Ten inches of rain fell in one day a couple of weeks ago in Kingwood, and television weather services reported 1 to 4 inches in other parts of Houston “…as common.” This week, 6 inches of rain flooded and dozens of tornadoes battered Oklahoma. Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, places like Seattle are reporting drought-like conditions that could lead to serious wildfire risk this summer – extremely un-Seattle-like.
Are these changes in the weather that have been called “common” truly happening on their own, or are weather patterns changing for some other reason?
The vast majority of experts in meteorology and atmospheric science are telling us that these changes to weather patterns are actually changes in the earth’s climate, most likely caused by human activity. And the activity that is responsible for the most change is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
We can list a number of other changes to our environment that have occurred in our lifetimes, including the dying off of coral reefs, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets at the polar regions, decreased snow cover in the northern hemisphere, and sea level rise.
The problems and disruption caused by these events, all linked to changes in the climate, have been noticed and acknowledged by many. Students in Houston and around the world organized a demonstration on March 15 of this year to demand action to respond climate change. And other groups, including the US Climate Action Network that represents more than 175 different organizations many of which have other goals as their main focus, have formed to urge leaders and elected officials to take action to address climate change.
Our elected leaders, mostly at the federal level, are among the last to get the message that something needs to change. They continue to perpetuate the myth that any action that they would take legislatively would be “…burdensome and job-killing.” This is both mistaken and short-sighted. In contrast, many state and local leaders understand the importance of incorporating climate change considerations into their jurisdiction’s plans.
Even industries like the petroleum and other fossil fuel companies, whose products are the main contributors to the problem, recognize the need to take action and reduce our dependence on activities that produce carbon dioxide and gases that affect the atmosphere. They now emphasize sustainability in their messages to consumers and in the planning for the future of their companies.
Not only have our federal leaders covered their ears to the message that something needs to change, but the federal government has actively been preventing scientists from studying this phenomenon that is affecting the entire world. NOAA scientists have been prevented from attending scientific conferences; references to “climate change” have been ordered removed from EPA and other agency documents; and scientific reports on atmospheric conditions have been removed from websites. Blocking scientific study and exchange is the exact opposite of what we should be doing when we see the evidence of a developing problem.
Many cities, particularly coastal cities, already have adaptation or mitigation plans in place. Along the Gulf Coast our leaders are
beginning to see the need for such plans as the Coastal Spine hurricane storm surge protection and are actively supporting its construction. Counteracting the effects of climate change is necessary, but elimination of activities that caused the climate problem will be the only way to prevent further deterioration.
The Green New Deal, supported by many members of Congress and candidates for office is not intended to be a detailed program, but it does help to establish the narrative for recognizing that something very serious is happening and providing a framework to address it. It is a first step, but we must convince our leadership that we need legislation to structure our economy in a way that both counteracts the climate crisis and defines how our economy can thrive as we go forward.
Mostly, we as informed citizens must keep the pressure on our leaders. We need to convince them that things change. Adapting to a changing world is an opportunity that we should embrace. There is no single best solution to the climate crisis and an evolving energy economy, but with sustainability as our key guideline, we can move forward to a better future for all.
Jon Powell is an environmental and risk management consultant to the energy and chemicals industry.