Created on Monday, 01 December 2014 14:17
Last Updated on Monday, 01 December 2014 14:20
Written by Akshay Shrivastava
As a resident of California, I’m finding it hard to remember the last time it rained in my area. That should worry people. And not just people who live in California – according to maps from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, large swaths of the west coast and mid-west are currently experiencing severe water shortages that are likely to get even worse. Some climatologists who have looked at the projections are starting to use the phrase “Dust Bowl”. And they aren’t using it hyperbolically.
One month ago, an article (http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00282.1) was published in the Journal of Climate that placed the odds of a Southwest megadrought (one that lasts 35 years or longer) at somewhere between twenty and fifty percent. The chances of it lasting a decade are at ninety percent. There’s also a five to ten percent chance that our megadrought will last fifty years or more. Right now, you might be trying to remember the last time we faced a half-century-long drought in this country. Well, the truth is, we haven’t – at least not yet. All in all, the Dust Bowl scenario might pale in comparison.
It’s easy to throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we could have done to prevent this. The problem is, that might not be the case. As Tom Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center puts it:
“We have a lot more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, so temperatures are warmer…These warmer temperatures increase evaporation, which makes it drier, which in turn makes it even warmer.”
The linkage between carbon emissions and the drought was further cemented in a study by climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University. A National Science Foundation article (http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132709&WT.mc_id=USNSF_52&WT.mc_ev=click) notes:
“...a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure over the Pacific Ocean–one that diverted storms away from California–was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations.”
The study found that greenhouse gas emissions made this drought three times more likely to occur. So what we’re seeing right now might be a ‘first taste’ of how global warming can affect us here in the United States. In 2012, almost eighty percent of farmland experienced drought, more than two thousand counties were designated disaster areas, and fifty percent of all crops being harvested were in poor or very poor condition (http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130328/drought-season-bad-start-scientists-forecast-another-bleak-year). All of this might sound very bleak, but hopefully, it will force us to change the way we think about global warming in this country.
For those of us who live in the United States, our status as the richest nation undoubtedly affects the way we view problems in the rest of the world, especially the third-world. Be it war, famine, or disease, we think of these issues as “their issues”. Not ours. This mentality has manifested in our government’s unwillingness to contribute to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), an international funding mechanism that poor countries can leverage to combat climate change. When one hundred and thirty two countries walked out of the Warsaw climate talks because the developed world wasn’t willing to fund measures such as drought-preparedness, the United States was certainly not among them. Because it wasn’t our problem. But while our money can shield us from many of the ills the rest of the world faces, it can’t protect us from the atmosphere. Climate change is our problem too.
Some might use this as an argument for why we should spend even less on the Green Climate Fund. That we should instead spend that money on ourselves, to cope with the megadrought we might be facing over the coming decades. Well first of all, we absolutely should be funding low-water-use infrastructure and compensating those devastated by the drought right here at home. But the monetary demands of the GCF are certainly not going to put us in financial straits. On the contrary, our funding of drought-preparedness in other countries could inform our own approach to the same problem.
In coming years, countries in East Africa will be looking to the GCF to fund climate change response mechanisms. Out of the competition for funds, novel ways of financing drought-preparedness have already arisen, such as the African Risk Capacity model, which aims to insure the most vulnerable communities against erratic rainfall patterns. If the United States contributes more to the GCF, we will be risking very little while providing ourselves and others with ample policy and implementation data that will inform our own drought-preparedness programs.
Right now, it seems like the worst part of the drought in California is potentially shaving a couple minutes off a daily shower. But it has the potential to get a lot worse. And if it does, we should bear in mind that we are both perpetrators and victims of climate change, and for that we must accept responsibility and do our part to address this problem globally. In the end, the atmosphere will only reflect the consequences of our actions, and spare none in the process. The atmosphere doesn’t care what happens to any of us. So perhaps we should.