Thursday, September 15, 2011
Bark beetles and egrets don't care whether Governor This or Senator That believes in global warming. They feel it in their whatevers. Responding to warmer temperatures, plant and wildlife are moving north or uphill to cooler elevations, according to a new study published in Science magazine. For example, higher temperatures in the Rocky Mountains have set off a population explosion of bark beetles now devouring its beautiful pine forests.
Will humans will follow the flora and fauna? The question, of course, goes beyond matters of biology. Climatologists say planet warming makes hurricanes fiercer and droughts meaner. Human inhabitants of regions prone to such calamities suffer the discomfort or fear of rising sea levels, wind, deluges and fire. But global warming will also cost them.
Insurers are now including climate change in their calculations of risks, reports Bloomberg BusinessWeek. This could mean higher premiums. It could mean forcing homeowners to spend more on such items as wind-proofing. It could mean shrinking coverage for natural disasters -- narrowing the so-called God Clause.
The drought in Texas has reached biblical proportions. Wildfires are consuming homes. Ranchers have given up their cattle, as farmers lose their crops. In some parts, water supplies are so low and concentrated that people are brushing teeth with bottled water.
Climatologists are listing factors other than global warming, chiefly La Nina, a cooling pattern in the tropical Pacific that holds off rain. But climate change has left Texas starting from a hotter base. Its temperatures are now 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they were in the '80s and '90s. That means you need more water than before to grow the same amount of crops.
By 2060, Texas could be five degrees hotter than now, according to state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. He has declared this the worst one-year drought in recorded Texas history and the hottest summer of any state in U.S. history. (Oklahoma and New Mexico are not far behind.)
Texas is no stranger to droughts. There was a long and terrible siege in the 1950s. But besides a lower base temperature, the big difference in 1950 was that Texas had fewer than 8 million people to supply with water. It now has 25 million.
The drought has inspired Gov. Rick Perry to pray for rain. He accuses scientists who insist that humans burning fossil fuels plays a role in global warming (the expert consensus, actually) of making it up to enhance their research budgets. If man has little or nothing to do with it, then man can just sit back. Or perhaps move to Minnesota.
Meanwhile, Texas homeowners are confronting massive electric bills for running air conditioners as temperatures swelter in the triple digits for weeks at a time. A friend in Palestine, Texas, reports that he doesn't lower his thermostat below 85 degrees during the day, to avoid getting clobbered by a massive a/c bill. And monthly water costs are soaring, with some residential bills going well into the hundreds.
The wildfires have fouled the air. The beauty of local vegetation is gone. Birds migrating south could die of thirst. (Texans have been asked to put out bowls of water for the hummingbirds passing through.)
Elsewhere, North Carolina is cleaning up the debris from Hurricane Irene. New Jersey and Pennsylvania, hit by Irene, were flooded again by Tropical Storm Lee.
Stuff does happen in nature. But it takes a sturdy hostility to science to bash the experts giving us all fair warning of worse cataclysm ahead if we don't act. Do nothing to curb global warming, and we humans will be following the bark beetle up the slopes.
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