Our Biggest Security Threat Is Global Warming-Induced Extreme WeatherAug 06
OUR BIGGEST SECURITY THREAT IS GLOBAL WARMING-INDUCED EXTREME WEATHER
By Scott Thill
August 2, 2011
Scientists have been predicting for years that global warming would produce record-breaking extremes on either side of the thermometer. This past winter, America survived its so-called snowpocalypse, and now that summer has arrived, we’ve got a heat dome.
If you’re wondering what the hell that is — it’s just another obvious climate change assassin that we could see coming miles away, if some of us were paying better attention. If you’re looking for a more technical definition, according to National Geographic a heat dome is a seasonal high-pressure system of dense hot air, albeit one with a highly unusual (for now) strength and size, stretching one million square miles from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. It’s already killed a couple dozen people, adding to a swelling death toll resulting from recent tornadoes and floods that bedeviled the nation this year.
It conforms easily to the ravages of Kevin Borden and Susan Cutter’s so-called Death Map (see below) — academically known as “Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States” — which in 2008 peered into climate change’s crystal ball and found intensifying natural disasters capable of regionally reshaping the nation with every catastrophe. According to University of South Carolina scholars Cutter and Borden, heat and drought were the main death-dealers, along with extreme summer and winter events. Borden now works for homeland security risk management specialist Digital Sandbox. If his post-academic career choice doesn’t confirm it outright, then recent warnings from the United Nations Environment Program should: These global warming nightmares, not domestic or international terrorists, are the most dangerous threat to global security in existence.
Click the image above to see a full-sized version. The report this “death map” is taken from is located here.
Click the image above to see a larger version. The report this “Natural Hazard Deaths By Event Type” chart is taken from is located here.
In other words, the heat dome may be really bad news, but it’s only part of a much bigger picture: We are facing extreme weather from climate change that is challenging life as we know it.
“I think we need absolutely realistic reporting on what’s going on now, and what we can expect in the future,” explained 350.org co-founder, author and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who in May connected the dots between climate change and the lethal tornadoes that leveled Missouri and Alabama in a popular article for the Washington Post (see below). “I think the fact that the climate is coming unhinged already is starting to break through. How could it not with simultaneous Dust Bowl-scale drought in the Southwest, and Noah-scale flooding in the middle of the country?”
Scientists have been right in predicting that things are going to be bad, but just how bad is a more complicated scenario. Next time a report or study divulging the latest lethality of climate change surfaces, check for a quote from a well-intentioned scientist explaining that everything is happening faster than previously thought. It won’t take long, whether you’re reading about how nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as once assumed, or that the North Pole is melting much faster than everyone thought it would. For all of its supposedly radical activism, if you ask the denialists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), along with most other scientists have all been extremely efficient at one thing: Underestimating the severity of global warming.
“Scientists are by nature conservative, so it doesn’t surprise me that the earliest estimates of climate change’s impact would be underestimates,” McKibben told AlterNet. “But since the rapid melt of Arctic ice in the summer of 2007, scientists have been trying to send the message that things are happening faster and more violently than expected. The political community, including the United Nations bureaucracy administering the climate talks, hasn’t caught up.”
It could be too late for them to counteract that fatal mistake, according to writer James Howard Kunstler. They may have been better off striking while the iron was hot, especially given how little the American public wants to hear what they have to say. “The scientific community is demoralized by its realization that the public and our leaders are not sane and rational,” he told AlterNet. “The so-called Climategate scandal of 2009, organized by right-wing denialists, pretty much did in the scientists’ hopeful sense of activism. They’re just stuck now with the awful results of the science, and nobody wants to hear about it.”
Even the scientists are starting to crack under the pressure. University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward, who is continuing his study of planetary mass extinction this summer by studying the 500-million-year-old living fossil Nautilus in the remote Pacific, is severely pained by his ability to be right on the data but wrong on people actually caring enough about it to awake from their mediated, medicated stupor.
