On Surviving the wettest March on Record

Contemplating ecology, San Juan Island, 2010

Contemplating ecology, San Juan Island, 2010

It's hard to think about the landslide tragedy that happened in neighboring Oso this month and not consider the mounting evidence of a changing climate.  A recent report by the USGS found that rains 150-200% greater than normal this month likely contributed to activation of the massive landslide that has so far claimed the lives of 33 people and devastated an entire community.  In the face of such massive tragedy it's hard not to wonder if these type of climate and natural resource driven calmities will continue in the future and what risks we face as a society moving forward in an age of change.  It is interesting to note that earlier this year, as the ski season got underway, concerns were that there would not be enough precipitation in the form of snowpack in the northwest this year to open a popular ski area and ward off a drought in the western cascade mountains, where Oso is situated. Now, record precipitation later in the season has triggered a landslide being compared to the one triggered by the earthquake and eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.  What is going on over here?

It seems clear to me that it is time to start digging deeper into the climate science and stop discussing climate change as a religious or political event.  It also seems clear to me that efforts to thwart support of climate science is an effort on the part of corporations to continue earning big profits without consideration of the social and environmental context in which they thrive.  Still, although I see it this way, I want to put away conspiracy theories, political motivations, profits and spirituality and focus on what we know - what has been discovered?  What is the science and why the heck are people so afraid of science in America?

NOAA has been studying global climate for how many years now?  In 2009 they report on their findings of a changing climate: 

  • Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human induced.
  • Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.
  • Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase.
  • Climate change will stress water resources.
  • Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.
  • Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea level rise and storm surge.
  • Risks to human health will increase.
  • Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
  • Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.
  • Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.

In summary, they state, "Observations show that warming of the climate is unequivocal. The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases."

Guess what they found?  Precipitation averages (daily) across the US are likely to crest an increase by 30% by 2070-2100!  Increased rain is in our future - to me that is a clear indication that they would not be surprised by the record rainfalls and landslide events in Washington this year.  

In the Pacific Northwest we are lucky to have gifted and dedicated scientists working on the problem of focussing the larger picture of global climate down on the Pacific Northwest.  The Climate Impacts Group from the University of Washington has recently released a summary of expected climate impacts and adaptations in our region.  I will read through the document this week and begin blogging about my findings in short essays this week.

More recently, the social debate on climate seems to circle back to a few key topics: 1) Is the climate really changing substantially? 2) Is it god-driven, manmade or natural? 3) Can we do anything about it? and 4) Should we do anything about it?  I get a few of emails tweets on both sides of this debate each week.  While the evidence that the climate is changing seems fairly irrefutable to me, I still hear from many people that whether the climate is changing is something they 'believe' in or not.  Is this hand over the ears response unique to the United States or is denial happening on a global scale?

I will share some of the comments I have received about climate change and expand more on my thoughts and findings next week.  

For now, I beg of anyone joining a debate on the scientific integrity of the climate change theory to focus on actually trying to understand the complex scientific principles as necessary so that we can begin to have an educated discussion on the flaws of our methods and not whether we 'believe' or want to believe in the results and what to do or not do about it.  

I am going back to the beginning my my research and hope to share with you what I find - like a good scientist - whether I like the results or not.  I think we owe it to both the victims and the survivors of the Oso landslide.

Stay tuned!