by Pete Mazzaccaro
You’d probably be forgiven if you thought the torrential rain of last Wednesday was a harbinger of certain doom. In the afternoon, the rain was falling so hard and steady that Germantown Avenue resembled the Wissahickon Creek. And the creek resembled a muddy and rapid section of the Amazon.
I took two longish trips by car that day and wished I had an ark handy. Or at least a well covered sea-going vessel. It was dark, impossible to see, and the rain rarely let up long enough for the white to recede from my knuckles on the steering wheel.
Rain covered the entire East Coast that day, from New England to Florida. In Philadelphia, we got off a little easier than sections of Florida, which received epic totals of two feet of rainfall and more with news reports citing rain gauges that literally busted under the strain.
Every time it rains like that, the warnings go up – you see them in media reports, blog posts and Facebook status updates – that we need to start getting used to major weather events that climate change is supposed to make more and more common. The tornado threats in the Southwest this month and the perpetual drought in Southern California are other indicators of what climate watchers are calling the new normal.
These fears were underscored late last week when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that it had recorded – for the first time in human history – an average daily carbon dioxide level of 400 parts per million. The last time scientists believe the atmosphere had that much carbon dioxide was 3 million years ago, before human evolution.
“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” Maureen E. Raymo, a scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University told the New York Times in a story reporting the finding.
What we do with information like this is another matter. Somehow, climate change and its science are under a great deal of political scrutiny. Policies that would try to reduce carbon emissions are labeled liberal. While I appreciate conservative skepticism on the subject and reserve the right to put little faith in the efforts of any politicians on this matter, the science here is pretty clear that a strategy of doing nothing isn’t smart.
The noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of the acclaimed show “Cosmos,” said in a recent episode: “We just can’t seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves. All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate, free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need. Why can’t we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us? The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What’s our excuse?”
Even if I’m skeptical and believe mankind has the smarts to survive a gradual warming of the atmosphere, and that global warming won’t necessarily be as apocalyptic as the worst-case scenarios predict, I still think it would be hard to argue with a strategy that attempts to reverse carbon emissions and keep the atmosphere – and our coastlines – intact. I’d rather make sure that driving in a torrential downpour is not a new normal.