Friday, July 01, 2011

Climate change undermines roads... literally

In NCPR's In Box blog, reporter Brian Mann linked to two piecces relating to climate change.

A column in the Albany Times-Union asked if extreme weather is the new normal.

The article in the Glens Falls Post-Star explained how climate change may alter the way highways and rural roads are constructed. It noted that the region had seen a rash of so-called "100 year events" (extreme weather that normally happens only once in a lifetime) this year alone.

Jon Alexander's piece noted:

"The books we've always used to design culverts, you can throw them all out," Dave Wick, district manager of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, recently said. "What was once called a 100-year event is now a 50-year event, and a 50-year event has become a 25-year event."

Wick said that precipitation that once fell as snow is now reaching Earth as highly localized super-rainstorms, overwhelming culverts designed using potentially outdated pre-construction models.

For years, scientists have been tracking an increase in global temperatures. They predict the warming trend will generally lead to warmer, wetter weather in the Northeast's boreal forests, while desertification will continue to see places like the Sahara expand outward.

Locally ecologists are already seeing changes.

Ultimately, people who understand the threat of climate change need to just ignore those rejectionists who oppose it for ideological reasons that have zero to do with real science.

Rejectionists don't accept science, not merely climate science specifics but science in general (unless of course they're sick and need medicine) and they do so for ideological reasons. If you say 2+2=4, they will reject it not for any scientific or mathematical reason but solely because they fear the imagined POLITICAL consequences of the sum equalling four.

People who understand the threat of climate change ought to stop using scientific jargon to convince ordinary people and start referencing more practical issues. 350 is not something people can easily latch on to (sorry Bill McKibben), but they sure understand road collapses and damaging flooding.

Folks in the North Country may be of conservative temperament but they are also practical. And as pragmatic people, collapsing roads and flooding lakes in our own backyard, as well as the financial costs of such disasters, are things they can grasp much more easily.

Rejectionists blithely dismiss climate science as hooey. "The Earth's climate is always changing," they say, as though the world's pre-eminent climate scientists aren't aware of that. And they are right, even as human behavior is distorting this wildly; natural climate changes occur over centuries and millennia, not decades.

The threat of man-inflicted climate change is less to the planet itself. As rejectionists point out, the climate has changed before and will change again. But with such UNNATURAL climate change, the planet will survive, but it's an open question whether the human race would do the same.

Africa has been affected by climate change for a few decades. Hunger 'emergencies' have become regular staples of life in the African Sahel, a border between the expanding Sahara Desert to the north and the coastal rain forest to the south that stretches across the continent.

Africans don't need to argue about climate change's existence. They aren't twiddling their thumbs, letting themselves be hijacked by ideology. They see and experience it directly. They aren't wasting their time arguing about settled science. They have more important things to do, such as adapting to the reality they're already being forced to live.

People may not understand the number 350. But they do understand numbers like $1.5 million and $7 million.

The former is the annual budget for the Warren County town of Thurman. The latter is the amount of damage to roads and bridges caused by recent flooding. The number of severe flooding incidents in Warren County has significantly increased in the last few years. If flooding damage that amounts to more the six times a town's annual budget becomes more than a once in a lifetime event, will the ideology of climate change rejectionists still hold water?

Climate change is real and destructive and those who understand this can't be paralyzed by the rejectionists who refuse to be engaged in any rational way. We have real world consequences to deal with and, hopefully, prevent. It's these real world consequences we should be using to try to educate the open-minded part of the public and encourage to live in a more sustainable fashion.

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