Nov 12, 2012
Whatever “natural” causes led to Katrina and Sandy, the crass enormity of the destruction reflects decisions made by human beings.
For decades the best scientific researchers have predicted exactly these kinds of storms as one of the consequences of global warming. But that research has been ignored and even denigrated.
No one can say, of course, that either Katrina and/or Sandy were caused directly by global warming. But the climate change already documented will produce storms like these – and worse.
Research into weather patterns, coming from a range of fields, has shown that the earth is getting warmer, and it’s getting warmer, faster. This past July was the hottest month on record in the U.S., 3 degrees above average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The 12 months prior to July were the warmest since the NOAA began keeping records in 1895. NASA data show the warming trends in the last 30 years were above average in large sections of the Northern Hemisphere compared with the last 130 years overall.
Gleaning large amounts of information about past weather patterns, scientists have constructed models of what we can expect in the future: much more severe storms, and many more of them; much heavier rainfall in some areas, more snow and ice in others; wider drought in still others, with destruction of agriculture.
The melting of the global ice masses is already well documented. The Arctic cap, which shrinks and expands in a yearly cycle, shrank to its lowest extent this August since NASA records began in 1979.
Further melting will lead to higher sea levels and encroachment of the seas into coastal areas – sometimes catastrophically. Ocean levels are already showing such rises. Global sea levels increased by as much as one millimeter per year on average over the past 60 years, and ocean levels on the east coast of the U.S. have risen three or four times that fast. U.S. Geological Survey scientists predict New York City’s sea level will rise by close to an additional foot by 2100.
Conversely, more than a third of the continental United States experienced severe to extreme drought conditions this July. This year’s drought was part of a series that started in 1999, with only a couple of brief wet interludes in between, according to the National Climate Data Center.
Dry conditions have in turn contributed to larger wildfires in recent years. The average annual number of fires covering more than 1,000 acres has doubled in eight Western states and quadrupled in two others since 1970, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Compared with 42 years ago, the fire season in the West “begins earlier, ends later and sparks larger, more frequent blazes.”
This shows that climate scientists’ forecasts are not just idle speculations. They are predictions made in the way that science must always look to the future – by analyzing as much data as possible from the past, then try to follow the patterns in the data to see where they lead.
The scientists who worked on these models can be wrong in some details, but there is no doubt about the kind of problems that global warming holds for human society.
Some people, of course, prefer to be ostriches – with their heads buried in the sand. And there will always be some right-wing ideologues who pretend the earth is flat, or that it was “created” four thousand years ago.
But that’s not the reason that the scientific research into global warming and its consequences has been pushed aside. To deal with climate change and its increasingly disastrous results would eat into the unending drive for more profit.
To deal with climate change would require a re-ordering of society’s priorities. Decisions would be made based on the best knowledge we now have of how to alleviate the immediate effects of climate change, and how to reduce that change. Companies would not be allowed to organize production in ways that led to human harm – either directly in the workplaces or in the long term impact on life.
But that would cut seriously into profit. And capitalism has never made decisions, no matter how necessary, that would seriously reduce wealth for the tiny handful of profiteers who today hold humanity in their grasp.