Friday, August 26, 2011

Tipping Point

Bad weather is again headline news. As hurricane Irene threatens to batter the eastern coast of United States, the worse is being speculated. People are being asked to evacuate to higher ground, stocking up on emergency food supplies and other essentials is strongly being advised and the 24-hour news channels are conjuring up images of an hurricane Katrina like aftermath. A storm this size has not come up this far north in a hundred years. New York city is shutting down for the first time in its existence and people are preparing for the worst.
Is this mother nature serving us a reminder of its power or is there a human hand aiding her. There is enough research to show that "Global Warming" can lead to warming of the ocean, and even a fraction of an increase in ocean temperature can lead to the formation of hurricanes that can pack more energy than usual. Is this a case in point? Only time will tell.

It is summer in the northern hemisphere and like summer should be, it has been hot. In New York city and most of north eastern United States the mercury has reached record heights. In July the temperatures in New York city reached 104˚F (40˚c). With humidity it felt more like 110˚F (43˚c). Highest recorded in 35 years. Temperatures across the country, especially in the mid-west and north-east have been more than extreme. Airports near Washington and Baltimore hit 105˚F. Philadelphia hit 103˚ degrees, as did Boston. In Abilene, Texas, temperatures have been at or above 100˚F degrees for 40 days this summer. It’s been a little cooler in Savannah, Georgia, where the mercury hit 90˚F for more than 56 days in a row. Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma are coping with their driest nine-month stretch since 1895. Weather has been extreme in other parts of the world as well. 75 mile an hour winds battered southern Australia causing waterfalls to flow skyward. Heavy rains in south-west China tore through villages and fields causing widespread destruction. Millions of people in Pakistan are still reeling from the effects of the mammoth flood that ravaged their nation last year. Extreme weather has become a norm and our parents would attest to that fact. Seasons are not what they used to be.

Every 10 years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recalculates what it calls climate “normals,” 30-year averages of temperature and precipitation for about 7,500 locations across the United States. The latest figures, released in July, show that the climate of the last 10 years was about 1.5 degrees warmer than the climate of the 1970s, and the warmest since the first decade of the last century. Temperatures were, on average, 0.5 degrees warmer from 1981 to 2010 than they were from 1971 to 2000, and the average annual temperatures for all of the lower 48 states have gone up.

Yet since it snows in the winter some people in this nation and all over the world, think "Global Warming" is still a myth.
Extreme weather patterns have always shaped and reshaped our planet ever since cosmic forces formed our solar system. But it is only now, for the very first time, the planet is being inhabited by 7 billion of us. In pursuit of happiness, life and liberty, an essential human right, the species produces heat trapping green house gases, which inadvertently leads us closer to the destruction of our dreams. The dream of living with all the amenities and comforts of the industrial age we have so skillfully created.
Shifting weather patterns affect a wide range of human activity. Spikes in weather exert energy demand, effect crop productivity, lead to weather-related disasters and cause fish in the ocean to disappear. Weather events like a hot day or a heavy downpour can cost the global economy billions of dollars in crop losses, construction delays, travel disruptions and loss of life. In other words fair weather is what makes us live on this planet in comfort. And if we were to tip that balance, adaptation will not be an option.
Having aspirations to better ones life is a natural instinct and is considered a human right. Pursuit of that human right has lead us away from living in harmony with the planet. High levels of immigration into Europe and America are a product of this desire to live the modern dream. Those who take on the treacherous journey to find another life at the cost of everything, weather can sometimes be the root cause. Food shortages caused by famine, as we are seeing in the horn of Africa today, can lead to mass migration. Bad weather has also been known to cause social unrest and war exacerbating migration as well. Therefore global warming is more than just having a bad day for out door sports, it can be that one thing that could change the course of humanity, like the Atom bomb did more than half a century ago.

While there is very little on the horizon that could arrest the slippery slope we are on, humanity always has faith in solving big problems with innovative solutions. Our technological prowess gives us confidence that any situation could be overcome. When the AIDS epidemic seemed like a deathly halo looming over us, two decades later we seemed to have crippled its spread, at least for the time being in nations that can afford it. This may not be the best comparison, but we seem to believe that we can slow down the process of global warming by changing light bulbs and driving electric cars. Unfortunately there are no big ideas out there to address this Goliath of a problem humanity faces. Very few nations even see this as a serious problem, as they are dealing with more pressing issues at hand. Those that do, are not able to do much due to the usual political bickering. United States and China the biggest polluters of the planet, are trying to shift gear, but the pace is not acceptable. And at a time when the global economy is in a state of free fall, very few nations want to curtail their polluting businesses in fear of cutting their bottom line. Mean while we keep pouring more heat into the atmosphere by fighting wars, having obscene fireworks displays, burning forests and causing explosions in movies for entertainment. So if we are to look for hope where do we begin?
As I post this entry, New Yorkers are bracing for hurricane Irene and taking as many precautions as minuscule humans can. I went to stock up on some essential supplies and found long lines outside grocery stores and empty shelves. Sliced bread was hard to find and batteries were in high demand. As the fury of the storm is speculated and evacuations in low lying areas become mandatory, a dooms day like scenario seems to be at hand. Even though I am outside the immediate flood zone, I am filling my bath tub with fresh water, have an urban survival kit ready and preparing for the phones, internet and power lines to go down for a while. As 65 million people on the eastern seaboard experience Irene's fury in some shape or form, I am hoping she will be kind to the city I live in and love. It is what it is.