Well, it’s now officially official. Climate change is not just coming, it’s already upon us, according to the president and the United Nations and a whole slew of climate scientists. The president of course didn’t do the heavy lifting on the science, but he brought it to our attention, again, this week and is pushing for a week-long discussion on the crisis. The recently published National Climate Assessment was rolled out at the White House to an audience of meteorologists Tuesday.
Heavier rain and flooding in the northeast and in coastal areas is forecast along with hotter, drier summers in the midwest, drought and attendant wildfires in the west. The U.N. study states that scientists are now 95 percent certain that global warming or climate change is directly affected by human activity. That’s pretty hard to argue with, almost like arguing that because DNA testing isn’t 100 percent, it should not be used in court, medicine and wherever else DNA testing is making useful conclusions.
Government and industry have climbed on board to varying extents over the years adopting regulations (sometimes contradictory, apparently) and best practices regarding vehicle emissions, energy-saving improvements in buildings, recycling efforts, mass transportation (minimal but improving) and restrictions on all manner of air pollutants. Bike Friendly Communities and more walking and biking trails are helping to some extent, probably not much yet, but it’s a start. And May is National Bike Month as well as Clean Air Month.
For all its reputation as a going-green state, California has staggering levels of air pollution. I read an article this week that said California’s is different from the air pollution in other places primarily because of the number of people and their number of vehicles. The American Lung Association published its “worst of the worst,” and California has six out of the 10 worst on two different scales for air pollution in the country, ozone and particulate matter. Los Angeles and its environs, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Sacramento-Roseville, Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Bakersfield, Fresno-Madera and Modesto-Merced rank in different positions on the two scales but are all in the top 10. Motor vehicle emissions are responsible for the bulk of that toxic garbage. (Data: Based on a three-year average of the number of days measurements exceeded federal health standards for ozone.)
Assuming that the 95 percent are right, we’ll be right in the middle of the climate change bulls-eye one of these days, and it looks like it could be sooner rather than later. Driving in to work Wednesday, I heard on NPR that the Central Valley produces 75 percent of the world’s almonds. I think I kind of knew that, but the story on the radio was that farmers, not just almond farmers but others as well, have seen the price of water go through the roof lately. One fellow said it jumped from about $52 an acre-foot to over $2,000. If I understood him correctly, he said 75 people bid for eligibility (I guess it’s like an auction) but only nine or 10 qualified by having enough money to buy. That was in a particular area, I’m sure. It’s the result of our state’s history-making drought. Imagine if this is the new normal, as the climate scientists are warning.
If you’re of a certain age, you will remember the ubiquitous weekly TV westerns. The poor farmers and herdsmen were always having to call on Paladin or the Rifleman or Gene Autry or the Virginian to help them get their water back from the big, evil rancher or miner who would lock up the sources and post gunslingers to keep the little guys away. We may see scenarios like that again in our future. Not sure who will be the new bad guys, but no doubt there will be some.
One of the meteorologists President Obama talked to was Jim Gandy, a popular TV weather man from South Carolina (where it’s reported there is more than a little skepticism about global warming). Gandy was also interviewed recently by the Columbia Jouralism Review and said this:
“I do accept the science that increasing [carbon dioxide] significantly leads to a warming of the earth. We know that the increase in CO2 is largely the result of burning fossil fuels, which is a human activity. I am not afraid to say that it is happening because the science is crystal clear on this point.”
Naysayers will still abound but probably in smaller and smaller numbers. Hardcore naysayers will continue to point out that because a half-dozen scientists dispute some of the findings that it must all be bogus and a conspiracy of somebody, some “them” out there who want to limit our very heavy use of coal and oil. How many centuries did it take for a majority of the world’s people to believe that the earth is round? How many still don’t believe that? I don’t know, but I’d guess it’s still considerable in some really remote places.
There are pictures of vanishing glaciers, the arctic, antarctic and Greenland melting faster than anyone would have imagined. Ninety-five percent certainty is good enough for me.
Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday.