Friday, December 9, 2011

Are We Whistling Past Our Own Graveyard?

Something quite scary is happening... And sadly enough, you probably aren't seeing it on the evening news. If you think our freaky weather is bad now, you "ain't seen nothing yet".

“Warming and associated loss of snowpack will persist over much of the western United States,” Assistant DOI secretary Anne Castle said in her written testimony to the water and power subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A recent Bureau of Reclamation report, Castle said, has concluded that “this loss of snowpack storage is expected to result in a decrease in the amount of reliable water supply in areas where snow has been a major component of the hydrologic system.”

The Senate subcommittee hearing comes a week after the Global Climate Project reported that worldwide carbon dioxide emissions from the combusion of fossil fuels had risen by 5.9 percent in 2010, the biggest annual increase in history.

Climate change is already producing dramatic changes in the water cycle in the U.S., and more changes are coming, according to the U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program’s 2009 report on climate change impacts.

“Evidence is mounting that human-induced climate change is already altering many many of the exsiting patterns of precipitation in the United States, including when, where, how much, and what kind of precipitation falls,” the report says. And it predicts that “dry areas will become drier and and wet areas wetter,” with particularly severe effects in the Southwest which is expected to have more severe and more prolonged droughts.

Here in Nevada (and especially down south in Clark County), we rely on that melting snowpack for the bulk of our water supply. Without that water filling the Colorado River, we're really screwed.

Yet again, we're reminded of the dangers we face with unchecked climate change. And yet again, the increasingly extreme weather we're already seeing shows us that we can't keep ignoring this real crisis. And despite constant efforts to make us forget this, Americans are realizing just how dangerous this climate crisis is.

So why aren't we seeing real action on climate change? We really need to do some soul searching on that. And the LA Times is asking us just that.

Climate change is no longer a theoretical concept to be debated at symposiums by science nerds. It is happening right here, right now. Thirteen of the warmest years on record worldwide have happened in the past 15 years. In the U.S., 12 weather-related disasters this year have caused in excess of $1 billion in damage each, a record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Although many expected the global economic downturn to slow the output of greenhouse gases, emissions actually have been accelerating at an alarming rate, growing 5.9% in 2010 — the biggest jump since 2003. The American response? Fiddling around. [...]

The U.S. position at the [UN climate] talks [in Durban, South Africa] can be described as, well, nuanced. Chief climate negotiator Todd Stern says that he favors a legally binding treaty to replace Kyoto (which the U.S. Senate never ratified), but only if it holds developing nations such as China and India to the same mandatory standards as industrialized countries such as the U.S. Yet he acknowledges that those nations will never go along with such a deal, so countries should just make voluntary pledges to cut emissions and hold themselves accountable. In other words: "I will now perform Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major. Does anybody else smell smoke?"

The voluntary approach isn't getting us far. At last year's climate conference in Cancun, the world agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius higher than the pre-industrial norm. Yet that goal can't be met under the current global pledges of voluntary reductions, leading to predictions of up to 4 degrees of warming by the end of the century. That would mean catastrophic sea-level rise, drought, famine and weather-related carnage. Fortunately, we'll all be dead by then. But our progeny will not thank us.

Indeed, they won't if we continue with our (thus far) inadequate response to climate change. And they surely won't if we continue to pay attention to "leaders" who refuse to lead on this critical issue.

So when will we truly start to take the lead on this? Again, we're already seeing the results of past inaction. This year's wildfires, such as the Caughlin fire in Reno last month, should have been another wake-up call. When will we wake up and do something?

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