John Seven: Climate change already taking toll, even as we ignore it


NORTH ADAMS — As the news in the world reaches an apocalyptic tone yet again, I couldn't help but notice that the end of the world sometimes brings unexpected beauty.

A recent survey has revealed that over the last 16 years, 8,000 supraglacial lakes have appeared on the Langhovde Glacier of the East Antarctic. These aren't just lakes like you typically experience them. These are ethereal, vividly blue lakes, of such a color intensity that they appear to be gateways to fairy lands more than just mere bodies of water.

Unfortunately, they also signify melting in the Antarctic and, if they continue to appear, will raise ocean levels and create more danger in a world that is already terrifying to many.

Climate change is getting a lot of play in the news lately — or not, considering the New York Times actually had to apologize for ignoring the Louisiana flooding, which is more devastating than Katrina was, but apparently less sexy in some macabre way.

It's undeniably tragic, and it sure has the stench of apocalypse to it, but I've noticed that while many are eager to link the flooding directly with climate change, I've also seen a lot of science reporting stop short of claiming any direct link between the disaster and climate change. Largely this has to do with floods being hard to predict, and the result of multiple factors rather than just heavy rain — which, of course, Louisiana has had and which, of course, climate change causes.

Flash flooding in France and Germany this summer hasn't had the same hesitancy, and researchers there have revealed direct links with climate change, and, to me, it reveals that the hesitation with the Louisiana flooding has as much to do with political language as it does measuring heavy moisture in the atmosphere.

If you pay attention, what scientists are pulling back on is that the flooding is "caused" by climate change. That's become a shorthand for outraged citizens of all types, though. Why is this extreme weather event happening? Climate change. The scientists seem to prefer to say that climate change "has increased the probability of" the extreme weather event.

In other words, flooding already happened in Louisiana, but climate change has made it more likely to happen, and has made it more likely that the flooding will be more destructive.

The language of science can be very precise. Indeed, it demands precision, because it is measuring the truth. But politics and activism often are reliant on extreme statements, on hyperbole, sometimes cutting to the chase, while other times building bridges where none should exist.

But the California fires haven't made the experts so hesitant. There has been a 500 percent increase on these events in western states since the 1970s, and climate change has been directly blamed for the droughts that lead to this devastation.

The worse the drought, the worse the fires. Again, though, what's being said is the same thing — the fires aren't caused by climate change. They already existed. But they are being made more common because of climate change, just like the floods. That may be a language qualification, but it's not a good one. It's not reassuring.

Maybe that's what it takes, heightened language heralding in a calamity. It takes an apocalypse for us to act. Who among us want to believe that those beautiful lakes in the Arctic are signs of our demise?

Natural elegance and global cataclysm go hand in hand. Death doesn't have to come sudden and hard. It can come slowly, sublimely.

NASA reports that in 2016, climate change is breaking its own records in regard to surface temperature and the growth of the Arctic sea. You see? The worst is quiet. With climate change, it's the subtlety that'll kill us.

Contact John Seven at Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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