Climate change is no longer a future threat but a current reality, as the extreme weather throughout the U.S. in recent years suggests. Beyond what common sense tell us there are the reports of scientists, the most recent of which was released last week and went into sobering detail about the impact of human-caused climate change today and in the future, if nothing is done. Much can still be done -- but will any of it?
"A lot has changed since the US government released their last report in 2008," said Cornell University professor David Wolfe, lead author of the report's section on the Northeast, in The Boston Globe. He added that "Many climate impacts that were once projected for the future are happening now." Congress in 1990 mandated that federal climate reports be made every four years but the refusal of Republican administrations to do so has resulted in only three being done in that time period. The damage done to the environment during a quarter-century of inaction is incalculable and inexcusable.
The report found that temperatures in the Northeastern states have risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, a significant rise that pales in comparison to a rise of as much as 10 degrees over the next 70 years if nothing is done to release the flow of heat-trapping gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels into the atmosphere. That means that the dramatic increase in violent storms, heavy rain and flooding seen in recent years would increase exponentially in the decades ahead.
Much of what is caused by climate change is counter-intuitive, which riles up skeptics who wonder how there can be both heavier rain and increased drought conditions. As the report makes clear, brutally hot summers will cause more and quicker evaporation, so floods can and will be followed by droughts. Warmer winters will mean that the ticks, mosquitoes and other insects that carry Lyme disease, West Nile Virus and other serious ailments will not be killed off and will continue their spread across New England. Climate change is already increasing the potency of plant allergens such as ragweed and that will escalate, said the report.
Berkshire County has long been cherished by residents and visitors for its warm but not overwhelming summers, crisp autumns and snowy winters. Increasingly, we have seen humid, buggy summers, duller fall foliage and warm, soggy winters, and climate change will continue to take a toll on the beautiful Berkshires.
Unless, of course, there is change in political circles in the attitude toward climate change. Predictably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has no scientific credentials, denounced the report (which was put together by more than 300 specialists and vetted by the National Academy of Sciences) as "alarmist." The report is alarming, as is the continued insistence of congressional Flat Earthers that not only science but the mega-storms, fires and droughts that afflict their own states are of no significance. They are, of course, doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry, which cares deeply about profit margins and not a whit about the damage it is doing to the planet.
Massachusetts can be proud that it is out front in encouraging the expanded use of green energy and of ambitious conservation measures. This is the first state to require all environmental reviews to consider the impact of climate change. The report encourages other regions of the country to follow the Northeast's environmental example, such as the adoption of cap and trade programs to reward industries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but cap and trade is a non-starter with Washington Republicans.
The effort to slow if not reverse global warming will require a concerted effort by states, the United States and the nations of the world, in particular fast-growing Asian nations. The evidence of human-caused climate change is irrefutable to all but ideological ostriches. We can act, as a world, or we can continue, as has been the case for decades, to ruin the planet we live on and live with the consequences.