Since Superstorm Sandy, the financial idiom that your “house is underwater” has assumed a literal and physical meaning. Besides Sandy, within 18 months, the country has endured exceptional tornadoes, heat waves and droughts — some of a once-in-a-lifetime frequency. The probability that these weather events are due to random, natural occurrence is roughly one in a million.
Conversely the odds are thus a million times more likely that they are due to something else, and that something else is we humans burning a trillion barrels of oil and 500 million tons of coal. The delusional charade that we aren’t culpable is quickly crumbling.
Modest so far, temperature rises coupled with improvident development are already causing serious consequences. The High Plains, a marginal agricultural area, has been further decimated due to rising temperatures and the loss of transpiration moisture because of decimation of Rocky Mountain forests.
When the underground irrigation water is depleted in 20 years, the area will revert to a “Dust Belt” condition. Within a decade the Arctic Ocean icecap will be mostly, seasonally melted off. The excess heat absorbed by the open ocean will then accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheets.
Sea levels will rise, being especially destructive to the highly developed beach communities of the East and Gulf coasts.
The great bodies of water of the Colorado River and Lakes Mead and Powell are near record low levels. The allocated usage or outflow from these lakes already exceeds inflow. Rising temperatures will further lessen runoff so that inevitably water and electrical generation will be curtailed.
All three of these events will cause economic decline, population dislocation and collapsing property values. Yet many Americans, who already use by far the most hydrocarbon fuels, are demanding even more production and usage. That’s a certain recipe for ecological disaster. The best alternative is to start with conservation.
DENNIS R. O’HARE