October 25, 2007

No one says the Sahara is in a drought

The Southern California wildfires have been turned into a political football, of course; everything gets turned into a political football these days, since the red/blue, lib/neocon, green/mean divides have become so acrimonious. Whatever happens gets blamed on the other side, and in the case of the wildfires, the controversy has assumed two shapes. On one hand, the Bush Administration has been faulted for depriving California of necessary fire-fighting equipment because of the Iraq War; and on the other, the fires are blamed on global warming, about which Bush doesn't give a flying fuck. America has become like a truly terrible marriage, in which the husband drinks and philanders, and the wife suffers and nags and tries to take care of the children, and pretty soon no matter what happens, the problem gets blamed on the husband's drinking and fooling around. "You see! Do you think those aliens just happened to land in our backyard? Don't you think they're aware you just don't pay attention anymore!"

Sort of like that. The country hates Bush, it's that simple, and if we can discover a way to name his contributing role to any calamity, we'll do it. Meanwhile, back on Earth, or in the troposphere just above it, the CO2 levels continue their inexorable rise. The most recent bad news came in the form of a message from the oceans; they're full up with CO2, and they don't want to absorb anymore. This has led to an acceleration of concentration in the atmosphere. The ocean's laundering service has gone on strike. We're at 380 parts per million, up from 280 in the pre-industrial era, which is a 36% increase. Yet, it still seems so tiny - parts per million, we're talking. Well, get used to it; lots of natural processes run on eensy-weensy margins of error. Your blood needs to stay at a pH around 7.4; you might temporarily survive as low as 6.8 or as high as 7.8, but your body will struggle to get you back to that golden mean of slight alkalinity as soon as it can. Just as the atmosphere strives for a certain mix of gases with the delicate interplay of ocean absorption, photosynthesis, combustion...ah, how beautiful it all was! Don't all you Deists work from the assumption that such perfect balance is the ultimate proof of God? Then why wouldn't you work His side of the table instead of voting for that apostate in the White House?

But I digress. If we assume that the existence of the Northwest Passage in the Arctic relates to global warming, along with the melting state of 75% of the world's glaciers, and the demonstrable rise in sea levels and in average global temperature -- if we assume that all these things have already happened, then it is probably not a great irrational leap to think the intensity of drought across Ameria's southern latitudes, the super-low humidities in SoCal, and the abnormally ferocious Santa Ana winds are too. If some of this stuff is already here (which it is), then it would seem logically inconsistent to think that it's not everywhere, because the atmosphere is a continuous ocean of air without boundaries or walls. Atlanta is down to a 90-day supply of water in Lake Lanier (can you imagine that the city fathers thought that one 38,000 acre lake ought to do the trick for 4 million people?). Northern California had a lousy snowpack last year; L.A. had a record-shattering drought. Also true: the year before it had a lot of rain.

Yet that's what we would expect, too, at the leading edge of fundamental climate change. Chaos and unpredictability as the climate moves from one paradigm to another. Until, of course, the changes settle in. In the meantime, we'll get bailed out by big rainstorms in drought areas, and maybe even the autumn colors will occasionally return to New England, where residents now find themselves playing golf well into December. But someday, and not so far from now, not nearly so far away as we used to think even a few years ago, we'll think of the changed condition as the status quo. No one says the Sahara is in a drought.

No comments:

Post a Comment