“Nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America. The study shows a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades, compared with an increase factor of 4 in Asia, 2.5 in Africa, 2 in Europe and 1.5 in South America. Anthropogenic climate change is believed to contribute to this trend, though it influences various perils in different ways. Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity. “Munich Re Insurance Press Release October 17, 2012
The 274-page study, “Severe weather in North America” draws on “the most comprehensive natural catastrophe database worldwide” indexing losses from weather-related natural disasters including hurricanes, thunderstorms, floods, wildfires, winter storms, heatwaves and droughts.
“This publication represents another contribution to the global dialogue concerning weather-related activities and their causes. What is clearly evident when the longterm data is reviewed is that losses from weather events are trending upward. To simply say that this trend is a statistical anomaly or part of a long-term cycle of activity misses the point of these efforts – we must set aside our biases and continue a meaningful dialogue in search of answers to mitigate the losses that we are experiencing.” Tony Kuczinski, CEO of Munich Reinsurance America.
Last week, I was fortunate to be an attendee at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training with Al Gore. A thousand people from around the world- 58 countries and 47 US states- made the pilgrimage to San Francisco to be part of this training and that alone was truly inspirational. Bette Midler was in the house. Grammy Award winner Kathy Mattea spoke about her story and journey with the Climate Project and the language of nonviolent communication.
One very striking point is that while the US is still wading through a stew of climate denialism, the rest of the world is actively looking for solutions. In fact the first part of Mr. Gore’s latest slideshow presentation, focuses on connecting the dots through poignant photos of recent drought, floods, fires and extreme weather from around the world. With 337 consecutive months of temperatures higher than the 20th century average, every night on the evening news is like a “nature hike through the Book of Revelations”, according to Gore. The fact that the corporate news media doesn’t connect those glaring dots is huge journalistic lapse of integrity.
Gore compares the disinformation campaign, often referred to as climate denialism, to the effort by the tobacco companies to continue to as peddlers of doubt well after there was scientific evidence linking smoking to lung cancer. We must “dis-enthral” ourselves from the current meme which is an “illusory view of reality,” the former VP told the captivated audience.
This new presentation is packed full of emotional photos, sound science and myth-busting. And each of the thousand trainees will weave their individual story into the larger collective story and share it in their communities.
Even though recent surveys show that Americans may be waking up to the reality of climate change, the science is much worse than the average person realizes. There is an African proverb that Gore frequently quotes, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
“We have to go far — quickly,” he adds. So while the task of raising awareness and moving that into actionable change may seem daunting, we, collectively, have no other choice. Because taking this issue head-on is now a moral imperative.
US Drought Monitor August 2, 2012 (Photo credit: CraneStation)
2012 has so far established itself as the year that broke all US extreme weather records. First came the warmest March followed by the warmest spring on record. Then came the second warmest May on record.
That was followed by the hot dry June. Dry conditions, high temperatures and high winds exacerbated fires burning in New Mexico, the largest fire in the state’s history, and in Colorado. Across the US in June, records were set for the warmest nighttime lows and the highest daytime highs, thousands of them.
Next to the plate was the hottest July. The average temperature of 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit in July was 0.2 of a degree higher than the standard set in 1936, in the heart of the Dust Bowl era. The 12-month period ending in July was also the warmest period on record since record-keeping began in 1895.
According to NOAA, the drought expanded to cover 63% of the lower 48 states and over 2 million acres were consumed by wildfires. This concurrence of drought and heat have taken a toll on crop yields. Corn is at it’s lowest yield in 15 years. The Department of Agriculture predicts soybeans will also be hard hit, lowering exports and driving up the prices of beef, pork, poultry, and eggs.
Well, at least we don’t have to worry about tying a single weather event to larger climactic changes. Is it time yet to put down our remotes and to get off the couches?
As the latest climate data reports show, the period from May 2011 to April 2012 was the warmest ever recorded in the United States. The average temperature over the 12-month stretch was nearly three degrees Fahrenheit above last century’s average. This news comes on the heals of the record-breaking heat of the warmest March on record.
“The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.”
The Report says the main cause of future problems is the excessively short-term predominant political and economic model. “We need a system of governance that takes a more long-term view”, said Professor Randers, speaking in Rotterdam. “It is unlikely that governments will pass necessary regulation to force the markets to allocate more money into climate friendly solutions, and must not assume that markets will work for the benefit of humankind”.
“We already live in a manner that cannot be continued for generations without major change. Humanity has overshot the earth’s resources, and in some cases we will see local collapse before 2052 – we are emitting twice as much greenhouse gas every year as can be absorbed by the world’s forests and oceans.”
So where does this leave us? In Grist, this week, a “young, liberal, idealist” quoting a paper from 2004, pronounced the environmental movement dead. But is it really dead?
On May 5th, 350.org held a global day of action to Connect the Dots between extreme weather events and climate change. You can check out their impactful video of events from around the world below.
Further, in a ground-breaking lawsuit, teenagers are taking climate change to the courts. Katherine Ellison writes in the Atlantic that Alec Loorz, 18, “and four other juvenile plaintiffs want government officials to do more to prevent the risks of climate change — the dangerous storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, and food-supply disruptions that scientists warn will threaten their generation absent a major turnabout in global energy policy. Specifically, the students are demanding that the U.S. government start reducing national emissions of carbon dioxide by at least six percent per year beginning in 2013.
“I think a lot of young people realize that this is an urgent time, and that we’re not going to solve this problem just by riding our bikes more,” Loorz said in an interview.”
So, I would say that the in the face of this this increasingly dismal scientific data, we have no choice but to join those already taking action in the climate movement and organize together like never before- like our lives depended on it (because they pretty much do). Denial and depression or fear are emotions that we don’t have the luxury of time for.
As spring is ushered in, a heat wave across the United States sends temperatures hovering 40˚F above normal in some places. In the Southwest, a snow and ice storm. And powerful tornadoes ripped through the Midwest.
According to Climatecentral.org,“On March 15 alone, 593 record daily high temperatures were set or tied, along with 445 record warm low temperatures. This compares to just 10 record cold high temperatures, and only 2 record cold overnight lows. In Chicago, temperatures have soared past 80°F four days in a row — the earliest that has ever occurred, breaking a record set in mid-April, 1896.”
Also in Chicago, President Obama made an appearance at a charity fundraiser hosted by Oprah Winfrey and said, “We’ve had a good day. It’s warm every place. It gets you a little nervous about what’s happening to global temperatures. But when it’s 75 degrees in Chicago in the beginning of March it gets you thinking…”
Finishing the president’s thought, Oprah interjected, “Something’s wrong.”
“Yeah,” Obama agreed. “On other hand we really have enjoyed the nice weather.”
This ambivalence is the hallmark of the Obama presidency. His willingness to hold two contrary opinions in his head and balance them out without assigning any degree of urgency.
Global climate change and the extreme weather events it produces, fueled by the amount of CO2 and greenhouse gases that we dump daily into our atmosphere is only going to intensify with more extreme weather in the coming decades. At some point, one wonders if Obama will look nostalgically back to the balmy days of March 2012 and wonder if maybe he should have payed more attention to the science.