strength in the same season. Dean and Felix also both reached Category 5 strength more than once, the first such occurrence in an Atlantic hurricane season. Also, the 2007 season was the second season on record that an Atlantic hurricane and an eastern Pacific hurricane made landfall on the same day (Felix and Henriette). Hurricane Humberto also became the fastest developing storm on record to be so close to land; it strengthened from a 35 mph (55 km/h) tropical depression to a 90 mph (150 km/h) hurricane in 14 hours while 15 miles (24 km) off the coast of Texas. September had a record tying 8 storms, but the strengths and durations of most of the storms were low. Hurricane Noel was the deadliest storm of the season, killing 169 people. The post season Tropical Storm Olga caused 40 deaths in the northern Caribbean, primarily in the Dominican Republic.

Unfortunately, hurricanes are not all we have to worry about. In August of 2003, a heat wave caused 35,000 deaths across Europe. That's a lot of dead people, People. And global climate destabilization is a contributing factor to a host of weather extremes, many of which the US of A is experiencing almost daily -- droughts, floods, tornadoes, wildfires to name the most popular.

I know I harp on this a lot. Sometimes my high horse gets so high even I get a nose-bleed. But I challenge everyone to read Romm's book. Prove it wrong. Prove me wrong. If you can't, then at least care enough to care.

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1 Okay, I took liberties. This might not be an exact quote.

2 Joseph Romm, Hell and High Water: Global Warming -- the Solution and the Politics -- and What We Should Do, p. 29

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