Column: Action needed now to fight the worst effects of climate change – The Herald-Times
During the late summer of 2020, many western states suffered from catastrophic wildfires resulting in 31 dead and 4 million burned acres. The worst was California’s August Complex blaze, which destroyed 8,200 structures and left tens of thousands homeless. The flames destroyed a million Joshua trees along with groves of redwoods and sequoias. While fires have always been a part of the western landscape, the extent and intensity of heat, drought, and burned area is more recent. The number of California’s wildfires increased from 5,456 in 2019 to 8,112 in 2020. Scientific data reveals that 19 of the last 20 years have been the warmest on record since bookkeeping began some 140 years ago.
Climate scientists harbor no doubts that anthropogenic climate change (global warming) set the backdrop for these disasters. Dr. Daniel Swain of the University of California Los Angeles National Center for Atmospheric Research declared that global warming has led to extreme weather events. He and his colleagues have conducted studies and composed many peer-reviewed papers linking climate change to our current fires. Drier vegetation generates faster burning flames, which makes fire fighting more perilous and difficult. He has revealed that California’s burn acreage has increased fivefold since 1972 and warned us that even worse disasters are in store for our future unless we immediately curtail greenhouse gases, such as CO2.
Noah Diffenbaugh agreed with Swain that human-emitted greenhouse gases are provoking more severe and ubiquitous natural disasters. Diffenbaugh told ABC News science reporter, Luz Pena, that our planet is now “in an altered climate” with ensuing heat waves, droughts, faster snow pack melts, and exceptional storms/flooding. David Romps, director of the University of California Berkley Atmospheric Science Center, concurred as he described the earth as transforming into a ” fundamentally altered world.” At Berkley, the temperature is now some two degrees warmer than at the beginning of the 20th century. Even worse, every degree Celsius increase in temperature leads to a 12% increase in lightning strikes, which in turn sparks for flames. This is a dangerous cycle.
Corroborating the scientists from California are Philip Higuera, a climate expert and paleo ecologist with the University of Montana, and Brad Udall, a water and climate specialist from Colorado State University. Higuera received kudos for his leadership in a 15-year study of lake sediments in Colorado. His evidence demonstrated that wildfires in the present are burning at twice the rate and frequency than at any time within the last 2,000 years. Udall’s data reveals that snowpack melt off moisture is decreasing. With less regular rainfall, the dry earth absorbs more melting snow and ice which leaves only one half of the water that otherwise would fill rivers and streams.
These scientists represent a small fraction the the vast quantity of research linking anthropogenic climate change to an upsurge of extreme weather events. In our nation, many thousands have already died from the effects of global warming. Experts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have produced millions of bytes of data paralleling what the above mentioned have relayed to us. Humanity must act immediately if we are to ward off disasters which will lead to mass famines, plagues, and misery. Our political leaders need to cease their squabbling over inane whims and face the truth lest we arrive at what Jennifer Balsch of the University of Colorado refers to as “the day of reckoning.”
Maury Searcy is a longtime instructor and has authored several historical and scientific articles. He resides in Camby.