Update Saturday: The worst new flooding appeared to be over along the Mississippi but in some places the crest was higher than expected. The rainstorms and floods took at least 24 lives, left thousands homeless and will cost billions. All of this while wildfires scoured parts of northern California and New Mexico, and southern California temperatures top 100 for days, with little relief in sight. USA Today has a brief story on the extreme weather/climate crisis report referenced below.
As of late Thursday, the Mississippi has overtopped or breached 23 levees and threatens 25 more before its expected crest near St. Louis on Sunday. More Illinois and now Missouri areas have joined a big chunk of eastern Iowa in various degrees of destruction from waters that are often picking up toxins and pollution as they rise and sweep through neighborhoods, business districts, campuses and farm fields. Some 25,000 people are homeless in Cedar Rapids alone.
This collective disaster will cost billions directly and take years of recovery and rebuilding. And the effects will soon ripple through everybody's pocketbook, as lost corn and soy crops join high gas for transport costs in raising food prices across the country.
Of all the correlations between global heating and extreme weather in North America studied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and reported in "Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate," perhaps the strongest is between global heating and a lot more rain, if only because the science of the causes is fairly simple.
But flooding is only one result of extreme weather we are apt to see more of because of the Climate Crisis. The report's Executive Summary says:
"In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights."
Extreme weather can have extreme consequences, and lots of extreme weather can come to dominate the economy, governments and daily life. We need to face this most proximate aspect of the future. We have to accept at least the strong possibility that we're going to see a lot more extreme weather resulting in short-term disasters and long-term catastrophes, and prudently prepare to meet not only individual challenges, but the greater challenge of patterns and increased frequency.
Infrastructure, public health, responsiveness on appropriate local, state, regional and national levels, as well as economic and other mechanisms to deal in an anticipatory way with repairing damage and lessening impact and suffering. Heads in the sand, it's only the weather, and all the fear that masks itself as skepticism won't do anymore. The patterns are here and now.
At the same time, such "fix it" efforts should not deter or distract us from engaging in the long-term efforts to "stop it"--to save the far future from the ultimate destructions of the Climate Crisis, which means rapid species extinction and sea level threats to coastal cities, and moving on from there to a planet so extreme in heat and/or cold that most of the life we know will be impossible. To "stop it" we must drastically cut the emissions of greenhouse gases. Rising fossil fuel costs and dwindling supplies are encouraging a retooling of our economy and our mindsets towards clean energy, energy efficiency and a realistic appraisal of costs and benefits. But we're only close to starting--not even fully begun yet.
We will need to do both the fixing and the stopping, but before that, we need to acknowledge the reality of the Climate Crisis and what it means for the future, including the near-future which we may soon realize includes the present, and the near-past. Of course we can try to deal with each weather crisis as it occurs. But we will not deal with it adequately if we don't recognize that these crises may well be part of a pattern called the Climate Crisis, and it is real, and right now.
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