You may not have noticed, but yesterday was the last official day of winter in the US. Yup, with week-long 80 degree record temperatures in Chicago, and hundreds of other local records set in places like Oklahoma, Minnesota, Illinois and up and down the East Coast, we’re skipping spring, and going right to summer. Some folks may be thinking to themselves “I love this weather,” but for those in parts of the midwest, where 35 tornadoes touched down in 24 hours-some of the first to ever touch down in March-the heat wave has left a path destruction.
Warm temperatures alone don’t cause extreme weather-moisture in the air, atmospheric patterns and high winds all contribute to it-but warm air caused by climate change adds to this dangerous cocktail because it feeds an already out-of-whack system. Is this the new normal? After an explosive fall, with Hurricane Irene, droughts in the Southwest, and Texas Wildfires, what might the spring and summer bring?
Weather forecasters can’t project out too far, but climatologists’ warnings are becoming louder and more urgent. Whereas a few years ago, scientists said that emitting too much CO2 meant humans were “loading the dice” on weather events, making them more erratic and more severe. Now, many scientists say we’re “painting more dots” on the weather dice, essentially making every weather event more destructive.
This isn’t an abstraction, and it’s not in the future-this is happening now. In 2011, the deadliest weather disaster that you never heard of was the drought and famine that caused over 30,000 deaths in East Africa-which was soon followed by flooding in Thailand that cost the country $45bn, roughly 18% of the country’s GDP, and raised the price of rice globally. Right here in the US, Hurricane Irene, Midwest Tornado outbreaks, Joplin and the southwest drought and fires cost us nearly $40bn.
So my question: when do we start connecting the dots? When do we stop “suspecting” that something’s up, and internalize what this heat wave and weather events are showing us? I, for one, am beginning to understand that the “new normal” isn’t really tenable for humans on the planet. And that fossil fuel companies and their spokespeople in Congress who aren’t connecting the dots, and denying reality are starting to resemble members of the Flat Earth Society. If our leaders refuse to do it, we need to connect the dots for them.