Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Droughts, fires and Snow

The fires in California seem to be the direct result of the unusually strong Santa Ana wind, and the severe drought experienced by the south west in the last few months:

For months, Southern California and surrounding areas of Arizona and Nevada have been experiencing “extreme drought” — the second-worst drought designation offered by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

This has been one of the driest years on record in Southern California, with less than one-third the usual rainfall.

With those kind of parched conditions, coupled with the hot dry Santa Ana winds — so-called “Devil Winds” — the region between San Diego and Malibu was ripe for fire.

It can be seen as a lesson in climate change. It’s not that global warming will produce more wildfires directly, but by increasing the likelihood of hot and dry conditions, it sets the stage for them. Scientists have already associated an increase in wildfire intensity, size and frequency in recent years with climate change, though wildfire fighting techniques in past decades also contributed to the risk because forest management led to a build-up of fuel ready to burn. (The Dailygreen)

Interestingly, the fires have mostly occurred in the most extreme dry areas (in red on the map).

Obviously, there is no evidence of a link between the fires and global warming, but every expert seems to agree that in any case, we are bound to see more wildfires and more droughts in the future. So we’d better get prepared.

While I feel sorry for the Californians who, after all, have been leading the country in terms of environmental regulations, I am much less inclined to feel sorry for the people in, say, Georgia or Alabama.

Between 1990 and 2000, Georgia’s water use increased by 30 percent. But the state has not yet come up with an estimate of how much water is available during periods of normal rainfall, much less a plan to handle the worst-case scenario of dry faucets.

The sense of urgency has been slow to take hold. Last year, a bill to require low-flow water devices be installed in older houses prior to resale died in the Legislature. Most golf courses are classified as “agricultural.” Water permits are still approved on a first-come, first-served basis.

(…/…) Alabama, where severe drought is more widespread, has not passed legislation calling for a management plan. (NYTimes)

And now of course, it’s a lot easier to squabble with neighboring states or the Corps of Engineers over dam releases and flow rates than take the necessary measures. Declaring October the "Take-a-Shorter-Shower" month, as Gov. Sonny Perdue did, would be funny if it wasn't so dramatically idiotic .

The hypocrisy runs high: on Oct 1, an outdoor theme park called “Stone Mountain” began to manufacture what was intended to be a 1.2-million gallon mountain of snow.

So what conclusion to draw from this latest poll that Americans are getting more concerned about global warming? It depends on which Americans we’re talking about, I guess…. And how you ask the question too….

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