A dear friend of mine lived on Sanibel Island, just off Ft. Myers, Florida, until recently. Hurricane Ian devastated the island. She lost her gallery business, her home and her community. She is now a climate refugee. Globally, billions may be climate refugees in the near future.
The southwest has been in drought for the past 22 years. James Dinneen, writing for New Scientist, explained what we are in for. Regions such as ours are going to see much higher temperatures. “As you warm the air, the air’s demand for water increases,” says Park Williams, University of California Los Angeles climate researcher. Williams and his colleagues found human-caused climate change accounted for about 46% of the severity of the current mega-drought. “Warming contributes to drought primarily by drying our soil and reducing the amount of precipitation falling as snow, leaving less snowpack to provide a reservoir of water for the drier, warmer months,” explains Dinneen. Williams’ research established that the other 52% of the mega-droughts causation is due to the recurring La Niña effect. This La Niña is now entering its third and unprecedented year. “Without the added effect of human-caused warming, however, the drought probably would not have become a mega-drought,” says Williams.
We may now be in a perpetual mega-drought cycle. In the past, normal droughts came to an end, even those that lasted for centuries. Based on a review of 2,000 years of global drought records, Benjamin Cook of Columbia University suggests perpetual drought may now be our “new normal.” Cook states, “We’re not going to be able to go back to the climate of the past 2,000 years. We are fundamentally changing the whole system and shifting it.”
But what about the massive monsoon season we had this year? It was also unprecedented. And, even with that rainfall, we are still in a mega-drought cycle with low snowfall expected and decreasing soil moisture by spring. Last year, this led to devastating wildfires that will take decades to recover from. Many areas will never recover fully in a mega-drought cycle.
I recently heard Jonathan Foley, executive director of Project Drawdown, speak. He said that, while 91% of us believe in climate change, only 61% of us are concerned about it and, shockingly, only 2% seem to be engaged in doing anything about it.
Why the big disconnect? My friend from Sanibel Island believed in climate change. She just didn’t believe it would affect her, at least not soon.
As activist Greta Thunberg recently said, “Many people still think of climate change as a slow, linear and even rather harmless process. But the climate is not just changing. It is destabilizing. It is breaking down. The delicately balanced natural patterns and cycles that are a vital part of the systems that sustain life on Earth are being disturbed, and the consequences could be catastrophic.”
As Greta stated in The Guardian, “The climate seems to be on steroids, and natural disasters increasingly appear to be less and less natural.” We are now entering a period of dramatic and rapid climate change, surprising many researchers in its speed and pace. The crisis that we thought would take place in the future is beginning now.
The World Meteorological Organization says methane emissions are rising faster than ever. And Shell and Total Energy have doubled their profits this quarter. CO2 emissions are at new peaks. The United Nations just stated there is no credible path to reach just 1.5 degrees Celsius warming. If climate commitments are met, we might reach 2.4-3.5 degrees Celsius warming. That would be a devastating amount and there is no indication that most countries are close to meeting their commitments.
Gaia Vince, author of “Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World,” says that, for each degree of warming, there will be a billion climate refugees. That means we can expect at least two billion climate refugees in the near future.
Those of us concerned about climate change, but not yet motivated to act need a wake-up call. You may not be in the next group of climate refugees, but your children and grandchildren may be. Much of our media, our major corporations and many of our politicians seem brain-dead and are, at best, complacent. We cannot fix climate change by wishing it away or pretending it is not happening. If we want a viable future for our children, we need to fix what we can in the present. That requires active engagement now.
Judith Polich is a New Mexico resident and climate change columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org”>href=”http://judith.pol”>email@example.com