Friday, March 09, 2012

Sweet Deception

Thursday was another sunny day.  The evening before, just after sunset, the southwest sky was dominated by the big and bright Venus and Jupiter, and to the north there was red Mars, now at its closest point to Earth, and near it the rising luminous full moon.

As much as I love such a night sky, and as much as I bathe in the warm sun and the cool air, I know it's not supposed to be this way, not so regularly, not in what's usually our rainy season, not in early March.  It's hard to complain about the sunniest winter I've ever experienced here (probably last winter comes in second.) There are undoubted benefits, just as there are elsewhere in the U.S. where the winter has been warm, where there has been little or no winter at all.  For instance, an oped in the New York Times recently pointed out that the warm weather has so far killed the flu season--which usually costs the economy, costs comfort and health, and costs some people their lives.

We're in the warming part of global warming, and for a lot of people in a lot of places, it's pretty sweet. (Not where the warm air helped spawn deadly tornadoes last week.)  But it's unfortunately as deceptive as that sweet name "global warming."  As I've argued for ten years now, the term makes the Climate Crisis seem too safe, and even sort of nice.  Warmth is a good thing.  When people get too warm, it's a minor inconvenience.  It's only when it's hot, when it's too hot, that things start getting serious.

And things will.  Even after this winter there will be consequences.  We may have skipped over flu season, but because of the lack of cold that slows or kills insects, we may be in for a pest-filled spring and a summer higher in disease and danger from insects.  Not to mention what this may portend for summer temperatures.

If over the next few years winters stay warm and summers get hotter (as on average they have been), we're apt to see the return of insects and other troublesome creatures in ways several generations haven't experienced.  I think of the ever-present houseflies in my childhood, that were even more of a plague in Mark Twain's day.  Though they've all but disappeared from everyday life, their presence may become greater in a hotter world, along with the diseases and other health problems they bring.  And that's just one possibility among many.

Here on the North Coast our seasonal rainfall is down by at least a third of normal, and snowpacks in the Sierras are half or less than what they should be.  We'll probably start paying for that very soon with an early fire season, and perhaps with water shortages this summer.  The long-term effect on the ecosystem--on the Redwoods--is incalculable at this point, but it's certainly not good for them.  They depend on rain, and on the moisture from fog which over the long term has itself been declining.            

This is the bittersweet effect of this warm winter, as is the higher number of Americans who suddenly believe the world is getting hotter after all.  It's hardly a matter of belief anymore, but of observation.  Even in this temporary sweet spot of the relentless change.

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