Global Warming Fueling Drought, Wildfires, Evacuations
As a native of the American Southwest, I have noticed the impacts of global warming and climate change for the past 20 years, but the momentum and gravity of the situation today are alarming. Until the last decade, the threat has been moving at glacial speed. Now, climate change is spreading rapidly and the impact is evident from coastal areas to mountaintops. The problems will continue to accelerate. Food and water supplies for millions of people is uncertain. Leadership is lacking to say the least.
In July 2009, a rare night-time tornado hit my neighborhood in the Denver metropolitan area. It blew out my windows with horizontal hail, tore down hardwood trees, ripped up the roof and more. I didn’t even have time to make into the basement. Toto and I just hit the floor in an interior hallway and covered our heads.
At the time, it was the most destructive storm in Colorado history. We were lucky to survive because it came without warning and it could have been much worse. The event changed my life for a decade plus. I still haven’t recovered financially or emotionally, yet I consider myself lucky. Millions of Americans are experiencing similar events on a daily basis today. It’s gut-wrenching to watch because I can relate to what they are experiencing and I know that thoughts, prayers and Band-aids will do very little to help the survivors. Meanwhile, global leaders and many corporations continue to move at glacial speed on solutions–solutions that won’t have much impact for years, if at all. It appears that all attempts at crisis aversion have been abandoned, while the world scratches its head about crisis management.
Summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere are higher than they have been in 1,200 years.
Climate change has bumped up average air temperatures 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit in the region in just the past 100 years, which evaporates more water from streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, plants and soil.
The past year has been the driest or second driest in most Southwestern states since record keeping began in 1895. Almost 75 percent of the American West is experiencing severe drought, which puts more than 57 million people in harm’s way. While the West has long experienced boom and bust cycles of precipitation, climate change is increasing the volatility and intensity of these cycles.
While drought and dry weather occur and vary naturally in the region, the increasing temperatures pushing the American West over the edge are human in origin. Some scientists suggest that the word drought is no longer accurate, because it implies that the water shortages may end. According to their analysis, the added heat and winds from climate change supercharged the drying process, making the current drought the second worst in the last 1,200 years. The Colorado and Rio Grande rivers are trickling compared to their long-term averages.
Thanks to global warming, we can’t rely on the past to predict the future.
Human-caused climate change, in tandem with changes to the natural hydrological systems have shifted the baseline conditions so thoroughly that there is no way to return to what used to be considered normal. Farms and cities have begun imposing water restrictions.
Read the full story about global warming, climate change and the threat to life across the American West.