We're not to blame for it. It's what we do. It's human nature and it's also one of our greatest weaknesses.
Anthropologist Jared Diamond uses the term "landscape amnesia" to describe it. Imagine regularly driving across a near pristine Alpine meadow for forty years. Then, suddenly, there's a mega-shopping mall put in on each side of the road. It's a real shock at first but, within five or ten years, you come to accept it as normal, expected. It has all but erased the original view you had been so familiar with for decades.
Climate change works the same way. We forget about the past. We don't step outside in the morning and say, "wow, this is nothing like the 60's." We've largely erased what the 60's, the 70's, even the 80's were like and we've replaced all that with a new "normal," the climate of the second decade of the twenty first century. The thing is, if you don't remember how much it's all changed, you can't be alarmed by it, you can't respond to it. It's like boiling a frog.
The question is whether we're going to jump out of the pot before we're boiled alive. Vinod Thomas of the World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group has an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer warning that we have to act, and soon:
Flooding and windstorms in particular are linked with climate change, and the number of disastrous floods and storms reported globally has tripled over the past three decades. Very heavy precipitation increased sharply in the last half-century across the globe and in the United States, especially the Northeast and Midwest.
...New studies tie increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions with higher sea-level temperatures and changes in precipitation, indicating that human-caused climate change doubles the risk of extreme floods.
In the wake of the recent tornadoes that tore into seven Southern states, President Obama said, "We can't control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it ." Indeed, the price of delayed response was brought home by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But water-related calamities have increased to the extent that rapid relief efforts won't be enough.
We must also take steps to prevent and mitigate such disasters. First and foremost, that means slowing the pace of climate change. This will take time, but as President John F. Kennedy said 50 years ago, "We must think and act not only for the moment, but for our time ."
...The key is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being released, especially by shifting to a low-carbon economy. Energy prices must reflect the damage caused by emissions, especially in energy-intensive countries such as the United States. And promoting energy efficiency defers the need for more fossil-fuel plants, buying time for wind and solar power to become more competitive.
...Prevention also means environmental protection. Wetlands provide a buffer against flooding, but half of them worldwide - from Australia to the United States - have disappeared in the past century. Shrinking forests, meanwhile, have diminished protections against flooding and landslides. Examples of environmental solutions include the restoration of Vietnam's coastal wetlands to reduce erosion and the building of terraces in China's Loess Plateau to reduce flooding.
No longer can we respond to hazards of nature with cleanup and reconstruction alone. Climate change has introduced an unnatural dimension that calls for more preventive measures. Difficult as it is to muster the political will to do so, we must invest in slowing climate change, protecting the environment, controlling development, and improving warning systems. Only then can we lessen the fury and devastation of these events.
Of course Mr. Thomas is from that lefty, tree-hugger outfit, The World Bank. I'm slowly coming to appreciate that it may be the financial sector that finally sweeps the Tar Heads and Petro-Pols like Steve Harper off the porch and into the gutter where they belong.
Globally, the insurance sector is already being battered by the impacts of global warming and the essential fiscal safety net upon which our economies and societies are built is rapidly fraying. Throughout life - whether at home, on the road, in the boardroom - we take risks because we can buy protection to make potential loss bearable. What happens when that protection is no longer for sale, when we have to accept that risks are no longer economically survivable?
What happens when the US eastern seaboard or the Mississippi basin become off limits for flood or storm insurance? If the insurance companies won't carry the loss people expect governments to step in with disaster relief. Today's governments? The governments that are broke because they don't have the courage to levy taxes? Hell, my dog can do that much math.
As I read Mr. Thomas' op-ed I was struck that the only thing new in his remarks was that someone was actually saying these things. We shouldn't need someone like a World Bank guy to tell us this. We should already know it, all of us. Our governments all along should have kept us educated and well informed of these "inconvenient truths." That's their job, that's their duty. They owe us that much. Yet they stand mute about these things and they do that quite deliberately.
Floods and other severe storm events have tripled in just the past three decades! How can we possibly justify massively expanding production of the filthiest, high-carbon fossil fuel on the planet? How can we elect politicians from all parties content with doing just that?