Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: Drought, La. floods won't move climate change deniers


LENOX >> Every Thursday in recent months, an ominous-looking map has been updated on the website of the U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership between government agencies and the University of Nebraska.

For the first time this past week, the Massachusetts map shows that moderate drought conditions are covering about half of Berkshire County, except for North Adams, Williamstown and western portions adjoining New York state.

Fortunately, we're better off than the rest of the state, where extreme drought plagues many central and eastern counties including the Worcester and Boston metro areas.

Nearly a quarter of the state, including the most densely populated regions, ranks in the "extreme drought" category and another 55 percent is one step lower, in a "severe drought."

Here in Berkshire County, we're running nearly 25 percent below normal in precipitation so far this year, as measured by the National Weather Service at Pittsfield Municipal Airport. Consistently above-normal temperatures all year have worsened the impact of sparse rainfall, though high humidity and morning dew have kept most lawns verdant.

But reservoir levels are dropping, creeks and streams are drying up, rivers are running low and slow and currently, forecasters see no soaking rainfalls in sight for us until early October. Fall foliage is shaping up as less than spectacular, perhaps downright disappointing.

While we've been spared the worst effects, Worcester has imposed a drought emergency, adding water usage restrictions as nearby reservoirs fall toward 50 percent of capacity, compared to a normal 81 percent level in early September.

As reported in The Eagle's news pages, the state's Drought Management Task Force is considering moving southeastern Massachusetts into a warning category while the entire state remains in an official drought as declared on July 1. The impact on agriculture is severe.

"I don't care what part of the state you're from, we are at an unprecedented level of drought for Massachusetts," Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton has said. "Every corner of the state is feeling it at some level, some more than others."

While the Northeast region's drought and this summer's devastating Louisiana floods have yet to be linked officially to climate change, there's plenty of evidence to support President Obama's fear that we are suffering "terrifying effects" of a warming planet.

"What makes climate change difficult is that it is not an instantaneous catastrophic event," he told the New York Times in a recent Honolulu interview. "It's a slow-moving issue that, on a day-to-day basis, people don't experience and don't see."

Mr. Obama, whose favorability ratings with voters now top 50 percent in most polls, has been consistent on climate change, depicting it as the world's greatest long-term threat. He considers his efforts to confront it, despite fierce resistance by the Republican-controlled Congress, are the most important aspects of his legacy.

Although a majority of Americans accept the reality of climate change impacted by man- and womankind, most are not rallying to the call for action. Other issues — international and homegrown terrorism, the less-than-robust economy, immigration — occupy center stage and dominate the toxic general election campaign.

The historic Paris climate agreement committing most nations to emissions reductions will rank as one of the president's great achievements, yet a lack of political consensus here at home has forced him to take executive action that rankles the opposition, including some Democrats.

Even Mr. Obama's mentor at Harvard Law School, the liberal constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe, compared Clean Power Plant rules that threaten thousands of coal industry jobs to "burning the Constitution," though it's worth noting that Tribe has represented fossil fuel industries in major litigation cases.

Oceans are lapping at the shores and streets of vulnerable communities such as Miami Beach, where flooding has become nearly routine. Climate studies already show 2016 on track to be the hottest year on the planet since reliable record-keeping began in the 1880s. Greenland glaciers are slowly melting and sea levels are rising.

If Hillary Clinton wins the election, her campaign website lists goals such as the installation of 500 million solar panels by 2020 and a $60 billion investment to states and cities for energy-efficient public transportation and buildings.

But those achievements would require her to forge agreements with hostile Republicans on Capitol Hill. As an ex-president, Mr. Obama has said, "my hope is that maybe I can have a little more influence on some of my Republican friends, who I think up until now have been resistant to the science."

Maybe so. But the greater likelihood is that only a succession of plagues like the Louisiana floods, oceanfront erosion and more frequent outbreaks of extreme weather will force Americans to demand action for the sake of future generations.

Contact Clarence Fanto at The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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