Extreme Weather Events & Climate Change

Written by Murtaza Nek, Program Coordinator, Team Massachusetts

Things are getting really scary on this planet, and I think way more of us should be talking about it.

These last few weeks have been pretty tough for the US. We’ve experienced the worst wildfires in Colorado and Utah history, which have burned hundreds of homes down to the ground and have reduced countless cars to scrap metal (1). According to meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters, last week “across the entire Continental U.S., 72 percent of the land area was classified as being in dry or drought conditions” (2). A “derecho” (Spanish for “straight ahead”) storm system started in Illinois and blasted east all the way to Virginia, leaving well over a million without power. In the last week of June, nearly 2,000 all-time-high temperature records were broken in the US (3). And do keep in mind that that was in June, generally not the hottest time of the year, so we can only expect much worse in the next few months to come.

The smoke of a wildfire in Colorado as seen from an airplane. Photo curtesy of http://imgur.com/xukRs

All this is freaking me out and I would like to hope that major society-wide conversations are taking place, but I fear they are not. People are going about their daily business and not really worrying about it because it’s still not immediately relevant to them (so long as they don’t have to be out in the sun for too long in the day and so long as they can still bear it). TV meteorologists are referring to these disasters as “extreme weather” events but are not drawing the link to climate change even though people have been sounding warning alarms for decades if not way longer.

I really hope that people stop to look at all this and decide for themselves that “hey, this isn’t normal”, rather than “hey, this is the new normal” because the former is more likely to bring them to action. We know we can still do something about this because we know, to a great extent, what’s responsible: we’ve increased the concentration of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, by like 42% since preindustrial times, enough to do major heat damage. If we don’t wake up now, then when will we? When some parts of the US get so hot that they become unlivable?

“Humans are largely responsible for recent climate change,” epa.gov. Image taken from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/

I along with my family have lived through some natural disasters, like Hurricane Andrew, but, thankfully, have never been hugely at risk, so it has never really occurred to me to check on a family member to see if he or she was alright with the weather he or she was experiencing; however today, after I checked on the weather being experienced by those in Washington, DC (where my sisters work), that changed. I think the first time I called my older sister up just to ask if she was going to be all right with the record heat wave going through DC right now. She responded saying roughly, “yeah I’ll be fine, I’m in a building most of the day, you’re the one biking around everywhere this summer!”

A chart of record high temperatures.

As the records continue to be broken, as temperatures all over the world enter new regimes as they’re expected to, our societal complacency cannot persist. Tafline Laylin of Green Prophet suggests our possible future quite clearly: “Cleaning up after ourselves: that is what we and future generations are going to be doing from now on. Cleaning up the mess our greed has made since the onset of the industrial revolution. We are going to pay the price of all those power plants and all those carbon emissions and it will become increasingly difficult to focus on anything else.” (4)

Works Cited

1: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/02/colorado-wildfire-destruction-residents-neighbourhoods

2:http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/climate_change_this_is_just_the_beginning_20120703/

3: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jul/02/us-heatwave-temperature-records

4: http://www.greenprophet.com/2012/07/the-wrath-of-global-warming/

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