After this summer, there may not be a need for a climatologist to state the obvious, but I will: Man-made climate change has become a major problem, not only around the world, but also in the USA. And it quickly gets worse and worse.
In the southwestern United States, climate change is hitting hard in the form of unprecedented heat waves, dust storms and wildfires. Yet the truly existential impact of climate change is on the water supply. The region’s primary source of water is the Colorado River (with my former home state, Arizona, in the midst of the growing crisis). The flows of this river have declined by about 20 percent since the “drought” hit 22 years ago. We now know that this is not a drought that will simply end when the snows come back upstream. It is a progressive aridification mainly due to global warming.
As climate change continues and the semi-arid West will see its surface water reserves continue to decline in a largely irreversible manner. The Colorado River could lose more than a third of its flow by mid-century, and more thereafter. The once mighty Rio Grande of New Mexico and Texas is already becoming a net in a few years. Many turn to groundwater to make up for lost river flows, but in much of the semi-arid West, groundwater is fossil water accumulated during repeated ice ages, and that water will simply run out when ‘it will be pumped dry.
Groundwater depletion is an invisible problem that is getting worse, but above the ground, the wildfire crisis in the western United States is a storm of destruction and toxic smoke that no one can ignore . Heat waves and forest fires will kill and destroy more and more unless climate change is stopped quickly. The water crisis in the West is already spreading out of the Southwest and will get even worse in the absence of bold climate action.
Our greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere have warmed the planet by just over 1 degree Celsius (almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit). If we don’t act boldly now, we risk crossing tipping points, or thresholds in the climate system, where much greater warming (3 degrees Celsius or more) and associated climate disasters become inevitable and largely irreversible. This is one of the main reasons climatologists have recommended to world leaders to cap global warming at 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius – the Paris Agreement goal agreed to by virtually every country in the world.
Even 1 degree Celsius of warming is already turning the western United States into a disaster area, and it’s starting to hit the rest of the country more and more. Hurricanes fueled by warmer oceans and atmosphere turn into monstrous storms that often escalate at record speed. Worse yet, the ever increasing rainfall rates, quantities and flooding associated with storms. Coastal areas are more affected than ever, and storm-triggered rains are spreading much further inland, inundating communities from Appalachia to New England. In the years to come, many more such storms will wreak havoc if we do not take bold action now on climate change.
The rise in sea level due mainly to warming and expanding oceans (coupled with melting glaciers and ice caps) has been slow, but it is inexorable and accelerating. Florida cities are witnessing the ongoing coastal flooding, but along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, communities are starting to feel the impacts of rising sea levels. However, if we don’t act not boldly against climate change now, we risk crossing the irreversible thresholds beyond which huge parts of our polar ice caps melt and become tens of meters of sea level rise. It is a pipe dream. extremely costly to believe that coastal walls or dikes will be able to save American coastal cities under such sea level rise.
There are times when leaders need to lead. The nation and the planet face a myriad of existential threats that will play out if climate change is allowed to continue. The solutions are well known, technologically proven and surprisingly affordable. These same climate change solutions will also rid our air much of deadly air pollution and create a net increase in new jobs. In addition, citizens of all parts of the country will benefit. Almost every country in the world is lining up to do their part and looking to the United States to lead.
I am a scientist who has studied climate change and its impacts for years, but I am also like everyone who reads this post. I care about our country, its economy, its people – rich and poor, rural and urban. And I care about future generations, who will inherit either an unimaginable climate catastrophe or a transformed world free from climate change, toxic air pollution, mass extinction and the terrible economic and health burdens that climate change. massive will not fail to create.
Congress cannot lose sight of the fact that our country’s big push on climate change must be undertaken now, otherwise we will risk crossing those tipping points beyond which the impacts become much more devastating and irreversible. .
If we don’t act now, all parts of the country will experience impacts that will make the summer of 2021 feel like a walk in the park. The citizens of our country deserve bold action – and infrastructure spending as usual is not enough on its own. Success in our battle against climate change requires deliberate and strategic spending to ensure that the United States reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by more than half during this decade.
Our eyes are on Congress, and the whole world is watching with us. As a country and as a planet, we must do whatever it takes to stop climate change now.
Jonathan overpeck, Doctorate., is a climatologist, professor and dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan. He has conducted research on drought, climate variability and climate change on five continents. Follow him on Twitter: @GreatLakesPeck