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Storms, Science, and Climate Change

Mindy Lubber of Ceres provides a guest view on the weather events around the SouthCoast and New England, touching on how we need a new path after the economic shocks of recent years for our families, our country and our planet.
by Mindy LubberSouthCoast Today Posted on Apr 16, 2010

It's foolish — and bad science — to claim that any small cluster of weather events is evidence for or against the existence of climate change. This month's rains and severe flooding around the SouthCoast and New England are no exception. Do not believe partisans from either side who say differently.

So set that aside for a moment and instead ponder this: What would life be like if events like these became far more frequent — here and globally?

We may not know what caused the past month's storms, but it's irrefutable that, despite recent questioning of climate science, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists remain firmly convinced the climate change threat is real. And they say it will likely bring a worldwide increase in extreme weather.

Many such events will seem contradictory. More floods in some places with more severe drought in others. Much warmer weather in some places with cooler weather in others. All with more severe major storms like hurricanes, tornadoes and drenching rains.

In New England, the record-setting rains of the last month have been a huge and costly headache. Damage was substantial. Significant commuting roads from Rhode Island right up through Massachusetts and into New Hampshire were closed by flooding for weeks, and a few remain closed as I write. As rivers crested, large numbers of other roads closed, gridlocking traffic on the remaining unflooded ones. Longtime residents who have never seen flooding in their basements have it now, and since many basements are finished living areas, this is major damage. Life has been far from normal.

Surveying the chaos, Gov. Deval Patrick said, "We've had two 50-year storms in two to three weeks."

By definition, that's not supposed to happen. So what if it turns out that these are no longer merely 50-year events? How would you like living with this more regularly?

Climate models can't be exact, but some of the potentials seen by scientists for the United States include more major rains in the northeast, severe and more frequent droughts in other areas, and catastrophically powerful hurricane seasons along our Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Katrina-plus, anyone? And more often?

Scenarios abroad are equally chilling. Here's just one: The real possibility that rising sea levels could render a densely populated coastal zone of Bangladesh uninhabitable, creating a staggering 150 million climate refugees. The science says every continent could be affected in ways that would likely trigger severe political instability, population shifts or competition for natural resources.

Do we wish to live in such a world? Dare we act as if a strong scientific consensus of this gravity can be ignored? Don't most of us buy fire insurance on our home despite the odds of its burning down being far smaller than the odds climate scientists place on severe worldwide impacts?

Climate science is actually fairly straightforward. Our atmosphere is something of a closed bubble. Pumping levels of carbon dioxide not seen in many thousands of years into it is dangerous. And the consensus is that we are perilously close to a tipping point.

So we'd better get to work on this problem and fast, but here's the good news: We have solutions at hand, and pursuing them can be one of the great economic drivers of the 21st century. Moving away from fossil fuels and finding cleaner energy alternatives is the work of coming generations. And it will leave us with a far healthier, less troubled and more prosperous planet despite the investments needed to get there.

We need a new path after the economic shocks of recent years, and this is a win-win-win, for our families, our country and our planet.

The U.S. Senate is now considering action that would move us onto that path; the House has already passed strong legislation. Our U.S. Sen. John Kerry is a key sponsor of this effort, and our new Sen. Scott Brown may have a major role to play as this unfolds.

So it's past time for all of us to drop the blinders, get past the disinformation and move ahead. With what we stand to gain — and what we stand to lose — what on earth are we waiting for?

Read the post at SouthCoast Today

Meet the Expert

Brooke Barton

Brooke leads Ceres’ Water & Food Programs, directing the organization’s strategy for mobilizing leading corporations and investors to address the sustainability risks facing our freshwater, food and agriculture systems. In this capacity, she oversees Ceres’ research and private sector engagement activities on the financial risks associated with growing freshwater challenges and deforestation.

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