“I wrote a book in 1994 called The End of Evolution: A Journey in Search of Clues to the Third Mass Extinction Facing Earth that said, within in a decade or two, we’d be seeing these monumental destructions, and people laughed at it,” he told AlterNet. “I wrote just last year about sea-level rise in The Flooded Earth saying that things look pretty desperate for the next 60 to 80 years, and got almost no reviews. Luckily, I’m not going to be alive to see the worst of it. But the sad thing is that it’s horrible to be right, just horrible. Somebody gave me the foresight to see what’s coming, and I don’t like it.”
We’re headed toward a great extinction, McKibben told AlterNet. “The only question is how great. That still remains within our ability to influence. Job one is to stop pouring more carbon into the air.”
The other job? Stop pouring more people onto the planet.
“The single driver going on here is the increase in human population,” added Ward. “Everything goes back to that. It explains every one of these phenomena: Global warming, marine extinction, changes in living patterns and even in the economies of the world. Way too many people, way too fast. And it’s running away.”
Perhaps, there are those who feel there is no connection between mass extinction and their evidently more important sociopolitical and economic troubles. But they would be much better off realizing that, like the Earth itself, all of these problems are interconnected. Our continuing economic recession was specifically built upon hyperreal stratagems designed to distract people from the fact that they were — like pretty much everything we’re doing these days — wholly unsustainable, and would benefit only the filthy rich global elite who have disconnected from national interests altogether.
The fact that American politicians, who are mostly millionaires, are currently playing chicken with New Deal standouts like Social Security or, in the case of Republican senator Eric Cantor, actually shorting U.S. Treasuries, should be about as surprising as territories in Borden and Cutter’s Death Map being torn apart by droughts, firestorms, floods and worse.
There is no difference between rapacious mortgage robosigners and what Kunstler calls climate change’s “professional denialists.” These are all callous cashouts of the American people, and their cities and states, by the powers-that-be. Losing that F-150 that you should never have bought or that mortgage contract you should never have signed is just a phase of the new nightmarish normal. Next comes losing your country to a global elite invested in its downfall, and after that comes losing the country to permanent droughts and extreme natural disasters.
And so here we sit in the barely new decade of our barely new century, quagmired in game theories above our head, governed by a global elite who have little care for our welfare or even our going-broke cities. To think they’re not as invested, literally, in our ignorance of climate change’s myriad massacres as they are in pulling the plug on our social safety net is suicide on a global scale. Drowning in debt, deceit, natural catastrophes — what’s the difference? If we don’t start seriously sweating the existential crisis of climate change and ignoring the small-time drama of terrorism and partisan sellouts, then we’re finished.
A LINK BETWEEN CLIMATE CHANGE AND JOPLIN TORNADOES? NEVER!
By Bill McKibben
May 23, 2011
Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Mo., you should not wonder: Is this somehow related to the tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that (which, together, comprised the most active April for tornadoes in U.S. history). No, that doesn’t mean a thing.
It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if they’re somehow connected.
If you did wonder, you see, you would also have to wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi — could somehow be related. And then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming, and to the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.
It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods — that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these record-breaking events are happening in such proximity — that is, why there have been unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. No, better to focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the news anchorman standing in his waders in the rising river as the water approaches his chest.
Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year drought in the past five years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the past decade — well, you might have to ask other questions. Such as: Should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal mining? Should Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign a permit this summer allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta? You might also have to ask yourself: Do we have a bigger problem than $4-a-gallon gasoline?
Better to join with the U.S. House of Representatives, which voted 240 to 184 this spring to defeat a resolution saying simply that “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” Propose your own physics; ignore physics altogether. Just don’t start asking yourself whether there might be some relation among last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heat wave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France’s and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields. Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.
It’s very important to stay calm. If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies. If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent filing: that there’s no need to worry because “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” I’m pretty sure that’s what residents are telling themselves in Joplin today.