Environment | October 01, 2008 |
Short-Term Climate Impacts May Wreak Havoc, Too
“Are we paying too much attention to uncertain long-term climate predictions - dominated by greenhouse gas-driven global warming,” asks Professor Mike Hulme, “whilst taking our eye off the more immediate weather futures which will determine the significance of climate for society over the next years and decades?” Professor Hulme’s recent BBC editorial questions the current focus on carbon emissions, citing irregular weather patterns that are becoming all too familiar in Europe. “We will never know empirically on any useful timescale whether or not we have accurate climate predictions for 2050.” He continues, “We may end up just as maladapted and just as exposed to weather risks as if we had ignored global warming entirely.”
Could this really be true? Global warming doctrine states that temperature change will occur gradually and imperceptibly until it is too late, most famously illustrated by the boiling frog in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Yet many cities, even in developed nations, seem to be battening down for impending impacts. London has already announced a water management plan to prepare for heavy flooding, while in the U.S., the city of New Orleans continues to re-evaluate its storm protection systems. Clearly, while the temperature increases themselves may not be directly perceptible to humans, the impacts these increases have on the weather system are very real.
So is it time to start selling people on the immediate effects of global warming, rather than prophesying an unsustainable future some distance down the road? I’m not entirely certain, but I find myself leaning against it. Immediate effects are something that people can understand and endure. In a way, this makes them useful tools; walk instead of drive to the corner store and your basement won’t flood. But that might just encourage people to build more houses without basements.
Even worse, it might make people who do not yet suffer any of the consequences of global warming to continue in their unsustainable daily routines; my basement’s not flooding, so why should I care? The long-term goal of climate change prevention through emission reduction plays off people’s fears that their grandchildren’s basements will flood—and it will be their fault.
Most importantly, the focus on warming over flooding or overcast days attacks the problem at its root. Sure, short-term preparedness will save lives and keep the economy moving, but in the long run, our dollars will be better spend ensuring that today’s preparedness measures remain strictly short term.
Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey via Flickr