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Lynne Plambeck: Changes in climate aren’t melodrama

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: July 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Many decades ago, we began debating whether climate change was really occurring. 

That’s not a debate anymore. Scientific evidence clearly shows both temperature and CO2 steadily rising since the industrial revolution. Those same charts show a corresponding rise in the use of oil and human population.

Then we debated whether humans caused this phenomenon or whether the rise in CO2, and thus a rise in temperature, is just a natural weather variation. That debate, too, nearly has been put to rest.

While some whose livelihood depends on oil or coal have tried to deny the link between burning fossil fuels and CO2 production, again everyone knows that cars cause smog. The cause and effects are pretty obvious.

The new debate seems to be over what we will be facing in the future. Government agencies charged with ensuring that our communities are safe and are provided with basic necessities have already begun to examine the affect of weather changes on those services. From supplying water to ensuring security, organizations are developing plans to cope with rapid changes to how our society functions.

Disaster movies are no longer about earthquakes. Since “The Day After Tomorrow,” released several years ago, such movies tend to feature climatic end-of-the-world scenarios.

I personally don’t need to see these movies. Severe climate events, from floods to drought, are all too obvious around us. They occur in slower motion than a Hollywood movie — decades instead of two hours — but they are occurring none the less.

Pictures of melting ice caps and stranded polar bears, huge wildfires, dangerously low water reservoirs in some areas and houses under water in other areas, unusual tornado activity and an increase in Level-5 hurricane activity are all indications of climate change.

No one event can be pointed to as resulting from climate change, instead it is the increase in frequency and intensity of these events that indicate the change. When graphed on paper, in spite of slight up and down variations, the steady upward trend of these severe events is the attention-grabber, not the Hollywood movie.

This year, the Midwest, bread bowl of our nation, experienced massive flooding that drowned thousands of acres of cropland.

Now it is experiencing a drought. Both weather patterns are indicative of climate change, which scientific models show bringing more rain rather than snow in the winter, earlier snow melt due to warmer springs and less rain in warmer summers.

According to news reports, a rise in food prices will result.

For most of us, the steady rise of a loaf of bread at the grocery store that has gone from $2 to $3 and now is close to $4, was probably not that notable. And actual food shortages are far from our minds. But recently, I read of a backyard gardener who could not dissuade her father from putting in several rows of beans, just in case of “hungry times.”

Starvation seems unimaginable to middle-class Americans. But to many others in the world, where spending on food staples is already a major portion of their income, this price rise is a disaster. 

Will food scarcity cause massive immigration? When sea-level rise causes floods in populated lowlands, where will the people go? These are questions already being asked by military and security agencies all over the world.

If these questions are of interest to you, you may want to attend a lecture given by local author and Santa Clarita resident Ed Ayes at the Newhall Senior Center this Sunday at noon, hosted by the Unitarian Universalists of the SCV. An author of many books, his recently published “Crossing the Energy Divide: Moving from Fossil Fuel Dependence to a Clean-Energy Future” (co-author with Robert Ayres), rated as No. 2 on Amazon’s top-100 books on energy.

His website describes his background as a speaker on sustainability at such diverse venues as the U.S. Department of Interior University, the Foundation for the Future, Northern Arizona University, and the National Defense University, as well as at the Worldwatch Institute where he was an editor of the Institute’s bimonthly magazine, World Watch, from 1993 to 2005.

In that capacity, he published articles and commentary from some of the world’s most famous scientists and leaders of the sustainability movement — including Paul Ehrlich (author of The Population Explosion), Jane Goodall (pioneer researcher on chimpanzees), Bill McKibben (one of the most articulate champions of climate-change legislation), among others.
See you there!

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.


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