A view from Promontory Point in Hyde Park during extremely cold weather… (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago…)
As a veteran of the Midwest, I say this with a long history of vitriolic loathing for snow, ice, sleet, cold and that disgusting feces-colored slush that soaks everything while we wait for spring: This has been the worst winter of my lifetime.
I've spent considerable time this winter in Ohio, Chicago and Iowa, crossing the barren fields of Indiana, and stuck in post-apocalyptic traffic jams in the outer wastelands of Illinois. You've done it, winter. You broke me. You win. You are Jack Bauer and I'm a terrorist who knows the code to disarm the nuke. I will gladly give you that code. Just please, dear God, stop.
However, even as I cower in misery, let's clear something up about the soul-numbing winter of 2013-14: This winter means we should be MORE worried about climate change, not less.
Twitter howls with "jokes" that in seven years have yet to advance beyond "Is Al Gore building a snowman?" Or "Global warming? More like global ... snowing! Nailed it. Because it's snowing outside instead of being warm, you know? Twitter's so rad."
However, what climate scientists continue to tell us about our rapidly changing atmosphere is that the accumulation of greenhouse gases will not just heat the planet over time but produce extreme, bizarre weather patterns. Thus, scientists have begun to speculate that the so-called polar vortex, normally locked up in the Arctic, was freed to wander southward by a loss of Arctic sea ice.
Meanwhile, over the past 50 years, instances of heavy precipitation have increased by 45 percent in the Midwest and a whopping 74 percent in the Northeast (where a brutal storm just killed 21 people), according to the National Climate Assessment Draft. This follows the predictions, since a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture that fuels more powerful storms of all kinds.
The point being that on our way to a hotter, more dangerous future, we will likely see all kinds of winter extremes along the way, and our inability to assimilate this rather easy idea could prove a major stumbling block in the coming political wars to, you know, do something about the greatest challenge human civilization has ever faced.
If you really want to hunker down on the denialist side, go talk to a farmer in California, which is experiencing its worst drought in 500 years, according to Berkeley professor B. Lynn Ingram. If you're planning to visit Southern California this wildfire season (as I am), plan on a doozy. California's Central Valley is going to be a streak of desert dust within the next 50 years as water resources are diverted to quench thirsty cities, and—as with so many climate change problems—virtually no one has thought about what to do about any of this.
President Obama will visit California to propose a $1 billion "Climate Resilience Fund" to help communities cope with these types of disasters. Congressional Republicans would obviously sooner approve a national holiday called "Fellate Leon Trotsky Day" than cast a vote for a climate resilience fund.
Keep all this in mind the next time you hear an ignorant someone try to explain away the airtight case for the slow-rolling catastrophe we're all living through.
RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."
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